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naming: issues and use cases

Naming is important for many reasons, among which are being able to precisely and unambiguously refer to an object, being able to flexibly add new objects to name spaces without causing problems, etc.  This document enumerates a few scenarios from DSO support that should be supported for NaCl application authors.

First, let us specify what (sub-) namespaces exist.  "Shared object names" or sonames are used by ld.so to refer to shared objects to be loaded, and the manifest file provides a mapping from short sonames to longer, less ambiguous names.  But what might application authors want to be able to refer to?  One class of file-like objects are web-hosted data.  The long name might be an URL or URI that resolves -- via HTTP -- to a sequence of bytes that happen to be a NaCl shared object.  Another class of file-like objects are pre-supplied shared libraries that are shipped with the NaCl distribution, e.g. libc.so.  A third class are files in WebFS -- perhaps the application downloaded and installed into WebFS persistent storage shared libraries that represent code used for certain game levels, say.

Suppose an application needs to use libpng.so, which depends on libc.so.  Initially, the NaCl distribution may not provide a libpng.so and only libc.so, and libpng.so might be mapped to a web-hosted file that would be handled by the app cache.  The following scenarios may occur:
  1. The NaCl distribution add commonly-used libraries to reduce startup time.  Since a bundled version of libpng.so showed up in a new Chrome NaCl runtime release, the application author may decide to switch to the bundled version.  There should be a way to fall back, in case the application is running on an as-yet not updated version of Chrome NaCl runtime where the new bundled version of libpng is not available.
  2. The application author finds a bug or performance issue in the bundled version of libc, and substitutes a different version, so both libc.so and libpng.so are provided by a web-based resource or by WebFS persistent store.
  3. The application author provides his/her own version of libc, but decides to use the bundled version of libpng.
  4. The application also depends on and supplies as a web-hosted resource libpng_basics, and relies on the bundled version of libpng.  Later the NaCl distribution splits the bundled version of libpng into libpng and libpng_basics, where libpng depends on libpng_basics.  The two identically named libpng_basics.so are completely different libraries and are not compatible.  (This may be insoluble since the same soname is used.)
  5. The application relies on the bundled version of libc.so, which (transparently) depends on libnacl.so.  The application author builds a new, web-hosted library also named libnacl.so, creating a name conflct with the bundled library.  This is likely to be discovered in testing, unlike the libpng_basics scenario above; this is here for completeness: there might not be a way to transparently load internal libraries, since the sonames form a global name space.
These use cases should be supported.  They might be automatic, or might require a manifest file change.  For the scenario of bundling commonly-used libraries, it is probably safe to assume that new versions can be safely added, and old version might either never be removed or be retired only after a long grace period.

Some goals:
  1. Adding bundled libraries should not break existing code.
  2. Application authors should be able to precisely name the libraries to use, so that there is a precise testing target.
  3. Application authors should be able to optionally allow their applications to use newer, ABI-compatible releases of a (bundled) library.
Some non-goals:
  • Provide a per-library soname resolution order.
Potential solutions / solution components:
  • Extend URL syntax so that a private protospec can be used to refer to bundled files, webfs files, etc.  This does not solve the sonames-are-a-global-namespace issue (4, 5).
  • Provide a library search path, so that the versioning fallback issue from (1) is avoided.  This should be done with care, since as noted in http://code.google.com/p/nativeclient/wiki/NameResolutionForDynamicLibraries improper use of this can result in excess network traffic / roundtrips.
  • Encode in sonames whether an object is bundled version of a library, a WebFS-persistent store copy, or a manifest-mapped version.
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