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Inside IoT.js


IoT.js is built on top of JerryScript and libuv. JerryScript is a lightweight Javascript engine intended to run on small devices for IoT and libuv is a library for supporting asynchronous I/O. There is a layer that binds JerryScript and libuv to IoT.js. We will deals with the layer in Javascript Binding and libuv Binding section on this document respectively.

IoT.js core layer locates above these binding layer. This core layer plays a central role in this project providing upper layer with fundamental functionality of running main event loop, interacting with Javascript engine, managing I/O resources via libuv, managing life cycle of objects, providing builtin modules, and so forth. IoT.js Core section deals with the layer in detail.

IoT.js provides APIs for user applications to help creating IoT friendly services. You can see the list of API from IoT.js API Reference.

Javascript Binding

Many modern Javascript Engines come with embedding API to provide functionality for compiling and executing Javascript program, accessing Javascript object and its value, handling errors, managing lifecyles of objects and so on.

You can think of Javascript binding layer as an interface between upper layer (IoT.js core) and underlying Javascript engine. Although IoT.js only supports JerryScript for now, there will be a chance that we extend supporting Javascript engine (such as Duktape or V8) in the future. For this reason, we want to keep the layer independent from a specific Javascript engine. You can see interface of the layer in iotjs_binding.h.


jerry_value_t struct stands for a real Javascript object. Upper layers will access Javascript object via this struct. This struct provides following functionalities:

  • Creating a Javascript object using iotjs_jval_create_*() constructor.
  • Creating a Javascript object by a value.
  • Creating a Javascript function object where its body is implemented in C.
  • Creating a Javascript Error object.
  • Creating reference for a Javascript object increasing reference count.
  • Increasing reference count.
  • Decreasing reference count.
  • Checking object type.
  • Retrieving value.
  • Calling a Javascript function.
  • Evaluating a Javascript script.
  • Set and Get corresponding native data to the Javascript object.

Native handler

Some operations - such as file I/O, networking, device control, multitasking, and etc - can not be performed by pure Javascript. IoT.js uses a mechanism called "native handler" to enable such operations performed from Javascript. You can regard native handler as Javascript function object with its body implemented in C.

You might think it is somewhat similar to FFI. In a wide sense, it's true for native handler is for calling C function from Javascript. But in a narrow sense, it's not true.

Usually main purpose of FFI is to call a routine written in one language from a program written in another. After a routine was invoked, it is common that the routine just do what it is supposed to do without knowing the surrounding context except arguments. Whereas native handler does know that it is being called from Javascript (actually it is a Javascript function although not written in Javascript) and does access surrounding Javascript execution context using embedding API.

Embedding API

Many Javascript engines these days provide embedding API. IoT.js uses the API to create builtin module and native handler. See following link if you want further information about the API:

libuv Binding

IoT.js is using libuv to perform various asynchronous I/O and threading. Because IoT.js adopts asynchronous programming model, libuv plays very important role in this project. Actually the main loop of IoT.js is libuv event loop waiting I/O event, picks the event, and dispatches it to corresponding event handler function.

You can read libuv design document to get detailed information about asynchronous programming model based on libuv.


iotjs_handlewrap_t is to bind a Javascript object and a libuv handle (e.g. file descriptor) together. iotjs_handlewrap_t inherits iotjs_jobjectwrap_t since it is linked with a Javascript object.

Unlike iotjs_jobjectwrap_t, iotjs_handlewrap_t increases RC for the Javascript object when an instance of it is created to prevent GC while the handle is alive. The reference counter will be decreased after the handle is closed, allowing GC.


iotjs_reqwrap_t is for wrapping libuv request data and Javascript callback function. And make sure that the Javascript callback function is alive during the I/O operation.

Let's look at how asynchronous I/O are treated in IoT.js:

  1. Javascript module calls builtin function to perform I/O applying arguments including callback.
  2. Builtin creates iotjs_reqwrap_t to wrap uv_req_s and Javascript callback function.
  3. Builtin calls libuv to perform the I/O.
  4. After I/O finished, libuv calls builtin after handler.
  5. Builtin after handler takes iotjs_reqwrap_t containing I/O result and Javascript callback function.
  6. Builtin after handler calls Javascript callback.
  7. Builtin after handler release iotjs_reqwrap_t by calling iotjs_*reqwrap_dispatch()

iotjs_reqwrap_t does not inherits iotjs_handlewrap_t for wrapping the callback function object. Note that HandleWrap does not increase reference count of wrapping object. It does not guarantee guarantee liveness of the object even if the wrapper is alive.

On the other hand, iotjs_reqwrap_t increases the reference count for the callback function and decreases when it is being freed to guarantee the liveness of callback function during the request is ongoing. After request is finished and iotjs_reqwrap_t released by calling iotjs_*reqwrap_dispatch(), the callback function could be collected by GC when it need to be.

IoT.js Core

Life cycle of IoT.js

Note: We are currently focusing on implementing IoT.js upon JerryScript engine. Implementation of initializing process depends on JerryScript API. That could be changed when we adopt other Javascript engines. Anyway, in this chapter we will explain initialization process based on current implementation.

The process of IoT.js can be summarized as follow:

  1. Initialize JerryScript engine.
  2. Execute empty script
  • Create initial Javascript context.
  1. Initialize builtin modules.
  1. Evaluate 'iotjs.js'.
  • Generate entry function.
  1. Run the entry function passing 'process'.
  2. Initialize 'process' module.
  3. Load user application script.
  4. Run user application.
  5. Run event loop until there are no more events to be handled.
  6. Clean up.

Builtin modules

"Builtin" is Javascript objects implemented in C using embedding API, in Javascript or both. The list of builtin objects can be found in 'modules.json'.

Native parts of builtin modules are implemented as native handler, so they are able to access underlying system using libuv, C library, and system call.

The basic modules and extended modules provided by IoT.js are called 'Builtin module' because it will be included in the IoT.js binary. There is a tool that transfer Javascript script source file into C file and this C file will be compiled into the IoT.js binary.

Some native modules are bound to global object while others are on demand. On demand modules will be created at the moment when it is first required and will not released until the program terminates.

Event loop

Note: It would be helpful to read libuv design overview to understand asynchronous I/O programming model if you are not familiar with it.

Note: In this section we will see simple file open example and relevant code segment. You can find the source files at 'iotjs.c', iotjs_module_fs.c and 'fs.js'

IoT.js follows asynchronous I/O programming model proposed by libuv to perform non-blocking, single-threaded, asynchronous I/O.

You can find main loop of the program at the file 'iotjs.c' in the source tree. It looks like this:

  // Run event loop.
  bool more;
  do {
    more = uv_run(iotjs_environment_loop(env), UV_RUN_ONCE);
    more |= iotjs_process_next_tick();
    if (more == false) {
      more = uv_loop_alive(iotjs_environment_loop(env));
  } while (more);

While running a IoT.js application, it could make requests for I/O operations using IoT.js API. For example, You can write a code for opening 'hello.txt' file and printing file descriptor out like this:'hello.txt', 'r', function(err, fd) {
  console.log('fd:' + fd);

To handle the request, IoT.js will wrapping the request and callback function using iotjs_reqwrap_t.

  iotjs_fsreqwrap_t* req_wrap = iotjs_fsreqwrap_create(jcallback);

libuv will take charge of actual I/O processing taking the request.

  uv_fs_t* fs_req = iotjs_fsreqwrap_req(req_wrap);
  int err = uv_fs_open(iotjs_environment_loop(env),
                       path, flags, mode,

Since all I/O are treated as non-blocking, calling for async I/O API returns immediately right after request was sent to libuv. And then next line of javascript program will be executed immediately without waiting the I/O. Thus in the above example 'requested' will be printed out right after file open request was made.

If there were I/O requests, uv_run() in the main loop waits by polling the requests until at least one of the request processing were finished. When a result for a request was produced, internal part of libuv calls corresponding handler function (let it be after function) back.

Usually, the after function retrieves I/O result and iotjs_reqwrap_t object from request data. And calling the javascript callback function with the result.

  iotjs_fsreqwrap_t* req_wrap = (iotjs_fsreqwrap_t*)(req->data); // get request wrapper
  const jerry_value_t* cb = iotjs_fsreqwrap_jcallback(req_wrap); // javascript callback function

  iotjs_jargs_t jarg = iotjs_jargs_create(2);
  iotjs_jargs_append_null(&jarg); // in case of success.
  iotjs_jargs_append_number(req->result); // result - file descriptor for open syscall

  // callback
  iotjs_jhelper_make_callback(cb, iotjs_jval_get_null(), &jarg);

  // cleanup

For above file open example, calling javascript callback function would result execution of the handler.

function(err, fd) {
  console.log('fd:' + fd);

One iteration of event loop is finished and uv_run() finally returns after all results were handled. Next, it calls next tick handler.

    more |= iotjs_process_next_tick();

And for next step, main event loop checks if there were no more request to be treated.

    if (more == false) {
      more = uv_loop_alive(iotjs_environment_loop(env));

If there are another iteration of the loop executed. Otherwise, main event loop ends.