News / 02 April 2016

iRODS Development Update: February and March 2016

The past couple months we released iRODS 4.1.8 and associated plugins as well as made considerable progress on iRODS 4.2.  Efforts include the new build and configuration systems as well as rule engine plugin integration. We skipped the February TWG in order to focus on development and the new release and held one in March.

March Technology Working Group

Slides are available here.

The agenda included much of what is discussed in this post:

  • 4.2 Update
    • C++ "Default Rule Engine" - optional vs default for new installs
    • New serialization for dynamic policy enforcement points
  • Update on CI
  • Update on the new configuration and build system
  • Creating a standard json message format for the Enterprise Message Bus 
  • 4.3 - GQv2 and The Next Roadmap
  • iRODS 4.1.8

We closed 17 issues for the final touches on the last release of the iRODS 4.1 series which totaled 108 commits for 60 issues. This represents the final release of the 4.1.x branch of development.

iRODS 4.2

We have made considerable progress towards an engineering preview of iRODS 4.2.  We are nearly finished with the architectural and infrastructure updates.  We have performed most of the heavy lifting for the new build system in an experimental branch creatively called the experimental-build-system.  As work progressed in both the master branch as well as the experimental build branch ( XBB ) we have now merged the two into XBB-2.  We will shepherd this through the CI system by hand and then release the engineering preview from XBB-2 in order to gather feedback as quickly as possible.  Once we cut the preview release we will integrate the new build system into CI and then XBB-2 will become the master branch.  We will feature freeze by the end of April and then focus on testing and documentation for the month of May.


As previously mentioned, we have now built packages for all our external dependencies which include:  avro, boost, clang, clang-runtime, cmake, cppzmq, jansson, libarchive, and zeromq.  These will be provided via our new repositories hosted at along with the iRODS 4.2 release.  Any newer versions of iRODS and the associated dependencies will also be subsequently available via the repository as an upgrade.  We feel this should make both installation as well as building the latest version of iRODS much simpler.

We have completely moved from the use of EPM as well as our bespoke build system which was a combination of Make and bash.  We now have a complete build and package system based on CMake and CPack.  The highlights here are swifter build times, support for both Make and Ninja build as well as the ability to generate Visual Studio projects.  We have brought the time to build and package from 10 or more minutes down to 2 minutes which has very much tightened our development iteration time.  CMake will also allow us to better unify a binary installation with a run-in-place installation.  iRODS will be built the same, into a target build directory.  Rather than packaging for a binary installation, a run-in-place installation will simply be 'make install'ed into a target location.  The directory organization of the two installation types will be identical.

Following along with our new build system we have also standardized on a modern compiler: clang.  We have built and provided clang 3.8 as a package from our repository in order to make this move as simple as possible for the community.  We chose clang both for its implementation of the latest C++ features as well as the amazing suite of tools it provides.  We heavily used both in the push for iRODS 4.2.  Both the clang static analyzer as well as the address sanitizer have found a number of issues missed by cppcheck, coverity, and valgrind.

The new python configuration system is nearly complete and is already merged with the XBB-2 branch.  Installation has been nearly unified across the various configurations as python has the necessary tools to work with both the various databases as well as the JSON configuration files.  Given all the nice things that the new configuration framework provides we are also removing all installation and upgrade logic from the packaging and placing that responsibility entirely on the script.  Upon a start or restart, the framework will check the iRODS version, database schema version, and configuration schema versions.  If any are behind in revision the framework will take the appropriate measures to bring them up to date before starting iRODS.  This includes any changes to the database schema as well as any configuration files used by iRODS.  This means that the packager will simply get files onto the disk and the framework will handle the rest in a hands-free manner.  From this new point of view, a fresh installation or the Nth upgrade will behave the same for both a binary install or run-in-place.

New Feature Development

The refactoring of the RPC API is now complete, allowing for dynamic policy enforcement for every API available within iRODS. This includes both the statically linked and dynamically loaded plugins.  A new capability is the serialization of the API parameters themselves into the policy enforcement point.  This means that as much of the context as possible is captured at the point of call and provided to the policy enforcement point.  Each rule engine plugin can then individually decide the best way to handle the serialized parameters.

The integration of the rule engine plugin framework is also nearly complete. The native rule engine itself has been moved into the plugin which removes the overhead of initialization unless requested by the iRODS instance.  The use of irule, delayed execution, and remote execution are now routed through the rule engine plugins which allows for the use of python, javascript, or other rule languages every place where the native rule language was once used.  This final separation of the rule engine signifies the last interface created between the iRODS core and the collection of services it provides.

Another step towards simplification of both the code and the installation process is the unification of the ICAT enabled servers and the resource servers.  Previously, this decision was made at compile time which required two separate packages and other configuration requirements.  We have now moved this compile-time option to a run-time configuration decision which means we can ship a single server package which may or may not provide the catalog services with the change of a single parameter. This opens up the opportunity for a server to switch roles automatically as necessary given either load or availability.

Jason Coposky