[Geany-Devel] Plugin API design question/change proposal

Lex Trotman elextr at xxxxx
Tue May 20 10:38:38 UTC 2014

On 20 May 2014 19:29, Matthew Brush <mbrush at codebrainz.ca> wrote:
> Hi,
> Does anyone know why the plugin API was designed to use a bunch of
> structures containing function pointers, hidden behind macros in
> geanyfunctions.h? I found the commit where this stuff was added initially
> (ie. plugin ABI 2-3) but it doesn't mention why it was done like this and I
> tried to search the mailing list archives but Gmane won't let me search and
> the other mailing list archive doesn't go back that far.

The user mailing list seems to have been used for both users and devel
back in mid 2007 when the API was first started, but I could find no
discussion on why it was done that way.

> Somebody mentioned it might be because Windows doesn't export symbols by
> default, but it still doesn't explain why this way chosen over explicitly
> exporting the symbols using __declspec(dllexport)/G_MODULE_EXPORT which,
> IIUC, does just this.

Another speculation is premature optimisation of binding of symbols
from the dll when switching from LAZY binding.  This would cause all
binds at load time possibly having a performance impact, and the
pointer table approach reduces the number of symbols bound, but I
could find no such discussion on the user ML either.

> As mentioned in the "Proxy Plugins" thread I'm looking into making the
> headers scanned by GObject-introspection to automate binding the plugin API
> to non-C plugins, but with all of the private stuff and public stuff mixed
> together in public headers, it will be hard to do this.
> Assuming there isn't actually much of a reason for the chosen existing
> function pointer/structure/macro mechanism, is anybody opposed to just
> making the API available in the normal C way where the public functions goes
> in one header that plugins (and core) can use, and one header where the
> private stuff goes, that doesn't get installed?

Seems a very good idea to me.

The headers the plugins use should *only* have the symbols that they
are allowed to access.  These symbols and the behaviour of the
functions they point to are kept as stable as we can so plugins don't
break.  It is way in the plugin writers best interest to have this

I know it might be a bit hard to restrict some symbols, like enums
that C spits gaily into the global namespace, but if functions and
structs are limited to those intended to be available, then that will
be a big leap forward.

None of this actually *prevents* a plugin writer using the Geany
headers to access everything, but in doing so they are alerted to the
fact that what they are using may break, or change in subtle and
incompatible ways.

I see no reason for authoritarian prevention of access to things not
in the API even if we could do it.  We can't predict what people will
want to do, and plugins having to access Geany internals might suggest
that there is something useful missing from the API.

> Just to see the work involved, I tried to do this with the build, document
> and editor functions. It makes the public/private more explicit, removes
> lots of extra code, makes only one place to update when adding new functions
> to the API, doesn't force plugins to import a bunch of private stuff
> indirectly by #including <geanyplugin.h>, still makes the symbols
> available/exported on Windows, and does it without breaking the official
> (ie. doxygen-commented) parts of the API (but it would need an ABI bump).
> The experimental changes to build, document, and editor functions are here
> in my header-cleanup-private branch, based ontop of my "header-cleanup"
> branch that I have an open PR for:
> build.h/buildprivate.h
> https://github.com/codebrainz/geany/commit/0b1221ce85905a066adfaae62fc73470b34af4d5
> document.h/documentprivate.h
> https://github.com/codebrainz/geany/commit/f5e03bbee2c4edc8fe66c8e0762ef86e1f130857
> editor.h/editorprivate.h
> https://github.com/codebrainz/geany/commit/1534f196d626494b57d408f780dfde022f18dd07
> What we could do for commonly used existing private stuff:
> https://github.com/codebrainz/geany/commit/ac02d5330af2bd2cfcff45609f0e5b02a8b9d72a
> (Sorry, I just linked the relevant commits instead of the branch so people
> don't have to figure out which specific ones I'm talking about amidst all
> the other unrelated ones. It's mostly just to give an idea of what I'm
> talking about.)

I'm not sure what percentage of the API this is, but if it has only
taken a looong boooring day or two to do it, then its not too bad :)

> I think this would be a fairly big improvement overall and it would finally
> allow us to sort out what's really private and what's really public, which
> will make bindings generated by scanning the headers much easier.
> Some common stuff that wasn't public before (ie. doxygen-commented) but that
> is still used in plugins could be added as "deprecated" to the public header
> or if useful could be properly added with a doxygen comment. This will avoid
> excessive breakage where plugins were using private stuff.
> Any opinions, suggestions, reasons about the original design welcome.

To get rid of the pointer tables requires a plugin ABI break, but no
API break.  So (except where they do the wrong thing) plugins should
only need re-compilation.  I would suggest that this is the best
approach since we are a long way away from a release giving time to
manage recalcitrant plugins.


PS Gold star to Matthew for undertaking the loong booring thankless
task of getting this far.

> Cheers,
> Matthew Brush
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