D. New
 November 2001

How to Write Profiles for the BEEPCORE-C Library


Table of Contents


1. Introduction

This document gives a brief tutorial on implementing profiles appropriately. It assumes the reader has a fair familiarity with BEEP as defined in RFC3080.

The CBEEP library and its supporting code is simple to use for simple applications, yet it is capable of surprisingly complex applications. The system consists of four levels of code:

The "core" library is embodied in CBEEP.c and its supporting files. The "core" refers to the part of the code directly responsible for implementing RFC3080 and RFC3081 syntax and semantics. It is portable. It includes no I/O or memory management, which allows it to be used in a wide variety of applications and environments. However, it lacks a number of features one might expect to find in every BEEP application, such as a mapping of URIs onto different profile implementations.
The "wrapper" library wraps around the core library and provides services such as I/O, synchronization, thread creation and termination, and dispatch of messages to separate independent implementations, based on the profile's URI.
Profile Implementation:
Each "profile implementation" implements one or more profiles as defined by their URIs and the RFCs describing their operation. Each profile implementation is responsible for reacting to events sent to it in the form of messages, replies, initialization and finalization from the wrapper, and so on.
Each "application" invokes at least one wrapper. The application is responsible for finding all the profile implementations of interest, opening the underlying TCP socket, creating a wrapper, and otherwise dealing with inter-profile communication, inter-wrapper communication, and configuration.

The library comes with an application that reads a simple configuration file and starts either a listening server or an initiating client. This application can be replaced for more sophisticated applications that may have connections to multiple peers at the same time, for example.

This tutorial describes how to create profile implementations and applications that take advantage of the wrapper that comes with the library.


2. Concepts

There are a number of concepts that are used throughout this document. Understanding these concepts is vital to understanding the document and the libraries. Although the RFCs include many of these concepts, the libraries have implementation-specific meanings for them. These concepts are described herein.

Frame vs. Message
- The first distinction is between a frame and a message. While both are clearly defined in the RFCs, the libraries deal only with frames. A frame that happens to hold both the beginning of a message and the end of a message is a complete message as well as a complete frame. Many places in the API accept a "frame," such as the routine to send a frame over a channel. It should be understood that if one wants to send a complete message, the complete message is put into a frame and one sends the frame. There are also API calls to determine if enough frames have arrived to form a complete message and to accept a series of frames and turn them into a single complete frame.
Session vs. Wrapper Instance
- The RFCs are mildly confusing about what constitutes a session. In some places, a session is described as being established with a greeting. In other places, the description implies there is one session per transport connection. These two different interpretations come into conflict when a tuning reset is performed, which issues a new greeting over the same transport connection. For the purposes of this document, a new session starts just before a greeting is issued, and that session persists until channel zero is closed. Channel zero is closed when either the underlying transport connection is closed or before a non-BEEP negotiation (such as a TLS negotiation) starts, before another greeting is sent. The session can also be terminated without closing the underlying socket by a tuning reset understood by both peers but which does not result in a new BEEP greeting. (For example, a tuning reset after which some different protocol is used over the socket would fall into this category.) On the other hand, one wrapper instance corresponds to multiple BEEP sessions. A wrapper instance is finished when the last BEEP-formatted message has been exchanged. This occurs when a session is closed, a socket error occurs, a protocol error occurs, or a tuning reset explicitly destroys the wrapper without closing the socket (which is an example of the different-protocol tuning reset described previously).
Tuning Profile
- The RFCs describe a tuning profile as one which configures something about the entire session and then either goes idle or initiates a tuning reset. In this document, and for purposes of the library, a tuning profile is one that initiates a tuning reset. There is no practical reason to distinguish a profile which runs briefly then idles from one which continues to run. In the sense used in this document, a tuning profile monopolizes the connection, preventing other profiles from exchanging data while it runs.
Frame-mode vs. Message-mode
- A profile implementation has two ways in which it can deal with incoming messages. It has the choice of dealing with frames as they arrive, or waiting until the remote peer has finished sending an entire message. This is entirely a matter of implementation choice, not a matter of protocol. By dealing with individual frames rather than waiting for entire messages, one can handle arbitrarily large messages and one might achieve a greater throughput via pipelining of I/O and processing. By dealing only with complete messages, one might achieve a significant simplification in message parsing and management.
- Each wrapper instance associates a "mode" with each session. This mode is represented as an arbitrary string. It is simply a selection mechanism for deciding which of the configured profile implementations will be initialized and/or advertised in the greeting of that particular session. The initial mode is specified when the wrapper instance is created. A profile instance that initiates a tuning reset can specify the mode of the new session after the tuning reset completes and before the new greeting (if any) is sent.
Initiator vs. Listener Wrapper Instances
- In the RFCs, the initiating session is the one that issues an active open on the underlying transport connection, while the listening session is the one that issues the passive open. In socket terms, the initiator calls "connect" while the listener calls "accept." Since initializing a wrapper involves passing in an already-connected socket, one must also pass in whether this is a listener or initiator wrapper. The application is responsible for opening the socket, so the wrapper itself cannot deduce this. Indeed, it might be different for two different sockets (and thus wrapper instances) within the same application. At the protocol level, the only real difference is the set of channel numbers that may appear within the <start> element.
Initiator vs. Listener Profile Implementations
- On the other hand, the "initiator" and "listener" terms also apply to profile implementations. In this case, a "listener" profile is one whose URI is advertised in the greeting. An "initiator" profile is one that is initialized but is not advertised in the greeting. Either type of profile may accept <start> requests, and either type may initiate <start> requests. However, since a profile must be initialized before a channel can be started for that profile, a profile listed in a <start> request must be either an initiator or listener profile for the current mode.
Profile Registration
- In the RFCs, a profile registration is a mechanism for reserving and advertising profiles via the IANA. In the context of the wrappers, a profile registration is a structure listing the URI and entry points (along with a few other items), informing the wrapper of which functions to invoke upon the occurrence of certain events.


3. Creating a Simple Profile

Creating a "simple" profile is straightforward. A simple profile is one that runs over a single channel, independent of other channels or sessions, and which is not a tuning profile. For example, a profile that echoes back any messages received would be a simple profile. A profile that performs a database search and returns the results would be a simple profile. A simple profile might both initiate requests and respond to requests.

In contrast, TLS is a more complex profile, since it manages tuning resets. A profile that shares information amongst several sessions (such as a multi-user game server profile) would be complex. A profile that starts other profiles or establishes other BEEP connections would be considered complex. However, all these cases are possible to handle easily once the basics of simple profiles are understood.

Each simple profile implementation has a listening portion and an initiating portion. The lines may be a bit blurry. For example, a database server may spontaneously inform a client that an earlier search result has been invalidated by the arrival of new data at the server. Generally, however, there will be a part of the profile designed to accept requests, and another part designed to generate requests. But first we need to discuss registration.

3.1 Registering Profiles

Registering a profile consists primarily of creating a profile registration structure and making it available to the application in the way the application expects. For example, in dynamically loaded profile instances, the wrapper will define a function call it will invoke after loading a library. This function will be expected to return a linked list of all the profile registration structures for all profiles implemented in that library.

Each registration structure has the following elements:

The URI of the profile being implemented. This can be registered with IANA for standardized profiles. Note that each wrapper allows only one registration for each URI; that is, one cannot register multiple registrations with the same value for the URI.
The next registration in the list of registrations. Used for when a single implementation implements multiple profiles.
A string (char *) of comma-separated values. Each value names one "mode" in which this profile will be initialized, but in which this profile's URI will not be advertised in the greeting.
A string (char *) of comma-separated values. Each value names one "mode" in which this profile will be initialized and in which this profile's URI will be advertised in the greeting.
An integer that serves as a boolean value. If true, the profile is only informed of frame arrival when a complete message has arrived. That is, the profile will not be informed of frames with the more flag in the header having "*" as a value.
An integer that serves as a boolean value. If true, the profile has a thread dedicated to it for as long as the channel is open. If false, the profile gets a thread from the threadpool for the duration of the execution of one pro_ function.
A void_t that you can use for whatever you want.
Function pointers:
A table of pointers to functions. There is one pointer for each function whose name starts with pro_. These are the functions invoked by the wrapper.

When the wrapper wishes to invoke one of the functions, it always passes in either a pointer to the profile registration structure or a pointer to the profile instance, depending on the function. Functions called when no profile instances exist get only a pointer to the registration structure. The others get a pointer to the instance structure, which in turn contains a pointer to the registration structure.

3.2 Accepting Requests

Once a profile implementation is registered with a wrapper, the implementation is ready to be invoked. The wrapper invokes pro_connection_init (indirectly via the profile registration structure) as soon as the wrapper is started. Since no channels are open yet, a simple profile needn't do anything. However, if there is configuration to be loaded or database access to be obtained or something like this, pro_connection_init is where an implementation would deal with that.

Since in this part of the tutorial we are dealing with the listening side, our profile registration includes the application's default mode in its "listener_modes" pointer. In most cases, your profile doesn't care whether it's running over an encrypted session or not, so your profile usually consults a configuration file, using the value "plaintext,encrypted" as a default. Of course, if your profile requires privacy, e.g., the SASL PLAIN profile, then you should hard-wire this accordingly.

When the wrapper's mode is such that the profile is available, pro_session_init will be called as well. Again, for this simplest of profiles, nothing needs to be done.

Eventually, when the remote peer delivers its greeting, the wrapper will invoke pro_greeting_confirmation. This is primarily useful for an initiating profile, so we'll defer the discussion of that function until later.

The first time at which a trivial listener profile actually needs to do something significant is when the remote peer opens a channel on that profile. When this happens, the wrapper will call pro_start_indication with two arguments. The first will be the address of a newly allocated profile instance structure. The wrapper fills in all fields of interest in the structure. The second argument is a pointer to a profile structure which represents one <profile> element within the <start> element.

When the pro_start_indication entry is called, the profile implementation is expected to process the profile piggyback data and decide whether to open the channel. The very first call the profile instance makes to the wrapper must be a call to bpc_start_response. That function takes three parameters: a channel pointer (taken from the profile instance), a single profile structure (possibly with the piggyback data), and a diagnostic structure indicating the reason the channel could not be opened. If the channel opens successfully but the profile wishes to return an error as piggyback data, then the diagnostic pointer must be NULL, the error must be encoded as piggyback data. If the diagnostic pointer is non-NULL, the profile instance will be immediately reaped.

It should be noted that the wrapper itself might refuse to open a channel before the profile implementation sees any indication that the remote peer tried to start a channel. This would be the case if the wrapper itself is low on resources, for example.

Assuming the profile instance has allowed the channel to start, it should expect to start receiving messages. The three functions that might be called during normal processing are pro_frame_available, pro_message_available, and pro_window_full. The first two are straightforward. They inform the instance that either a frame has been received, or a frame with the "more" header flag set to "." has arrived. Only one of these will be called, depending on whether the "full_messages" flag is set in the registration. Assuming that we are interested in full messages only, when the last frame of a message arrives for our channel, the pro_message_available function will be invoked.

It is important to note that when pro_message_available (or pro_frame_available) is invoked, the wrapper has not done anything with the message (or frame). The profile implementation is expected to call bpc_query_message (or bpc_query_frame) in order to obtain the frames. The implementation must also call bpc_frame_destroy when it is finished with the frames so fetched; this opens up the receiving window on the channel again. bpc_frame_aggregate is useful for profiles that deal with messages rather than frames, as it can take the result from bpc_query_message and turn it into a single contiguous frame as if it had been received that way.

For convenience, the last character after the payload on an incoming frame is set to '\0' as well, allowing simple string handling for text-oriented protocols. However, no other processing is done on the body of the message. In particular, the profile implementation is expected to process the MIME headers and deal with any content-transfer-encoding introduced by the remote peer, to parse any XML, to deal with end-of-line translations, and so on.

Once the profile implementation has decided how to answer a message, it allocates a frame using bpc_buffer_allocate and then calls bpc_send. The implementation must provide all values of interest, such as the message type, channel number, message number, answer number, and the "more" flag. The size field is already set to the original requested size; this value can be decreased but not increased. The payload pointer should not be modified; instead, you should copy your payload to where the payload pointer points. For convenience, there is at least one extra character of space after the requested payload size, so it's legal to use strcpy (which copies the extra '\0') without running off the end of the allocated space. The wrapper will take care of deallocating the frame once it has been sent.

Eventually, the remote peer will tire of invoking the services of this profile and will close the channel. When this happens, the wrapper will call pro_close_indication. This function is told whether it is the local or remote peer trying to close the channel and whether it is the session or just the channel being closed. pro_close_indication decides whether it is allowable to close and calls bpc_close_response with a a channel pointer (taken from the profile instance), and a diagnostic. If the dignostic is non-NULL, That diagnostic will be returned as an <error> element in response to the close, and the close will not occur.

The profile instance, upon agreeing to close, should stop sending MSG messages. However, it should continue to process any MSG messages it receives, answering them. It should also process any reply frames it receives, discarding them.

Eventually, when both sides settle down, pro_close_confirmation will be called. This tells the profile instance whether the close has actually happened. If so, the profile module should deallocate any additional resources that particular instance was using.

The only difficult parts of this process are handing of start indications and message arrivals. For the simplest of profiles, the other functionality is trivial.

3.3 Generating Requests

On the other side of the connection is the initiating profile. It too supplies a profile registration structure. It too is initialized for the process and for the session.

The first significant difference is that the "client" side must initiate the connection, rather than listening for an incoming connection. This is part of the application, rather than part of the profile implementation, but it could have interactions with the profile implementation. We'll get into that more below.

The second significant difference is that the "client" side must also start one or more channels. There are two ways of doing this. First, the profile module can provide additional entry points; Alternatively, when the wrapper makes the pro_greeting_confirmation call, the profile module may decide to start one or more channels. (We'll look at these choices in more detail later on.) Regardless, bp_start_request is used to start a channel.

bp_start_request takes many arguments: a pointer to a wrapper, the channel/message number to use for the request, a pointer to a profile structure, the serverName to request, a callback function, and a client-data pointer. Calling bp_start_request generates the <start> message. The callback function is called when the remote peer answers the <start> message with either a <profile> or an <error> element. When this happens, the callback is called with a channel pointer, a diagnostic pointer, and the client-data. If the channel is going to be opened, the diagnostic pointer is NULL; otherwise, the channel pointer should be ignored. If the channel is being started, a new profile instance structure has been initialized at this time, but no call has been made to any of the pro_ functions it has registered. The callback function should take care not to block. One common use of the callback is to copy information from the passed client-data pointer into the user fields of the profile instance.

If the channel is started, then after the callback returns, then pro_start_confirmation is called on the new profile instance.

Once the profile instance receives this call, it can start generating messages. It simply allocates a frame with bpc_buffer_allocate, fills in the payload, and calls bpc_send to dispatch it. Calls to pro_message_available (or pro_frame_available) result in calls to bpc_query_message (or bpc_query_frame) and the subsequent handling of the received replies.

After a while, the profile instance tires of sending echoes and decides to close the channel. It simply stops sending MSG frames and calls bpc_close_request, passing the channel pointer. in the wrapper and the channel number of interest, a callback function, and a client-data pointer. While waiting for the answer, the profile must continue to deal with any incoming MSG frames, generating replies as appropriate. It should also deal with any replies to outstanding messages it has sent. However, it should avoid initiating new MSG frames until the close request has been confirmed.

The callback function is called when the remote peer answers the <close> message with either a <ok> or an <error> element. When this happens, the callback is called with a channel pointer, a diagnostic pointer, and the client-data. If the channel is going to be closed, the diagnostic pointer is NULL. Regardless, the wrapper will call pro_close_confirmation to indicate what happened. If the channel was closed, the profile module should deallocate any additional resources that particular instance was using.

At any point, bp_shutdown may be invoked. This immediately aborts all profiles and cleans up, then signals that it has finished.

3.4 Who Gets to Start a Channel?

The first question that might come to mind is "how do I actually arrange to get the initiating profile started?" In other words, who calls bp_start_request? There are two places from which this function can be invoked. First, a profile can be completely "stand-alone," invoking the bp_start_request from the pro_greeting_confirmation call, as described. Alternately, the application itself could watch for the greeting to be received and invoke bp_start_request. Let's take a look at these two possibilities.

For the first possibility, one might imagine a chat client that reads from the command line the chat server to which the user wishes to connect. In this case, the application would connect to the indicated server and start the wrapper. The reception of the greeting would trigger the profile implementation to open a window into which the user can type messages and into which the profile implementation posts messages received.

For the second possibility, imagine a chat client that opens a window into which a user can type requests to connect. In this case, the application must open the window and handle the I/O with the window. When the user enters the name of the server to which he wishes to be connected, the application reads and interprets this command. It opens the socket and starts the wrapper on the socket, then waits for a greeting. When the greeting is received, the application issues the bp_start_request, passing the address of the window as the client data, which is in turn passed on to the profile instance. When messages are received, the profile instance uses the saved window pointer to post the messages to the window.


4. Advanced Topics

There are a number of topics that do not arise when dealing with simple profiles. However, these topics do arise when dealing with very complicated profiles. These complications are discussed here.

4.1 Starting Other Profiles

Probably the most common need will be starting a TLS or SASL profile. Generally, tuning profiles (in the RFC3080 meaning of the word) will provide an API to start them. This API will allow the application to provide information that is not included in the <start> request, such as the certificate files the TLS implementation is to use, or the user name and password that the SASL implementation is to use. It is expected that tuning profiles will also accept a callback to be called when tuning completes, but this will vary between implementations.

Alternately, some profiles may start themselves when so configured and they receive an appropriate pro_greeting_confirmation. Inspect the documentation for individual profile implementations to determine this.

4.2 Window Overruns

A window overrun occurs when the profile implementation wishes to handle only complete messages, but a complete message does not fit into the available channel window size. In this case, additional frames cannot be received without action on the profile's part, but the profile will not take action until additional frames are received.

If a profile expects messages of an arbitrarily large size, it should handle the messages a frame at a time. There is no other reasonable way to behave if the size of messages is truly unbounded. For example, if a request provides a file name and the response provides the file's contents as one giant RPY, the file contents must be written to disk (or a different socket) as it arrives, since it might be larger than memory.

If a profile expects messages whose size is limited, it should set the channel receive window size to be somewhat larger than the maximum expected message size. In this case, it is a protocol error if the window fills without a complete message being present. For example, if the profile fetches the current time from the peer in ISO format, it is safe to expect a conforming peer will not send more than 4K in response to the request. If the default window fills up without a complete message for this profile, it is safe to assume the remote peer is in error.

Thus, there are several cures for the situation in which the receive window fills without a complete message being present. The profile instance can handle incoming messages one frame at a time. The profile instance can send a preemptive <error> and ignore the message, discarding all present and future frames until it gets to the final frame. The profile instance can increase the size of the receive window, allowing more frames to be sent.

4.3 Tuning Resets

A tuning reset occurs when a tuning profile has changed the underlying protocol used on the socket and wishes to start a new session with a new greeting. [!@!@ OTHER THAN THAT, WE'LL DOCUMENT IT MORE LATER.]

4.4 Multiple Sessions

There are also several situations in which a profile might wish to deal with multiple interacting sessions at once. In the simplest case, the number of sessions being managed is strictly limited. For example, imagine a profile designed to run on a firewall, granting access to machines inside the firewall based on SASL logins to the firewall machine. In this case, there would be the listening profile that accepts the connection. After the remote peer has logged in properly, it can request a connection to a machine inside the firewall by starting this profile. The profile instance would receive the start indication and attempt to open a socket to the machine indicated in the piggyback data. When that socket connected, the profile instance would start a new wrapper, a second wrapper to handle the interactions on the new socket. Then a channel would be started on the second wrapper, and interactions between the two active profile implementations would need to be coordinated by those profiles. (Incidentally, this is known as the TUNNEL profile.)

As another example, imagine a multi-user game server. This server would maintain a number of listening wrappers within the same UNIX process. Messages coming in from one wrapper would need to be coordinated with messages coming in from other wrappers, and perhaps copied and sent out to other wrappers. Different channels on the same session might be carrying inter-player conversation, images of the surroundings, viewpoint information, and so on. Such inter-session communication is left up to the application to coordinate.


5. Sample Code and Execution

The best way to understand what's going on is to look at the file profiles/null-profiles.c — it shows everything you need to know when writing a simple profile.

5.1 For Those Reading Source Code

This section takes a quick look at starting a channel on an already-established session, tracking the creation of various private data structures. The information presented here is not necessary for the use of the libraries, but it may help to explain some concepts to those looking at the source code.

The first example shows a machine named ALPHA opening a channel to its peer named BETA, and the channel open succeeding.

ALPHA's application layer calls bp_start_request.

ALPHA's wrapper remembers the callback and user data, then calls blu_start_request.

ALPHA's core library creates a "struct channel", marks it as half open, formats the XML <start> message, and queues it on channel zero.

ALPHA's wrapper is notified (via notify_lower) that octets are ready, and those octets are copied to the socket.

BETA receives the header, allocates a frame, and receives the body into the frame.

BETA queues the completely-received frame onto its own channel zero structure, and calls notify_upper.

BETA's wrapper calls blu_chan0_parse to receive the message. blu_chan0_parse interprets the XML, creates a channel structure, and marks it as half-started. It then returns the chan0_msg.

BETA's wrapper examines the chan0_msg, decides which profile to instantiate, creates a profile instance, and calls pro_start_indication.

BETA's profile handles the piggyback data (if any) and returns a successful result via bpc_start_response.

BETA's wrapper passes the response to blu_chan0_reply. blu_chan0_reply matches the response against the request, sees that it is a <profile> and not an <error>, and marks the channel as fully open. It then creates the XML and queues it on channel zero.

BETA's wrapper is notified via notify_lower that octets are waiting, and the wrapper copies them to the socket.

ALPHA's wrapper pulls the octets off the socket, and stores them into the library.

When the complete frame has arrived, ALPHA's core library calls notify_upper to inform ALPHA's wrapper that a channel zero message is ready.

ALPHA's wrapper calls blu_chan0_parse. blu_chan0_parse parses the XML and constructs a chan0_msg. blu_chan0_parse sees that the chan0_msg is a positive response to the chan0_msg sent as a request earlier and marks the associated channel as fully open, then returns the chan0_msg to the wrapper.

ALPHA's wrapper sees the positive confirmation, creates a profile instance for the profile selected by BETA. It then invokes the remembered callback, and then invokes the pro_start_confirmation.


Author's Address

  Darren New
  5390 Caminito Exquisito
  San Diego, CA 92130
Phone:  +1 858 350 9733


Appendix A. Copyright and License

Blocks Public License
Copyright (c) 2000, Invisible Worlds, Inc.
All rights reserved.

Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met: