Optimizing Reactive Handlers in a Charm

Optimizing Reactive Handlers in a Charm

One of the issues often encountered when writing reactive charms is the disconnect between the hook that is invoked, and the handlers that actually run. This article explores that relationship, or lack of relationship, and how the side-effects can be mitigated.

Introduction

The charms.reactive library supports @hook(...) handlers which respond to actual Juju hook invocations and @when(...) state-type handlers that are controlled by combinations of states (which are essentially boolean flags).

Note: that ‘states’ are being renamed to ‘flags’ to better reflect their usage as true/false condition checks for the @when(…) type handlers. In this article the term ‘state/flag’ means the string from set_state(…) or remove_state(…).

Hook handlers run before any state handlers. Hooks can’t be combined with state/flag handlers. The state handlers then run until there are no more state changes.

The can cause unexpected behavior as it means that state handlers are run whenever their condition state/flags evaluate to ‘true’ for any hook that runs.

Example

Let’s say that a charm needs a database interface (say shared-db) and when it connects the charm sends the username/database the it wants to connect to, and then when it’s available, then ensures (via some sync mechanism) that the database tables are set up. So the sequence of events is:

  1. When shared-db.connected: send the credentials.

  2. When shared-db.available: sync the database.

The interface is usually written in such a way that:

  1. When the relation hook some-relation-joined is handled, the <name>.connected state/flag is set.

  2. When the relation hook some-relation-changed is handled, the data that is on that relation from the remote party is checked/validated in some way, and if it is usable, as defined by the interface, then the <name>.available state/flag is set.

  3. When either some-relation-departed or some-relation-broken is handled, then both <name>.available and <name>.connected are removed.

Then, typically the handler code in the charm which uses that interface looks something like this:

@when_not('installed')
def install():
    # do installation
    set_state('installed')


@when('<name>.connected')
def do_connection(shared_db):
    shared_db.send('username', 'database')


@when('<name>.available')
def do_sync(shared_db):
    # do some database sync.

The Issue:

The implementation for the interface is typical. If you look at the interfaces.juju.solutions and pick almost any interface (e.g. interface-etcd) you’ll see that the various ...connected and ..available state/flags are continuous from the moment the conditions for them are met.

By now you will have probably seen the issue; once the <name>.connected state/flag is set, the do_connection(shared_db) function will be called for ANY subsequent hook, and that includes the update-status hook which runs, by default, every 5 minutes.

This would mean that the shared_db.send(...) function will be called every 5 minutes, possibly sending data to the connected database charm and causing it to do work, due to the relevant changed hook being called.

The same is true for the <name>.available state/flag; it will cause the do_sync(...) handler to be called for every subsequent hook.

I term this: Doing too much work in update-status.

Solutions:

There are a couple of ways of solving this. One works extremely well for the simpler example shown here, and the other can be used for the more complicated case when data on the interface may change that needs to be handled.

Option 1: Gating handlers with a done state

If we re-write our initial code block as:

@when_not('installed')
def install():
    # do installation
    set_state('installed')
    remove_state('shared-db.details.sent')
    remove_state('shared-db.synced')


@when('<name>.connected')
@when_not('shared-db.details.sent')
def do_connection(shared_db):
    shared_db.send('username', 'database')
    set_state('shared-db.details.sent')


@when('<name>.available')
@when_not('shared-db.synced')
def do_sync(shared_db):
    # do some database sync.
    set_state('shared-db.synced')

Now we have run once handlers that can be run again if the author of the charm wishes to, unlike the @only_once decorator which will only ever run that handler once, which sometimes may be useful.

So, for example, if the charm were to be upgraded, the upgrade-charm hook could be used to clear the installed state, thus allowing the charm to upgrade the installed software and then run the do_connection(...) and do_sync(...) handlers another time.

Option 2: Checking for data changes

The other method is to check the interfaces for data changes. This can be done in two ways:

  1. In the interface, when the <name>-relation-changed hook is handled, see if the data changed, and set a <name>.changed state, that is then cleared after the all the handlers have run for that hook - this is achieved using an atexit(...) function.

  2. In the charm layer code, use a data change detection function to decide if the handler should be run.

Note that re-writing an interface may not be an option as other charms may still be dependent on that interface’s functionality. Thus, often, only the 2nd method can be employed.

Option 2.1: Re-writing the interface

A typical interface may take the following form (this is the requires.py side):

class SomeClient(RelationBase):
    scope = scope.GLOBAL

    @hook('{requires:name}-relation-{joined,changed}')
    def changed(self):
        self.set_state('{relation_name}.connected')
        # if we have some piece of data
        if self.get_data():
            self.set_state('{relation_name}.available')
        else:
            self.remove_state('{relation_name}.available')

    @hook('{requires:name}-relation-{broken,departed}')
    def gone_away(self):
        self.remove_state('{relation_name}.connected')
        self.remove_state('{relation_name}.available')

    def get_data(self):
         return self.get_remote('some-data-item')

And in the charm layer, using this interface:

@when('<name>.available')
def do_something_with_data(the_if_object):
    do_something_with(the_if_object.get_data())

As mentioned above, a very typical style for an interface. In order to implement the data-changed idea, we can use the charms.reactive.helpers.data_changed() function like this:

import charms.reactive.helpers as helpers
import charmhelpers.core.hookenv as hookenv


class SomeClient(RelationBase):
    scope = scope.GLOBAL

    @hook('{requires:name}-relation-{joined,changed}')
    def changed(self):
        self.set_state('{relation_name}.connected')
        # if we have some piece of data
        data = self.get_data()
        if data:
            self.set_state('{relation_name}.available')
            if helpers.data_changed('interface-name.get_data', data):
                self.set_state('{relation_name}.changed')
                hookenv.atexit(
                    lambda: self.remove_state('{relation_name}.changed'))
        else:
            self.remove_state('{relation_name}.available')

    @hook('{requires:name}-relation-{broken,departed}')
    def gone_away(self):
        self.remove_state('{relation_name}.connected')
        self.remove_state('{relation_name}.available')

    def get_data(self):
         return self.get_remote('some-data-item')

Using the <name>.changed state can either be simple or a bit more complicated depending on whether multiple handlers need to see the state. The issue here is that the <name>.changed state is transitory, whereas we would want the charm to recover from errors as much as possible, and thus want to physically clear the state in the charm. The way to do that is to use a secondary state as the trigger to do the work needed. e.g.:

@when('<name>.changed')
def name_has_changed(*args):
    set_state('name_has_changed')

@when('name_has_changed')
@when('<name>.available')
def do_something_with_data(the_if_object):
    do_something_with(the_if_object.get_data())
    remove_state('name_has_changed')

The slight increase in complexity allows the <name>.changed state/flag to be used for several handlers, with each handler having its own guard state/flag. It also means that if the charm code were to fail during an invocation that the name_has_changed state would still indicate that the data had changed and thus on the next invocation of the charm the handler would still be called.

Note that modifying an existing interface in this way doesn’t affect the functionality of existing charm layers which don’t ‘know’ about a <name>.changed state/flag. They would continue to function as previously.

The debug logs will show that the name_has_changed handler will run, followed by the do_something_with_data at some later stage in the same hook invocation. If no data has changed, then neither of these handlers will be called, leading to a cleaner debug-log which reflects what has actually been used/run in the charm.

There is a small window of failure possible where the charm may crash before the name_has_changed handler has had a chance to run. If this concerns you then Option 2.2 below may be more suited.

Option 2.2: Use change detection in the charm

An alternative approach is to only do data changed detection in the charm layer. I recommend NOT using the data_changed() function from the charms.reactive library as it can only be called once for each time data is changed. i.e. if data_changed(...) is called for the same data key and data more than once, it will only return True for the first call, and then False thereafter.

This is bad because if the charm code fails/crashes after calling data_changed(...) then on the next invocation of the code the data won’t appear to be changed and the original intent of the handler won’t be honored. i.e. the charm will fail to use the changed data.

So the charms.openstack library supports a slightly different version called is_data_changed(..) which works as a context manager, and doesn’t change the stored data until the context scope is exited without an Exception. It can be used as follows:

import charms_openstack.charm.utils as utils

@when('<name>.available')
def do_something_with_data(the_if_object):
    data = the_if_object.get_data()
    with utils.is_data_changed('some-meaningful-key', data) as f:
        if f:
            do_something_with(data)

The extra f is slightly awkward, but it’s how the code can discover that the data has changed. Also, note that this version is less efficient than the ‘changed-interface’ version as every handler needs to use is_data_changed(...) which has an overhead. Also, the debug logs from Juju will show that every handler is still being called, so you lose some context information about which handlers are actually doing work.

Summary

This article has shown some of the pitfalls around charms.reactive and handlers and how handlers can inadvertently cause too much work to be done in either connected charms, or the software payload being managed.

The two options described provide some tools to the charm author to reduce workloads during hooks and provide a cleaner, more understandable debug-log. They also mitigate against unexpected side-effects in charms where handlers the author thinks might only run once, in fact run every time the charm code is invoked via a hook and thus may cause unnecessary, redundant or, worst, bugs in either the payload, or other connected charms.

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