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Dashboard Plugins

The dashboard has a prototype plugin system, intended to allow extensions of the system to be added. It is literally a prototype: it has had some use, but is far from finished, has serious known design headaches, and is generally inflexible.

If you intend to use it you should absolutely expect to modify the core of the system to support your needs. If you are not comfortable with that the odds are very poor that you will be able to produce the plugin you wish.

The basis of our plugin system is the standard Rails plugin system, but we have extended that to support features that are not generally available like database migrations in plugins, and the ability to inject HTML into existing pages from your plugin.

Adding a plugin

Create a Rails style plugin directory in vendor/plugins.

This has the standard Rails plugin bits: app/*, db/migrate, init.rb, etc.

There are special behaviours required or supported around database migrations, and adding hooks from the init.rb file to extend existing views.

Database migrations

Your migrations must be named ${date}_plugin_${plugin_name}_*.rb in order to work. eg: 20110129205337_plugin_example for the example plugin.

They are otherwise identical to regular Rails migrations.

Hooks in init.rb

Generally a plugin needs to do more than just add views, it needs to extend existing content. We have a hook system to support that which you interact with from your init.rb to add callbacks.

Adding a callback is simple: you invoke Registry.add_callback as a global, passing the appropriate scope, hook name, priority pattern, and either a value and a block to it.

The scope argument

The scope is an arbitrary Symbol naming where in the Dashboard or other plugins the hook is invoked. Core Dashboard uses :core, generally, but there is no actual requirement to stick to that standard.

The hook name argument

The hook name is an arbitrary Symbol. The way to find these is to grep through the invocation of hooks in the system; look for each_callback and find_first_callback in the code to find out the available names and all.

Finding the callbacks you are interested in that way is going to be essential in a minute, by the way, so don't skip over it or whatever.

The priority pattern argument

The priority pattern is a String name for your hook. It can be anything you want it to be. Invocations happen in the standard Ruby string sort order based on those.

Most uses of the priority pattern start with a three digit number, so if you already know all the other hooks that will attach to the plugins you can totally position yours where you want. If you don't, though, just fiddle the first digit until your HTML winds up where you want or whatever.

The value or block argument

Finally, the block is the code that you want invoked to actually do something. This can be used in entirely arbitrary ways, so you absolutely have to read each and every call site to understand how that block will be invoked.

The alternative is to pass a value, an arbitrary Ruby thing. This replaces the block with, obviously, a static value.

This is where that greping through the tree I mentioned turns out useful: because you found the invocation site you can just read the code there, typically in a HAML file, to work out how your hook will be invoked.

each_callback hooks

As a guide, the Registry.each_callback method returns the block as a callable object, which the call site is free to do with anything it wishes. The standard pattern is, of course, that you just call the hook method and pass some arguments, but there are no assurances of anything here.

Theoretically an each_callback hook could use the value argument, but so far nothing does. These pretty much always turn out to be consumed as code.

The each_callback hooks invoke all hooks, and typically composite their content to the screen somehow. Don't forget to read the HAML surrounding the invocation site to understand how you structure and style your content to work with the system.

Once you have read every invocation site for that hook, you should have a picture of the callback options. Typically the Rails renderer is passed as the first argument to the block, which you can use to render stuff:

Registry.add_callback :core, :global_nav_widgets, "500_example" do |renderer|
  renderer.render 'shared/my_nav_widgets'

Sometimes additional arguments are passed; they are typically the internal model objects from the Dashboard or the other plugin. They are not documented; just go read the source code to understand how you can interact with those.

find_first_callback hooks

The other common invocation path is using Registry.find_first_callback, in which the first "true" result from a block determines the outcome as far as the plugin system is concerned.

This is used to do, like the previous style of hook, entirely arbitrary things. Some of them need value arguments, others need blocks. The only way to know which is which is to read the invocation site, because all decisions about consumption of the thing are delegated to the invoker.

Unlike the previous version there is pretty much zero common pattern in calling here. Currently this only uses code blocks, and invoke them with an argument to let you make dynamic decisions about the result.

Theoretically someone might start using the static value ability to let you specify things statically, but obviously you can't know that without reading every invocation site, and ensuring they will all work with the static argument.


There are some examples available in lib/core_callbacks.rb, where we use these hooks as part of the Dashboard itself. That also gives you an idea where in the priority list you can slip your stuff relative to our code - though, obviously, you can't know what other plugins do.

Adding hooks

When you start building anything that interacts with the rest of the system at all you will doubtless find that the invocations are unclear, and that there are not hooks that you need.

Add them. Send us a patch. We will merge extra hooks to support your code without great qualms.

Installing Plugins

Plugins should be installed and uninstalled using the provided Rake tasks. To see a complete list of tasks, please use rake -T. The following tasks are specific to installing and uninstalling plugins.

% rake -T
rake puppet:plugin:install        # Install a Dashboard plug-in
rake puppet:plugin:uninstall      # Uninstall a Dashboard plug-in

NOTE: When a plugin is installed, the CSS and JavaScript files are copied into the public directory. This means it is possible for the plugin to become de-synchronized with the application if it is not re-installed using the rake task.

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