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Breaking up is easy to do (with OPAM)

By Anil Madhavapeddy - 2012-10-17

When we first started developing Mirage in 2009, we were rewriting huge chunks of operating system and runtime code in OCaml. This ranged from low-level device drivers to higher-level networking protocols such as TCP/IP or HTTP. The changes weren't just straight rewrites of C code either, but also involved experimenting with interfaces such as iteratees and lightweight threading to take advantage of OCaml's static type system. To make all of this easy to work with, we decided to lump everything into a single Git repository that would bootstrap the entire system with a single make invocation.

Nowadays though, Mirage is self-hosting, the interfaces are settling down, the number of libraries are growing every day, and portions of it are being used in the Xen Cloud Platform. So for the first developer release, we wanted to split up the monolithic repository into more manageable chunks, but still make it as easy as possible for the average OCaml developer to try out Mirage.

Thanks to much hard work from Thomas and his colleagues at OCamlPro, we now have OPAM: a fully-fledged package manager for Mirage! OPAM is a source-based package manager that supports a growing number of community OCaml libraries. More importantly for Mirage, it can also switch between multiple compiler installations, and so support cross-compiled runtimes and modified standard libraries.

OPAM includes compiler variants for Mirage-friendly environments for Xen and the UNIX tuntap backends. The installation instructions now give you instructions on how to use OPAM, and the old monolithic repository is considered deprecated. We're still working on full documentation for the first beta release, but all the repositories are on the Mirage organisation on Github, with some of the important ones being:

  • mirage-platform has the core runtime for Xen and UNIX, implemented as the OS module.
  • mirage-net has the TCP/IP networking stack.
  • ocaml-cstruct has the camlp4 extension to manipulate memory like C structs, but with type-safe accessors in OCaml.
  • ocaml-xenstore has a portable implementation of the Xenstore protocol to communicate with the Xen management stack from a VM (or even act as a server in a stub domain).
  • ocaml-dns is a pure OCaml implementation of the DNS protocol, including a server and stub resolver.
  • ocaml-re is a pure OCaml version of several regular expression engines, including Perl compatibility.
  • ocaml-uri handles parsing the surprisingly complex URI strings.
  • ocaml-cohttp is a portable HTTP parser, with backends for Mirage, Lwt and Core/Async. This is a good example of how to factor out OS-specific concerns using the OCaml type system (and I plan to blog more about this soon).
  • ocaml-cow is a set of syntax extensions for JSON, CSS, XML and XHTML, which are explained here, and used by this site.
  • ocaml-dyntype uses camlp4 to generate dynamic types and values from OCaml type declarations.
  • ocaml-orm auto-generates SQL scheme from OCaml types via Dyntype, and currently supports SQLite.
  • ocaml-openflow implements an OCaml switch and controller for the Openflow protocol.

There are quite a few more that are still being hacked for release by the team, but we're getting there very fast now. We also have the Mirage ports of SSH to integrate before the first release this year, and Haris has got some interesting DNSSEC code! If you want to get involved, join the mailing list or IRC channel!