Easy streams for node.js
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README.md

Easy Streams for node.js

ez-streams is a simple but powerful streaming library for node.js.

EZ streams come in two flavors: readers and writers. You pull data from readers and you push data into writers.

The data that you push or pull may be anything: buffers and strings of course, but also simple values like numbers or Booleans, JavaScript objects, nulls, ... There is only one value which has a special meaning: undefined. Reading undefined means that you have reached the end of a reader stream. Writing undefined signals that you want to end a writer stream.

EZ streams are implemented with streamline.js. Most of the examples and API descriptions below use the streamline.js syntax because this is more concise but the ez-streams package can also be used directly with callback code. Some of examples also provided both in streamline.js and in pure callback form.

Installation

npm install ez-streams

Creating a stream

The devices modules let you get or create various kinds of EZ streams. For example:

var ez = require('ez-streams');
var log = ez.devices.console.log; // console writer
var stdin = ez.devices.std.in('utf8'); // stdin in text mode
var textRd = ez.devices.file.text.reader(path); // text file reader
var binWr = ez.devices.file.binary.writer(path); // binary file writer
var stringRd = ez.devices.string.reader(text); // in memory text reader

You can also wrap any node.js stream into an EZ stream, with the node device. For example:

var reader = ez.devices.node.reader(fs.createReadStream(path)); // same as ez.file.binary.reader
var writer = ez.devices.node.writer(fs.createWriteStream(path)); // same as ez.file.binary.writer

The ez.devices.http and ez.devices.net modules give you wrappers for servers and clients in which the request and response objects are EZ readers and writers.

The ez.devices.generic module lets you create your own EZ streams. For example here is how you would implement a reader that returns numbers from 0 to n

var numberReader = function(n) {
    var i = 0;
    return ez.devices.generic.reader(function read(_) {
        if (i < n) return i++;
        else return undefined;
    });
};

To define your own reader you just need to pass an asynchronous read(_) {...} function to ez.devices.generic.reader.

To define your own writer you just need to pass an asynchronous write(_, val) {...} function to ez.devices.generic.writer.

So, for example, here is how you can wrap mongodb APIs into EZ streams:

var reader = function(cursor) {
    return ez.devices.generic.reader(function(_) {
        var obj = cursor.nextObject(_);
        return obj == null ? undefined : obj;
    });
}
var writer = function(collection) {
    var done;
    return ez.devices.generic.writer(function(_, val) {
        if (val === undefined) done = true;
        if (!done) collection.insert(val, _);
    });
}

But you don't have to do it. There are already ez-streams devices for MongoDB and popular databases. See below.

Basic read and write

You can read from a reader by calling its read method and you can write to a writer by calling its write method:

var val = reader.read(_);
writer.write(_, val);

The read and write methods are both asynchronous.

read returns undefined at the end of a stream. Symmetrically, passing undefined to the write method of a writer ends the writer.

Array-like API

You can treat an EZ reader very much like a JavaScript array: you can filter it, map it, reduce it, etc. For example you can write:

console.log("pi~=" + 4 * numberReader(10000).filter(function(_, n) {
    return n % 2; // keep only odd numbers
}).map(function(_, n) {
    return n % 4 === 1 ? 1 / n : -1 / n;
}).reduce(_, function(_, res, val) {
    return res + val;
}, 0));

This will compute 4 * (1 - 1/3 + 1/5 - 1/7 ...).

For those not used to streamline this chain can be rewritten with callbacks as:

numberReader(10000).filter(function(cb, n) {
    cb(null, n % 2);
}).map(function(cb, n) {
    cb(null, n % 4 === 1 ? 1 / n : -1 / n);
}).reduce(function(err, result) {
    console.log("pi~=" + 4 * result);
}, function(cb, res, val) {
    cb(null, res + val);
}, 0);

Every step of the chain, except the last one, returns a new reader. The first reader produces all integers up to 9999. The second one, which is returned by the filter call lets only the odd integers go through. The third one, returned by the map call transforms the odd integers into alternating fractions. The reduce step at the end combines the alternating fractions to produce the final result.

Note that the reduce function takes a continuation callback as first parameter while the other functions don't. This is because the other functions (filter, map) return another reader immediately, while reduce pulls all the values from the stream and combines them to produce a result. So reduce can only produce its result once all the operations have completed, and it does so by returning its result through a continuation callback.

The callbacks that you pass to filter, map, reduce are slightly different from the callbacks that you pass to normal array functions. They receive a continuation callback (_) as first parameter. This allows you to call asynchronous functions from these callbacks. We did not do it in the example above but this would be easy to do. For example we could slow down the computation by injecting a setTimeout call in the filter operation:

console.log("pi~=" + 4 * numberReader(10000).filter(function(_, n) {
    setTimeout(_, 10);
    return n % 2; // keep only odd numbers
})...

Rather academic here but in real life you often need to query databases or external services when filtering or mapping stream entries. So this is very useful.

The Array-like API also includes every, some and forEach. On the other hand it does not include reduceRight nor sort, as these functions are incompatible with streaming (they would need to buffer the entire stream).

The forEach, every and some functions are reducers and take a continuation callback, like reduce (see example further down).

Note: the filter, every and some methods can also be controlled by a mongodb filter condition rather than a function. The following are equivalent:

// filter expressed as a function
reader =  numberReader(1000).filter(function(_, n) {
    return n >= 10 && n < 20;
});

// mongo-style filter
reader =  numberReader(1000).filter({
    $gte: 10,
    $lt: 20,
});

Pipe

Readers have a pipe method that lets you pipe them into a writer:

reader.pipe(_, writer)

For example we can output the odd numbers up to 100 to the console by piping the number reader to the console device:

numberReader(100).filter(function(_, n) {
    return n % 2; // keep only odd numbers
}).pipe(_, ez.devices.console.log);

Note that pipe is also a reducer. It takes a continuation callback. So you can schedule operations which will be executed after the pipe has been fully processed.

A major difference with standard node streams is that pipe operations only appear once in a chain, at the end, instead of being inserted between processing steps. The EZ pipe does not return a reader. Instead it returns (asynchronously) its writer argument, so that you can chain other operations on the writer itself. Here is a typical use:

var result = numberReader(100).map(function(_, n) {
    return n + ' ';
}).pipe(_, ez.devices.string.writer()).toString();

In this example, the integers are mapped to strings which are written to an in-memory string writer. The string writer is returned by the pipe call and we obtain its contents by applying toString().

Infinite streams

You can easily create an infinite stream. For example, here is a reader stream that will return all numbers (*) in sequence:

var infiniteReader = function() {
    var i = 0;
    return ez.devices.generic.reader(function read(_) {
        return i++;
    });
};

(*): not quite as i++ will stop moving when i reaches 2**53

EZ streams have methods like skip, limit, until and while that let you control how many entries you will read, even if the stream is potentially infinite. Here are two examples:

// output 100 numbers after skipping the first 20
infiniteReader().skip(20).limit(100).pipe(_, ez.devices.console.log);

// output numbers until their square exceeds 1000 
infiniteReader().until(function(_, n) {
    return n * n > 1000;
}).pipe(_, ez.devices.console.log);

Note: while and until conditions can also be expressed as mongodb conditions.

Transformations

The array functions are nice but they have limited power. They work well to process stream entries independently from each other but they don't allow us to do more complex operation like combining several entries into a bigger one, or splitting one entry into several smaller ones, or a mix of both. This is something we typically do when we parse text streams: we receive chunks of texts; we look for special boundaries and we emit the items that we have isolated between boundaries. Usually, there is not a one to one correspondance between the chunks that we receive and the items that we emit.

The transform function is designed to handle these more complex operations. Typical code looks like:

stream.transform(function(_, reader, writer) {
    // read items with reader.read(_)
    // transform them (combine them, split them)
    // write transformation results with writer.write(_, result)
    // repeat until the end of reader
}).filter(...).map(...).reduce(...);

You have complete freedom to organize your read and write calls: you can read several items, combine them and write only one result, you can read one item, split it and write several results, you can drop data that you don't want to transfer, or inject additional data with extra writes, etc.

Also, you are not limited to reading with the read(_) call, you can use any API available on a reader, even another transform. For example, here is how you can implement a simple CSV parser:

var csvParser = function(_, reader, writer) {
    // get a lines parser from our transforms library
    var linesParser = ez.transforms.lines.parser();
    // transform the raw text reader into a lines reader
    reader = reader.transform(linesParser);
    // read the first line and split it to get the keys
    var keys = reader.read(_).split(',');
    // read the other lines
    reader.forEach(_, function(_, line) {
        // ignore empty line (we get one at the end if file is terminated by newline)
        if (line.length === 0) return;
        // split the line to get the values
        var values = line.split(',');
        // convert it to an object with the keys that we got before
        var obj = {};
        keys.forEach(function(key, i) {
            obj[key] = values[i];
        });
        // send the object downwards.
        writer.write(_, obj);
    });
};

You can then use this transform as:

ez.devices.file.text.reader('mydata.csv').transform(csvParser)
    .pipe(_, ez.devices.console.log);

Note that the transform is written with a forEach call which loops through all the items read from the input chain. This may seem incompatible with streaming but it is not. This loop advances by executing asynchronous reader.read(_) and writer.write(_, obj) calls. So it yields to the event loop and gives it chance to wake up other pending calls at other steps of the chain. So, even though the code may look like a tight loop, it is not. It gets processed one piece at a time, interleaved with other steps in the chain.

Transforms library

The lib/transforms directory contains standard transforms:

For example, you can read from a CSV file, filter its entries and write the output to a JSON file with:

ez.devices.file.text.reader('users.csv').transform(ez.transforms.csv.parser())
    .filter(function(_, item) {
    return item.gender === 'F';
}).transform(ez.transforms.json.formatter({ space: '\t' }))
    .pipe(_, ez.devices.file.text.writer('females.json'));

The transforms library is rather embryonic at this stage but you can expect it to grow.

Interoperability with native node.js streams

ez-streams are fully interoperable with native node.js streams.

You can convert a node.js stream to an ez stream:

// converting a node.js readable stream to an ez reader
var reader = ez.devices.node.reader(stream);
// converting a node.js writable stream to an ez writer
var writer = ez.devices.node.writer(stream);

You can also convert in the reverse direction, from an ez stream to a node.js stream:

// converting an ez reader to a node readable stream
var stream = reader.nodify();
// converting an ez writer to a node writable stream
var stream = writer.nodify();

And you can transform an ez stream with a node duplex stream:

// transforms an ez reader into another ez reader
reader = reader.nodeTransform(duplexStream)

Lookahead

It is often handy to be able to look ahead in a stream when implementing parsers. The reader API does not directly support lookahead but it includes a peekable() method which extends the stream with peek and unread methods:

// reader does not support lookahead methods but peekableReader will.
var peekableReader = reader.peekable();
val = peekableReader.peek(_); // reads a value without consuming it.
val = peekableReader.read(_); // normal read
peekableReader.unread(val); // pushes back val so that it can be read again.

Parallelizing

You can parallelize operations on a stream with the parallel call:

reader.parallel(4, function(source) {
    return source.map(fn1).transform(trans1);
}).map(fn2).pipe(_, writer);

In this example the parallel call will dispatch the items to 4 identical chains that apply the fn1 mapping and the trans1 transform. The output of these chains will be merged, passed through the fn2 mapping and finally piped to writer.

You can control the parallel call by passing an options object instead of an integer as first parameter. The shuffle option lets you control if the order of entries is preserved or not. By default it is false and the order is preserved but you can get better thoughput by setting shuffle to true if order does not matter.

Fork and join

You can also fork a reader into a set of identical readers that you pass through different chains:

var readers = reader.fork([
    function(source) { return source.map(fn1).transform(trans1); },
    function(source) { return source.map(fn2); },
    function(source) { return source.transform(trans3); },
]).readers;

This returns 3 streams which operate on the same input but perform different chains of operations. You can then pipe these 3 streams to different outputs.

Note that you have to use futures (or callbacks) when piping these streams so that they are piped in parallel. See the examples in the api-test._js test file for some examples.

You can also join the group of streams created by a fork, with a joiner function that defines how entries are dequeued from the group.

var streams = reader.fork([
    function(source) { return source.map(fn1).transform(trans1); },
    function(source) { return source.map(fn2); },
    function(source) { return source.transform(trans3); },
]).join(joinerFn).map(fn4).pipe(_, writer);

This part of the API is still fairly experimental and may change a bit.

Exception handling

Exceptions are propagated through the chains and you can trap them in the reducer which pulls the items from the chain. If you write your code with streamline.js, you will naturally use try/catch:

try {
    ez.devices.file.text.reader('users.csv').transform(ez.transforms.csv.parser())
        .filter(function(_, item) {
        return item.gender === 'F';
    }).transform(ez.transforms.json.formatter({ space: '\t' }))
        .pipe(_, ez.devices.file.text.writer('females.json'));
} catch (ex) {
    logger.write(_, ex);
}

It you write your code with callbacks, you will receive the exception as first parameter in your continuation callback:

ez.devices.file.text.reader('users.csv').transform(ez.transforms.csv.parser())
    .filter(function(cb, item) {
    cb(null, item.gender === 'F');
}).transform(ez.transforms.json.formatter({ space: '\t' })).pipe(function(err) {
    if (err) logger.write(function(e) {}, err);
}, ez.devices.file.text.writer('females.json'));

Stopping a stream

Streams are not always consumed in full. If a consumer stops reading before it has reached the end of a stream, it must inform the stream that it won't read any further so that the stream can release its resources. This is achieved by propagating a stop notification upwards, to the source of the stream. Streams that wrap node stream will release their event listeners when they receive this notification.

The stop API is a simple stop method on readers:

reader.stop(arg); // arg is optional - see below

Stopping becomes a bit tricky when a stream has been forked or teed. The stop API provides 3 options to stop a branch:

  • Stopping only the current branch: the notification will be propagated to the fork but not further upwards, unless the other branches have also been stopped. This is the default when arg is falsy or omitted.
  • Stopping the current branch and closing the other branches silently. This is achieved by passing true as arg. The consumers of the other branches will receive the undefined end-of-stream marker when reading further.
  • Stopping the current branch and closing the other branches with an error. This is achieved by passing an error object as arg. The consumers of the other branches will get this error when reading further.

Note: In the second and third case values which had been buffered in the other branches before the stop call will still be delivered, before the end-of-stream marker or the error. So they may not stop immediately.

Operations like limit, while or until send a stop notification upwards.

A writer may also decide to stop its stream processing chain. If its write method throws an exception the current branch will be stopped and the exception will be propagated to other branches. A writer may also stop the chain silently by throwing a new StopException(arg) where arg is the falsy or true value which will be propagated towards the source of the chain.

Note: writers also have a stop method but this method is only used internally to propagate exceptions in a tee or fork.

Writer chaining

You can also chain operations on writers via a special pre property. For example:

// create a binary file writer
var rawWriter = ez.devices.file.binary.writer("data.gzip");
// create another writer that applies a gzip transform before the file writer
var zipWriter = rawWriter.pre.nodeTransform(zlib.createGzip());

All the chainable operations available on readers (map, filter, transform, nodeTransform, ...) can also be applied to writers through this pre property.

Note: the pre property was introduced to stress the fact that the operation is applied before writing to the original writer, even though it appears after in the chain.

Backpressure

Backpressure is a non-issue. The ez-streams plumbing takes care of the low level pause/resume dance on the reader side, and of the write/drain dance on the write side. The event loop takes care of the rest. So you don't have to worry about backpressure when writing EZ streams code.

Instead of worrying about backpressure, you should worry about buffering. You can control buffering on the source side by passing special options to ez.devices.node.reader(nodeStream, options). See the node-wrappers documentation (ReadableStream) for details. You can also control buffering by injecting buffer(max) calls into your chains. The typical pattern is:

reader.transform(T1).buffer(N).transform(T2).pipe(_, writer);

Database support

It is easy to interface ez-streams with node.js database drivers. Database support was bundled with ez-streams until version 0.1.6 but it is now provided through separate node.js packages. The following packages are published to NPM:

API

See the API reference.

More information

The following blog article gives background information on this API design:

License

This work is licensed under the terms of the MIT license.