Elektra solves a non-trivial issue: how to abstract configuration in a way that software can be integrated and reconfiguration can be automated. Elektra solves this problem in a holistic way. Read why Elektra for an explanation of why such a solution is necessary.
Virtual File System Analogy
If you know virtual file systems, you already know a very similar solution to a very similar problem (otherwise first read about what a virtual file system is here).
Before file systems (or for devices without operating system) software
simply wrote at discs (think of
dd of=/dev/sda) to persistently store
data. This obviously does not work with multiple applications. To allow
multiple applications to access data in
/dev/sda, a file system structures
them in a way that every application knows where its bits are. In analogy
configuration files are application-specific initialization that cannot
be shared with other applications. So as first steps we need to have a
"file system" that describes the content of a configuration file in a
uniform way. In Elektra plugins represent
file systems: they know how the data in configuration files should
For file systems, the API is
write, and then
For configuration key-value access is more suitable because values are
so small that a single read/write always suffices. Thus Elektra has a
key-value API with
kdbClose. Not every application is written in C,
bindings where written to access file systems. For example,
in C++ you have
fstream, and in Java
FileReader. Also Elektra provides
different bindings: In C++ you have a class
KDB and can use
kdb.set. Furthermore, every language
has native support for the language's iterators which make Elektra easier
Furthermore, command-line tools like
ls provide an additional
interface to the content of file systems for users and administrators.
In Elektra also command-line tools
for the analog purpose exist: With
kdb mv, and
some command-line tools operating on file systems are mimicked.
There is not one file system satisfying every need, e.g.,
ext4 have quite different use cases and are needed at the
same time in parallel. In analogy, different configuration file format
(parsers) have different advantages and disadvantages. For example,
/etc/hosts are structured and very compact, while
many other configuration files are semi-structured.
To have multiple file systems present at the same time a virtual file system is able to mount (2) concrete file systems and thus give applications a way to uniformly access them. Similarly, Elektra also implements a mount functionality in its core. In Elektra a contract specifies the obligations between plugins.
Sometimes, it is even useful to have multiple file systems at
the same mountpoint, so called
stacked file systems. They allow
you to combine features of different file systems. For example,
eCryptfs allows you
to encrypt directories or files. In Elektra, stacking plugins is a core
feature and heavily used to avoid feature-bloated plugins. For example,
the crypto plugin allows you to encrypt
individual keys or the iconv plugin
to change the character encoding.
In file systems metadata describes information about files, e.g.
when they were last accessed and who they are owned by (
ls -l). In the
same way Elektra has metadata that describe individual key-value pairs.
In Elektra metadata is defined globally but implemented
in many plugins.
Implementations of file systems is not an easy task. The idea of
FUSE (Filesystem in Userspace) is to make file system development
easier by having the conveniences of userspace together with a
libfuse. In particular this allowed developers to
use any programming language and easier abstractions. Elektra also
tries hard to make plugin development simple. For example, special
interpreter plugins enable developers
to also write plugins in different languages. Furthermore,
other libraries also assist in creating plugins.
Of course not every feature of virtual file systems or Elektra has an analogy in the other system. If they would solve the same problem, one of them would be useless. Main differences are:
- API (get/set vs. read/write)
- commit semantics: one
kdbSetcan change many configuration files atomically. This is important if you want, e.g., a new host in
/etc/hostsand use this host in some other configuration files.
- namespaces there are many places
where the same configuration is stored. All of these configuration
files have the same semantics and they override each other (think of
- Elektra interacts closely with the program execution environment
such as command-line parsing. The namespace
procis specifically reserved for this purpose.
- in Elektra it is possible to create holes (files without directories above them) which are needed because of these override semantics: we want to be able to override a single value without duplicating the whole skeleton.
- validation: in Elektra you can describe how valid configuration should look like and reject invalid configuration.
- and much more...