Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Puppet Internals - Puppet Type System Ruby API

Puppet Type System Ruby API

One question I got several times about the Puppet Type System is how it can be used from Ruby. So, in this post I am going to show just that - how the type system can be put to good use from within functions and in types and providers. This post is all about the Puppet Type System's Ruby API.


The Puppet Type System was first introduced in Puppet 3.4. The API and functionality has been extended since then, and this blog post describes what is available in Puppet 3.5. The simple, straight forward examples should also work in Puppet 3.4, but many of the more advanced types where implemented in 3.5.

The Type System is implemented using the rgen gem - so if you want to play with code that uses the type system you should have that installed, and turn on --parser future to get all the things needed loaded and ready.

The Type System Implementation

At the core, the type system is built on a Type Model. This is what defines the classes that describe a Type. This model is anemic (using a term I introduced in an earlier post) and the model is accompanied by two implementations - the TypeFactory, which is used to construct types, and TypeCalculator which performs computations involving type (is this object an instance of this type, are these types compatible, etc.).

The Type Factory

While it is possible to interact directly with the Type Model, it far more practical to do so via the TypeFactory. One important thing to remember is that almost all of the types are parameterized, and thus quite unique - the Integer type can describe a range, the String type can express min and max length, etc. Thus, while there will be many instances describing a type flowing around in the system that describe the same kind of thing, the actual type instances are individual objects. In modeling terms, the parameters of a Type are contained in their parent type Just like a specific wheel is mounted on one specific car (or no car) at any given point in time is a specific Type instance associated with a parent type (or no type). This means that whenever we want to use a type we must have a fresh instance that is not already contained in some other type. (This may change in the future, but complicates the modeling).

With that bit of theory taken care of, I can move on to showing examples.

Creating an instance of Integer:

int_t = Puppet::Pops::Types::TypeFactory.integer()

(From this point forward, I am going to simplify the examples by assuming that FACTORY is a reference to Puppet::Pops::Types::TypeFactory.)

And, just to complete the example, to test if an object is an instance of that type we just created:

Puppet::Pops::Types::TypeCalculator.instance?(int_t, 3)        # true
Puppet::Pops::Types::TypeCalculator.instance?(int_t, 'hello')  # false

Factory methods

method description
integer creates an integer type range from -Infinity to +Infinity
range(from, to) creates an integer type range with given from/to, where :default denotes Infinity
float creates a float type range from -Infinity to + Infinity
float_range(from, to) creates a float type range with given from/to, where :default denotes Infinity
string creates a string type with size from 0 to Infinity
enum(*strings) creates an enumeration type from the given set of strings
pattern(patterns) creates an enumeration type based on regular expressions
regexp(pattern=nil) creates a regexp type, optionally parameterized with a pattern
boolean creates a boolean type
scalar creates an abstract scalar type
object creates an abstract object type
numeric creates an abstract numeric type
array_of(o) creates an array type parameterized by the given argument, its size is 0 to Infinity
array_of_data creates an array parameterized by the abstract type Data, its size is 0 to Infinity
hash_of(value, key_scalar) creates a hash parameterized by the given arguments for value and key, the default is a scalar key, its size is 0 to Infinity
hash_of_data creates a hash parameterized with scalar key and Data value.
collection creates a collection abstract type of size 0 to Infinity
data creates the abstract Data type
resource(type_name=nil, title=nil) creates a resource type, optionally parameterized with resource type name, and title
host_class(class_name=nil) creates a host class resource type, optionally parameterized with a class name
catalog_entry creates the abstract CatalogEntry type
optional(t) creates a type that represents the given type t or undef
variant(*types) creates a type that represents 'one of' the given types
struct(type_hash) creates a Struct type that fully qualifies a hash
tuple(*types) creates a Type that fully qualifies an array
ruby(o) creates a ruby type from the given object or class
ruby_type(class_name) creates a ruby type representing the given Ruby class name
undef creates a type representing undef values
type_type(t=nil) creates a meta type, optionally parameterized with the type this is the meta type for

In addition to these type creation methods, the constrain_size method allows changing the size constraint (for types that supports this; String, Array, Hash, and the occurrence of the last type in the Tuple type's sequence. The type_of(o) method is used by the other methods when converting the given argument(s) to type. The label(t) method produces a string representation of the type.

method description
constrain_size(t, from, to) constrains the size of t, where from and to are the same as for an integer range
type_of(o) is produces a type for o using the rules shown below
label(t) produces a string representation of the type.

The type_of(o) method allows flexible specification of type parameters in Ruby, as specified by the following table

o is_a then
Class if the Ruby class corresponds to one of the Puppet types, e.g. String, Integer, and then that type is returned, else a Puppet Ruby type.
PAbstractType used as is (i.e. Puppet::Pops::Types::PAbstractType)
String the string is the classname of a Ruby class - the corresponding type is produced
any other the type is inferred using the type calculator (see below)


FACTORY.tuple(String, Integer)
FACTORY.struct({'a' => String, 'b' => Integer})

# i.e. instead of having to do this
FACTORY.tuple(FACTORY.string, FACTORY.integer)

In summary - the type factory creates types using convenient transformation from Ruby types to Puppet types. (For details about each method, see the yardoc for the TypeFactory). For more information about what the different types represents, see the earlier posts in this series about the Puppet Type System

The Type Calculator

The other major part of the Puppet Type implementation is the class Puppet::Pops::Types::TypeCalculator (from this point on referred to as CALCULATOR in examples). The type calculator is the type inference system.

The type calculator has the same set of methods available both as instance and class methods. If a long series of operations are to be performed, it is faster to call the singleton method to get an instance, and then use what is returned for multiple operations.

The set of methods are:

method description
assignable?(t, t2) is t the same, or a more general type than t2
instance?(t, o) is o an instance of the type t
equals(t, t2) is the type t equal to the type t2
enumerable(t) if the type is Enumerable an suitable Enumerator is produced, else nil (currently only for integer range)
infer(o) infers the type of o and produces a generalized type (see below)
infer_set(o) infers the type of o and produces a value dependent type set (see below)
singleton returns the single instance of the TypeCalculator
string(t) produces a s string representation of the given type. This is the same as calling to_s on a type instance

In addition to these methods, there are several utility methods, mostly for use by the type calculator itself - those are not considered to be API.

The set of methods makes it possible to perform all of the operations exposed in the Puppet Programming Language.

The use of most of these methods should be easy to grasp. The assignable? method performs a type check based on two types, and instance? on a type and an instance.

The infer method infers a generalization - e.g. given [1, 3.14] infers Array[Numeric], whereas the infer_set method infers a set of value dependent types, e.g. given [1, 3,14] it will produce an Array[Variant[Integer[1,1], Float[3.14, 3.14]]] where each value in the array is encoded as a unique type. This is what allows more detailed type-questions to be answered.

The Type Parser

The third and final component in the Type System is the TypeParser. It produces a type given its string representation - e.g. if you execute the example below, you get back the same type:

a_type = FACTORY.array_of(String)

This allows you to store / pass type information in String form in a Resource parameter and convert it back to a type again in a Provider. Same thing for facts, settings, or when you get data from a source that cannot produce type instances.

Other Operations on Type

The types themselves support equality (==, eql?), and they can be used as hash keys - two types that are equal hash to the same hash-key. You can also copy a type (and all of its parameters) using the copy method (which is important as you need to consider the containment rule).

The Regexp type has a method called regexp that returns a Ruby Regexp from the puppet type's pattern.

The Struct type has a method to obtain the name/type hash as a Ruby Hash.

All types are considered to be immutable once they have been fully constructed, but this is not (currently) enforced.

Typical Usage

Say we want to check the types of arguments given to a puppet function. In this case we can perform all the type checking in one go even for complex types (just calling instance?).

accepted_t = FACTORY.tuple(String, Integer)
unless CALCULATOR.instance?(accepted_t, arguments)
  raise ParseError, "Argument type mismatch. Expected: " +', ') +
     ". Got: " +
     CALCULATOR.infer_set(arguments).map(&to_s).join(', ')

That is, if we accept two arguments of String and Integer type respectively this will print out what we expected and what we got. (Here I did go through the gymnastics of turning the types back to string even if this could have been written out directly as just "String, Integer").

If the function supports multiple signatures, we can obtain the type of the given argument by calling infer_set, and then test assignability of that against the signatures - this is faster than performing multiple instance? calls, as each call will need to infer the type of the given arguments from scratch.

given_t = CALCULATOR.infer_set(arguments)
when CALCULATOR.assignable?(signature_1_t, given_t)
  # process signature 1
when CALCULATOR.assignable?(signature_2_t, given_t)
  # process signature 2
  # error, not a supported signature

Now the gymnastics from before makes more sense since we may want to print the various signatures and state that the given did not match any of them.

Future Work

There is a new Function API in the works that will make use of the Type System, and it will also contain providing good error messages when there is a type mismatch. Until then, manual checking can be done as shown above.

There may be changes to how the containment of parameters work - right now the same type instance may have to be repeated multiple times, and it would be beneficial to be able to declare them by name and then reference rather than contain them.


  1. Unless it is clear - the Type System Ruby API is tentative until Puppet 4.0.

  2. In Puppet 4.3 all types are immutable. As a consequence the constrain_size method has been removed - instead, a size constraint must be given upfront when constructing types that support this. In 4.3 it is possible to call several of the TypeCalculator methods directly on types (e.g. assignable?, callable?, enumerable?, generalize, instance?).