feature

Fri, 21 Dec 2012 00:45:13 UTC - Isaac Z. Schlueter - feature

tl;dr

  • Node streams are great, except for all the ways in which they're terrible.
  • A new Stream implementation is coming in 0.10, that has gotten the nickname "streams2".
  • Readable streams have a read() method that returns a buffer or null. (More documentation included below.)
  • 'data' events, pause(), and resume() will still work as before (except that they'll actully work how you'd expect).
  • Old programs will almost always work without modification, but streams start out in a paused state, and need to be read from to be consumed.
  • WARNING: If you never add a 'data' event handler, or call resume(), then it'll sit in a paused state forever and never emit 'end'.

Throughout the life of Node, we've been gradually iterating on the ideal event-based API for handling data. Over time, this developed into the "Stream" interface that you see throughout Node's core modules and many of the modules in npm.

Consistent interfaces increase the portability and reliability of our programs and libraries. Overall, the move from domain-specific events and methods towards a unified stream interface was a huge win. However, there are still several problems with Node's streams as of v0.8. In a nutshell:

  1. The pause() method doesn't pause. It is advisory-only. In Node's implementation, this makes things much simpler, but it's confusing to users, and doesn't do what it looks like it does.
  2. 'data' events come right away (whether you're ready or not). This makes it unreasonably difficult to do common tasks like load a user's session before deciding how to handle their request.
  3. There is no way to consume a specific number of bytes, and then leave the rest for some other part of the program to deal with.
  4. It's unreasonably difficult to implement streams and get all the intricacies of pause, resume, write-buffering, and data events correct. The lack of shared classes mean that we all have to solve the same problems repeatedly, making similar mistakes and similar bugs.

Common simple tasks should be easy, or we aren't doing our job. People often say that Node is better than most other platforms at this stuff, but in my opinion, that is less of a compliment and more of an indictment of the current state of software. Being better than the next guy isn't enough; we have to be the best imaginable. While they were a big step in the right direction, the Streams in Node up until now leave a lot wanting.

So, just fix it, right?

Well, we are sitting on the results of several years of explosive growth in the Node community, so any changes have to be made very carefully. If we break all the Node programs in 0.10, then no one will ever want to upgrade to 0.10, and it's all pointless. We had this conversation around 0.4, then again around 0.6, then again around 0.8. Every time, the conclusion has been "Too much work, too hard to make backwards-compatible", and we always had more pressing problems to solve.

In 0.10, we cannot put it off any longer. We've bitten the bullet and are making a significant change to the Stream implementation. You may have seen conversations on twitter or IRC or the mailing list about "streams2". I also gave a talk in November about this subject. A lot of node module authors have been involved with the development of streams2 (and of course the node core team).

streams2

The feature is described pretty thoroughly in the documentation, so I'm including it below. Please read it, especially the section on "compatibility". There's a caveat there that is unfortunately unavoidable, but hopefully enough of an edge case that it's easily worked around.

The first preview release with this change will be 0.9.4. I highly recommend trying this release and providing feedback before it lands in a stable version.

As of writing this post, there are some known performance regressions, especially in the http module. We are fanatical about maintaining performance in Node.js, so of course this will have to be fixed before the v0.10 stable release. (Watch for a future blog post on the tools and techniques that have been useful in tracking down these issues.)

There may be minor changes as necessary to fix bugs and improve performance, but the API at this point should be considered feature complete. It correctly does all the things we need it to do, it just doesn't do them quite well enough yet. As always, be wary of running unstable releases in production, of course, but I encourage you to try it out and see what you think. Especially, if you have tests that you can run on your modules and libraries, that would be extremely useful feedback.


Stream

Stability: 2 - Unstable

A stream is an abstract interface implemented by various objects in Node. For example a request to an HTTP server is a stream, as is stdout. Streams are readable, writable, or both. All streams are instances of EventEmitter

You can load the Stream base classes by doing require('stream'). There are base classes provided for Readable streams, Writable streams, Duplex streams, and Transform streams.

Compatibility

In earlier versions of Node, the Readable stream interface was simpler, but also less powerful and less useful.

  • Rather than waiting for you to call the read() method, 'data' events would start emitting immediately. If you needed to do some I/O to decide how to handle data, then you had to store the chunks in some kind of buffer so that they would not be lost.
  • The pause() method was advisory, rather than guaranteed. This meant that you still had to be prepared to receive 'data' events even when the stream was in a paused state.

In Node v0.10, the Readable class described below was added. For backwards compatibility with older Node programs, Readable streams switch into "old mode" when a 'data' event handler is added, or when the pause() or resume() methods are called. The effect is that, even if you are not using the new read() method and 'readable' event, you no longer have to worry about losing 'data' chunks.

Most programs will continue to function normally. However, this introduces an edge case in the following conditions:

  • No 'data' event handler is added.
  • The pause() and resume() methods are never called.

For example, consider the following code:

// WARNING!  BROKEN!
net.createServer(function(socket) {

  // we add an 'end' method, but never consume the data
  socket.on('end', function() {
    // It will never get here.
    socket.end('I got your message (but didnt read it)\n');
  });

}).listen(1337);

In versions of node prior to v0.10, the incoming message data would be simply discarded. However, in Node v0.10 and beyond, the socket will remain paused forever.

The workaround in this situation is to call the resume() method to trigger "old mode" behavior:

// Workaround
net.createServer(function(socket) {

  socket.on('end', function() {
    socket.end('I got your message (but didnt read it)\n');
  });

  // start the flow of data, discarding it.
  socket.resume();

}).listen(1337);

In addition to new Readable streams switching into old-mode, pre-v0.10 style streams can be wrapped in a Readable class using the wrap() method.

Class: stream.Readable

A Readable Stream has the following methods, members, and events.

Note that stream.Readable is an abstract class designed to be extended with an underlying implementation of the _read(size) method. (See below.)

new stream.Readable([options])

  • options {Object}
    • highWaterMark {Number} The maximum number of bytes to store in the internal buffer before ceasing to read from the underlying resource. Default=16kb
    • encoding {String} If specified, then buffers will be decoded to strings using the specified encoding. Default=null
    • objectMode {Boolean} Whether this stream should behave as a stream of objects. Meaning that stream.read(n) returns a single value instead of a Buffer of size n

In classes that extend the Readable class, make sure to call the constructor so that the buffering settings can be properly initialized.

readable._read(size)

  • size {Number} Number of bytes to read asynchronously

Note: This function should NOT be called directly. It should be implemented by child classes, and called by the internal Readable class methods only.

All Readable stream implementations must provide a _read method to fetch data from the underlying resource.

This method is prefixed with an underscore because it is internal to the class that defines it, and should not be called directly by user programs. However, you are expected to override this method in your own extension classes.

When data is available, put it into the read queue by calling readable.push(chunk). If push returns false, then you should stop reading. When _read is called again, you should start pushing more data.

The size argument is advisory. Implementations where a "read" is a single call that returns data can use this to know how much data to fetch. Implementations where that is not relevant, such as TCP or TLS, may ignore this argument, and simply provide data whenever it becomes available. There is no need, for example to "wait" until size bytes are available before calling stream.push(chunk).

readable.push(chunk)

  • chunk {Buffer | null | String} Chunk of data to push into the read queue
  • return {Boolean} Whether or not more pushes should be performed

Note: This function should be called by Readable implementors, NOT by consumers of Readable subclasses. The _read() function will not be called again until at least one push(chunk) call is made. If no data is available, then you MAY call push('') (an empty string) to allow a future _read call, without adding any data to the queue.

The Readable class works by putting data into a read queue to be pulled out later by calling the read() method when the 'readable' event fires.

The push() method will explicitly insert some data into the read queue. If it is called with null then it will signal the end of the data.

In some cases, you may be wrapping a lower-level source which has some sort of pause/resume mechanism, and a data callback. In those cases, you could wrap the low-level source object by doing something like this:

// source is an object with readStop() and readStart() methods,
// and an `ondata` member that gets called when it has data, and
// an `onend` member that gets called when the data is over.

var stream = new Readable();

source.ondata = function(chunk) {
  // if push() returns false, then we need to stop reading from source
  if (!stream.push(chunk))
    source.readStop();
};

source.onend = function() {
  stream.push(null);
};

// _read will be called when the stream wants to pull more data in
// the advisory size argument is ignored in this case.
stream._read = function(n) {
  source.readStart();
};

readable.unshift(chunk)

  • chunk {Buffer | null | String} Chunk of data to unshift onto the read queue
  • return {Boolean} Whether or not more pushes should be performed

This is the corollary of readable.push(chunk). Rather than putting the data at the end of the read queue, it puts it at the front of the read queue.

This is useful in certain use-cases where a stream is being consumed by a parser, which needs to "un-consume" some data that it has optimistically pulled out of the source.

// A parser for a simple data protocol.
// The "header" is a JSON object, followed by 2 \n characters, and
// then a message body.
//
// Note: This can be done more simply as a Transform stream.  See below.

function SimpleProtocol(source, options) {
  if (!(this instanceof SimpleProtocol))
    return new SimpleProtocol(options);

  Readable.call(this, options);
  this._inBody = false;
  this._sawFirstCr = false;

  // source is a readable stream, such as a socket or file
  this._source = source;

  var self = this;
  source.on('end', function() {
    self.push(null);
  });

  // give it a kick whenever the source is readable
  // read(0) will not consume any bytes
  source.on('readable', function() {
    self.read(0);
  });

  this._rawHeader = [];
  this.header = null;
}

SimpleProtocol.prototype = Object.create(
  Readable.prototype, { constructor: { value: SimpleProtocol }});

SimpleProtocol.prototype._read = function(n) {
  if (!this._inBody) {
    var chunk = this._source.read();

    // if the source doesn't have data, we don't have data yet.
    if (chunk === null)
      return this.push('');

    // check if the chunk has a \n\n
    var split = -1;
    for (var i = 0; i < chunk.length; i++) {
      if (chunk[i] === 10) { // '\n'
        if (this._sawFirstCr) {
          split = i;
          break;
        } else {
          this._sawFirstCr = true;
        }
      } else {
        this._sawFirstCr = false;
      }
    }

    if (split === -1) {
      // still waiting for the \n\n
      // stash the chunk, and try again.
      this._rawHeader.push(chunk);
      this.push('');
    } else {
      this._inBody = true;
      var h = chunk.slice(0, split);
      this._rawHeader.push(h);
      var header = Buffer.concat(this._rawHeader).toString();
      try {
        this.header = JSON.parse(header);
      } catch (er) {
        this.emit('error', new Error('invalid simple protocol data'));
        return;
      }
      // now, because we got some extra data, unshift the rest
      // back into the read queue so that our consumer will see it.
      var b = chunk.slice(split);
      this.unshift(b);

      // and let them know that we are done parsing the header.
      this.emit('header', this.header);
    }
  } else {
    // from there on, just provide the data to our consumer.
    // careful not to push(null), since that would indicate EOF.
    var chunk = this._source.read();
    if (chunk) this.push(chunk);
  }
};

// Usage:
var parser = new SimpleProtocol(source);
// Now parser is a readable stream that will emit 'header'
// with the parsed header data.

readable.wrap(stream)

  • stream {Stream} An "old style" readable stream

If you are using an older Node library that emits 'data' events and has a pause() method that is advisory only, then you can use the wrap() method to create a Readable stream that uses the old stream as its data source.

For example:

var OldReader = require('./old-api-module.js').OldReader;
var oreader = new OldReader;
var Readable = require('stream').Readable;
var myReader = new Readable().wrap(oreader);

myReader.on('readable', function() {
  myReader.read(); // etc.
});

Event: 'readable'

When there is data ready to be consumed, this event will fire.

When this event emits, call the read() method to consume the data.

Event: 'end'

Emitted when the stream has received an EOF (FIN in TCP terminology). Indicates that no more 'data' events will happen. If the stream is also writable, it may be possible to continue writing.

Event: 'data'

The 'data' event emits either a Buffer (by default) or a string if setEncoding() was used.

Note that adding a 'data' event listener will switch the Readable stream into "old mode", where data is emitted as soon as it is available, rather than waiting for you to call read() to consume it.

Event: 'error'

Emitted if there was an error receiving data.

Event: 'close'

Emitted when the underlying resource (for example, the backing file descriptor) has been closed. Not all streams will emit this.

readable.setEncoding(encoding)

Makes the 'data' event emit a string instead of a Buffer. encoding can be 'utf8', 'utf16le' ('ucs2'), 'ascii', or 'hex'.

The encoding can also be set by specifying an encoding field to the constructor.

readable.read([size])

  • size {Number | null} Optional number of bytes to read.
  • Return: {Buffer | String | null}

Note: This function SHOULD be called by Readable stream users.

Call this method to consume data once the 'readable' event is emitted.

The size argument will set a minimum number of bytes that you are interested in. If not set, then the entire content of the internal buffer is returned.

If there is no data to consume, or if there are fewer bytes in the internal buffer than the size argument, then null is returned, and a future 'readable' event will be emitted when more is available.

Calling stream.read(0) will always return null, and will trigger a refresh of the internal buffer, but otherwise be a no-op.

readable.pipe(destination, [options])

  • destination {Writable Stream}
  • options {Object} Optional
    • end {Boolean} Default=true

Connects this readable stream to destination WriteStream. Incoming data on this stream gets written to destination. Properly manages back-pressure so that a slow destination will not be overwhelmed by a fast readable stream.

This function returns the destination stream.

For example, emulating the Unix cat command:

process.stdin.pipe(process.stdout);

By default end() is called on the destination when the source stream emits end, so that destination is no longer writable. Pass { end: false } as options to keep the destination stream open.

This keeps writer open so that "Goodbye" can be written at the end.

reader.pipe(writer, { end: false });
reader.on("end", function() {
  writer.end("Goodbye\n");
});

Note that process.stderr and process.stdout are never closed until the process exits, regardless of the specified options.

readable.unpipe([destination])

  • destination {Writable Stream} Optional

Undo a previously established pipe(). If no destination is provided, then all previously established pipes are removed.

readable.pause()

Switches the readable stream into "old mode", where data is emitted using a 'data' event rather than being buffered for consumption via the read() method.

Ceases the flow of data. No 'data' events are emitted while the stream is in a paused state.

readable.resume()

Switches the readable stream into "old mode", where data is emitted using a 'data' event rather than being buffered for consumption via the read() method.

Resumes the incoming 'data' events after a pause().

Class: stream.Writable

A Writable Stream has the following methods, members, and events.

Note that stream.Writable is an abstract class designed to be extended with an underlying implementation of the _write(chunk, encoding, cb) method. (See below.)

new stream.Writable([options])

  • options {Object}
    • highWaterMark {Number} Buffer level when write() starts returning false. Default=16kb
    • decodeStrings {Boolean} Whether or not to decode strings into Buffers before passing them to _write(). Default=true

In classes that extend the Writable class, make sure to call the constructor so that the buffering settings can be properly initialized.

writable._write(chunk, encoding, callback)

  • chunk {Buffer | String} The chunk to be written. Will always be a buffer unless the decodeStrings option was set to false.
  • encoding {String} If the chunk is a string, then this is the encoding type. Ignore chunk is a buffer. Note that chunk will always be a buffer unless the decodeStrings option is explicitly set to false.
  • callback {Function} Call this function (optionally with an error argument) when you are done processing the supplied chunk.

All Writable stream implementations must provide a _write method to send data to the underlying resource.

Note: This function MUST NOT be called directly. It should be implemented by child classes, and called by the internal Writable class methods only.

Call the callback using the standard callback(error) pattern to signal that the write completed successfully or with an error.

If the decodeStrings flag is set in the constructor options, then chunk may be a string rather than a Buffer, and encoding will indicate the sort of string that it is. This is to support implementations that have an optimized handling for certain string data encodings. If you do not explicitly set the decodeStrings option to false, then you can safely ignore the encoding argument, and assume that chunk will always be a Buffer.

This method is prefixed with an underscore because it is internal to the class that defines it, and should not be called directly by user programs. However, you are expected to override this method in your own extension classes.

writable.write(chunk, [encoding], [callback])

  • chunk {Buffer | String} Data to be written
  • encoding {String} Optional. If chunk is a string, then encoding defaults to 'utf8'
  • callback {Function} Optional. Called when this chunk is successfully written.
  • Returns {Boolean}

Writes chunk to the stream. Returns true if the data has been flushed to the underlying resource. Returns false to indicate that the buffer is full, and the data will be sent out in the future. The 'drain' event will indicate when the buffer is empty again.

The specifics of when write() will return false, is determined by the highWaterMark option provided to the constructor.

writable.end([chunk], [encoding], [callback])

  • chunk {Buffer | String} Optional final data to be written
  • encoding {String} Optional. If chunk is a string, then encoding defaults to 'utf8'
  • callback {Function} Optional. Called when the final chunk is successfully written.

Call this method to signal the end of the data being written to the stream.

Event: 'drain'

Emitted when the stream's write queue empties and it's safe to write without buffering again. Listen for it when stream.write() returns false.

Event: 'close'

Emitted when the underlying resource (for example, the backing file descriptor) has been closed. Not all streams will emit this.

Event: 'finish'

When end() is called and there are no more chunks to write, this event is emitted.

Event: 'pipe'

  • source {Readable Stream}

Emitted when the stream is passed to a readable stream's pipe method.

Event 'unpipe'

  • source {Readable Stream}

Emitted when a previously established pipe() is removed using the source Readable stream's unpipe() method.

Class: stream.Duplex

A "duplex" stream is one that is both Readable and Writable, such as a TCP socket connection.

Note that stream.Duplex is an abstract class designed to be extended with an underlying implementation of the _read(size) and _write(chunk, encoding, callback) methods as you would with a Readable or Writable stream class.

Since JavaScript doesn't have multiple prototypal inheritance, this class prototypally inherits from Readable, and then parasitically from Writable. It is thus up to the user to implement both the lowlevel _read(n) method as well as the lowlevel _write(chunk, encoding, cb) method on extension duplex classes.

new stream.Duplex(options)

  • options {Object} Passed to both Writable and Readable constructors. Also has the following fields:
    • allowHalfOpen {Boolean} Default=true. If set to false, then the stream will automatically end the readable side when the writable side ends and vice versa.

In classes that extend the Duplex class, make sure to call the constructor so that the buffering settings can be properly initialized.

Class: stream.Transform

A "transform" stream is a duplex stream where the output is causally connected in some way to the input, such as a zlib stream or a crypto stream.

There is no requirement that the output be the same size as the input, the same number of chunks, or arrive at the same time. For example, a Hash stream will only ever have a single chunk of output which is provided when the input is ended. A zlib stream will either produce much smaller or much larger than its input.

Rather than implement the _read() and _write() methods, Transform classes must implement the _transform() method, and may optionally also implement the _flush() method. (See below.)

new stream.Transform([options])

  • options {Object} Passed to both Writable and Readable constructors.

In classes that extend the Transform class, make sure to call the constructor so that the buffering settings can be properly initialized.

transform._transform(chunk, encoding, callback)

  • chunk {Buffer | String} The chunk to be transformed. Will always be a buffer unless the decodeStrings option was set to false.
  • encoding {String} If the chunk is a string, then this is the encoding type. (Ignore if decodeStrings chunk is a buffer.)
  • callback {Function} Call this function (optionally with an error argument) when you are done processing the supplied chunk.

Note: This function MUST NOT be called directly. It should be implemented by child classes, and called by the internal Transform class methods only.

All Transform stream implementations must provide a _transform method to accept input and produce output.

_transform should do whatever has to be done in this specific Transform class, to handle the bytes being written, and pass them off to the readable portion of the interface. Do asynchronous I/O, process things, and so on.

Call transform.push(outputChunk) 0 or more times to generate output from this input chunk, depending on how much data you want to output as a result of this chunk.

Call the callback function only when the current chunk is completely consumed. Note that there may or may not be output as a result of any particular input chunk.

This method is prefixed with an underscore because it is internal to the class that defines it, and should not be called directly by user programs. However, you are expected to override this method in your own extension classes.

transform._flush(callback)

  • callback {Function} Call this function (optionally with an error argument) when you are done flushing any remaining data.

Note: This function MUST NOT be called directly. It MAY be implemented by child classes, and if so, will be called by the internal Transform class methods only.

In some cases, your transform operation may need to emit a bit more data at the end of the stream. For example, a Zlib compression stream will store up some internal state so that it can optimally compress the output. At the end, however, it needs to do the best it can with what is left, so that the data will be complete.

In those cases, you can implement a _flush method, which will be called at the very end, after all the written data is consumed, but before emitting end to signal the end of the readable side. Just like with _transform, call transform.push(chunk) zero or more times, as appropriate, and call callback when the flush operation is complete.

This method is prefixed with an underscore because it is internal to the class that defines it, and should not be called directly by user programs. However, you are expected to override this method in your own extension classes.

Example: SimpleProtocol parser

The example above of a simple protocol parser can be implemented much more simply by using the higher level Transform stream class.

In this example, rather than providing the input as an argument, it would be piped into the parser, which is a more idiomatic Node stream approach.

function SimpleProtocol(options) {
  if (!(this instanceof SimpleProtocol))
    return new SimpleProtocol(options);

  Transform.call(this, options);
  this._inBody = false;
  this._sawFirstCr = false;
  this._rawHeader = [];
  this.header = null;
}

SimpleProtocol.prototype = Object.create(
  Transform.prototype, { constructor: { value: SimpleProtocol }});

SimpleProtocol.prototype._transform = function(chunk, encoding, done) {
  if (!this._inBody) {
    // check if the chunk has a \n\n
    var split = -1;
    for (var i = 0; i < chunk.length; i++) {
      if (chunk[i] === 10) { // '\n'
        if (this._sawFirstCr) {
          split = i;
          break;
        } else {
          this._sawFirstCr = true;
        }
      } else {
        this._sawFirstCr = false;
      }
    }

    if (split === -1) {
      // still waiting for the \n\n
      // stash the chunk, and try again.
      this._rawHeader.push(chunk);
    } else {
      this._inBody = true;
      var h = chunk.slice(0, split);
      this._rawHeader.push(h);
      var header = Buffer.concat(this._rawHeader).toString();
      try {
        this.header = JSON.parse(header);
      } catch (er) {
        this.emit('error', new Error('invalid simple protocol data'));
        return;
      }
      // and let them know that we are done parsing the header.
      this.emit('header', this.header);

      // now, because we got some extra data, emit this first.
      this.push(b);
    }
  } else {
    // from there on, just provide the data to our consumer as-is.
    this.push(b);
  }
  done();
};

var parser = new SimpleProtocol();
source.pipe(parser)

// Now parser is a readable stream that will emit 'header'
// with the parsed header data.

Class: stream.PassThrough

This is a trivial implementation of a Transform stream that simply passes the input bytes across to the output. Its purpose is mainly for examples and testing, but there are occasionally use cases where it can come in handy.