Introduction to Programming with DSF


This tutorial introduces the reader to common techniques and patterns used in the Debugger Services Framework (DSF), which is developed by the C/C++ Development Tools (CDT) project.  It also gives a good overview of the framework's more advanced features.

Table of Contents


Copyright (c) 2008, 2016 Wind River Systems and others. All rights reserved. This program and the accompanying materials are made available under the terms of the Eclipse Public License 2.0 which accompanies this distribution, and is available at SPDX-License-Identifier: EPL-2.0



The Debugger Services Framework is a new API for integrating debuggers into Eclipse.  It is an alternative to the Standard Debug Model API in Platform and it leverages the new Flexible Hierarchy API that allows extensive control over the debugger views' contents.  It is also designed to help achieve better performance when debugging applications on slow or remote targets. The diagram below shows the elements used in typical debugger integration and where DSF fits in.

HIgh level view of elements used in a typical DSF-based debugger integration in Eclipse.

1 Examples

Running example code and performing included exercises is very helpful in following this tutorial.  In order to run the examples in this tutorial the following is needed:
  1. Download and install the Eclipse IDE for Eclipse Committers (
  2. Install the latest version of the Eclipse IDE for C/C++ and DSF:
    1. Using Update Manager, install the Programming Languages -> Eclipse C/C++ Development Tools feature found in the Mars Discovery Site (
  3. Check out the org.eclipse.cdt.examples.dsf plugin, found in the git repository under the directory.
  4. Build the examples plugin:
    1. Execute the build the first time to build and run the exercises preprocessor.
    2. Refresh the resources in the plugin (right-click on project in Navigator and select Refresh), in order to recognize the sources generated by the preprocessor.
    3. Build the plugin again to compile the generated sources.
  5. Turn off the preprocessor so that edits made as part of the tutorial are not overwritten. Open Project Properties, choose Builder and uncheck "PreProcessor".
  6. Launch the examples
    1. Examples in data org.eclipse.cdt.examples.dsf.requestmonitor and org.eclipse.cdt.examples.dsf.dataviewer packages each contain a public main() function.  They can be launched using the Java Application launch type.
    2. The timers example in org.eclipse.cdt.examples.dsf.timers requires an Eclipse Application to be launched (see the Timers Example section for more details).

2 Asynchronous Methods

One of the central features of DSF is that it relies very heavily on the use of asynchronous methods.  Asynchronous methods here mean simply methods that use a callback object to indicate their completion. The use of asynchronous methods can be very contagious in a system, where if a lower level API is composed of asynchronous methods, a higher level system which uses those methods also has to have asynchronous methods in its interface (or risk blocking its calling thread).

2.1 Request Monitor

There is a standard callback object used in DSF, the request monitor.  A request monitor has the following features:
Following is the snippet from a the "hello world" example of using a request monitor:


 26: public class AsyncHelloWorld {

28: public static void main(String[] args) {
29: Executor executor = ImmediateExecutor.getInstance();
30: RequestMonitor rm = new RequestMonitor(executor, null);
31: asyncHelloWorld(rm);
32: }

34: static void asyncHelloWorld(RequestMonitor rm) {
35: System.out.println("Hello world");
36: rm.done();
37: }

Sequence diagram of the AsyncHelloWorld example.
Exercise 1: A common problem in DSF is implementing nested asynchronous methods, this exercise adds a second-level asynchronous method to AsyncHelloWorld. 

Look for comments preceded with "// TODO Exercise 1" in the org.eclipse.cdt.examples.dsf.requestmonitor.AsyncHelloWorld module.

2.2 Data Request Monitor

The base request monitor is useful for returning status of the asynchronous method, but they do not have an option of returning a value to the caller.  DataRequestMonitor can be used for that purpose. A simple example of using the data request monitor:


 22: public class Async2Plus2 {
24: public static void main(String[] args) {
25: Executor executor = ImmediateExecutor.getInstance();
26: DataRequestMonitor<Integer> rm =
27: new DataRequestMonitor<Integer>(executor, null) {
28: @Override
29: protected void handleCompleted() {
30: System.out.println("2 + 2 = " + getData());
31: }
32: };
33: asyncAdd(2, 2, rm);
34: }

36: static void asyncAdd(int value1, int value2, DataRequestMonitor<Integer> rm) {
37: rm.setData(value1 + value2);
38: rm.done();
39: }
40: }

2.3 Multi-Request Monitor

A common problem when using asynchronous is that several asynchronous methods need to be called in parallel, so the calling method needs to somehow manage the completion of several request monitors.  CountingRequestMonitor can be used for this purpose.  It is configured such that it's done() method needs to be called a count number of times before the callback method is invoked. 
The following snippet from the AsyncQuicksort example shows a simple example of using the CountingRequestMonitor:


 42:     static void asyncQuicksort(final int[] array, final int left, 
43: final int right, final RequestMonitor rm)
44: {
45: if (right > left) {
46: int pivot = left;
48: int newPivot = partition(array, left, right, pivot);
49: printArray(array, left, right, newPivot);

51: CountingRequestMonitor countingRm = new CountingRequestMonitor(fgExecutor, rm);
52: asyncQuicksort(array, left, newPivot - 1, countingRm);
53: asyncQuicksort(array, newPivot + 1, right, countingRm);
54: countingRm.setDoneCount(2);
55: } else {
56: rm.done();
57: }
58: }
Note: The use of a parent request monitor can simplify the code when implementing nested asynchronous methods, since the parent request monitor is automatically completed when the child request monitor is completed.  Unfortunately, failing to specify a parent request monitor when it is expected can sometimes lead to bugs.

Exercise 2: Converting a synchronous method into an asynchronous one is another common task in DSF.  This exercise converts the AsyncQuicksort.partition() method into asynchronous AsyncQuicksort.asyncPartition(). 

Look for comments preceded with "// TODO Exercise 2" in the org.eclipse.cdt.examples.dsf.requestmonitor.AsyncQuicksort module.

3 Concurrency

The simple examples in previous section used asynchronous method signatures. However no real asynchronous work was performed since all execution was performed in the main thread.  This section examines a more typical example of a problem that DSF is intended to solve: a viewer and an asynchronous data generator.

The IDataGenerator interface contains the following two asynchronous data access methods:


 49:  void getCount(DataRequestMonitor<Integer> rm);
50: void getValue(int index, DataRequestMonitor<Integer> rm);

The example is intended to simulate a realistic problem therefore, it can be assumed that these methods do not complete the request monitor immediately, but rather that the requests are completed on a separate thread and with some delay.  There are two implementations of this service provided:

  1. DataGeneratorWithThread - Uses a java thread directly and various synchronization mechanisms for data integrity.
  2. DataGeneratorWithExecutor - Uses a DSF executor for both asynchronous execution and synchronization.
There are also two viewers provided which display data from the data generator:
  1. SyncDataViewer - Table-based viewer which implements a synchronous IStructuredContentProvider interface.
  2. AsyncDataViewer - Table-based viewer which implements an asynchronous ILazyContentProvider interface.

3.1 Query

DSF is designed to facilitate use of asynchronous APIs.  However, sometimes there are situations where a synchronous method has to be implemented to call an asynchronous method.  One utility used to accomplish this is a DSF Query object.  The Query object is meant to be extended by clients in order to override the asynchronous execute() method. The client code using a query can use the execute() implementation in order to call other asynchronous methods.  The following snippet from SyncDataViewer.getElements()  shows the use of Query:


 59:         // Create the query object for reading data count. 
60: Query<Integer> countQuery = new Query<Integer>() {
61: @Override
62: protected void execute(DataRequestMonitor<Integer> rm) {
63: fDataGenerator.getCount(rm);
64: }
65: };
67: // Submit the query to be executed. A query implements a runnable
68: // interface and it has to be executed in order to do its work.
69: ImmediateExecutor.getInstance().execute(countQuery);
70: int count = 0;
72: // Block until the query completes, which will happen when the request
73: // monitor of the execute() method is marked done.
74: try {
75: count = countQuery.get();
76: } catch (Exception e) {
77: // InterruptedException and ExecutionException can be thrown here.
78: // ExecutionException containing a CoreException will be thrown
79: // if an error status is set to the Query's request monitor.
80: return new Object[0];
81: }

Detailed sequence of calling IDataGenerator.getCount() in SyncDataViewer.getElements().

Note: Using the query object requires a great deal of care because calling a blocking method can create performance problems and raises possibility of deadlock. One common deadlock scenario occurs when the get() method is being called by a thread which is itself required for completion of the asynchronous methods called by execute().

3.2 Synchronization

Managing race conditions and deadlocks is one of the most challanging problems of large multi-threaded systems.  DSF uses a single-threaded executor as the primary mechanism for safe-guarding access to data.  Methods, which need to access data protected by the DSF executor, have to access this data inside a runnable submitted to the executor thread.  The following is an example of this from the DataGeneratorWithExecutor:


174:     public void addListener(final Listener listener) {
175: try {
176: fExecutor.execute( new DsfRunnable() {
177: public void run() {
178: fListeners.add(listener);
179: }
180: });
181: } catch (RejectedExecutionException e) {}
182: }
Note: It is immediately apparent that this synchronization mechanism adds a lot of overhead and for such a simple example, it is much less efficient than using a synchronized section or an atomic variable.  It is less obvious how this mechanism adds value, however this document is just a tutorial so the discussion of the merits of the design will be left out.

Synchronization using multiple locks on data.
Synchronization using a single DSF executor thread.
Comparing other parts of the two data generator implementations shows that using the synchronization mechanism above is the principal difference between the two implementations.  One notable exception is the principal processing loop in each data generator.  In the thread-based implementation this loop is implemented in the run method of the generator's thread:

139:     public void run() {
140: try {
141: while(true) {
142: // Get the next request from the queue. The time-out
143: // ensures that that the random changes get processed.
144: final Request request = fQueue.poll(100, TimeUnit.MILLISECONDS);
146: // If a request was dequeued, process it.
147: if (request != null) {
148: // Simulate a processing delay.
151: if (request instanceof CountRequest) {
152: processCountRequest((CountRequest)request);
153: } else if (request instanceof ItemRequest) {
154: processItemRequest((ItemRequest)request);
155: } else if (request instanceof ShutdownRequest) {
156: // If shutting down, just break out of the while(true)
157: // loop and thread will exit.
158: request.fRequestMonitor.done();
159: break;
160: }
161: }else{
162: Thread.sleep(PROCESSING_DELAY);
163: }
165: // Simulate data changes.
166: randomChanges();
167: }
168: }
169: catch (InterruptedException x) {}
170: }

In contrast the executor-based generator uses a dedicated method for servicing the queue, which is called by every method that adds a new request to the queue:


197:     private void serviceQueue() {
201: // If a queue servicing is already scheduled, do nothing.
202: if (fServiceQueueInProgress) {
203: return;
204: }
206: if (fQueue.size() != 0) {
207: // If there are requests to service, remove one from the queue and
208: // schedule a runnable to process the request after a processing
209: // delay.
210: fServiceQueueInProgress = true;
211: final Request request = fQueue.remove(0);
212: fExecutor.schedule(
213: new DsfRunnable() {
214: public void run() {
215: if (request instanceof CountRequest) {
216: processCountRequest((CountRequest)request);
217: } else if (request instanceof ItemRequest) {
218: processItemRequest((ItemRequest)request);
219: }
221: // Reset the processing flag and process next
222: // request.
223: fServiceQueueInProgress = false;
224: serviceQueue();
225: }
226: },
228: }
229: }
Note: When using a single-threaded executor as the synchronization method very few other synchronization mechanisms need to be used.  For example the DataGeneratorWithExecutor.fQueue member is just a plain un-synchronized list.  This is true even when using background threads to perform long-running tasks, as long as these background threads can call a request monitor when finished.

Exercise 3: One benefit of the single-threaded executor concurrency model is that as long as a method is guaranteed to run in the executor thread, this method may access and modify any of the variables protected by this executor.  This exercise demonstrates performing a somewhat more complicated operation on protected state data.

Look for comments preceded with "// TODO Exercise 3" in the org.eclipse.cdt.examples.dsf.dataviewer.DataGeneratorWithExcecutor module.

3.3 Annotations

In any multi-threaded system it can become very difficult to determine what are the rules governing access to the various data objects.  In a DSF system, it is even more important to identify which data objects can only be accessed using a designated DSF executor.  Since there is no Java language mechanisms for this purpose, DSF defines a number of annotations that can be used for this purpose.  The annotations are hierarchical, so that if a class has a given annotation in its declaration, its members and fields are assumed to have the same access restriction unless otherwise specified.

DSF synchronization annotations defined in org.eclipse.cdt.dsf.concurrent

Note: The DSF synchronization annotations are no more than a comment intended to help make the code more understandable and maintainable.  Unfortunately, since there is no compiler enforcement of their presence, it is easy to forget to add them.

Exercise 4: This exercise adds the appropriate synchronization annotations to the methods and fields of DataProviderWithExecutor.

Look for comments preceded with "// TODO Exercise 4" in the org.eclipse.cdt.examples.dsf.dataviewer.DataGeneratorWithExcecutor module.

Exercise 5: It is all too easy to get into a deadlock situation.  This exercise purposefully puts the data viewer system into a deadlock.  The deadlock first renders the data viewer unusable, but the main thread also gets deadlocked when attempting to exit the program.

Look for comments preceded with "// TODO Exercise 5" in the org.eclipse.cdt.examples.dsf.dataviewer.SyncDataViewer module.

4 Timers Example

The Timers example, found in the org.eclipse.cdt.examples.dsf.timers package, is used as a reference throughout the following sections.  It is useful to get familiar with this example at this time.

Timer example defines the following two services:

The Timers example also features an user interface for displaying and manipulating the data in the example's services.  The principal component of this UI is a view that can be opened by following the menus: Window->Show View->Other, then selecting DSF Examples->Timers View in the selection dialog.  This view contains a tree viewer which displays the timers, triggers, and alarms in a hierarchy.  The alarms are only shown when triggered and are automatically selected upon a triggered event.

Screen shot of the Timers example's view.
Other features of the Timers example UI include:

5 Services

5.1 OSGi

DSF builds on top of OSGi services APIs.   OSGi offers a rich API for managing services and it is important to understand some of the OSGi service API basics in order to use DSF

Note: The service APIs all use the BundleContext and they require the BundleContext to be active.  This means DSF-based debugger integrations initialize after the plugin is started, but  that they also shut down before the plugin is stopped.  The first part is not difficult, but the second part usually requires that the plugin's BundleActivator.stop() method shuts down the debugger.

5.2 Session

DSF-based debugger integrations can register many services and there can be multiple instances of debuggers registering services with the same interfaces.  To help coordinate services in a given debugger instance and distinguish the services between the instances of debuggers, DSF services are organized into sessions.

DSF Session features include:

5.3 Executor

All the services registered with the same session share a single DSF Executor.  By convention, all public service interfaces should be restricted to being called in this executor thread.  This point goes back to the primary synchronization mechanism of DSF.  Following this rule greatly simplifies the task of protecting the integrity of service state information.

Note: All service public methods should be called using the session's DSF executor.

5.4 Tracker

Using the OSGi APIs for accessing services directly can be very cumbersome.  A client retrieving a service reference is responsible for retaining the ServiceReference object and for calling BundleContext.ungetService() to avoid leaking the reference.  Also, since a service may be un-registered at any time, the clients need to listen for events indicating when a service is unregistered.  Fortunately there are two utilities which help with this task

Services tracked
Tracks all services with a given class name or filter. 
Tracks all services within a given DSF session. 
Thread safety Thread safe Restricted to the session executor thread.
Accessors methods
  • getService() - return the first service instance matching the class/filter
  • getServices() - returns all references matching the specified class/filter.
  • getService(Class) - Returns the first service instance matching given class
  • getService(Class, String) - Returns the first service instance matching given class and filter.
Activation/Disposal methods
  • open() - Starts tracking matching services.
  • close() - Shuts down and un-gets all service references.
  • <constructor> - DSF services tracker can be used immediately after being constructed.
  • dispose() - Disposes and un-gets all service references held by the tracker.
Note: All service trackers must be disposed (or closed).  Failing to dispose a tracker results in a service reference leak.

5.5 Initialization / Shutdown

Every DSF service must implement the IDsfService.initialize() and IDsfService.shutdown() methods.  These methods can only be called in the session executor thread  and are asynchronous.  As the last step in initialization, a service should register itself.  Likewise as the first step of shut-down a service should unregister itself.  Also during initialization, each service should call DsfSession.getAndIncrementServiceStartupCounter(), in order to obtain the startup number of the service.  This number is used in prioritizing the service events.

Starting up a large number of DSF services requires calling a number of asynchronous method in a pre-defined sequence.  Implementing this startup code can be cumbersome and DSF provides a utility for implementing it: org.eclipse.cdt.dsf.concurrent.Sequence. 

Here's an example of how the Sequence is extended to perform the task of shutting down the services in the Timers example:


 25: public class ServicesShutdownSequence extends Sequence {

27: // Session to that the services are running in.
28: final private DsfSession fSession;
30: // DSF Services is created as the first step of the sequence. It
31: // cannot be created by the constructor because it can only be called
32: // in the session thread.
33: DsfServicesTracker fTracker;

35: public ServicesShutdownSequence(DsfSession session) {
36: super(session.getExecutor());
37: fSession = session;
38: }
40: Step[] fSteps = new Step[] {
41: new Step() {
42: @Override
43: public void execute(RequestMonitor requestMonitor) {
44: fTracker = new DsfServicesTracker(DsfExamplesPlugin.getBundleContext(), fSession.getId());
45: requestMonitor.done();
46: }
48: @Override
49: public void rollBack(RequestMonitor requestMonitor) {
50: // Dispose the tracker in case shutdown sequence is aborted
51: // and is rolled back.
52: fTracker.dispose();
53: fTracker = null;
54: requestMonitor.done();
55: }
56: },
57: new Step() {
58: @Override
59: public void execute(RequestMonitor requestMonitor) {
60: shutdownService(AlarmService.class, requestMonitor);
61: }
62: },
63: new Step() {
64: @Override
65: public void execute(RequestMonitor requestMonitor) {
66: shutdownService(TimerService.class, requestMonitor);
67: }
68: },
69: new Step() {
70: @Override
71: public void execute(RequestMonitor requestMonitor) {
72: // Dispose the tracker after the services are shut down.
73: fTracker.dispose();
74: fTracker = null;
75: requestMonitor.done();
76: }
77: }
78: };
80: @Override
81: public Step[] getSteps() { return fSteps; }

83: // A convenience method that shuts down given service. Only service class
84: // is used to identify the service.
85: private <V extends IDsfService> void shutdownService(Class<V> clazz, RequestMonitor requestMonitor) {
86: IDsfService service = fTracker.getService(clazz);
87: if (service != null) {
88: service.shutdown(requestMonitor);
89: }
90: else {
91: requestMonitor.setStatus(new Status(
92: IStatus.ERROR, DsfExamplesPlugin.PLUGIN_ID,
94: "Service '" + clazz.getName() + "' not found.", null));
95: requestMonitor.done();
96: }
97: }
99: }

Below is the code snipped that invokes the ServicesShutdownSequence in the Timers example:


181:             ServicesShutdownSequence shutdownSeq = 
182: new ServicesShutdownSequence(fSession);
183: fSession.getExecutor().execute(shutdownSeq);
184: try {
185: shutdownSeq.get();
186: } catch (InterruptedException e) { assert false;
187: } catch (ExecutionException e) { assert false;
188: }
Note: Sequence implements the java.util.concurrent.Future interface just like the DSF Query object.  However, if the sequence needs to be invoked from the executor thread, the Future.get() method cannot be used (or a deadlock would occur).  Instead the sequence should be constructed with a custom request monitor to be invoked at the completion of the sequence.

5.6 Events

DSF provides a somewhat unusual event mechanism, where event listeners do not implement any particular listener interface.  Instead, event listeners use the DsfServiceEventHandler annotation to identify listener methods.  DSF finds the annotated listener methods using reflection. 

To generate an event a service must:

  1. Call DsfSession.dispatchEvent(Object event, Dictionary<?, ?> serviceProperties) method.  The second parameter allows service listeners to filter events using specific service properties.
In order to receive DSF events a client must:
  1. Declare a public event listener method (method name is not important), which takes an event parameter. The type of the event parameter depends on the event, where the listener will receive all service events which can be cast to the declared type.  A second optional parameter of type Dictionary<?, ?> allows the event listener to examine the properties of the service that is sending the event.
  2. Add itself as a service event listener by calling DsfSession.addServiceEventListener().
Note: DsfSession.dispatchEvent() calls event listeners in a separate Runnable submitted to the session executor.  This is significant because the event listeners may call other service methods changing the overall state of the system.  It also implies that the event listeners are always called in the session executor thread.

Note: Service events are prioritized.  Listeners which themselves are services are called first, in the order that they were initialized.  All other listeners are called after the services.

6 Data Model

The term Data Model refers to the natural structure of data that is being retrieved by the DSF services.  One of the great challenges of creating an user interface for a debugger is that the amount of data that is available on the target is much greater than what can be practically presented to the user.  Therefore the debugger services need to break up the data into chunks with appropriate granularity to achieve maximum performance and usability.

6.1 IDMContext

The IDMContext represents a handle to a chunk of data in the Data Model.  This interface is a minimal, yet central feature of the Data Model API.

What a Data Model context is:

What a Data Model context is NOT:

Note: An IDMContext object can be used to retrieve any type of data object from the service.  Although there is an IDMData marker interface defined, its presence it historical and its use is optional.

6.2 Context Hierarchy

One of the most powerful features of the IDMContext interface is that it is hierarchical.  The IDMContext.getParents() method returns the immediate ancestors of a given context and following the parents' parents allows clients to traverse the full hierarchy of a context. 

The use of the context hierarchy may be best explained with use of the Timers example.  In the timers example there are three contexts that are used:

  1. Timer - no parent contexts
  2. Trigger - no parent contexts
  3. Alarm - requires both a timer and a trigger as parent contexts
From these, only the third one has any parents (and any hierarchy), the code snippet below shows how these parents are used in the AlarmService:


209:     public boolean isAlarmTriggered(AlarmDMContext alarmCtx) {
210: // Extract the timer and trigger contexts. They should always be part
211: // of the alarm.
212: TimerService.TimerDMContext timerCtx = DMContexts.getAncestorOfType(
213: alarmCtx, TimerService.TimerDMContext.class);
214: TriggerDMContext triggerCtx = DMContexts.getAncestorOfType(
215: alarmCtx, TriggerDMContext.class);

217: assert triggerCtx != null && timerCtx != null;

219: // Find the trigger and check whether the timers value has surpassed it.
220: if (fTriggers.containsKey(triggerCtx)) {
221: int timerValue = getServicesTracker().getService(TimerService.class).
222: getTimerValue(timerCtx);
224: return timerValue >= fTriggers.get(triggerCtx);
225: }
227: return false;
228: }
Note: Methods that take a context as an argument can specify the generic IDMContext as the argument type, then search this context for a specific context type.  The benefit of this technique is increased flexibility, at the cost of compile-time type checking, and it is used throughout DSF to avoid dependencies between service interfaces.

6.3 DMContexts

Searching the context hierarchy can be tedious to implement, the DMContexts utility class contains a few static methods to simplify this task:

7 View Model

View Model refers to the ideal user-presentable structure of the data.  This is in contrast to the Data Model, which refers to the natural data structure, although the two often end up being the same.  Never the less, the needs of the user presentation often change so the central feature of the View Model is the ability to customize it.

7.1 Flexible Hierarchy

View Model builds on the flexible hierarchy API introduced by Debug Platform team in release 3.2.  The flexible hierarchy API has a few distinguishing features:
  1. There are provider interfaces for every aspect of data presentation in the viewer (content, label, columns, etc.). 
  2. The provider interfaces are retrieved by the viewer for each element in the viewer.  This allows the view content to be populated from multiple sources.
  3. Provider interfaces are asynchronous. 
Note: Flexible Hierarchy is still a provisional API in Eclipse Platform 3.4.  This virtually guarantees that DSF will break backward API compatibility in future releases.  However, these APIs have now been widely used by open source projects such as DD and CDT and also by many commercial Eclipse integrations, so the API changes are likely to be small and mostly related to packaging.

For more information about the flexible hierarchy API, see the Debug Platform: Custom Integration tutorial at EclipseCon 2008.  The flexible hierarchy is described in the presentation starting with slide 29.

7.2 The Adapter Problem

The number two feature of flexible hierarchy API is implemented using the adapter pattern.  One down-side of the adapter pattern is that there can only be one instance of an adapter of a particular type registered for a given element.  For flexible hierarchy providers, it means that each provider must implement the element presentation logic for every view that the element appears in, and as a result adding a new view can force changing a large number of modules.

Diagram illustrating problem of multiple views sharing a single element, when using the adapter mechanism.
Note: The limitation of posed by the adapter problem can best be observed with the Standard Debug Model implementation of the Flexible Hierarchy API.  If a developer would like to extend the Java Debugger to provide a custom Label Provider for a Java Stack Frame, than that developer would have to extend the Java Stack Frame object in order to register that new Label Provider for it.

7.3 Model Proxy Problem

There is a second major challenge in implementing the flexible hierarchy API, which stems from the different life-cycles of the Content Provider and Model Proxy objects. 

Diagram illustrating problem of separate Content Provider and Model Proxy lifecycles.
In practice this arrangement means that the content provider and the Model Proxy are implemented using separate objects.  However, both objects need to have knowledge of the layout of elements in the view in order to function correctly.

7.4 View Model Design

The DSF View Model is a collection of objects which retrieves information from a data model and uses that information to populate the content of one or more Flexible Hierarchy viewers. 

Note: DSF View Model can be used to represent any data model.  There are features in the DSF Data Model which make it easier to represent it using the View Model, however these features are not strictly necessary.

The View Model uses four principal types of elements when processing adapter requests from flexible hierarchy viewers.  These are:

View Model Design Diagram and Content update handling.

Note: The most important feature of the DSF View Model design is how it overcomes the Adapter Problem.  The VM Contexts are used to redirect getAdapter() requests from the viewer to the appropriate object.  In this way a particular can have many different View Model representations, rather than just one.

7.5 Layout Customization

The primary design goal of the View Model is to make it easy to customize the layout and other presentation aspects of a given data model in a viewer.  The easiest way to explain how this customization looks like is to use an example.

Timers Data Model

In the Timers example described previously, there are three types of elements in its data model:

Timers Example's Data Model

Timers View Model

When presented in a view in a tree hierarchy, either the timers or the triggers can be shown as top-level elements.  In the View Model, the layout configuration is controlled by the configuration of the VM Nodes within a given VM Provider.  This configuration can be easily changed as it is done in the Timers example (see figure below).

Timers Example's View Model

7.6 Event Handling

Another important job of the View Model is to translate the events that originate from the Data Model into generic events (model deltas) which the viewer can use to update itself.  These model deltas are low-level descriptions of exactly which elements in the viewer have changed and what has changed about them.  Some of the updates to the viewer even require a full path to the element that was changed, including indexes and number of children for each element in the path. 

Event handling in VM Provider

The VM Provider is the object in the View Model that listens for Data Model events.  The events are handled in the following steps:
  1. The VM Provider receives the vent from the Data Model.
  2. The VM Provider calls the IVMNode.getDeltaFlags() for each node to determine whether a model delta needs to be generated for a given event.
  3. If a delta is needed, VM Provider calls IVMNode.buildDelta() for each VM Node, building up the delta as it works down the node hierarchy.
  4. After all the nodes were called, the completed delta is sent to the viewer so that the viewer may refresh itself.

Model Proxy implementation in the View Model

The following is an example of a debug trace output from a model delta generated by the Timers example.  This delta causes the "alarm" element to be added and selected in the view.

Timers Delta Trace Output

RECEIVED DELTA: Model Delta Start
Element: Timers View Root
Index: 0 Child Count: 1
Element: .timer[1]
Index: 0 Child Count: 1
Element: .trigger[1]
Flags: EXPAND |
Index: 0 Child Count: 1
Element: (.timer[1],.trigger[1]):alarm
Index: 0 Child Count: -1

Processing events in TimersVMNode

The following listing shows how the nodes translate the events into model delta components:


141:     public int getDeltaFlags(Object e) {
142: // This node generates delta if the timers have changed, or if the
143: // label has changed.
144: if (e instanceof TimerService.TimerTickDMEvent) {
145: return IModelDelta.STATE;
146: } else if (e instanceof TimerService.TimersChangedEvent) {
147: return IModelDelta.CONTENT;
148: }
149: return IModelDelta.NO_CHANGE;
150: }

152: public void buildDelta(Object e, VMDelta parentDelta, int nodeOffset, RequestMonitor requestMonitor) {
153: if (e instanceof TimerService.TimerTickDMEvent) {
154: // Add delta indicating that the given timer has changed.
155: parentDelta.addNode( createVMContext(((TimerService.TimerTickDMEvent)e).getDMContext()), IModelDelta.STATE );
156: } else if (e instanceof TimerService.TimersChangedEvent) {
157: // The list of timers has changed, which means that the parent
158: // node needs to refresh its contents, which in turn will re-fetch the
159: // elements from this node.
160: parentDelta.setFlags(parentDelta.getFlags() | IModelDelta.CONTENT);
161: }
162: requestMonitor.done();
163: }

Event Coalescing

It is possible for the Data Model to generate events at a faster rate than the ability of the View Model and the viewer to process the events.  In these cases it is more optimal for the View Model to skip processing some events to keep up with the Data Model, but still keep the viewer updated.  The VM Provider has an API (IVMProvider.canSkipHandlingEvent()), which can be used to implement event coalescing for specific use cases.

7.7 Property Provider / Label Provider

The IElementPropertyProvider interface is not actually part of the Flexible Hierarchy API, but an extension interface added by DSF.  View Model implementers can use the property provider to configure an IElementLabelProvider object that the Flexible Hierarchy viewers call in order to get element presentation details.

Below is the listing from the Timers VM Node that configures the label provider:


 53:     private static final PropertyBasedLabelProvider fgLabelProvider;
54: static {
55: fgLabelProvider = new PropertyBasedLabelProvider();

57: LabelColumnInfo idCol = new LabelColumnInfo(
58: new LabelAttribute[] {
59: new LabelText(new MessageFormat("Timer #{0}"),
60: new String[] { PROP_TIMER_NUMBER }),
61: new LabelImage(DsfExamplesPlugin.getDefault().getImageRegistry().
62: getDescriptor(DsfExamplesPlugin.IMG_TIMER))
63: });
64: fgLabelProvider.setColumnInfo(TimersViewColumnPresentation.COL_ID, idCol);
66: LabelColumnInfo valueCol = ...
74: }
All that is left is to implement the property provider:


114:     @ConfinedToDsfExecutor("getSession#getExecutor")
115: private void updatePropertiesInSessionThread(final IPropertiesUpdate update) {
116: // Find the timer context in the element being updated
117: final TimerDMContext dmc = findDmcInPath(
118: update.getViewerInput(), update.getElementPath(), TimerDMContext.class);
120: // If either update or service are not valid, fail the update and exit.
121: if (!checkDmc(dmc, update) ||
122: !checkService(TimerService.class, null, update))
123: {
124: return;
125: }
127: TimerService timerService =
128: getServicesTracker().getService(TimerService.class, null);
129: int value = timerService.getTimerValue(dmc);
131: if (value == -1) {
132: handleFailedUpdate(update);
133: return;
134: }

136: update.setProperty(PROP_TIMER_NUMBER, dmc.getTimerNumber());
137: update.setProperty(PROP_TIMER_VALUE, value);
138: update.done();
139: }

7.8 Update Policies

In some use cases, it is desirable to freeze a given view from updating and to preserve its content even if the underlying data has changed.  This is a particular challenge for Flexible Hierarchy views because they are lazy-loading and cannot be relied on to hold the data that they have retrieved. 


To support this feature, the View Model offers an implementation of a VM Provider with an internal cache.  The cache works in the following steps:
  1. The viewer or another client requests an update (current the cache supports having element content and element properties data).
  2. The cache checks whether there is already cached data for the element in the update.
  3. If update data is in cache, skip to Step 8.
  4. If data not in cache, the cache creates a new update object, which is a proxy for the original viewer update.
  5. The VM Provider forwards the proxy update to the VM Node to complete.
  6. The VM Node completes the update, fetching data from the Data Model as needed.
  7. The cache receives the completed proxy update and saves the data from proxy.
  8. The cache completes the viewer update using data from cache.

Diagram of the Caching VM Provider

Note: Theoretically the cache is completely transparent to the VM Nodes.  I.e. no additional new logic in fetching data from the data model is required when switching to the Caching VM Provider.

Last Value

A common use case in debugger views is to indicate to the user whether a particular value in the viewer has changed since the last viewer update. To support this feature, the cache is able to save the last known value of an element upon cache reset.  The label provider can retrieve this last known value and compare it to the current value to determine if the element should be highlighted in the view.

Update Policy

The update behavior in the view is controlled by the Update Policy object (IVMUpdatePolicy).  The Update Policy examines all events received from the Data Model and it determines how the cache should be updated in response to the event.  Following are some examples of update policies:

7.9 Synchronized Event Handling

In some situations, there are events in the debugger which need to be handled by multiple views in a coordinated way.  For example, the user may request that the debugger slow down stepping to allow all the visible views to refresh their content.  This feature is implemented in the following manner:
  1. The VM Adapter listens for the events from the Data Model (normally the VM Providers are the event listeners).
  2. When the VM Adapter receives an event it forwards that event to all the known VM Providers. 
  3. The VM Providers process the event and when the event is fully processed, the VM Provider notify the VM Adapter that the event handling is complete.
  4. When all VM Provider complete handling the event, the VM Adapter notifies the event observer.

Synchronization of events in View Model

8 Future Development

8.1 Compare View

Comparing data from different elements (stack frames, threads, cores, etc.) is a common task in debuggers.  It would be ideal if the debugger offered a "compare" view mode where data from different contexts is displayed side by side and differences hi-lighted.  The DSF View Model already uses wrappers and has other features in place that should allow this feature to be implemented.

8.2 Debug History

The View Model cache is currently able to save the last known value of each element that is shown in the view.  This feature could be extended to save not just the last value, but to save its entire contents as the views are being updated in response to Data Model events.  This data history could then be presented to the user in very much the same way as local file revision history is shown in the History view.

8.3 Contribution to Platform SDK

The DSF framework itself does not have any special dependencies on the CDT project.  Also, the technology in DSF is applicable beyond the CDT project in cases where asynchronous access to large data sets is required.  Therefore the long term goal for DSF is to contribute it to the Eclipse Platform project.  However there are several obstacles to that plan:
  1. DSF relies on the Flexible Hierarchy viewer, which itself is a provisional API.  The Flexible Hierarchy viewer is a general viewer feature and it should be part of the Platform's UI component rather than the Debugger.  Contributing Flexible Hierarchy to UI would require significant refactoring before it would be accepted.
  2. Ideally the JDT debugger should take advantage of DSF to provide a compelling use case for this technology in the SDK.