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EIO Design Goals:
Requirements and Preferences

General EIO Requirements

  • Non-blocking. Normal usage of the EIO library should not cause a vat to block indefinitely on external I/O, or block at all on any non-prompt I/O, even when there are bugs in the E code using EIO.

    (It would be pointless to require that malicious usage must not cause a vat to block, since a malicious entity in a vat can effectively block its whole hosting vat anyway with an infinite loop.)

    When wrapping legacy I/O libraries, this requirement relies on those libraries stating accurately what operations may proceed promptly. For example, an InStream that wraps a Java1.3 InputStream or Reader will only be prompt to the extent that InputStream.available() or Reader.ready() indicates what can be read promptly.

  • Efficient later. EIO must be implementable in Java1.4 using NIO without introducing unnecessary threads.

  • Possible now. EIO must be implementable in pure Java1.3 (ie, without NIO or NBIO). Note that E itself requires only 1.3 and so must depend on only 1.3. (Though of course, E must be compatible with 1.4 and later versions.) Note that this requirement cannot be met efficiently now -- on Java 1.3-based implementation will require a separate thread to block on each separately blockable I/O device on which there's a separate I/O operation posted.

InStream and OutStream

The center of any I/O library design are the interfaces often known by names like InputStream and OutputStream. For EIO, these are InStream and OutStream, refered to jointly as EIO Streams.

(XXX I find it difficult to write requirements per se. The following list mixes goals with some description of the actual design we arrived at in service of those goals.)

As with other I/O libraries, the EIO library both defines the types InStream/OutStream, for itself and others to implement, and provides some built-in implementations of these types. When the following list of goals says, for example, that "A conforming Foo MUST ...", this means, as is conventional, that an implementation of Foo must have the stated property in order to be considered conforming, though conformance is not detected or enforced, and so should not generally be relied upon by clients of a Foo.

Unless stated otherwise, we do require all built in primitive Stream implementations provided by the EIO library to conform, and the built-in layered EOI-provided Stream implementations (see Composability below) to be conformance preserving -- if the layers they're built on conform, then they must conform as well. Likewise, an EIO-provided Stream that wraps (is layered upon) a stream must be conformance preserving -- if the stream conforms to its contract, then the wrapping EIO Stream must conform as well.

The goals EIO Streams (InStream and OutStream) should meet are:

  • Wraps legacy. EIO Streams must be able to wrap the common byte and character stream classes, such that EIO Streams can be used from E instead of these stream classes with well enough that the stream classes can be removed from the portable E API spec without loss of needed functionality.

  • Tames legacy. This wrapping must eventually be sufficient that we can tame legacy blocking operations out of existence (from the perspective of the E programmer), or at least make them unnecessary for normal use.

  • Objects can play too. Besides bytes and chars, the API must provide for streams of any type of element, in order to bring the power of stream-oriented programming to objects. However, when the type is in fact a scalar type, then a packed list-of-scalar representation should be used. When used within a vat, a stream of objects must pass references to the objects themselves, without serialization.

  • Simple model. The following is the model we're using, and serves as an example of the kind of model we require:

    A stream is an ongoing sequence of elements of some type, some of which may be known now, and some of which are expected to become known in the future. The stream of elements may continue forever, it may successfully close, or it may fail with a terminal problem (an IOException explaining the reason for failure). Whether it closes or fails, it is done with a terminator indicating how it is done (either true or a reference broken by the terminal problem). This terminator is conceptually in the stream after the last element, but it is not itself an element of the stream.

    Elements enter a stream through an OutStream and exit through an InStream. When Alice is writing into a stream that Bob reads, we say that Alice is upstream of Bob. Likewise, the OutStream is upstream of the InStream. A client of an OutStream, such as Alice, is a producer. A client of an InStream, such as Bob, is a consumer.

  • Synchronous use is instantly familiar. The synchronous reading operations must be easily understandable to someone familiar with's InputStream or Reader. Likewise with the synchronous writing operations and's OutputStream and Writer.

  • Asynchronous use is easily learned. The asynchronous operations must be easily understandable to someone who's learned the synchronous operations and is already familiar with the basic E concurrency model.

  • Simple things must be simple, complex things should be possible. We are explicitly willing to accept APIs unable to do some complex things, to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

  • Fail-stop. The streams that OutStream writes and InStream reads should be fail-stop. The built-in streams provided by EIO must be fail-stop. This means they must reliably deliver the elements of the stream in order until they close or fail. Failure must be distinguishable from normal termination. As on normal termination, on failure the stream must stop -- termination must be a permanent condition. Once a stream is done, it should release its buffers.

  • Composability:

    • Pipes. EIO must provide a pipe abstraction that has an InStream facet and an OutStream facet. Everything written to the OutStream facet must be immediately available to from the InStream facet.

    • Filters. Streams must be easily composable: As with Unix shell programming, it must be easy to create filters -- intermediaries that read from an InStream and write to an OutStream. Placing filters between pipes effectively makes longer pipes or transducting pipes. Such a filter may or may not require the InStream and OutStream to be in the same vat as itself. The EIO library itself must provide a some basic filters, including an inter-vat copying filter, which can therefore be used for making inter-vat pipes.

    • Pipes as "opto-isolators". As is generally true of capability style, InStreams and OutStreams should have no unchecked preconditions. The InStreams and OutStreams provided by EIO must nave no unchecked preconditions. Therefore, when Alice writes to the OutStream W of a pipe and Bob reads from the InStream R of the pipe (Alice->W=R->Bob), then Alice must see good W behavior even if Bob misbehaves, and Bob must see good R behavior even if Alice misbehaves.

    • Failure propogation. Pipes and filters, including the built-in ones, may spontaneously fail unless their specific contract says otherwise. They may also be told to fail by their clients (through the InStream and OutStream interfaces). The built in pipes and filters must report their failure both upstream and downstream. A built-in pipe or filter that isn't already done and receives a failure report must itself fail with the same terminal problem, whose report it must therefore propogate. Other pipes and filters should do likewise.

    • Close propogation. The built-in pipes and filters must not spontaneously close (terminate successfully) -- A close indicates an intentional decision by some client of the EIO library. When Alice closes her OutStream, she is informing Bob that she has finished writing elements to the stream. When Bob closes his InStream, he is informing Alice that he's no longer interested in anything she has to say.

      If Carol closes an InStream or OutStream that's in the chain between Alice and Bob (or likewise, if she tells it to fail), then she's revoking Alice's ability to talk to Bob through that channel. The built-in pipes and filters must therefore propogate closes both upstream and downstream. (For this use, we currently recommend that Carol tell the stream to fail rather then close. She can then use the terminal problem to inform both Alice and Bob why she's revoked their ability to communicate.)

    • Backpressure, or flow control. There must be a basic set of built-in pipes and filters that only require bounded buffers. As these buffers fill up, these must propogate backpressure upstream, which is to say, avoid draining elements from the upstream pipes and filters. Therefore, the InStream and OutStream APIs must make it possible to deal with bounded buffers and to propogate backpressure. Backpressure must be able to propogate to the EIO client code at the end point who can use it to postpone further production.

    • Error control, not. Although comm protocols typically bundle flow control and error control together, error control (retransmission) is explicitly not a requirement, since any such errors can be masked at a lower level, and our fail-stop requirement requires them to be masked. By contrast, flow control cannot be masked, but must instead be made visible to application code.

    • Flush pressure. With an OutStream, it must be possible to obligate a stream to eventually deliver all elements that have already entered the stream. The built-in pipes and filters must honor this obligation up to the limits set by termination and backpressure.

  • Preserve immediacy. The built-in legacy wrappers must provide all the immediate reading or writing power of the underlying stream abstractions: If 37 bytes are available on the underlying stream, then it must be possible to read 37 bytes now from an InStream that wraps that stream. When composed through pipes and filters, this immediacy may be subject to the limitations imposed by these intermediaries. In particular, all immediacy guarantees are lost over an inter-vat pipe.

Unless stated otherwise, all text on this page which is either unattributed or by Mark S. Miller is hereby placed in the public domain.
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