Opaque Keys (Locators)

David Ormsbee edited this page May 6, 2015 · 6 revisions

This document discusses the design of the Opaque Keys system, as well as the problem Opaque Keys seeks to solve. For practical understanding of how Opaque Keys impacts edX development, see Locators:-Developer-Notes.

Table of Contents

  1. TLDR Basics
  2. Background
  3. The Problem
  4. The Solution
## TLDR Basics

Imports

from opaque_keys.edx.keys import CourseKey, UsageKey
from opaque_keys import InvalidKeyError

Parse Course IDs

# Examples:
#  * Old style: "edX/DemoX.1/2014"
#  * New style: "course-v1:edX+DemoX.1+2014"
try:
    # Returns a subclass of CourseKey, depending on what's being parsed.
    course_key = CourseKey.from_string(course_id)
except InvalidKeyError:
    # We don't recognize this key

Parse Usage IDs (specific XBlock locations within a course)

# Examples:
# * Old style: "i4x://edX/DemoX.1/problem/466f474fa4d045a8b7bde1b911e095ca"
# * New style: "block-v1:edX+DemoX.1+2014+type@problem+block@466f474fa4d045a8b7bde1b911e095ca"
#
# Old style usage IDs are missing course run information (note the missing
# "2004" in the example above). We call map_into_course() to add that
# potentially missing information. That way, we can later get a complete
# CourseKey via usage_key.course_key
#
# Note: Keys are immutable -- map_into_course() is returning a new key,
#       not modifying the old one.
try:
    # Returns a subclass of UsageKey, depending on what's being parsed.
    usage_key = UsageKey.from_string(usage_id).map_into_course(course_key)
except InvalidKeyError:
    # We don't recognize this key

Serialize keys to strings

# To serialize back into strings, just call unicode() on them or pass
# them to format() like you'd expect.
print "Course: {}".format(course_key)
print "Usage: {}".format(usage_key)
## Background

Our codebase is in the midst of a database rearchitecture. Our production database currently is referred to as "old Mongo", in preparation for the move to the new architecture known as "split Mongo", but currently all of our production data is stored in old Mongo. The old Mongo database uses keys that contain structured data. These Mongo keys are literally JSON objects, with key-value pairs for tag, org, course, category, name, and revision. XModule provides the Location class as an abstraction layer over these Mongo keys. Location had a serious deficiency for uniquely identifying xblocks: it does not fully specify the old-style org/course/run identifier (it leaves out the 'run'); thus, old mongo can not uniquely identify xblocks in fully qualified courses.

Split Mongo uses the full org + course + run but also adds branch and snapshot version (like a git commit hash). The split Mongo project provides the Locator class as an abstraction layer over these.

## The Problem

We pass around serialized Locations and course ids throughout our codebase and allow code to parse these as they see fit. This means that we cannot add fields (such as run, branch, and version) without breaking existing code. As a result, our key abstraction breaks down: rather than merely being a pointer, our application treats these strings as data in their own right, and as a result our application contains all sorts of assumptions and expectations around what data is available, how to modify one key to create a different key, and so on.

This makes it difficult or impossible to effectively reason about how we store our data, and creates nasty ties between the data storage layer and the presentation layer.

One example of this is found in the way that LMS structures its URLs. URL construction is highly dependent on the org/course/run triple that is present in our keys, and those three components are parsed separately from the URL.

This key introspection also means that different parts of our application can only accept Locations or only accept Locators, which is odd since both types of keys refer to the same data. It means we must spend time converting from one key abstraction to another, maintaining a loc_mapper data structure for the sole purpose of remembering which Location refers to which Locator and vice versa -- which means lots of extra database queries and performance penalties. It also makes reasoning about how we store our data much more difficult.

## The Solution

To solve this problem, we convert these "transparent keys" (keys where the application can and does manipulate internal structure and serialized form) into "opaque keys" (keys where the application should be agnostic with respect to key format, and uses an API to get information about the key and to construct new keys).

The other key benefit of this solution is it allows us to migrate our data from Locations to Locators, something we have been trying to do for quite some time. This makes it easier to reason about where and how our data is stored and accessed.

Read on for more about the architecture of OpaqueKeys. For help understanding how to utilize them in your application, see Locators:-Developer-Notes.

### Key Introspection API

Because not all of our application can be easily refactored to treat keys as truly opaque, we have created a key introspection API, opaque_keys, that all of our database key abstractions (Locations and Locators) support.

The purpose of this API is to allow parts of the application to indirectly introspect database keys, which (a) allows the application to get the information it needs, and (b) ensures that all requests for this information funnel through a very small number of functions. This way, if we need to change the way that the database stores its data, we can do that behind an abstraction layer, and be confident that the rest of the application won't notice. It also means that multiple database key abstractions (Locations and Locators) can support the same API, so that the rest of the application can treat them as interchangeable, in classic Python duck-typing fashion. Thus, key information should only be retrieved using that key's public methods.

### OpaqueKey Hierarchy

The base abstract Opaque Key class is implemented at common/lib/opaque_keys/opaque_keys/__init__.py. There are four main base abstract key classes: CourseKey, DefinitionKey, UsageKey, and AssetKey, defined within common/lib/xmodule/xmodule/modulestore/keys.py:

                                      OpaqueKey                                         
                +-------------------+--------------+----------------+                    
                |                   |              |                |                    
                |                   |              |                |                    
                +                   +              +                +                    
            CourseKey          DefinitonKey     UsageKey         AssetKey                
        +--------------+       +----------+    +----------+       +------+                
        |              |       |          +-++-+          |              |                
        +              +       +            ++            +              +                
SlashSeparated     Course    Definition   Location        BlockUsage     AssetLocation    
  CourseKey         Locator     Locator                      Locator                      

CourseKeys identify courses. A SlashSeparatedCourseKey is the course key used for old style org/course/run identifiers; a CourseLocator is a course key that supports the new style org+offering identifier that provides more flexibility in naming conventions.

A DefinitionKey is a type of OpaqueKey that will be used to identify an XBlock's reusable content.

A UsageKey identifies an XBlock usage in a particular context (usually a course). Locations and BlockUsageLocators are examples.

A Location is both a DefinitionKey and a UsageKey. Locations identify a particular module within a course; they also know about the module's XBlock scope.

An AssetKey supports static assets such as pictures, pdfs, and mp3s uploaded by course authors through Studio.

The classes SlashSeparatedCourseKey and Location both have the to_deprecated_string method and from_deprecated_string classmethod. This method enables users to serialize and deserialize the CourseKey in the old-style "org/course/run" format and the Location in the i4x://org/course/category/id format.

### Utilizing Keys

Eventually, no application or interface should specify the type of key needed, only the abstract class (UsageKey, AssetKey, CourseKey are good, Location and others are bad).

Requiring a Location is a temporary short cut due to LMS not truly treating keys as opaque. We are migrating to a world of true opaqueness, where only the persistence layer (modulestore) should control the concrete key class. Do not write new code that depends on specific types of keys.

### Key Relationships

Keys are related in the following way:

                      CourseKey        DefKey                                             
                      ^       ^                                                     
                      |       |                                                     
                      v       v                                                     
                AssetKey     UsageKey                                               

A CourseKey knows about its AssetKeys and UsageKeys. An AssetKey and a UsageKey each knows which CourseKey it is associated with. DefKey's are context independent.

### URLs

We want to have meaningful URLs where possible, which means using slugs instead of numerical IDs or GUIDs. The simple resolution for this is to serialize and deserialize these opaque keys in such a way that the information is not obscured; for example, most CourseKeys serialize as org+course+run plus possibly other information such as branch and version snapshot id.

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