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Getting started with Gem Servers

Table of Contents

What is a Gem Server

A gem server is a Topaz session that executes an application-specific service loop.


The Topaz execution model is very different from the typical Smalltalk execution model:

Topaz is a GemStone programming environment that provides keyboard command access to the GemStone system. Topaz does not require a windowing system and so is a useful, interface for batch work and for many system administration functions.

Smalltalk code is executed in Topaz using the run command:


Control returns to the Topaz console when the Smalltalk code itself returns, or an unhandled exceptions is encountered. When control returns to the console, Smalltalk execution is halted until another Topaz command is executed. If the last run section has been encountered the Topaz process exits.

Topaz Execution Environment

For gem server code to be run in Topaz you need to do two things:

  1. Ensure that the main Smalltalk process blocks and does not return.
  2. Ensure that all exceptions are handled, including exceptions signalled in processes that have been forked from the main Smalltalk process.
Block Main Process

In essence this entails structuring your application-specific service loop to look something like the following:

  [ true ]
    whileTrue: [
      [ "application service loop code" ]
        on: exceptionSet
        do: [:ex | "handle the exception and continue processing" ] ].

The main Smalltalk process is blocked by the infinite whileTrue: loop. The exception handler is protecting the "application service loop code", so we shouldn't have an unhandled exception, as long as the exceptionSet is covering the proper set of exceptions.

Exception Handler protecting forked blocks

If we are forking blocks, each of the forked processes must have an exception handler near the top of the stack to guard against unhandled exceptions that looks like the following:

[ "forked application code" ]
    on: exceptionSet
    do: [:ex | "handle the exception and continue processing" ] ] fork
Exceptions to Handle in Topaz

In a Topaz process, exception handlers should be defined to handle the following exceptions:

  • AlmostOutOfMemory - Notication signalled when a percent temporary object space threshold is exceeded. The Topaz process will be terminated if temporary object space is completely consumed. A typical handler will do a commit to cause persistent objects to be flushed from temporary object space to disk. If a significant amount of temporary object space is being consumed on the stack, then logging a stack trace and unwinding the stack may be called for.
  • AlmostOutOfStack - Notification signaled when the size of the current execution stack is about to exceed the max execution stack depth. Again, the Topaz process will be terminated if the notification is not heeded. A typical handler will log a stack trace and unwind the stack.
  • Error - Most Error exceptions are going to be handled by error handlers in the application code itself, but it is prudent to provide a backstop exception handler for unanticipated error conditions. The typical error handler should log the stack trace and unwind the stack.
  • TransactionBacklog - If signalling is enabled, a typical handler will do an abort. If signalling is not enabled and/or an abort is not performed in a timely manner, then the session will be forcibly terminated.

Topaz Transaction Modes

A Topaz session may run in one of two transaction modes:

In automatic transaction mode, the system is always in transaction. When either a commit transaction or an abort transaction is performed, the system automatically updates the transactional view of the system and leaves the system in transaction. An explicit begin transaction is not needed.

In manual transaction mode it is necessary to explicitly to start each transaction with a begin transaction and terminate each transaction with either a commit transaction or an abort transaction. The transactional view is only updated when a begin transaction is performed and the system is put in transaction. It is an error to perform a commit transaction unless preceded by a begin transaction. An abort transaction updates the transaction view, but does not start a transaction.

See the Gem Server Transaction Management for a description of the gem server transaction options.

GemServer class

As the preceding sections have highlighted, there are several issues in the area of server exception handling and server transaction management that are unique to the GemStone Smalltalk environment. The GemServer class provides a concise framework for standardized:

Gem Server Service Loop

A gem server is associated with one or more port or resource names.

One Topaz session is launched for each of the port or resource names associated with a gem server.

The gem server instance is shared by each of the Topaz gems.

The gem server is launched by calling the gem server start script. The script executes the following Smalltalk code to start the gem server:

(GemServer gemServerNamed: '<gemServerName>') scriptStartServiceOn: <portOrResourceName>.

The scriptStartServiceOn: method:

scriptStartServiceOn: portOrResourceName
  "called from shell script"

    scriptServicePrologOn: portOrResourceName;
    startServerOn: portOrResourceName  "does not return"

The startServerOn: method is expected to block the main Smalltalk process in the gem:

startServerOn: portOrResourceName
  "start server in current vm. Not expected to return."

  self startBasicServerOn: portOrResourceName.
  [ true ] whileTrue: [ (Delay forSeconds: 10) wait ]

The startBasicServerOn: method forks a process to run the basicServerOn: method:

startBasicServerOn: portOrResourceName
  "start basic server process in current vm. fork and record forked process instance. expected to return."

  self basicServerProcess: [ self basicServerOn: portOrResourceName ] fork.
  self serverInstance: self	"the serverProcess is session-specific"

The basicServerOn: method is expected to be implemented by a concrete subclass of GemServer. For example, here's the basicServerOn: method for the maintenance vm:

basicServerOn: portOrResourceName
  "forked by caller"

  | count |
  count := 0.
  [ true ]
    whileTrue: [ 
        gemServer: [ 
          "run maintenance tasks"
          self taskClass performTasks: count ].
      (Delay forMilliseconds: self delayTimeMs) wait.	"Sleep for a minute"
      count := count + 1 ]

Gem Server Exception Handling

There are a number of gemServer:* methods. The gemServer:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure: method is the foundation of them all. It implements the basic exception handling logic for the GemServer class:

gemServer: aBlock exceptionSet: exceptionSet beforeUnwind: beforeUnwindBlock ensure: ensureBlock
  ^ aBlock
    on: exceptionSet
    do: [ :ex | 
      | exception |
      exception := ex.
      self handleGemServerException: ex.
      beforeUnwindBlock value: exception ]
        on: Error
        do: [ :unexpectedError | 
          "error while handling the exception"
            serverError: unexpectedError
            titled: self name , ' Internal Server error handling exception: '.
          beforeUnwindBlock value: unexpectedError.
          self doInteractiveModePass: unexpectedError.
          exception return: nil	"unwind stack" ].
      self doInteractiveModePass: exception.
      exception return: nil	"unwind stack" ] ]
    ensure: ensureBlock

The exception handling block in this method has been structured to allow for a number of customizations:

  1. The exceptionSet argument allows you to specify the set of exceptions to be handled.
  2. The GemServer>>handleGemServerException: method invokes a custom exception handling method.
  3. If the GemServer>>handleGemServerException: method returns, the beforeUnwindBlock is invoked.
  4. If the beforeUnwindBlock returns and the gem server was started during an interactive debugging session the GemServer>>doInteractiveModePass: method sends pass to the exception so that a debugger will be opened.
  5. In a non-interactive session, the return: message send causes the stack to unwind.
  6. If an error occures while processing steps 3 and 4, the error is logged, the exception is passed if in an interactive debugging session and the stack is unwound.
  7. Lastly the ensureBlock is invoked upon return from the method.

There are several variants of the GemServer>>gemServer:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure: method that allow you to specify only the attributes that you need:

  • gemServer:
  • gemServer:beforeUnwind:
  • gemServer:beforeUnwind:ensure:
  • gemServer:ensure:
  • gemServer:exceptionSet:
  • gemServer:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:
  • gemServer:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure:
  • gemServer:exceptionSet:ensure:

Gem Server Exception Set

Default exception handling has been defined for the following exceptions:

  • Error
  • Break
  • Breakpoint
  • Halt
  • AlmostOutOfMemory
  • AlmostOutOfStack

One may define an exceptionSet:

  • on a gem server by gem server basis using the GemServer>>gemServerExceptionSet: method.

  • by overriding GemServer>>gemServerExceptionSet and providing an alternate implementation:

        ifNil: [ 
          self interactiveMode
            ifTrue: [ ^ Error , self class gemServerExceptionSet ].
          ^ Error , self class gemServerExceptionSet
            , self class gemServerDebuggingExceptionSet ].
      ^ gemServerExceptionSet
  • by defining alternate implementations of the GemServer class methods: gemServerExceptionSet and gemServerDebuggingExceptionSet. The exceptionSet returned by gemServerDebuggingExceptionSet is not applied when interactiveMode is on.

Note: The list of default exceptions discussed in this section are slightly different for GemStone 2.4.x.

Gem Server Exception Handlers

The gem server uses double dispatching to invoke exception-specific handling behavior. The primary method exceptionHandlingForGemServer: is sent by the GemServer>>handleGemServerException: method:

handleGemServerException: exception
  "if control is returned to receiver, then exception is treated like an error, i.e., 
   the beforeUnwindBlock is invoked and stack is unwound."

  ^ exception exceptionHandlingForGemServer: self

The exceptionHandlingForGemServer: has been implemented in the default exception classes. The following secondary methods have been defined in the GemServer class:

  • gemServerHandleAlmostOutOfMemoryException:
  • gemServerHandleAlmostOutOfStackException:
  • gemServerHandleBreakException:
  • gemServerHandleBreakpointException:
  • gemServerHandleErrorException:
  • gemServerHandleHaltException:
  • gemServerHandleNonResumableException:
  • gemServerHandleNotificationException:
  • gemServerHandleResumableException:

For an Error exception, the GemServer>>gemServerHandleErrorException: method is invoked:

gemServerHandleErrorException: exception
  "log the stack trace and unwind stack.
   interactiveMode is handled by caller of handleGemServerException: before stack is unwound."

    logStack: exception
      self name , ' ' , exception class name asString , ' exception encountered:'.

the exception is logged and the method returns.

For a resumable Exception, the GemServer>>gemServerHandleResumableException: method is invoked:

gemServerHandleResumableException: exception
  "in interactive mode pass exception without logging.
   Otherwise, log the stack trace and then resume the exception."

  self doInteractiveModePass: exception.
    logStack: exception
      self name , ' ' , exception class name asString , ' exception encountered:'.
  exception resume

As in the case of handling an Error the exception is logged, but instead of returning, the exception is resumed and processing continues uninterrupted.

If your gem server needs custom handling for an exception, you can add new gemServerHandle* methods or override existing gemServerHandle* methods.

Gem Server beforeUnwindBlock

The beforeUnwindBlock gives you a chance to perform application specific operations before the stack is unwound. For example, a web server may want to return a 4xx or 5xx HTTP response in the event of an error:

handleRequest: request for: socket
    gemServer: [ ^self processRequest: request for: socket ]
    beforeUnwind: [ :ex | ^ self writeServerError: ex to: socket ]

Gem Server Exception Logging

When an exception is handled, the stack is written to the gem log and a continuation for the stack is saved to the object log by the logStack:titled:inTransactionDo: method:

logStack: exception titled: title inTransactionDo: inTransactionBlock
  self writeGemLogEntryFor: exception titled: title.
    saveContinuationFor: exception
    titled: title
    inTransactionDo: inTransactionBlock

The writeGemLogEnryFor:titled: dumps a stack to the gem log. This method is called first to ensure that a record of the error has been written to disk in the event the continuation cannot be committed:

writeGemLogEntryFor: exception titled: title
  | stream stack |
  stack := GsProcess stackReportToLevel: self stackReportLimit.
  stream := WriteStream on: String new.
  stream nextPutAll: '----------- ' , title , ' ', DateAndTime now printString.
  stream lf.
  stream nextPutAll: exception description.
  stream lf.
  stream nextPutAll: stack.
  stream nextPutAll: '-----------'.
  stream lf.
  GsFile gciLogServer: stream contents

The saveContinuationFor:titled:inTransactionDo: method arranges to create the continuation within its own transaction or within an existing transaction:

saveContinuationFor: exception titled: title inTransactionDo: inTransactionBlock
  | label |
  label := title , ': ' , exception description.
  System inTransaction
    ifTrue: [ 
      self createContinuation: label.
      inTransactionBlock value ]
    ifFalse: [ 
        doTransaction: [ 
          self createContinuation: label.
          inTransactionBlock value ] ]

The logStack:titled: method calls logStack:titled:inTransactionDo::

logStack: exception titled: title
  self logStack: exception titled: title inTransactionDo: [  ]

The serverError:titled: method calls logStack:titled:inTransactionDo: and allows for interactive debugging of the exception:

serverError: exception titled: title inTransactionDo: inTransactionBlock
  self doInteractiveModePass: exception.
    logStack: exception
    titled: title , ' Server error encountered:'
    inTransactionDo: inTransactionBlock.

Gem Server ensureBlock

The ensureBlock gives you a chance to make sure that any resources used by the application within the scope of the gemServer:* call are cleaned up. For example, a web server may want to close sockets when processing is finished:

handleRequest: request for: socket
    gemServer: [ ^self processRequest: request for: socket ]
    beforeUnwind: [ :ex | ^ self writeServerError: ex to: socket ]
    ensure: [ socket close ]

Gem Server Transaction Management

Basic Gem Server Transaction Support

The current implementation supports manual transaction mode when running a gem server from a script using the scriptStartServiceOn: method.

For interactive debugging using the interactiveStartServiceOn:transactionMode: method:

Regardless of which transaction mode is used, it is important to manage transaction boundaries very carefully:

When an abort or begin transaction is executed all un-committed changes to persistent objects are lost irrespective of which thread may have made the changes.

The GemServer class provides three methods for performing transactions:

All three methods perform transactions under the protection of the transactionMutex.


The doBasicTransaction: ensures that the session is in transaction before the `aBlock is invoked and then performs a commit:

doBasicTransaction: aBlock
  "I do an unconditional commit. 
   If running in manual transaction mode, the system will be outside of transaction upon 
   Return true, if the transaction completed without conflicts.
   If the transaction fails, return false and the caller is responsible for post commit failure

  self transactionMutex
    critical: [ 
      | commitResult |
      System inTransaction
        ifTrue: [ aBlock value ]
        ifFalse: [ 
          self doBeginTransaction.
          aBlock value ] ]
        ensure: [ 
          "workaround for Bug 42963: ensure: block executed twice (don't return from ensure: block)"
          commitResult := self doCommitTransaction ].
      ^ commitResult ]

It is absolutely imperative that all manipulation of persistent data in the gem server be performed while in the critical section of the transactionMutex. Otherwise it is not possible to guarantee the integrity of your persistent data.

The doBasicTransaction: method does not handle commit failures, so for everyday transactions, you should use either doTransaction:onConflict: or doTransaction:, depending upon whether or not you want to handle commit conflicts explicitly or not.


The doTransaction:onConflict: method allows you to specify action to be taken in the event of a commit conflict:

doTransaction: aBlock onConflict: conflictBlock
  "Perform a transaction. If the transaction fails, evaluate <conflictBlock> with transaction 
   conflicts dictionary."

  (self doBasicTransaction: aBlock)
    ifFalse: [ 
      | conflicts |
      conflicts := System transactionConflicts.
      self doAbortTransaction.
      conflictBlock value: conflicts ]

The conflictBlock is passed the conflict dictionary as an argument. Typically the conflictBlock is used to stash the conflict dictionary in the object log.


If an error is the appropriate response to a commit conflict, then the doTransaction method should be used:

doTransaction: aBlock
  "Perform a transaction. If the transaction fails, signal an Error."

    doTransaction: aBlock
    onConflict: [ :conflicts | 
        doBasicTransaction: [ ObjectLogEntry warn: 'Commit failure ' object: conflicts ])
        ifTrue: [ self error: 'commit conflicts' ]
        ifFalse: [ 
          self doAbortTransaction.
          self error: 'commit conflicts - could not log conflict dictionary' ] ]

This method dumps the conflict dictionary to the object log and signals an error.

Practical Gem Server Transaction Support

There are a number of gemServerTransaction:* methods. The gemServerTransaction:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure:onConflict: is the foundation of them all. It wraps a transaction around the gemServer:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure: call:

gemServerTransaction: aBlock exceptionSet: exceptionSet beforeUnwind: beforeUnwindBlock ensure: ensureBlock onConflict: conflictBlock
  (System inTransaction and: [ self transactionMode ~~ #'autoBegin' ])
    ifTrue: [ 
          'Expected to be outside of transaction. Use doAbortTransaction or doCommitTransaction before calling.' ].
    doTransaction: [ 
      ^ self
        gemServer: aBlock
        exceptionSet: exceptionSet
        beforeUnwind: beforeUnwindBlock
        ensure: ensureBlock ]
    onConflict: conflictBlock

To keep the transaction model simple, the gemServerTransaction:* methods are not re-entrant. If you need a more complicated transaction models, then you are free to build your own supporting methods.

There are several variants of the gemServerTransaction:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure:onConflict: available:

  • gemServerTransaction:
  • gemServerTransaction:beforeUnwind:
  • gemServerTransaction:beforeUnwind:ensure:
  • gemServerTransaction:beforeUnwind:ensure:onConflict:
  • gemServerTransaction:beforeUnwind:onConflict:
  • gemServerTransaction:ensure:
  • gemServerTransaction:ensure:onConflict:
  • gemServerTransaction:exceptionSet:
  • gemServerTransaction:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:
  • gemServerTransaction:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure:
  • gemServerTransaction:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure:onConflict:
  • gemServerTransaction:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:onConflict:
  • gemServerTransaction:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:onConflict:ensure:
  • gemServerTransaction:exceptionSet:ensure:
  • gemServerTransaction:onConflict:

With only one Smalltalk process in the transaction critical section at any one time, you must run N separate gem server to handle N concurrent tasks. The shorter you can make the task response time, the fewer gem servers that you'll need.

Long running transactions combined with a large number of gem servers can lead to large a commit record backlogs, so it is a good idea to make your transactions as short as possible.

In general there are two broad categories of tasks performed by a gem server:

Request/Response Gem Server Tasks

In a quick hitting, request/response gem server you should run the request handling logic in a forked process and wrap it with a gemServerTransaction:* call like the following:

handleRequest: request for: socket
    gemServerTransaction: [ ^self processRequest: request for: socket ]
    beforeUnwind: [ :ex | ^ self writeServerError: ex to: socket ]
    ensure: [ socket close ] ] fork

In this example I assume that the processRequest:for: is pure business logic and will execute relatively quickly.

By following this pattern, you will be able to write the processRequest:for: logic without ever having to worry about transaction boundaries.

This is basically the transaction model used by GsDevKit/Seaside31.

I/O Gem Server Tasks

In a long running, wait intensive gem server, you will run the task handling logic in a forked process, as before, but you will want to exclude the wait intensive tasks, from the transaction critical block, like the following:

    gemServer: [ | response |
      response := (HTTPSocket httpGet: '') contents.
      self gemServerTransaction: [ self processResponse: response ] ] ] fork

In this example we do the http get outside of transaction, which means that a large number of tasks can be waiting for an http response, concurrently. Only when a response becomes available, does the transaction mutex and then the processing required while in transaction should be very short.

Important Transaction Considerations

It is important that one avoids modifying persistent objects while outside of transaction. It is permissable to read persistent objects but any modifications to persistent objects made while outside of transaction will be lost when the abort or begin transaction is called by the gemServerTransaction: method.

Gem Server Control

When you register a gem server, you specify a list of ports associated with the gem server:

FastCGISeasideGemServer register: 'Seaside' on: #( 9001 9002 9003 )

When you subsequently ask the gem server to start:

(GemServer gemServerNamed: 'Seaside') startGems.

A Topaz process should be started for each port in the list.

The startGems method:

  self initCrashLog.
  System commitTransaction
    ifFalse: [ self error: 'Commit transaction failed before startGems' ].
  self logControlEvent: 'Start Gems: ' , self name.
  self portOrResourceNameList
    do: [ :portOrResourceName | 
      | pidFilePath |
      pidFilePath := self gemPidFileName: portOrResourceName.
      (GsFile existsOnServer: pidFilePath)
        ifTrue: [ 
              'Pid file exists for port or resource: ' , portOrResourceName printString
                , '. Try restart command.' ].
      self executeStartGemCommand: portOrResourceName ]

calls the executeStartGemCommand: method, which in turn constructs shell command line that calls the gem server start script:

executeStartGemCommand: portOrResourceName
  | commandLine |
  commandLine := self startScriptPath , ' ' , self name , ' '
    , portOrResourceName asString , ' "' , self exeConfPath , '"'.
  self performOnServer: commandLine

Gem Server Control from Smalltalk

Gem servers can be started, stopped and restarted from Smalltalk:

(GemServer gemServerNamed: 'Seaside') startGems.
(GemServer gemServerNamed: 'Seaside') stopGems.
(GemServer gemServerNamed: 'Seaside') restartGems.

Gem Server Bash scripts

The gem server bash scripts are designed to control a single gem server operating system process, one process for each port in the port list. For gem servers that are not port-based, resource names are used to differentiate between gem server instances. The bash scripts are aimed at making it possible to start and stop individual gem servers from a process management tool like DaemonTools or Monit.

The scripts are also called from within Smalltalk using System class>>performOnServer:.

Gem Server start script

The gem server start script takes three arguments:

  1. gem server name
  2. port number or resource name
  3. exe conf file path
startGemServerGem Seaside 9001 $GEMSTONE_EXE_CONF

The script itself invokes the following Smalltalk code:

(GemServer gemServerNamed: '<gemServerName>') scriptStartServiceOn: <portNumberOrResourceName>.

The scriptStartServiceOn: method:

scriptStartServiceOn: portOrResourceName
  "called from shell script"

    scriptServicePrologOn: portOrResourceName;
    startServerOn: portOrResourceName  "does not return"

initiates the service loop and calls the scriptServicePrologOn: method:

scriptServicePrologOn: portOrResourceName
      '-->>Script Start ' , self name , ' on ' , portOrResourceName printString
    object: self.
    recordGemPid: portOrResourceName;
  self transactionMode: #'manualBegin'.

which among other things records the gem process id in a file, so that the gem server stop script knows which operating system process to kill.

Gem Server stop script

The gem server stop script takes two arguments:

  1. gem server name
  2. port number or resource name
stopGemServerGem Seaside 9001

The script gets the gem process id from the pid file and kills.

Gem Server Debugging

Object Log Debugging

In normal operation, a gem server is running as a headless Topaz process. When an error occurs, a continuation is saved to the object log:

info        Start Gems: Seaside_Style_Example_Server               20685  01/05/2015 15:28:19:991
info        -->>Script Start Seaside_Style_Example_Server on 8...  21598  01/05/2015 15:28:20:084
info        performOnServer: Seaside_Style_Example_Server :: /...  20685  01/05/2015 15:28:20:093
info        recordGemPid: Seaside_Style_Example_Server on 8383     21598  01/05/2015 15:28:20:138
info        setStatmonCacheName: Seaside_Style_Example_Server      21598  01/05/2015 15:28:20:235
info        enableRemoteBreakpointHandling: Seaside_Style_Exam...  21598  01/05/2015 15:28:20:284
info        startTransactionBacklogHandling: Seaside_Style_Exa...  21598  01/05/2015 15:28:20:435
info        enable AlmostOutOfMemoryHandling: Seaside_Style_Ex...  21598  01/05/2015 15:28:20:485
error       -- continuation -- (Seaside_Style_Example_Server U...  21598  01/05/2015 15:28:20:537

In an interactive client, you can open a debugger on the continuation:

1. DebuggerLogEntry class>>createContinuationFor: @2 line 5
2. DebuggerLogEntry class>>createContinuationLabeled: @3 line 4
3. GemServerSeasideStyleExample class(GemServer class)>>createContinuation: @2 line 2
4. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>createContinuation: @5 line 5
5. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>saveContinuationFor:titled:inTransactionDo: @8 line 6
6. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>logStack:titled:inTransactionDo: @3 line 4
7. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServerRemoteAbstractExample)>>logStack:titled:inTransactionDo: @2 line 3
8. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>logStack:titled: @2 line 2
9. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>gemServerHandleErrorException: @9 line 6
10. UserDefinedError(Error)>>exceptionHandlingForGemServer: @2 line 2
11. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>handleGemServerException: @2 line 5
12. [] in GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>gemServer:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure: @3 line 10
13. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(ExecBlock)>>on:do: @3 line 42
14. [] in GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>gemServer:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure: @2 line 12
15. UserDefinedError(AbstractException)>>_executeHandler: @3 line 8
16. UserDefinedError(AbstractException)>>_signalWith: @1 line 1
17. UserDefinedError(AbstractException)>>signal @2 line 47
18. GemServerSeasideStyleExampleRequest(Object)>>error: @6 line 7
19. GemServerSeasideStyleExampleRequest>>requestError @2 line 2
20. [] in ExecBlock(GemServerSeasideStyleExampleTests)>>testSeasideStyleError @2 line 9
21. GemServerSeasideStyleExampleRequest>>processRequest @3 line 2
22. GemServerSeasideStyleExample>>processRequest: @2 line 2
23. [] in GemServerSeasideStyleExample>>processRequest:onSuccess:onError: @2 line 7
24. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(ExecBlock)>>on:do: @3 line 42
25. [] in GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>gemServer:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure: @2 line 4
26. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(ExecBlock)>>ensure: @2 line 12
27. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>gemServer:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure: @2 line 23
28. [] in GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>gemServerTransaction:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure:onConflict: @2 line 10
29. [] in GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>doBasicTransaction: @7 line 17
30. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(ExecBlock)>>ensure: @2 line 12
31. [] in GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>doBasicTransaction: @2 line 18
32. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(ExecBlock)>>ensure: @2 line 12
33. TransientRecursionLock>>critical: @11 line 12
34. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>doBasicTransaction: @3 line 10
35. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>doTransaction:onConflict: @2 line 5
36. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>gemServerTransaction:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure:onConflict: @8 line 8
37. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>gemServerTransaction:beforeUnwind:onConflict: @3 line 3
38. GemServerSeasideStyleExample>>processRequest:onSuccess:onError: @2 line 7
39. [] in GemServerSeasideStyleExample>>handleRequestFrom: @5 line 11
40. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(ExecBlock)>>on:do: @3 line 42
41. [] in GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>gemServer:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure: @2 line 4
42. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(ExecBlock)>>ensure: @2 line 12
43. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>gemServer:exceptionSet:beforeUnwind:ensure: @2 line 23
44. GemServerSeasideStyleExample(GemServer)>>gemServer:beforeUnwind: @3 line 3
45. GemServerSeasideStyleExample>>handleRequestFrom: @2 line 5
46. [] in GemServerSeasideStyleExample>>basicServerOn: @2 line 13
47. GsProcess>>_start @7 line 16
48. UndefinedObject(GsNMethod class)>>_gsReturnToC @1 line 1

While you cannot resume execution of a stack from a debugger continuation, you can view the source of the methods on the stack and see the values of arguments and instance variables, which is often enough to characterize a problem.

If you are experiencing problems in production and are having trouble characterizing the problem, you can insert halt statements into your code. By default the gem server exception handlers will handle a Halt by saving a debug continuation to the object log and then resuming the Halt exception, so execution continues. Naturally there is a cost to saving continuations, but continuation-based debugging is superior to print statment debugging.

Interactive Debugging

If you have a reproducable test case or you need to do some hands on development of your server code, you would like to be able run a gem server in your favorite interactive development environment. However, there are several obstacles that need to be overcome when trying to do interactive development with a gem server that has been designed to run in a headless Topaz session:

  1. The GemStone GCI (used by interactive development environments for GemStone) permits only one non-blocking function call per session. This means that when a Smalltalk thread is active in a gem server, the interactive development environment may not make any other GCI function calls. In effect the development environment must block until the in process non-blocking call returns.
  2. The gem server code is structured to handle most of the interesting exceptions by logging the stack to the object log and either unwinding the stack or resuming the exception. This means that without divine intervention, an interactive debugger will not be opened when an interesting exception occurs.
  3. The gem server is designed to run in manual transaction mode. This means that you need to explicitly manage transaction boundaries.

The solution to having the server debugging session blocked while serving requests is to use with two interactive debugging sessions. Two interactive sessions gets around the "blocked server environment" problem:

  1. A server session which is blocked running the gem server service loop.
  2. A client session, which is where most of the interactive development takes place.

In order to arrange to debug interesting exceptions, set interactiveMode for the gem server. When interactiveMode is true, the gem server passes exceptions to the debugger, instead of doing the standard exception logging:

doInteractiveModePass: exception
  self interactiveMode
    ifTrue: [ exception pass ]

Finally, one may use automatic transaction mode when using GemServer>>interactiveStartServiceOn:transactionMode: to start the server:

interactiveStartServiceOn: portOrResourceName transactionMode: mode
  "called from development environment ... service run in current vm."

  "transactionMode: #autoBegin or #manualBegin"

      '-->>Interactive Start ' , self name , ' on ' , portOrResourceName printString
    object: self.
  self transactionMode: mode.
  mode == #'manualBegin'
    ifTrue: [ self startTransactionBacklogHandling ].
    startServerOn: portOrResourceName  "does not return"

Interactive Debugging Example

For this example we will be using the GemServerRemoteServerSerialProcessingExample for the gem server and the GemServerRemoteClientSerialProcessingExample as the client.

The GemServerRemoteServerSerialProcessingExample instance takes tasks (GemServerRemoteTaskSerialProcessingExample class) off of a queue and executes the task in a separate Smalltalk process. If the task completes successfully the result is stored as the value for the task which marks the task as complete. If an error occurs while executing the task, the resulting exception is stored as the exception for the task which marks the task as complete.

The GemServerRemoteClientSerialProcessingExample instance adds requested tasks to the queue and then waits for the list of tasks to finish processing by the server. The GemServerRemoteClientSerialProcessingExample class provides a number of interesting tasks that can be scheduled to be run on the server:

  • scheduleBreakpointTask
  • scheduleErrorTask
  • scheduleExampleHttpTask
  • scheduleFastTask
  • scheduleHaltTask
  • scheduleInternalServerError
  • scheduleOutOfMemoryPersistent
  • scheduleOutOfMemoryTemp
  • scheduleSimpleTask
  • scheduleStackOverflow
  • scheduleStatusTask
  • scheduleTimeInLondonTask
  • scheduleWarning

When the method submitAndWaitFor:gemServer: is sent to a GemServerRemoteServerSerialProcessingExample instance, a result array is returned with the following fields:

  1. true when all tasks return expected result or false if one or more tasks returned unexpected results, or the wait timed out.
  2. list of tasks
  3. list of completed tasks
  4. list of valid tasks
  5. #success, #timedOut, or #crashed
  6. inProcess queue
  7. task queue
Interactive Debugging Step by Step

Note: A commit should be performed after each client session doit. If you are not using auto commit mode, then an explicit commit is needed.

  1. Open two interactive development clients, one will be designated as the client session and the other will be designated as the server session

  2. In the client session, register the gem server:

    (GemServerRemoteServerSerialProcessingExample register: 'example')
      interactiveMode: true.
  3. In the client session, reset the task queue:

    GemServerRemoteTaskExample reset.
  4. In the server session, do an abort and start the gem server for interactive debugging:

    System abortTransaction.
    (GemServer gemServerNamed: 'example') 
      interactiveStartServiceOn: nil 
      transactionMode: #'autoBegin'.

    The server session will be blocked. If you need to regain control you can interrupt the server using ALT-. in GemTools or tODE.

  5. In the client session, schedule a simple task and inspect the result:

    | gemServer client task taskList result |
    gemServer := GemServer gemServerNamed: 'example'.
    client := gemServer clientClass new.
    result := client 
      submitAndWaitFor: {  #scheduleSimpleTask }
      gemServer: gemServer.
    result inspect.
  6. In the client session, schedule an error task, the debugger should come up on the server session:

| gemServer client task taskList result |
gemServer := GemServer gemServerNamed: 'example'.
client := gemServer clientClass new.
result := client 
  submitAndWaitFor: {  #scheduleErrorTask }
  gemServer: gemServer.
  1. In the server session fiddle around with the debugger. When you are done, go ahead and close the debugger. Closing the debugger should terminate the Smalltalk process that was performing the task, but the other Smalltalk gem server processes are still active. Rather than try to make sure that all of the gem server Smalltalk processes are terminated, it is probably simpler to logout, login and start the gem server processes again by repeating Step 4.

  2. In the client session, schedule an exampleHttpTask task and inspect the result:

    | gemServer client task taskList result |
    gemServer := GemServer gemServerNamed: 'example'.
    client := gemServer clientClass new.
    result := client 
      submitAndWaitFor: {  #scheduleExampleHttpTask }
      gemServer: gemServer.
    result inspect.


Abort Transaction

Excerpted from Programming Guide for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Section 8.2

Aborting a transaction discards any changes you have made to shared objects during the transaction. However, work you have done within your own object space is not affected by an abortTransaction. GemStone gives you a new view of the repository that does not include any changes you made to permanent objects during the aborted transaction—because the transaction was aborted, your changes did not affect objects in the repository. The new view, however, does include changes committed by other users since your last transaction started. Objects that you have created in the GemBuilder for Smalltalk object space, outside the repository, remain until you remove them or end your session.

Automatic transaction mode

Excerpted from Programming Guide for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Section 8.1

In this mode, GemStone begins a transaction when you log in, and starts a new one after each commit or abort message. In this default mode, you are in a transaction the entire time you are logged into a GemStone session. Use caution with this mode in busy production systems, since your session will not receive the signals that your view is causing a strain on system resources.

This is the default transaction mode on login.

To change to transactionless transaction mode, send the message:

System transactionMode: #autoBegin

This aborts the current transaction and starts a new transaction.

Begin Transaction

Excerpted from Programming Guide for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Section 8.2

To begin a transaction, execute

System beginTransaction

This message gives you a fresh view of the repository and starts a transaction. When you commit or abort this new transaction, you will again be outside of a transaction until you either explicitly begin a new one or change transaction modes.

Commit Record Backlog

Excerpted from System Administration Guide for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Section 4.9

Sessions only update their view of the repository when they commit or abort. The repository must keep a copy of each session’s view so long as the session is using it, even if other sessions frequently commit changes and create new views (commit records). Storing the original view and all the intermediate views uses up space in the repository, and can result in the repository running out of space. To avoid this problem, all sessions in a busy system should commit or abort regularly.

For a session that is not in a transaction, if the number of commit records exceeds the value of STN_CR_BACKLOG_THRESHOLD, the Stone repository monitor signals the session to abort by signaling TransactionBacklog (also called “sigAbort”). If the session does not abort, the Stone repository monitor reinitializes the session or terminates it, depending on the value of STN_GEM_LOSTOT_TIMEOUT.

*Sessions that are in transaction are not subject to losing their view forcibly. Sessions in transaction enable receipt of the signal TransactionBacklog, and handle it appropriately, but it is optional. It is important that sessions do not stay in transaction for long periods in busy systems; this can result in the Stone running out of space and shutting down. However, sessions that run in automatic transaction mode are always in transaction; as soon as they commit or abort, they begin a new transaction. (For a discussion of automatic and manual transaction modes, see the “Transactions and Concurrency Control” chapter of the GemStone/S 64 Bit Programming Guide.) *

Commit Transaction

Excerpted from Programming Guide for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Section 8.2

Committing a transaction has two effects:

  • It makes your new and changed objects visible to other users as a permanent part of the repository.
  • It makes visible to you any new or modified objects that have been committed by other users in an up-to-date view of the repository.

GemBuilder for C

Excerpted from GemBuilder for C for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Section 1

GemBuilder for C is a set of C functions that provide your C application with complete access to a GemStone repository and its pr ogramming language, GemS tone Smalltalk. The GemStone object server contains your schema (class definitions) and objects (instances of those classes), while your C program provides the user in terface for your GemStone application. The GemBuilder functions allo w your C program to access the GemStone repository either through structural access (the C model) or by sending messages (the Smalltalk model).

GemStone Session

Excerpted from Topaz Programming Environment for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Section 1.2

A GemStone session consists of four parts:

  • An application, such as, Topaz.
  • One repository. An application has one repository to hold its persistent objects.
  • One repository monitor, or Stone process, to control access to the repository.
  • At least one GemStone session, or Gem process. All applications, including Topaz, must communicate with the repository through Gem processes. A Gem provides a work area within which objects can be used and modified. Several Gem processes can coexist, communicating with the repository through a single Stone process...

GemStone Transaction

Excerpted from Programming Guide for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Section 8.1

GemStone prevents conflict between users by encapsulating each session’s operations (computations, stores, and fetches) in units called transactions. The operations that make up a transaction act on what appears to you to be a private view of GemStone objects. When you tell GemStone to commit the current transaction, GemStone tries to merge the modified objects in your view with the shared object store.

Views and Transactions

Every user session maintains its own consistent view of the repository state. Objects that the repository contained at the beginning of your session are preserved in your view, even if you are not using them—and even if other users’ actions have rendered them obsolete. The storage that those objects are using cannot be reclaimed until you commit or abort your transaction. Depending upon the characteristics of your particular installation (such as the number of users and the commit frequency), this burden can be trivial or significant. When you log in to GemStone, you get a view of repository state. After login, you may start a transaction automatically or manually, or remain outside of transaction. The repository view you get on login is updated when you begin a transaction or abort. When you commit a transaction, your changes are merged with other changes to the shared data in the repository, and your view is updated. When you obtain a new view of the repository, by commit, abort, or continuing, any new or modified objects that have been committed by other users become visible to you...


Excerpted from System Administration Guide for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Appendix A.3

GEM_MAX_SMALLTALK_STACK_DEPTH determines the size of the GemStone Smalltalk execution stack space that is allocated when the Gem logs in. The unit is the approximate number of method activations in the stack. This setting causes heap memory allocation of approximately 64 bytes per activation. Exceeding the stack depth results in generation of the error RT_ERR_STACK_LIMIT.

Min: 100

Max: 1000000

Default: 1000

Manual Transaction Mode

Excerpted from Programming Guide for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Section 8.1

In this mode, you can be logged in and outside of a transaction. You explicitly control whether your session starts a transaction, makes changes, and commits. Although a transaction is started for you when you log in, you can set the transaction mode to manual, which aborts the current transaction and leaves you outside a transaction. You can subsequently start a transaction when you are ready to commit. Manual transaction mode provides a method of minimizing the transactions, while still managing the repository for concurrent access.

In manual transaction mode, you can view the repository, browse objects, and make computations based upon object values. You cannot, however, make your changes permanent, nor can you add any new objects you may have created while outside a transaction. You can start a transaction at any time during a session; you can carry temporary results that you may have computed while outside a transaction into your new transaction, where they can be committed, subject to the usual constraints of conflict-checking.

To change to manual transaction mode, send the message:

System transactionMode: #manualBegin

This aborts the current transaction and leaves the session not in transaction.

To begin a transaction, execute

System beginTransaction

This message gives you a fresh view of the repository and starts a transaction. When you commit or abort this new transaction, you will again be outside of a transaction until you either explicitly begin a new one or change transaction modes.

Maintenance VM

The maintenance vm is a gem server that must be run while serving Seaside requests. The main job of the maintenance vm is to reap expired session state. The maintenance vm also runs an hourly mark For collect. For large Seaside installations (a stone where the entire GemStone repository cannot fit into the Shared Page Cache), the mark for collect should be moved into a separate gem server and run during off-peak hours.

Object Log

The object log is a persistent, reduced conflict collection of ObjectLogEntry instances. An ObjectLogEntry records the following information:

  • pid of the gem in which the instance is created
  • instance creation time stamp
  • user-defined label
  • priority (debug, error, fatal, info, interaction, trace, or transcript)
  • user-defined object
  • user-defined tag

One can add arbitrary labeled objects to the object log, so it can function as a very sophisticated form of print statement debugging.

Temporary Object Space

Excerpted from Programming Guide for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Section 14.3

The temporary object space cache is used to store temporary objects created by your application. Each Gem session has a temporary object memory that is private to the Gem process and its corresponding session. When you fault persistent (committed) objects into your application, they are copied to temporary object memory.

Some of these objects may ultimately become permanent and reside on the disk, but probably not all of them. Temporary objects that your application creates merely in order to do its work reside in temporary object space until they are no longer needed, when the Gem’s garbage collector reclaims the storage they use.

It is important to provide sufficient temporary object space. At the same time, you must design your application so that it does not create an infinite amount of reachable temporary objects. Temporary object memory must be large enough to accommodate the sum of live temporary objects and modified persistent objects. It that sum exceeds the allocated temporary object memory, the Gem can encounter an OutOfMemory condition and terminate.

Transaction Conflict

Excerpted from Programming Guide for GemStone/S 64 Bit, Section 8.2

GemStone detects conflict by comparing your read and write sets with those of all other transactions committed since your transaction began. The following conditions signal a possible concurrency conflict:

  • An object in your write set is also in the write set of another transaction—a write-write conflict. Write-write conflicts can involve only a single object.
  • An object in your write set is also in another session’s dependency list—a writedependency conflict. An object belongs to a session’s dependency list if the session has added, removed, or changed a dependency (index) for that object. For details about how GemStone creates and manages indexes on collections, see Chapter 7, Indexes and Querying.

If a write-write or write-dependency conflict is detected, then your transaction cannot commit. This mode allows an occasional out-of-date entry to overwrite a more current one. You can use object locks to enforce more stringent control if you can anticipate the problem.

Transaction Conflict Dictionary

From the comment of the method System class>>transactionConflicts

Returns a SymbolDictionary that contains an Association whose key is #commitResult and whose value is one of the following Symbols: #success, #failure, #retryFailure, #commitDisallowed, or #rcFailure .

The remaining Associations in the dictionary are used to report the conflicts found. Each Association's key indicates the kind of conflict detected; its associated value is an Array of OOPs for the objects that are conflicting. If there are no conflicts for the transaction, the returned SymbolDictionary has no additional Associations.

The conflict sets are cleared at the beginning of a commit or abort and therefore may be examined until the next commit, continue or abort.

The keys for the conflicts are as follows:

Key Conflicts
Read-Write StrongReadSet and WriteSetUnion conflicts.
Write-Write WriteSet and WriteSetUnion conflicts.
Write-Dependency WriteSet and DependencyChangeSetUnion conflicts.
Write-WriteLock WriteSet and WriteLockSet conflicts.
Write-ReadLock WriteSet and ReadLockSet conflicts.
Rc-Write-Write Logical write-write conflict on reduced conflict object.
WriteWrite_minusRcReadSet (WriteSet and WriteSetUnion conflicts) - RcReadSet)

The Read-Write conflict set has already had RcReadSet subtracted from it. The Write-Write conflict set does not have RcReadSet subtracted .

The Write-Dependency conflict set contains objects modified (including DependencyMap operations) in the current transaction that were either added to, removed from, or changed in the DependencyMap by another transaction. Objects in the Write-Dependency conflict set may be in the Write-Write conflict set.

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