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       md_doc_help_elektra-algorithmelektra-algorithm(7) -- core algorithm of elektra
        - You might want to read about architecture. and data structures first.

       In this section, we will explain the heart of Elektra. kdbOpen() is responsible for the
       setup and the construction of the data structures needed later. kdbGet() does, together
       with the plugins, all actions necessary to read in the configuration. kdbSet()
       orchestrates the plugins to write out the configuration correctly. kdbClose() finally
       frees all previously allocated data structures.

       kdbOpen() retrieves the {mount point configuration} with kdbGet() using the {default
       backend}. During this process, the function sets up the data structures which are needed
       for later invocations of kdbGet() or kdbSet(). All backends are opened and mounted in the
       appropriate parts of the key hierarchy. The resulting backends are added both to the Split
       and the Trie object. kdbOpen() finally returns a KDB object that contains all this
       information as shown in Figure~fig:architecture}.

       The reading of the mount point configuration and the consequential self configuring of the
       system is called {bootstrapping}. Elektra builds itself up from the simple variant with a
       default backend only to the sophisticated configuration system presented in this thesis.

       kdbOpen() creates a Split object. It adds all backend handles and parentKeys during
       bootstrapping. So the buildup of the Split object takes place once. The resulting object
       is then used for both kdbGet() and kdbSet(). This approach is much better testable because
       the Split object is first initialised using the mount point configuration -- separated
       from the filtering of the backends for every specific kdbGet() and kdbSet() request.

       Afterwards the key hierarchy is static. Every application using Elektra will build up the
       same key database. Application specific mount points are prohibited because changes of
       mount points would destroy the global key database. Elektra could not guarantee that every
       application retrieves the same configuration with the same key names any longer.

       In kdbOpen(), nearly no checks are done regarding the expected behaviour of the backend.
       The contract checker guarantees that only appropriate mount points are written into the
       mount point configuration. kdbOpen() checks only if the opening of plugin was successful.
       If not, the backend enclosing the plugin is not mounted at all.

   Removing Keys
       In Elektra version $0.6$, removing keys was an explicit request. Only a single Key object
       could be removed from the database. For configuration files this method is inapplicable.
       For filesys, however, it was easy to implement.

       In Elektra version $0.7$, the behaviour changed. Removing keys was integrated into
       kdbSet(). The user tagged keys that should be removed. After the next kdbSet(), these keys
       were removed from the key database. On the one hand, backends writing configuration files
       simply ignored the keys marked for removal. On the other hand, filesys needed that
       information to remove the files. To make this approach work for filesys, the marked keys
       were located at the very end of the KeySet and sorted in reverse. With this trick,
       recursive removing worked well. But this approach had major defects in the usage of
       KeySet. Because marking a key to be removed changed the sort order of the key set
       {ksLookupByName()} did not find this key anymore.

       So in the present version removing keys is consistent again. A KeySet describes the
       current configuration. The user can reduce the KeySet object by [pop]{popping} keys out.
       The kdbSet() function applies exactly this configuration as specified by the key set to
       the key database. Contrary to the previous versions, the popped keys of the key set will
       be permanently removed.

       The new circumstance yields idempotent properties for kdbSet(). The same KeySet can be
       applied multiple times, but after the first time, the key database will not be changed
       anymore. (Note that kdbSet()) actually detects that there are no changes and will do
       nothing. To actually show the idempotent behaviour the KeySet has to be regenerated or the
       key database needs to be reopened.

       It is, however, not known if keys should be removed permanently only by investigating the
       KeySet. But only if this knowledge is present, the core can decide if the key set needs to
       be written out or if the configuration is unchanged. So we decided to track how many keys
       are delivered in kdbGet(). If the size of the KeySet is lower than this number determined
       at the previous kdbGet(), Elektra's core knows that some keys were popped. Hence, the next
       kdbSet() invocation needs to change the concerned key database.

       The situation is now much clearer. The semantics of popping a key will result in removing
       the key from the key database. And the intuitive idea that a KeySet will be applied to the
       key database is correct again.

       It is critical for application startup time to retrieve the configuration as fast as
       possible. Hence, the design goal of the kdbGet() algorithm is to be efficient while still
       enabling plugins to have relaxed postconditions. To achieve this, the sequence of
       [syscall]{syscalls} must be optimal. On the other hand, it is not tolerable to waste time
       or memory inside Elektra's core, especially during an initial request or when no update is

       The synopsis of the function is:

           int kdbGet(KDB *handle, KeySet *returned, Key * parentKey);

       The user passes a key set, called returned. If the user invokes kdbGet() the first time,
       he or she will usually pass an empty key set. If the user wants to update the
       application's settings, returned will typically contain the configuration of the previous
       kdbGet() request. The parentKey holds the information below which key the configuration
       should be retrieved. The handle contains the data structures needed for the algorithm,
       like the Split and the Trie objects, as shown in Figure~fig:architecture}.

       kdbGet() does a rather easy job, because kdbSet() already guarantees that only well
       formatted, non-corrupted and well-typed configuration is written out in the key database.
       The task is to query all backends in question for their configuration and then merge

       A backend may yield keys that it is not responsible for. It is not possible for a backend
       to know that another backend has been mounted below and the other backend is now
       responsible for some of the keys that are still in the storage. Additionally, plugins are
       not able to determine if they are responsible for a key or not. Consequently, it can
       happen that more than one backend delivers a key with the same name.

       kdbGet() ensures that a key is uniquely identified by its name. Elektra's core will pop
       keys that are outside of the backend's responsibility. Hence, these keys will not be
       passed to the user and we get the desired behaviour: The nearest mounted backend to the
       key is responsible.

       For example, a generator plugin in the backend A always emits following keys{(A) and (B)
       indicate from which backend the key comes from.}: {lstlisting}[language=]
       user/sw/generator/akey (A) user/sw/generator/dir (A) user/sw/generator/dir/outside1 (A)
       user/sw/generator/dir/outside2 (A) {lstlisting} It will still return these keys even if
       the plugin is not responsible for some of them anymore. This can happen if another backend
       B is mounted to {user/sw/generator/dir}. In the example it yields the following keys:
       {lstlisting}[language=] user/sw/generator/dir (B) user/sw/generator/dir/new (B)
       user/sw/generator/dir/outside1 (B) user/sw/generator/outside (B) {lstlisting} In this
       situation kdbGet() is responsible to pop all three keys at, and below,
       {user/sw/generator/dir} of backend A and the key {user/sw/generator/outside} of backend B.
       The user will get the resulting key set: {lstlisting}[language=] user/sw/generator/akey
       (A) user/sw/generator/dir (B) user/sw/generator/dir/new (B) user/sw/generator/dir/outside1
       (B) {lstlisting} Note that the key exactly at the mount point comes from the backend
       mounted at {user/sw/generator/dir}.

       kdbOpen() already creates a Split object for the whole configuration tree. In this object,
       kdbOpen() will append a list of all backends available. A specific kdbGet() request
       usually includes only a part of the configuration. For example, the user is only
       interested in keys below {user/sw/apps/userapp}. All backends that cannot contribute to
       configuration below {user/sw/apps/userapp} will be omitted for that request. To achieve
       this, parts of the Split object are filtered out. After this step we know the list of
       backends involved. The Split object allocates a key set for each of these backends.

       Afterwards the first plugin of each backend is called to determine if an update is needed.
       If no update is needed, the algorithm has finished and returns zero.

       Now we know which backends do not need an update. For these backends, the previous
       configuration from returned is appointed from to the key sets of the Split object. The
       algorithm will not set the {syncbits} of the Split object for these backends because the
       storage of the backends already contains up-to-date configuration.

       The other backends will be requested to {retrieve} their configuration. The initial empty
       KeySet from the Split object and the relevant file name in the key value of parentKey are
       passed to each remaining plugin. The plugins extend, validate and process the key set.
       When an error has occurred, the algorithm can stop immediately because the user's KeySet
       returned is not changed at this point. When this part finishes, the Split object contains
       the whole requested configuration separated in various key sets.

       Subsequently the freshly received keys need some {post-processing}:

       · Newly allocated keys in Elektra always have the {sync flag} set. Because the plugins
         allocate and modify keys with the same functions as the user, the returned keys will
         also have their sync flag set. But from the user's point of view the configuration is
         unmodified. So some code needs to remove this sync flag. To relax the post conditions of
         the plugins, kdbGet() removes it.

       · To detect removed keys in subsequent kdbSet() calls, kdbGet() needs to store the number
         of received keys of each backend.

       · Additionally, for every key it is checked if it belongs to this backend. This makes sure
         that every key comes from a single source only as designated by the Trie. In this
         process, all duplicated and overlapping keys will be popped in favour of the responsible
         backend as described below in responsibility.

       The last step is to {merge} all these key sets together. This step changes the
       configuration visible to the user. After some cleanup the algorithm finally finishes.

   Updating Configuration
       The user can call kdbGet() often even if the configuration or parts of it are already up
       to date. This can happen when applications reread configuration in some events. Examples
       are signals{SIGHUP is the signal used for that on UNIX systems. It is sent when the
       program's controlling terminal is closed. Daemons do not have a terminal so the signal is
       reused for reloading configuration.}, notifications, user requests and in the worst case
       periodical attempts to reread configuration.

       The given goal is to keep the sequence of needed syscalls low. If no update is needed, it
       is sufficient to request the timestamp{On POSIX systems using {stat()}.} of every file. No
       other syscall is needed. Elektra's core alone cannot check that because getting a
       timestamp is not defined within the standard C99. So instead the resolver plugin handles
       this problem. The resolver plugin returns 0 if nothing has changed.

       This decision yields some advantages. Both the storage plugins and Elektra's core can
       conform to C99. Because the resolver plugin is the very first in the chain of plugins, it
       is guaranteed that no useless work is done.

   Initial kdbGet Problem
       Because Elektra provides self-contained configuration, kdbOpen() has to retrieve settings
       in the {bootstrapping} process below {system/elektra} as explained in {bootstrapping}.
       Because of the new way to keep track of removed keys, the internally executed kdbGet()
       creates a problem. Without countermeasures even the first kdbGet() of a user requesting
       the configuration below {system/elektra} fails because the resolver finds out that the
       configuration is already up to date. The configuration delivered by the user is empty at
       this point. As a result, the empty configuration will be appointed and returned to the

       A simple way to resolve this issue is to reload the default backend after the internal
       configuration was fetched. Reloading resets the timestamps and kdbGet() works as expected.

       Not the performance, but robust and reliable behaviour is the most important issue for
       kdbSet(). The design was chosen so that some additional in-memory comparisons are
       preferred to a suboptimal sequence of [syscall]{syscalls}. The algorithm makes sure that
       keys are written out only if it is necessary because applications can call kdbSet() with
       an unchanged KeySet. For the code to decide this, performance is important.

       kdbSet() [guarantee]{guarantees} the following properties:


       Modifications to permanent storage are only made when the configuration was changed.

       When errors occur, every plugin gets a chance to rollback its changes as described in
       {exception safety}.

       If every plugin does this correctly, the whole KeySet is propagated to permanent storage.
       Otherwise nothing is changed in the key database. Plugins developed during the thesis meet
       this requirement.


       The synopsis of the function is: {lstlisting} int kdbSet(KDB *handle, KeySet *returned,
       Key * parentKey); {lstlisting}

       The user passes the configuration using the KeySet returned. The key set will not be
       changed by kdbSet(). The parentKey provides a way to limit which part of the configuration
       is written out. For example, the parentKey {user/sw/apps/myapp} will induce kdbSet() to
       only modify the key databases below {user/sw/apps/myapp} even if the KeySet returned also
       contains more configuration. Note that all backends with no keys in returned but that are
       below parentKey will completely wipe out their key database. The KDB handle contains the
       necessary data structures as shown in Figure~fig:architecture}.

   Search for Changes
       {wrapfigure}{r}{0.5} {-40pt} {center} [trim = 0 65 0 0, clip=true,
       width=6cm]{resolver_set} {center} {-20pt} {{kdbSet()} Algorithm} {fig:resolver_set}
       {-10pt} {wrapfigure}

       As a first step, kdbSet() {divides} the configuration passed in by the user to the key
       sets in the Split object. kdbSet() searches for every key if the {sync flag} is checked.
       Then kdbSet() decides if a key was removed from a backend by comparing the actual size of
       the key set with the size stored from the last kdbGet() call. We see that it is necessary
       to call kdbGet() first before invocations of kdbSet() are allowed.

       We know that data of a backend has to be written out if at least one key was changed or
       removed. If no backend has any changes, the algorithm will terminate at this point. The
       careful reader notices that the process involves no file operations.

   Duplicated Key Sets
       If some backends need synchronisation, the algorithm continues by filtering out all
       backends in the Split object that do not have changes. At this point, the Split object has
       a list of backends with their respective key sets.

       {deep duplicate}

       Plugins in kdbSet() can change values. Other than in kdbGet(), the user is not interested
       in these changes. Instead, the values are transformed to be suitable for the storage. To
       make sure that the changed values are not passed to the user, the algorithm continues with
       a {deep duplication} of all key sets in the Split object.

       All plugins of each included backend are executed one by one up to the resolver plugin. If
       this succeeds, the resolver plugin is responsible for committing these changes. After the
       successful commit, [error code]{error codes} of plugins are ignored. Only logging and
       notification plugins are affected.

   Atomic Replacement
       For this thesis only file-based storage with atomic properties were developed. The
       replacement of a file with another file that has not yet been written is not trivial. The
       straightforward way is to lock a file and start writing to it. But this approach can
       result in broken or partially finished files in events like ''out of disc space'', signals
       or other asynchronous aborts of the program.

       A temporary file solves this problem, because in problematic events the original file
       stays untouched. When the temporary file is written out properly, it is renamed and the
       original configuration file is overwritten. But another concurrent invocation of kdbSet()
       can try to do the same with the result that one of the newly written files is lost.

       To avoid this problem, locks are needed again. It is not possible to lock the
       configuration file itself because it will be unlinked when the temporary file is renamed.
       So a third file for locking is needed. The resolver currently implements this approach.

       An alternative to this approach without locks is to completely rely on the modification
       time. The modification time typically has only a resolution of one second. So any changes
       within that time slot will not be recognised. For this approach, however, the name of
       every temporary file must be unique because concurrent kdbSet() invocations each try to
       create one. The temporary file must also be unlinked in case of a rollback. The opened
       temporary file can be passed to the storage plugins using a file name in the directory
       {/dev/fd}. This approach may be more practical than the currently implemented way because
       it does not need the additional lock file{Nevertheless, the other way was chosen to test
       if the algorithm is exception safe as described in {exception safety}.}.

       The plugins within kdbSet() can fail for a variety of reasons. [conflict]{Conflicts} occur
       most frequently. A conflict means that during executions of kdbGet() and kdbSet() another
       program has changed the key database. In order not to lose any data, kdbSet() fails
       without doing anything. In conflict situations Elektra leaves the programmer no choice.
       The programmer has to retrieve the configuration using kdbGet() again to be up to date
       with the key database. Afterwards it is up to the application to decide which
       configuration to use. In this situation it is the best to ask the user, by showing him the
       description and reason of the error, how to continue:



       Save the configuration again. The changes of the other program will be lost in this case.

       The key database can also be left unchanged as the other program wrote it. After using
       kdbGet() the application is already up to date with the new configuration. All
       configuration changes the user made before will be lost.

       The application can try to merge the key sets to get the best result. If no key is changed
       on both sides the result is clear, otherwise the application has to decide if the own or
       the other configuration should be favoured. The result of the merged key sets has to be
       written out with kdbSet().

       Merging the key sets can be done with ksAppend(). The source parameter is the preferred
       configuration. Note that the downside of the third option is that a merged configuration
       can be an not validating configuration.


       Sometimes a concrete key causes the problem that the whole key set cannot be stored. That
       can happen on validation or because of type errors. Such errors are usually caused by a
       mistake made by the user. So the user is responsible for changing the settings to make it
       valid again. In such situations, the {internal cursor} of the KeySet returned will point
       to the problematic key.

       A completely different approach is to export the configuration when kdbSet() returned an
       error code. The user can then edit, change or merge this configuration with more powerful
       tools. Finally, the user can import the configuration into the global key database. The
       export and import mechanism is called ''streaming'' and will be explained in {streaming}.