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A spec for streams

Status of this Document

This is a proposal. It does not match the code as of writing.

This describes the minimum contract that Stream objects must adhere to in order to properly interoperate with pipes.

Stream Class

The parent class for all stream objects. Implements the pipe method, and a default "pass-through" no-op filter interface.

Streams that inherit from the Stream base class SHOULD override methods with their implementation-specific functionality, as appropriate, but the methods on the base class will provide a bare minimum amount of functionality.

  • writable=false, readable=false

    The base class is neither writable nor readable by default. One or both of these must be set on the child instances.

  • bool write(chunk, callback=null)

    The base class write method emits a data event with the provided chunk, calls the callback function if supplied, and returns true.

    If called after end(), then MUST throw. Otherwise, MUST NOT throw.

    The callback function MUST be called asynchronously.

  • bool end(chunk=null, callback=null)

    Writes the supplied chunk if provided, sets ended=true, emits end, and returns true.

    Calls the supplied callback on nextTick.

    If called more than once, then MUST throw. Otherwise, MUST NOT throw.

    The callback function MUST be called asynchronously.

  • bool flush(callback=null)

    Returns true, and calls the supplied callback on nextTick.

    If called after end() then MUST throw. Otherwise, MUST NOT throw.

    Note: Calling Stream.flush() does not indicate that an entire pipe chain of Streams is flushed, but merely that this particular stream's write queue is empty.

    The callback function MUST be called asynchronously.

  • destroy(cb)

    Emit destroy, and then end. Call the supplied callback on nextTick. If called multiple times, does nothing after the first call.

    Since destroy() may be called multiple times, it MUST be idempotent, and do nothing if destroy() has already been called on the stream.

  • pause(), resume()

    Emits pause or resume, respectively.

  • pipe()

    Proxies data and end events from the this (readable stream) to the writable dest stream, managing backpressure and event proxying appropriately.

      Event ----------------> Result
      src.on('data') -------> dest.write(data)
      src.on('end') --------> dest.end()
      dest.on('pause') -----> src.pause()
      dest.on('resume') ----> src.resume()
      ! dest.write(c) ------> src.pause()
      dest.on('destroy') ---> src.destroy()
      dest.on('error', e) --> src.emit('error', e)
      src.pipe('dest') -----> dest.emit('pipe', src)
    

    The dest writable stream MUST be returned.

Writable Streams

Writable Streams SHOULD be an instanceof the Stream base class, but this is optional.

Writable Streams MUST implement the following members and methods:

  • writable=true

    MUST have a writable flag set to true.

    After being destroyed or ended, this flag MUST be set to false.

  • bool write(chunk, callback=null)

    If the chunk can be written entirely without buffering, then the function SHOULD return true.

    If the chunk must be stored in a write queue, and the upstream readable stream should be paused, then the write method MUST return false. If write returns false then it MUST emit a drain event when the queue is emptied.

    If a callback function is provided, then it MUST be called when the chunk has been completely written, and MUST NOT be called prior to nextTick.

    If write is called after end, then it SHOULD throw.

    • "write queue"

      The specifics of queueing or buffering data chunks on writable streams is an implementation detail which may vary from stream to stream, and need not be any sort of externally visible "queue".

      Semantically, a false return from write() means "Please do not continue to write to this stream, because doing so may have adverse affects". However, it is a strictly advisory message.

  • bool end(chunk=null, callback=null)

    The end method indicates that no more write calls will follow.

    If a chunk is passed in as the first argument then it MUST be passed to this.write(). If a callback is provided as the last argument, then it MUST be called when the stream's write queue is completely flushed, or on nextTick. The return value MUST be false if there are buffered chunks in the write queue, and SHOULD be true if the queue is empty.

    If end() returns false, then it MUST emit a drain event at some point in the future.

  • destroy(callback=null)

    Clean up all worker threads, file descriptors, open sockets, or whatever else may be associated with the stream, and immediately emit destroy to indicate that it is no longer valid.

    Note that destroy() is destructive, and should only be called when it is acceptable to lose data, for example, to forcibly shut down a TCP stream when the response is finished.

    If there is no work for a destroy method to perform, then it MUST at least emit the destroy event.

    If a callback is provided, then it MUST be called when the cleanup is complete, but MUST NOT be called before nextTick.

Writable streams SHOULD implement the following functions:

  • bool flush(callback=null)

    Make a best effort to push out any pending writes, even if doing so would degrade performance or be otherwise sub-optimal.

    Return value MUST be false if there are still pending writes that could not yet be flushed. Return value SHOULD be true if there are no additional data chunks waiting to be processed.

    If a callback is provided, then it MUST be called once the write queue is emptied, and MUST NOT be called before nextTick.

Writable streams MUST implement the following events:

  • emit('drain')

    If a write() call returns false, then a drain event MUST be emitted when the queue is drained.

  • emit('destroy')

    Emitted when destroy() is called.

Writable Streams SHOULD implement the following events:

  • emit('close')

    When all the underlying machinery of a stream is completely cleaned up, sockets closed, threads completed, file descriptors closed, then a writable stream SHOULD emit a close event.

Readable Streams

Readable Streams SHOULD be an instanceof the Stream base class, but this is optional.

Readable Streams MUST implement the following members and methods:

  • readable=true

    MUST have a readable flag set to true.

    After being destroyed or ended, this flag MUST be set to false.

  • pause()

    When pause() is called, the stream SHOULD stop emitting any data events.

  • resume()

    If paused, then resume() MUST cause data events to begin emitting again.

  • pipe(dest)

    See above under Stream base class.

    Readable Streams MAY override the pipe() method from the Stream base class, but SHOULD call Stream.prototype.pipe.call(this, dest) at some point.

    The dest writable stream MUST be returned.

  • destroy(callback=null)

    Clean up all worker threads, file descriptors, open sockets, or whatever else may be associated with the stream. Stream MUST emit destroy when the destroy() method is called.

    Note that destroy() is destructive, and should only be called when it is acceptable to lose data, for example, to forcibly shut down a TCP stream when the response is finished.

    This method MUST be idempotent, and MUST NOT throw or have other deleterious effects when called multiple times on the same object.

    An example destroy() method:

      MyReadStream.prototype.destroy = function(callback) {
        this.fd = null;
        this._binding = null;
        Stream.prototype.destroy.call(this, callback);
      };
    

Readable Strams MUST implement the following events:

  • emit('data', chunk)

    Whenever data is available, if not paused, then the stream MUST emit a data event with the data as an argument.

    data events MUST NOT be emitted without a chunk argument.

    data events MAY be emitted while paused.

  • emit('end')

    When no more data is going to be emitted, the stream MUST emit an end event.

    This event MUST be emitted eventually by all readable streams, even in cases where error is emitted, or destroy() is called.

Readable Streams SHOULD implement the following events:

  • emit('close')

    When all the underlying machinery of a stream is completely cleaned up, sockets closed, threads completed, file descriptors closed, then a readable stream SHOULD emit a close event.

Filter Streams

Filter Streams are streams that are both readable and writable, where a write() method call corresponds to a data event being emitted at some later time.

In order to properly proxy the events used by Stream.pipe, Filter streams SHOULD have the following additions to the ReadableStream and WritableStream APIs:

  • allowHalfOpen=true

    The allowHalfOpen flag MUST be set to true for filter streams.

  • pause() -> pause event

    The pause() method, in addition to halting the flow of data events, SHOULD emit a pause event so that upstream writers can be paused before the backpressure builds up.

  • resume() -> resume event

    The resume() method, in addition to allowing a paused stream to begin flowing data events again, SHOULD emit a resume event, so that upstream writers can begin sending data before the drain events propagate back.

  • destroy(cb)

    Filter streams MUST emit the destroy event like a writable stream, in addition to emitting the end event like a readable stream.

    Since destroy() may be called multiple times, it MUST be idempotent, and do nothing if destroy() has already been called on the stream.

Duplex Streams

Duplex Streams are streams that are both readable and writable, where the write() calls are messages to another agent, and the data events are messages from that same agent.

In these cases, it may make sense to exist in a half-duplex state, where either the readable or the writable aspect of the stream is preserved, but the other is destroyed.

  • bool allowHalfOpen

    The allowHalfOpen flag MUST be set to true if it supports this.

  • close(chunk=null, callback=null)

    Semantically, this is sugar for:

      stream.end(chunk, function() {
        stream.destroy(callback);
      });
    

    However, when it is known that a duplex stream will be completely destroyed after the write queue is empty, then the close() method SHOULD be used, so that implementation-specific optimizations can be executed. For example, a TCP stream could stop reading on the socket file descriptor.

  • end(chunk=null, callback=null)

    On Duplex Streams, the end() method means that no more data will be written. However, it does not correspond directly to an end event being emitted, if the stream can exist in a half-open state.

    If allowHalfOpen is not set to true, then this MUST cause the stream to be fully destroyed once the write queue is flushed.

  • destroy(cb)

    The destroy method MUST forcibly shut down both sides of the stream, and emit a destroy event immediately. If a callback is supplied, then it MUST be called when the stream destruction is complete, and MUST NOT be called before nextTick.

    Since destroy() may be called multiple times, it MUST be idempotent, and do nothing if destroy() has already been called on the stream.

Using Streams

Some guidelines and summary information for the Stream code contract:

  • Use the pipe() method to connect streams.

    This is the best way to ensure that errors and events are handled appropriately.

  • Errors propagate back up the pipe() chain.

    In the case where you have a Readable stream A, a readable/writable filter B, and a writable stream C, you'd do this:

      A.pipe(B).pipe(C);
    

    If C emits an error event, then it will be proxied to the B object, and then to the A object. So, the best way to catch all errors is to do:

      A.pipe(B).pipe(C);
      A.on('error', handleErrors);
    
  • Readable Streams: end MUST be emitted at some point.

    Even if the stream was destroyed, or encountered an error, the end event must be guaranteed to be emitted at some point in lifetime of the stream object.

Issues

  • Event propagation in circular pipe chains

    Consider this Stream.pipe chain:

      A.pipe(B).pipe(C).pipe(A)
    

    where A is a duplex stream, and B and C are filters. A more realistic situation where this can occur:

      net.createServer(function (socket) {
        socket.pipe(rot13Filter).pipe(GzipFilter).pipe(socket);
      });
    

    So, the incoming data from the socket is rot13'd, and then gzipped, and then sent back to the client.

    Consider what happens when an error event is raised in stream C:

    1. C.emit("error")
    2. B.emit("error")
    3. A.emit("error")

    At this point, presumably we catch and handle the error. However, according to the Stream.pipe semantics, it will still cause another error event to be emitted by C, since C is upstream from A.

    A similar problem can be seen in a simple echo server duplex stream:

      net.createServer(function (socket) {
        socket.pipe(socket);
      });
    

    Any error event on the socket will cause another error event to be emitted on the same object, and cause a RangeError.

    The same behavior would occur with destroy events. However, the semantics are such that the cycle will be broken by the fact that calling stream.destroy() a second time must do nothing, not even emit destroy again.

@koichik

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koichik commented Sep 26, 2011

Writable Streams

  • bool write(chunk, callback=null)

Isn't write(chunk, encoding, callback) a part of this spec?

  • emit('drain')

If a write() call returns false, then a drain event MUST be emitted when the queue is drained.

Even if a write() does not return false, can drain event be emitted?

Readable Streams

  • resume()

If paused, then resume() MUST cause data events to begin emitting again.

Can data event be emitted before resume() returns?

example:

stream.resume();
stream.on('data', function (chunk) {
  ...
});

If resume() emits (suspended) data event immediately, it is lost (fs.ReadStream woks so).
I think it should be asynchronously...

@isaacs

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isaacs commented Sep 28, 2011

I think actually data events should be able to be emitted at any time. Pause and resume are strictly informational. Attach the data event handler before calling resume.

@koichik

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koichik commented Sep 29, 2011

Hmm... Then we should modify the API docs which seems to cause misunderstanding...

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isaacs commented Sep 30, 2011

@koichik Well, the api docs are in line with the code, and it's all a mess. Part of the goal of all this is to come up with a better API that's more organized.

@seebees

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seebees commented Oct 1, 2011

I agree with koichik. Shouldn't it be write(chunk, encoding, cb)? And end(chunk, encoding, cb) as well?

Since Stream discusses flush() shouldn't write() === false be defined in Stream? In which case end(chunk) === false as well?

Event ----------------> Result

dest.on('drain') ------> src.resume()

Note: Calling Stream.flush() does not indicate that an entire pipe chain of Streams is flushed, but merely that this particular stream's write queue is empty.

*streams write queue will be emptied.
I think, since it may not empty (in which case it returns false).

If write is called after end, then it SHOULD throw.

*MUST

Readable Strams MUST implement the following events:

*Streams

Duplex Streams

Same encoding problem on close() and end()

@JayBeavers

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JayBeavers commented Jul 29, 2012

bool write(chunk, callback=null)

The base class write method emits a data event with the provided chunk, calls the callback function if supplied, and returns true.

If called after end(), then MUST throw. Otherwise, MUST NOT throw.

There are types of streams, primarily communications like sockets or serialports, where an error condition such as lost connection or reset remote devices is not detected until the write is attempted. In this case, imho write should throw and then be followed by an end.

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JayBeavers commented Jul 29, 2012

In reading through the streams2 spec, I don't see any guidance on how a stream's ctor or open event should work. Some stream types, such as node-serialport and socket connections have an async open and shouldn't be written or read until the open has completed. How do you feel this should fit into the stream2 spec? See issue #60 in node-serialport for related discussion.

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