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This page outlines a proposed functionality as requested in bug 316702
Eclipse is experiencing a tension between encapsulation and flexibility.
- is the basis for many fundamental properties of our software and of the development process. Encapsulation is enforced by various rules and tools (compiler, OSGi, API tooling, etc.)
- is the basis for composing different plug-ins in ways that were not anticipated (nor actively supported) by the developers of a plug-in (accessing internal classes, bytecode weaving, reflection are the most obvious cases).
The eclipse community isn't fully open about this tension. We tend to say that all plug-ins play by the rules of encapsulation, but if these rules were to be fully enforced we'd have to discontinue a significant number of established plug-ins which currently cannot be squeezed into these rules.
Given that we don't want to fully give up the virtue of encapsulation we need a way to make ourselves honest about it.
Funny things that plug-ins do
This is a list of potential effects of installing a plug-in which may not be expected by users believing in the well-encapsulated-black-box story:
- p2 touchpoint actions
- modify eclipse.ini / config.ini
- perform file system actions
- plug-ins accessing internal classes of other plug-ins
- bytecode weaving (like OT/Equinox, equinox aspects etc.)
- insert hooks into other plug-ins' byte code
- change accessibility of classes/methods/fields
- use reflection in order to break just any rule
Other items that may scare some users are:
- p2 may install more than what was requested (including the use of repositories not explicitly enabled, this caused the outcry in bug 316362)
- unsigned jars may be downloaded and installed
Avoid the extremes
Completely abandoning the rules about encapsulation may cause death by chaotic evolution, whereas strictly enforcing all rules may cause death by stagnation.
As a solution I propose to give control to the consumers of our technology, which in the end means encapsulation need not be a matter of all-or-nothing but will become subject to negotiation (for more background see this paper on Gradual Encapsulation).
As the core concept for new kinds of interactions I propose install capabilities.
Enter: "Install Capabilities"
Similar to regular capabilities in p2, install capabilities can be used to declare requirements of a plug-in. However, an install capabilities does not refer to another plug-in that needs to be installed, but these are capabilities that a plug-in requests from the framework in order to perform its installation and start-up.
The following steps outline the generation and consumption of metadata relating to install capabilities.
All requests for install capabilities should be known at the time of building. Some are already available (e.g., p2.inf for touchpoint instructions, or OT/Euqinox aspectBindings from plugin.xml). Some are actually detected during building (discouraged access of internals). All this information should be collected in the artifact's metadata.
One way to grant requested install capabilities would be via user interaction: the p2 install wizard should therefor display information about these requests and ask the user for permission. Any requests not confirmed by the user will mean that the requesting plug-in cannot be installed.
In order to avoid the additional clicks during install, Eclipse could be pre-configured with a policy that grants certain permissions in advance. Policiy files could be provided that reflect a company's policy, e.g.
In the long run it would be great to define a universal format for all kinds of install capabilities. For first experiments existing information (like touchpoint instructions) could be used as is. Other requests could be added as simple properties. The following might be fairly easy to add during building:
- a flag if a jar is (not) signed
- number of forbidden/discouraged access warnings
Some install capabilities might actually carry quite some details, but a common theme would be to mention a set of affected plug-ins (relevant for access to internals, bytecode weaving and perhaps more).
A common worry against this proposal is the clutter of UI with yet more questions that no user will actually want to look at. Actually, the main point behind this proposal is: we don't know what all the users will actually care about, and it's not likely that all users will have the exact same concerns. Therefor, the UI must be as unobtrusive as possible, yet providing the opportunity to explore matters at will.
I've heard two proposals so far, how this can be integrated into the existing UI:
- the license dialog is already a stop where users must confirm before proceeding
- in a similar vein also step 2 of the install wizard ("Installation Details") is related: by saying "Review the items to be installed" this page, too, asks for a confirmation after a solution to the install request has been found.
Whichever page is chosen I propose to just add:
- a text line reporting that specific install capabilities have been requested
- this text should be a link to a full report of requests
- a checkbox for confirming all requests
In the future the detail page (report) could be extended to provide a nice hierarchical drill-down so a user can gradually dive into the details and confirm all or just a subset of those requests. Whenever any requests are not confirmed, p2 should go back and try to find a solution without the denied plug-ins.
I propose to use a common file format for storing all granted requests, either resulting from clicking in the UI or as pre-configured policy files. These files will also come handy if some details should be enforced at runtime (e.g., bytecode weaving indeed only affects the declared plug-ins). A simple variant of these files would need to record these bits of information:
- requesting plug-in
- ID of the requested install capability
- affected plug-in
It's probably a good idea to support a detail-field where details specific to a given install capability can be stored (e.g., list of affected classes for internal-access).