News: Stay up to date

The Étoilé community is an active group of developers, designers, testers and users. New work is being done every day. Visit often to find out what we've been up to.


The road to CoreObject Part 3: Mixing Temporal Object Store and Name Service

Posted on 19 October 2008 by Quentin Mathé

CoreObject is a central piece of Étoilé, often discussed but rarely seen :-) The good news is that it's currently shaping up pretty well. But before entering in the details and illustrating CoreObject persistency with an example in a next post, I'd like to give a brief overview of it.

The overall architecture has evolved substantially over the past two years. The implementation started with the writing of EtoileSerialize by David, and CollectionKit then OrganizeKit by Yen-Ju. These last two frameworks were built to provide a semi-structured object model inspired by AddressBook framework, that can be used to write applications managing collection of objects (music, photo, contacts etc.). This summer, Eric wrote a music manager named Mélodie based on this reusable object model. As such, Mélodie is the first Étoilé application that truly uses CoreObject.

Until recently, CoreObject mostly existed as a fork of OrganizeKit in Étoilé repository. The persistency model was to store the whole core object graph into a single property list, or multiple property lists but without the possibility to reference core objects across these property lists. This was a very important limitation that prevented concurrency control and versioning of objects through EtoileSerialize. Moreover each time a process wanted to access a core object, the entire core object graph had to be deserialized. Over the past two months, I have revisited CoreObject, in order it fully leverages EtoileSerialize for persistency, supports the loading of the core objects in memory on demand, interacts with a metadata server to track stored objects, and provides a better control over the history of core objects.

The updated version of the semi-structured object model also brings a very transparent approach to persistency, you don't need to call EtoileSerialize explicitly or even use a proxy to wrap your objects.

Now let's look at the various building blocks of the framework. The basic idea behind CoreObject is to provide a reusable model for organizing objects and handling their persistency. The low-level persistency logic is implemented by EtoileSerialize, CoreObject extends it with:

  • a protocol to organize core objects into groups (COObject and COGroup protocols)
  • a main backend that provides a semi-structured object model (COObject and COGroup classes)
  • additional backends to attach external object graphs (for example mounting a filesystem or exporting an application UI into the core object graph)
  • COProxy for integrating persistent model objects not derived from the COObject class
  • a metadata server to track stored objects and index both metadatas and content of core objects (COMetadataServer class)
  • a per process object factory and cache that is used to handle the faulting and uniquing of core objects (COObjectServer class)

So CoreObject mostly adds a name service on top of a EtoileSerialize and persists the name service structure and the objects bound to it in the same uniform representation. This representation is the core object graph, where each object and each group is stored as a persistent root by EtoileSerialize. Each persistent root is identified by an UUID/URL pair. Persistent roots are currently stored as object bundles on the filesystem. An object bundle is a directory the contains the history of the object in term of snapshots and deltas. Deltas are serialized invocations that represent logical changes. EtoileSerialize defines a protocol for the storage model, so new ways to store the objects could be defined. For example, changing the layout of object bundles, storing all the objects in a single flat file, over the network or other kind of data stores such as ZFS DMU (the low-level ZFS transactional store on which the filesystem is built).

The UUID/URL pairs are stored in a metadata server, which defines all the objects that belong to a core object graph. In future, the core object graph should thus be able to span multiple computers or data stores backed by a single metadata server. The metadata server is currently based on a PostgreSQL database.

For this first approach, multiple users cannot share a single core object graph and the access rights are simply defined by the permissions set on the object bundles at the filesystem level.

Out of the box, EtoileSerialize provides the basic infrastructure for per object history. This allows to support undo/redo per object. However objects such as photos, music, contacts are usually organized into libraries and it is expected undo/redo will operate on the last modification for the currently opened library, when you use a photo manager or a music manager. If that wasn't the case, undo/redo would only work if one or several objects are selected as targets for undo. This also means the user would have to remember the last modified object if he changed the selection after editing this object.

To solve this problem, CoreObject introduces the notion of object contexts. An object context is a pool where you insert related core objects. The object context records an history that is the interleaved histories of all the objects that belong to it. By this mean, it becomes possible to navigate and restore the history per object and per context.

Most of the elements of the architecture outlined at the beginning have already been implemented, if we put aside the indexing service. Various key pieces remain to be written though: concurrency control, update feed to push object changes to client applications, in-store deletion model and history cleaning.

In a more broad perspective, integration with the branching support of EtoileSerialize, exporting core objects to other formats and collaborative editing, will also have to be fully worked out. Finally the versioning of structured documents will require additional support to be truly convenient and integrate perfectly with EtoileUI.