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Naggati 2.0

Naggati (Inuktitut for "make fit") is a protocol builder for netty, using scala 2.8.

What's netty?

Netty is a high-performance java library for doing asynchronous event-driven I/O. You can check out their website here:

Netty works by creating one or more Selectors that poll a set of active sockets. When a socket receives data, netty sends the received bytes through a processing pipeline. Usually the pipeline decodes these bytes into a "message" for whatever protocol you're speaking -- for example, in HTTP, the pipeline might decode the received bytes into an HTTPRequest object that contains the method, path, HTTP version, and headers. The last receiver on the pipeline is your session object, which processes the message and possibly responds.


Okay, so how does naggati help?

For a protocol decoder to turn bytes into objects, it needs to implement a kind of state machine, because there's no guarantee that a complete request will arrive within one network packet. Typically, a protocol decoder buffers bytes until a full request is received, then decodes it and passes it down the filter. If extra bytes are left over, they're left in the buffer for the next call.

Naggati's primary purpose is to simplify the creation of protocol decoders, by letting you write sequential-looking code which is actually compiled into a state machine.

A simple example

Let's build a simple HTTP header decoder using naggati. The resulting code already lives in com.twitter.naggati.codec.HttpRequest if you want to go peek at it.

First, we'll make case classes for the HTTP request objects:

case class RequestLine(method: String, resource: String, version: String)
case class HeaderLine(name: String, value: String)
case class HttpRequest(request: RequestLine, headers: List[HeaderLine],
                       body: Array[Byte])

Then, we write the first decoding stage:

val read = readLine(true, "UTF-8") { line =>
  line.split(' ').toList match {
    case method :: resource :: version :: Nil =>
      val requestLine = RequestLine(method, resource, version)
      readHeader(requestLine, Nil)
    case _ =>
      throw new ProtocolError("Malformed request line: " + line)

Each stage is literally an object of type Stage. A stage is called when new data arrives on the socket. It takes the new ChannelBuffer and returns one of three things:

  • Incomplete if we need more bytes to make progress
  • Emit if we decoded a full object and are ready to process it
  • GoToStage if we decoded a partial item, and need to move to a new stage to continue

Usually a stage doesn't return GoToStage explicitly, because an implicit conversion is supplied which converts a Stage into this return value automatically. So a stage can return a different stage to implicitly move the state machine to a new stage.

In many cases, you won't need to write a new stage yourself. Naggati comes with various stages that perform standard protocol units like "read a line of text" or "read a 32-bit network-order integer". These all live in:


For our HTTP request, we just use readLine to read a line of text. The final parameter is a closure (code block) to call when the entire line is read. It takes the decoded line of text as a parameter and continues decoding. When we've finished decoding the request line's method, path, and version, we "call" readHeader to move to the stage where we read header lines.

def readHeader(requestLine: RequestLine, headers: List[HeaderLine]) = {
  readLine(true, "UTF-8") { line =>
    if (line == "") {
      // end of headers
      val contentLength = headers.find { == "content-length" }.map { _.value.toInt }.getOrElse(0)
      readBytes(contentLength) { data =>
        emit(HttpRequest(requestLine, headers.reverse, data))
    } else if (line.length > 0 && (line.head == ' ' || line.head == '\t')) {
      // continuation line
      if (headers.size == 0) {
        throw new ProtocolError("Malformed header line: " + line)
      val newHeaderLine = HeaderLine(, headers.head.value + " " + line.trim)
      readHeader(requestLine, newHeaderLine :: headers.drop(1))
    } else {
      val newHeaderLine = line.split(':').toList match {
        case name :: value :: Nil =>
          HeaderLine(name.trim.toLowerCase, value.trim)
        case _ =>
          throw new ProtocolError("Malformed header line: " + line)
      readHeader(requestLine, newHeaderLine :: headers)

That may look like a lot of code, but it completely handles the parsing of HTTP request headers. It reads a line of text, and then handles three cases:

  1. An empty line indicates that the headers are done. It reads the body contents into a byte array and sends the HttpRequest object down the pipeline.

  2. A line starting with whitespace indicates a continuation of the previous header line. The new contents are appended to the end of the last header line, and we continue reading the header.

  3. Anything else should be a new "Name: value" header line, which is added to the front of the list. We then continue reading the header.

The recursive calls work because the return value of readHeader is really just a Stage object (readLine) that contains the rest of the method body as an attached closure. The closure is only called when a complete line of text is read from the socket, and each of the recursive calls to readHeader just immediately return another closure of the same type but with different state. Each recursive call effectively just changes the current stage of the state machine.

The final step is to wrap the initial Stage into a decoder that can be used as a ChannelHandler in a netty pipeline:

def decoder = new Decoder(read)

This decoder object can now be injected into the pipeline for a new netty channel.


The Encoder[A] trait defines a conversion of objects of type A into bytes. It has only one method:

def encode(obj: A): Option[ChannelBuffer]

which should return None if the object doesn't require any bytes to be written, or a ChannelBuffer, which is netty's byte array wrapper.

You can mix in the Signalling trait on your response class to attach signal flags to outbound messages. Signalling defines a method then(flag) to attach these flags. The defined flags are:

  • Disconnect: disconnect after sending this message
  • Stream(channel): listen to the attached channel for a continuing stream until it's closed

For example, to disconnect after sending an error message, you might use:

channel.write(new MemcacheResponse("CLIENT_ERROR") then Codec.Disconnect)

The Stream flag is useful for returning a stream from a request/response cycle. To stream an HTTP response, for example, you could send a normal "OK" response with a channel attached, and send data in the background.

A Stream contains a LatchedChannelSource which is a subclass of twitter-util ChannelSource. As data is posted to the channel, naggati will run it through the encoder and send it down to netty, just as if it had been received normally from the pipeline. When the channel is closed, the encoder returns to its normal state. It's a runtime error to try to send normal objects or open a new stream while the stream channel is open.


For convenience, naggati defines a Codec class that wraps a decoder and encoder and can be dropped into a netty pipeline. A codec contains a starting Stage for decoding inbound objects, an Encoder for encoding outbound objects, and optional counter methods for tracking the in/out bytes.

To build a pipeline factory for netty's use, you can usually write something like this:

val pipelineFactory = new Codec(decoder, encoder).pipelineFactory

The kestrel source code has a good example of using a naggati Codec to construct a finagle server.


Check out HttpRequest and MemcacheRequest in the codec source folder. More may be added later.

How to use naggati in your own project

Add the following repo to your project's maven repo list, if it's not already there:

Then add a dependency on com.twitter / naggati / 2.0.0 (or whichever is the latest version).

Netty will be included through transitive dependencies.

How to build

You need to install sbt 0.7.4 and of course java 1.6. Then:

$ sbt clean update package-dist


  • Robey Pointer @robey

with advice from Steve Jenson (@stevej) and John Kalucki (@jkalucki)

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