Resources are a mechanism that allows to constrain certain job to execute only on devices with appropriate hardware or software dependencies. This mechanism allows some types of jobs to publish resource objects to an abstract namespace and to a way to evaluate a resource program to determine if a job can be started.

Resources in Plainbox

The following chapters explain how resources actually work in Plainbox. Currently there is a subtle difference between this and the original Checkbox implementation.

Resource programs

Resource programs are multi-line statements that can be embedded in job definitions. By far, the most common use case is to check if a required package is installed, and thus, the job can use it as a part of a test. A check like this looks like this: == "fwts"

This resource program codifies that the job needs the fwts package to run. There is a companion job with the same name that interrogates the local package database and publishes a set of resource objects. Each such object is a collection of arbitrary key-value pairs. The package job simply publishes the name and version of each installed package but the mechanism is generic and applies to all resources.

As stated, resource programs can be multi-line, a real world example of that is presented below:

device.category == 'CDROM' == 'writable'

This example is much like the one above, referring to some resources, here coming from jobs device and optical_drive. What is important to point out is that, as a rule of a thumb, multi line programs have an implicit and operator between each line. This program would only evaluate to True if there is a writable CD-ROM available.

Each resource program is composed of resource expressions. Each line maps directly onto one expression so the example program above uses two resource expressions.

Resource expressions

Resource expressions are evaluated like normal python programs. They use all of the same syntax, semantics and behavior. None of the operators are overridden to do anything unexpected. The evaluator tries to follow the principle of least surprise but this is not always possible.

Resource expressions cannot execute arbitrary python code. In general almost everything is disallowed, except as noted below:

  • Expressions can use any literals (strings, numbers, True, False, lists and tuples)
  • Expressions can use boolean operators (and, or, not)
  • Expressions can use all comparison operators
  • Expressions can use all binary and unary operators
  • Expressions can use the set membership operator (in)
  • Expressions can use read-only attribute access

Anything else is rejected as an invalid resource expression.

In addition to that, each resource expression must use at least one variable, which must be used like an object with attributes. The name of that variable must correspond to the name of the job that generates resources. You can use the imports field (at a job definition level) to rename a resource job to be compatible with the identifier syntax. It can also be used to refer to resources from another namespace.

In the examples elsewhere in this page the package resources are generated by the package job. Plainbox uses this to know which resources to try but also to implicitly to express dependencies so that the package job does not have to be explicitly selected and marked for execution prior to the job that in fact depends on it. This is all done automatically.


Due to mandatory compatibility with existing Checkbox jobs there are some unexpected aspects of how evaluation is performed. Those are marked as unexpected below:

  1. First Plainbox looks at the resource program and splits it into lines. Each non-empty line is parsed and converted to a resource expression.
  2. unexpected Each resource expression is repeatedly evaluated, once for each resource from the group determined by the variable name. All exceptions are silently ignored and treated as if the iteration had evaluated to False. The whole resource expression evaluates to True if any of the iterations evaluated to True. In other words, there is an implicit any() around each resource expression, iterating over all resources.
  3. unexpected The resource program evaluates to True only if all resource expressions evaluated to True. In other words, there is an implicit and between each line.


The design of resource programs has the following shortcomings. The list is non-exhaustive, it only contains issues that we came across found not to work in practice.

Joins are not optimized

Starting with plainbox 0.24, a resource expression can use more than one resource object (resource job) at the same time. This allows the use of joins as the whole expression is evaluated over the cartesian product of all the resource records. This operation is not optimized, you can think of it as a JOIN that is performed on a database without any indices.

Let’s look at a practical example: ==

Here, two resource jobs would run. The classic package resource (that produces, typically, a great number of resource records, one for each package installed on the system) and a hypothetical desired_package resource (for this example let’s pretend that it is a simple constant resource that just contains one object). Here, this operation is not any worse than before because size(desired_package) * size(package) is not any larger. If, however, desired_package was on the same order as package (approximately a thousand resource objects). Then the computational cost of evaluating that expression would be quadratic.

In general, the cost, assuming all resources have the same order, is exponential with the number of distinct resource jobs referenced by the expression.

Exactly one resource bound to a variable at once

It’s not possible to refer to two different resources, from the same resource group, in one resource expression. In other terms, the variable always points to one object, it is not a collection of objects.

For example, let’s consider this program: == 'xorg' and == 'procps'

Seemingly the intent was to ensure that both xorg and procps are installed. The reason why this does not work is that at each iteration of the the expression evaluator, the name package refers to exactly one resource object. In other words, that expression is equivalent to this one:

A == True and A == False

This type of error is not captured by our limited semantic analyzer. It will silently evaluate to False and inhibit the job from being stated.

To work around this, split the expression to two consecutive lines. As stated in rule 3 in the list above, there is an implicit and operator between all expressions. A working example that expresses the same intent looks like this: == 'xorg' == 'procps'

Operator != is useless

This is strange at first but quickly becomes obvious once you recall rule 2 from the list above. That rule states that the expression is evaluated repeatedly for each resource from a particular group and that any True iteration marks the whole expression as True).

Let’s look at a real-world example:

xinput.device_class == 'XITouchClass' and xinput.touch_mode != 'dependent'

So seemingly, the intent here was to have at least xinput resource with a device_class attribute equal to XITouchClass that has touch_mode attribute equal to anything but dependent.

Now let’s assume that we have exactly two resources in the xinput group:

device_class: XITouchClass
touch_mode: dependant

device_class: XITouchClass
touch_mode: something else

Now, this expression will evaluate to True, as the second resource fulfils the requirements. Is this what the test designer had expected? That’s hard to say. The problem here is that this expression can be understood as at least one resource isn’t something or all resources weren’t something. Both are equally valid desires and, depending on how the test is implemented, may or many not work correctly in practice.

Currently there is no workaround. We are considering adding a new syntax that would allow to specify this explicitly. The proposal is documented below as “implicit any(), explicit all()”

Everything is a string

Resource programs are regular python programs evaluated in unusual ways but all of the variables that are exposed through the resource object are strings.

This has considerable impact on comparison, unless you are comparing to a string the comparison will always silently fail as python has dynamic but strict, not loose types (there is no implicit type conversion). To alleviate this problem several type names / conversion functions are allowed in requirement programs. Those are:

  • int, to convert to integer numbers
  • float, to convert to floating point numbers
  • bool, to convert to a boolean context

Considered enhancements

We are currently considering one improvement to resource programs. This would allow us to introduce a fix that resolves some issues in a backwards compatible way. Technical aspects are not yet resolved as that extension would not be available in Checkbox until Checkbox can be built on top of Plainbox

Implicit any(), explicit all()

This proposal changes the way resource expressions are evaluated.

The implicit any() implemented as a loop over all resources from the resource group designated by variable name would be configurable.

A developer may choose to wrap the whole expression in the all() function to indicate that the expression inside all() must evaluate to True for all iterations (all resources).

This would allow solving the case where a job can only run, for example, when a certain package is not installed. This could be expressed as:

all( != 'ubuntu-desktop')

Resources in Checkbox

The following chapters explain how resources originally worked in Checkbox. Only notable differences from Plainbox implementation are listed.

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