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Template configuration files and (re)start program whenever they have changed.
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The main goal of concocter is to generate all the necessary configuration files based on the content of remote locations before starting another program. In order to generate the configuration files, concocter supports a flexible templating system based on the Tcl-language. The content of (remote) resources is represented as variables, and these variables can be used as part of the configuration files. In addition, concocter has support for docker: it will be able to generate configuration files using the current dynamic state of the docker daemon through exposing a wide number of properties for each running container, including their environment variables.

In its most simple form, concocter will get the content of all specified variables, generates configuration files using the templates and the content of the variables and replaced itself with the program under its control. But concocter is also able to regularily update the content of all variables, regenerate configuration files whenever content has changed and (re)start the program under its control as necessary. Instead of pure restarting, concocter is able to send HUP, USR1 or similar signals to the program to notify it about configuration changes, if possible.


concocter supports four different types of variables:

  • Variables which specification starts with a @ are understood as the content of a (possibly) remote resource. All characters that follow the @ sign should be an URL and concocter will get the content from that URL and assign it to the variable internally. concoter only recognises HTTP/S and a special docker construct (see below) at present and considers any other URL as being a ... local file.

  • Variables which specification starts with a = are understood as a proper Tcl mathematical expression. Within that expression, any string surrounded by % is considered the name of a variable and the whole string will be replaced by the content of that variable before the expression is evaluated.

  • Variables which specification starts with a ^ are understood as the gathering of file statistics for the path formed by the remaining of the specification. The variable will be a Tcl array reflecting the regular calling of file stat on the path. Whenever the path is a directory, the array will also contain an index called files that will contain the list of files directly in the directory (no-recursion).

  • Variables which specification starts with a ! are understood as an external process to execute. The result of the process will be set to the content of the variable. At present, there is no protection whatsoever against malicious usage, so you should use this facility with caution.

  • Otherwise, the specification will be the content of the variable. Within that specification, any string surrounded by % is considered the name of a variable and it will be replaced by the content of that variable before the expression is evaluated. In addition to internal variables, concocter is also able to pick up the content of environment variables and to default to a value whenever a variable does not exist. The default value is then separated from the name of the variable using a | sign.

Variables are specified through the option -vars. While it is possible to directly specify a tcl-compliant list as a value, in most cases, you will want to lead the value of the -var option with a @ sign. This is understood as a file indirection by concocter, meaning that the specifications of these variables is read from the file instead. In the path, %-surrounded strings will automatically be replaced by their value. Recognised are all environment variables and all the keys of the internal platform.

Within the file blank lines are ignored, as well as lines starting with #. Otherwise, each line should be a valid Tcl list where the first argument is the name of the variable, the second is the specification for the source of that variable (remote location or mathematical expression) and the last (optional) argument is the default value for the variable. The following is an example:

# Declare a variable to contain the whole content of the main github page
github @
# Declare two variables, one depending on the content of the first one
a 10
b =%a%+67


Outputs are composed of a file location, i.e. where to put the configuration file on disk, and of the location of a template or the content of a template. This template will be used to generate the content of that configuration file based on the variables declared as described in the previous section. Outputs are specified through the option -outputs, this option operates similarily to the -vars option with respect to the leading @ in its value. To specify a template file, you should lead its path with the @-sign.

In both the path to the configuration file to generate and to the template, % surrounded strings will be replaced by their values. Recognised are all environments variables and content of the platform specification, as for the variables. But also recognised are the names of all the variables and the three additional: dirname, fname and rootname which refer to the directory, filename and filename without extension of the file where from the outputs specification was read.

All text within the template will be output to the configuration file, unless sections of the files surrounded by <% (opening) and %> (closing). Within these opening and closing marker, any tcl code can be executed. All variables specified via the -vars option are made available as regular Tcl variables. The specific leading <%= can be used to output the content of the enclosed Tcl expression. Execution of the code is done in a safe interpreter to prevent access to any local (host) resources. Calling the command source is allowed, but file paths will be jailed to the directory location of the sourcing template, whenever this is available.

The following example would arrange for the content of the github main page acquired as part of the previous example to be dumped to the local disk (this is a contrieved example!). It dumps the content of the github variable using the expression output led by <%=. Of course, it would be possible to transform this HTML in any possible way, but you would probably reference to a template path and lead that reference with an @-sign.

# Dump to the github.htm file in the same directory as where we were read from
%dirname%/github.htm "<%=$github%>"

Interaction with the external program

The path to the program placed under our control and all its arguments is considered to be anything that follows the double dash -- at the command-line. When -update is positive, it should specify the number of seconds at which to check (and update) the values of the variables. Whenever any variable changes, all templated outputs will be regenerated and the program will be sent a series of signal in sequence, as specified using the -kill option. The value of this option should be an even list where the first argument is the name/number of the signal and the second argument the number of milliseconds to wait before sending the next signal or taking decision. concocter recognises "killing" signals and is able to detect the disappearing of the process under its control so as to restart it. However, it is possible to use the -kill option to send more gentle signals so as to tell the program under control to reload its configuration from files that we would have just re-generated.

Forcing Template (re)generation

concocter supports an external command through the -external command-line option. When an external command is set, the command will be called at each regular polling of the variables and its result can influence concocter so that it (re)generates the templates (and possibly restart the program under its control). There are three types of external command recognised by concocter:

  • The path to a script, when the extension of the first item is .tcl. In that case, the script will be loaded into a separate interpreter with full power. The path to the script will become argv0 in the script and the remaining arguments will be reflected by argv. When the script returns a non-zero value, concocter will regenerate the templates.

  • A path, similar to the above case, containing an @ sign (arobas). In that case, what precedes the sign is considered to be the name of a procedure to be called each time concocter wants to poll for template regeneration. As opposed to the case above, the interpreter is kept between checks, meaning that it will be possible to save state between runs as part of the variables of the interpreter. argv0 and argv are otherwise treated as above. When the procedure call contains ! signs, these are considered to be separating arguments that will be passed to the procedure (which then is the first argument of the ! separated string). When the procedure returns a non-zero value, concocter will regenerate the templates.

  • Anything else is considered a command that concocter will run to decide for template regeneration. Whenever its exit code is non-zero, concocter will regenerate the templates.

Docker Support

concocter is able to communicate with a running docker daemon and automatically creates variables to reflect the current status of all running containers known at the daemon. Docker support is triggered whenever a variable of any name is associated to a source which specification is similar to @docker+unix:///var/run/docker.sock. Anything that follows the + in that URL is considered the location of the docker daemon.

The name of the variable is used as the base for a number of other auto-generated variables. The variable itself will contain the list of (short) containers identifiers running at the daemon. For each container, a series of variables starting with the name of the main variable, followed by a dash and followed by the identifier of the container will be created. So, for example, if the variable was named docker, and if only one container with short identifier 7161b422b031 was running, a series of variables which name starts with docker-7161b422b031 would be created by appending using the following suffixes to this core name:

  • -id will contain the full identifier of the container.
  • -name will contain the name of the container.
  • -ip will contain the IP address of the container on the bridge network.
  • -mac will contain the MAC address of the container on the bridge network.
  • -ports will contain the list of external ports actually forwarded. Each port specification will be composed of the port number, followed by a slash, followed by the type, e.g. tcp.
  • -image will contain the name of the image that led to the container.
  • -environment will contain the list of environment variables that are present within the container.
  • For each environment variable, a dash, the keyword environment, another dash and the name of the environment variable will also lead to a new variable.
  • -label will contain the list of labels that are associated to the container.
  • For each label, a dash, the keyword label, another dash and the name of the label will also lead to a new variable.

Implementation Notes

The different variable types that are recognised by concocter are driven by a set of plugins to maximise flexibility. The matching between the variable specifications and the plugins to use is driven by the file called plugins.spc in the main implementation of the library.

Test and Example

The sub-directory test contains a number of files that can be used to exercise and understand the inner workings of concocter without any external dependencies. The test uses many of the sugaring facilities that are offered by concoter to exhibit their usefullness and provide a hands-on example. From the main directory, start the test using the following command:

./concocter.tcl -vars @%progdir%/test/vars.cfg -outputs @%progdir%/test/dst.cfg -update 10 -verbose "templater 3 utils 2 * 6" -- ./test/slowprinter.tcl ./test/concocter.tcl

The test arranges to declare a variable that points at the content of the concocter main script and places a mirror and reversed copy of the main script under the same name, but in the test sub-directory. This is achieved through calling a procedure that is sourced from an external file to exercise this particular facility. slowprinter.tcl slowly prints out the content of the template-generated copy of the main script on the standard output. As the command increases logging, you should be able to witness whenever concocter tries to update the content of its variables at a regular pace (but does not succeeds in doing so since the content does not change between checks).

If you add the option -external reload@%prgdir%/test/hook.tcl to the command above, you should be able to see that the reload command decides on a random basis to regenerate the templates and restart the reverse output program.

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