So what is Kube? (and who is Sink?)

Michael first blogged about Kube, but we apparently missed to properly introduce the Project. Let me fix that for you😉

Kube is a modern groupware client, built to be effective and efficient on a variety of platforms and form-factors. It is built on top of a high-performance data access layer and Qt Quick to provide an exceptional user experience with minimal resource usage. Kube is based on the lessons learned from KDE Kontact and Akonadi, building on the strengths and replacing the weak points.

Kube is further developed in coordination with Roundcube Next, to achieve a consistent user experience across the two interfaces and to ensure that we can collaborate while building the UX.

A roadmap has been available for some time for the first release here, but in the long run we of course want to go beyond a simple email application. The central aspects of the the problem space that we want to address is communication and collaboration as well as organization. I know this is till a bit fuzzy, but there is a lot of work to be done before we can specify this clearly.

To ensure that we can move fast once the basic framework is ready, the architecture is very modular to enable component reuse and make it as easy as possible to create new ones. This way we can shift our focus over time from building the technology stack to evolving the UX.

Sink

Sink is a high-performance data access layer that provides a plugin mechanism for various backends (remote servers e.g. imap, local maildir, …) an editable offline cache that can replay changes to the server, a query system for efficient data-access and a unified API for groupware types such as events, mails, todos, etc.

It is built on top of LMDB (a key-value store) and Qt to be fast and efficient.

Sink is built for reliability, speed and maintainability.

What Kube & Sink aren’t

It is not a rename of Kontact and Akonadi.
Kontact and Akonadi will continue to be maintained by the KDEPIM team and Kube is a separate project (altough we share bits and pieces under the hood).
It is not a rewrite of Kontact
There is no intention of replicating Kontact. We’re not interested in providing every feature that Kontact has, but rather focus on a set that is useful for the usecases we try to solve (which is WIP).

Development

Development planning happens on phabricator, and the kdepim mailinglist. Our next sprint is in Toulouse together with the rest of the KDEPIM team.

We also have a weekly meeting on Wednesday, 16:00 CET with notes sent to the ML. If you would like to participate in those meetings just let me know, you’re more than welcome.

Current state

Kube is under heavy development and in an early stage, but we’re making good progress and starting to see the first results (you can read mail from maildir and even reply to mails). However, it is not yet ready for general consumption (though installable installable).

If you want to follow the development closely it is also possible to build Kube inside a docker container, or just use the container that contains a built version of Kube (it’s not yet updated automatically, so let me know if you want further information on that).

I hope that makes it a bit clearer what Kube and Sink is and isn’t, and where we’re going with it. If something is still unclear, please let me know in the comments section, and if you want to participate, by all means, join us =)

Kube Architecture – A Primer

Kube’s architecture is starting to emerge, so it is time that I give an overview on the current plans.

But to understand why we’re going where we’re going it is useful to consider the assumptions we work with, so let’s start there:

Kube is a networked application.
While Kube can certainly be used on a machine that has never seen a network connection, that is not where it shines. Kube is built to interact with various services and to work well with multiple devices. This is the reality we live in and that we’re building for.
Kube is scalable.
Kube not only scales from small datasets that are quick to synchronize to large datasets, that we can’t simply load into memory all at once. It also scales to different form factors. Kube is usable on devices with small and large screens, with touch or mouse input, etc.
Kube is cross platform.
Kube should run just as well on your laptop (be it Linux, OS X or Windows) as it does on your mobile (be it Plasma Mobile or Android).
Kube is a platform for rapid development.
We’re not interested in rebuilding mail and calendar and stopping there. Groupware needs to evolve and we want to facilitate communication and collaboration, not email and events. This requires that the user experience can continue to evolve and that we can experiment with new ideas quickly, without having to do large-scale changes to the codebase.
Groupware types are overlapping.
Traditionally PIM/Groupware applications are split up by formats and protocols, such as IMAP, MIME and iCal but that’s not how typical workflows work. Just because the transport chosen by iTip for an invitation happens to be a MIME message transported over IMAP to my machine, doesn’t mean that’s necessarily how I want to view it. I may want to start a communication with a person from my addressbook, calendar or email composer. A note may turn into a set of todo’s eventually. …

A lot of pondering over these points has led to a set of concepts that I’d like to quickly introduce:

Components

Kube is built from different components. Each component is a KPackage that provides a QML UI backed by various C++ elements from the Kube framework. By building reusable components we ensure that i.e. the email application can show the very same contact view as the addressbook, with all the actions you’d expect available. This not only allows us to mix various UI elements freely while building the User Experience, it also ensures consistency across the board with little effort. The components load their data themselves by instantiating the appropriate models and are thus fully self contained.

Components will come in various granularities, from simple widgets suitable for popup display to i.e. a full email application.

The components concept will also be interesting for integration. A plasma clock plasmoid could for instance detect that the Kube calendar package is available, and show this instead of it’s native one. That way the integration is little effort, the user experience is well integrated (you get the exact same UX as in the regular application), and the full set of functionality is directly available (unlike when only the data was shared).

Models

Kube is reactive. Models provide the data that the UI is built upon, so the UI only has to render whatever the model provides. This avoids complex stateful UI’s and ensures a proper separation of bussiness logic and UI. The UI directly instantiates and configures the models it requires.
The models feed on the data they get from Sink or other sources, and are as such often thin wrappers around other API’s. The dynamic nature of models allows to dynamically load more data as required to keep the system efficient.

Actions

In the other direction provide “Actions” the interaction with the rest of the system. An action can be “mark as read”, or “send mail”, or any other interaction with the system that is suitable for reuse. The action system is a publisher-subscriber system where various parts can execute actions that are handled by one of the registered action-handlers.

This loose-coupling between action and handler allows actions to be dynamically handled by different parts of the system system, i.e. based on the currently active account when sending an email. It also ensures that action handlers are nice and small functional components that can be invoked from various parts in the system that require similar functionality.

Pre-Handlers allow preparatory steps to be injected into the action-execution, such as retrieving configuration or requesting authentication, or resolving some identifier over a remote service. Anything that is required really to have all input data available to be able to execute the action handler.

Controllers

Controllers are C++ components that expose properties for a QML UI. These are useful to prepare data for the UI where a simple model is not sufficient, and can include additional UI-helpers such as validators or autocompletion for input fields.

Accounts

Accounts is the attempt to account for (pun intended) the networked nature of the environment we’re working in. Most information we’re working with in Kube is or should be synchronized over one or the other account and there remains very little that is specific to the local machine (besides application state). This means most data and configuration is always tied to an account to ensure clear ownership.

However accounts not only manifest in where data is being put, they also manifest as “plugins” for various backends. They tie together a QML configuration UI, an underlying configuration controller (for validation and autocompletion etc), a Sink resource to access data i.e. over IMAP, a set of action handlers i.e. to send mail over smtp and potentially various defaults for identity etc.

In case you’re internally already shouting “KAccounts!, KAccounts!”; We’re aware of the overlap, but I don’t see how we can solve all our problems using it, and there is definitely an argument for an integrated solution with regards to portability to other platforms. However, I do think there are opportunities in terms of platform integration.

An that’s it!

Further information can be found in the Kube Documentation.

The year of Kube

After having reached the first milestone of a read-only prototype of Kube, it’s time to provide a lookout of what we plan to achieve in 2016.
I have put together a Roadmap, of what I think are realistic goals that we can achieve in 2016. Obviously this will evolve over time and we’ll keep adjusting this as we advance faster/slower or simply move in other directions.

Since we’re building a completely new technology stack, a lot of the roadmap revolves around ensuring that we can create what we envision technology wise,
and that we have the necessary infrastructure to move fast while having confidence in the quality. It’s important that we do this before growing the codebase too much so we can still make the necessary adjustments without having too much code to adjust.

On the UX side we’ll want to work on concepts and prototypes, although we’ll probably keep the first implemented UI’s to something fairly simple and standard.
Over time we have to build a vision where we want to go in the long run so this can steer the development. This will be a long and ongoing process involving not only wire-frames and mockups, but hopefully also user research and analysis of our problem space (how do we communicate rather than how does GMail work).

However, since we can’t just stomp that grander vision out of the ground, the primary goal for us this year, is a simple email client that doesn’t do much, but does what it does well. Hopefully we can go beyond that with some other components available (calendar, addressbook, …), or perhaps something simple available on mobile already, but we’ll have to see how fast it goes first. Overall we’ll want to focus on quality rather than quantity to prove what quality level we’re able to reach and to ensure we’re well lined up to move fast in the following year(s).

The Roadmap

I split the roadmap into four quarters, each having it’s own focus. Note that Akonadi Next has been renamed to Sink to avoid confusion (now that Akonadi 5 is released and we planned for Akonadi2…).

1. Quarter

Milestones:
– Read-only Kube Mail prototype.
– Fully functional Kube Mail prototype but with very limited functionality set (read and compose mail).
– Testenvironment that is also usable by designers.
– Logging mechanism in Sink and potentially Kube so we can produce comprehensive logs.
– Automatic gathering of performance statistics so we can benchmark and prove progress over time.
– The code inventory1 is completed and we know what features we used to have in Kontact.
– Sink Maildir resource.
– Start of gathering of requirements for Kube Mail (features, ….).
– Start of UX design work.

We focus on pushing forward functionality wise, and refactoring the codebase every now and then to get a feeling how we can build applications with the new framework.
The UI is not a major focus, but we may start doing some preparatory work on how things eventually should be. Not much attention is paid to usability etc.
Once we have the Kube Mail prototype ready, with a minimum set of features, but a reasonable codebase and stability (so it becomes somewhat useful for the ones that want to give it a try), we start communicating about it more with regular blogposts etc.

2. Quarter

Milestones:
– Build on Windows.
– Build on Mac.
– Comprehensive automated testing of the full application.
– First prototype on Android.
– First prototype on Plasma Mobile?
– Sink IMAP resource.
– Sink Kolab resource.
– Sink ICal resource.
– Start of gathering of performance requirements for Kube Mail (responsiveness, disk-usage, ….)
– Define target feature set to reach by the end of the year.

We ensure the codebase builds on all major platforms and ensure it keeps building and working everywhere. We ensure we can test everything we need, and work out what we want to test (i.e. including UI or not). Kube is extended with further functionality and we develop the means to access a Kolab/IMAP Server (perhaps with mail only).

3. Quarter

Milestones:
– Prototype for Kube Shell.
– Prototype for Kube Calendar.
– Potentially prototype for other Kube applications.
– Rough UX Design for most applications that are part of Kube.
– Implementation of further features in Kube Mail according to the defined feature set.

We start working on prototypes with other datatypes, which includes data access as well as UI. The implemented UI’s are not final, but we end up with a usable calendar. We keep working on the concepts and designs, and we approximately know what we want to end up with.

4. Quarter

Milestones:
– Implementation of the final UI for the Kube Mail release.
– Potentially also implementation of a final UI for other components already.
– UX Design for all applications “completed” (it’s never complete but we have a version that we want to implement).
– Tests with users.

We polish Kube Mail, ensure it’s easy to install and setup on all platforms and that all the implemented features work flawlessly.

Progress so far

Currently we have a prototype that has:
– A read-only maildir resource.
– HTML rendering of emails.
– Basic actions such as deleting a mail.

My plan is to hook the Maildir resource up with offlineimap, so I can start reading my mail in Kube within the next weeks😉

Next to this we’re working on infrastructure, documentation, planning, UI Design…
Current progress can be followed in our Phabricator projects 23, and the documentation, while still lagging behind, is starting to take shape in the “docs/” subdirectory of the respective repositories45.

There’s meanwhile also a prototype of a docker container to experiment with available 6, and the Sink documentation explains how we currently build Sink and Kube inside a docker container with kdesrcbuild.

Join the Fun

We have weekly hangouts on that you are welcome to join (just contact me directly or write to the kde-pim mailinglist). The notes are on notes.kde.org and are regularly sent to the kdepim mailinglist as well.
As you can guess the project is in a very early state, so we’re still mostly trying to get the whole framework into shape, and not so much writing the actual application. However, if you’re interested in trying to build the system on other platforms, working on UI concepts or generally tinker around with the codebase we have and help shaping what it should become, you’re more than welcome to join =)


  1. git://anongit.kde.org/scratch/aseigo/KontactCodebaseInventory.git 
  2. https://phabricator.kde.org/project/profile/5/ 
  3. https://phabricator.kde.org/project/profile/43/ 
  4. git://anongit.kde.org/akonadi-next 
  5. git://anongit.kde.org/kontact-quick 
  6. https://github.com/cmollekopf/docker/blob/master/kubestandalone/run.sh 

Akonadi Next Cmd

For Akonadi Next I built a little utility that I intend to call “akonadi_cmd” and it’s slowly becoming useful.

It started as the first Akonadi Next client, for me to experiment a bit with the API, but it recently gained a bunch of commands and can now be used for various tasks.

The syntax is the following:
akonadi_cmd COMMAND TYPE ...

The Akonadi Next API always works on a single type, so you can i.e. query for folders, or mails, but not for folders and mails. Instead you query for the mails with a folder filter, if that’s what you’re looking for. akonadi_cmd’s syntax reflects that.

Commands

list
The list command allows to execute queries and retreive results in form of lists.
Eventually you will be able to specify which properties should be retrieved, for now it’s a hardcoded list for each type. It’s generally useful to check what the database contains and whether queries work.
count
Like list, but only output the result count.
stat
Some statistics how large the database is, how the size is distributed accross indexes, etc.
create/modify/delete
Allows to create/modify/delete entities. Currently this is only of limited use, but works already nicely with resources. Eventually it will allow to i.e. create/modify/delete all kinds of entities such as events/mails/folders/….
clear
Drops all caches of a resource but leaves the config intact. This is useful while developing because it i.e. allows to retry a sync, without having to configure the resource again.
synchronize
Allows to synchronize a resource. For an imap resource that would mean that the remote server is contacted and the local dataset is brought up to date,
for a maildir resource it simply means all data is indexed and becomes queriable by akonadi.

Eventually this will allow to specify a query as well to i.e. only synchronize a specific folder.

show
Provides the same contents as “list” but in a graphical tree view. This was really just a way for me to test whether I can actually get data into a view, so I’m not sure if it will survive as a command. For the time being it’s nice to compare it’s performance to the QML counterpart.

Setting up a new resource instance

akonadi_cmd is already the primary way how you create resource instances:

akonadi_cmd create resource org.kde.maildir path /home/developer/maildir1

This creates a resource of type “org.kde.maildir” and a configuration of “path” with the value “home/developer/maildir1”. Resources are stored in configuration files, so all this does is write to some config files.

akonadi_cmd list resource

By listing all available resources we can find the identifier of the resource that was automatically assigned.

akonadi_cmd synchronize org.kde.maildir.instance1

This triggers the actual synchronization in the resource, and from there on the data is available.

akonadi_cmd list folder org.kde.maildir.instance1

This will get you all folders that are in the resource.

akonadi_cmd remove resource org.kde.maildir.instance1

And this will finally remove all traces of the resource instance.

Implementation

What’s perhaps interesting from the implementation side is that the command line tool uses exactly the same models that we also use in Kube.

    Akonadi2::Query query;
    query.resources << res.toLatin1();

    auto model = loadModel(type, query);
    QObject::connect(model.data(), &QAbstractItemModel::rowsInserted, [model](const QModelIndex &index, int start, int end) {
        for (int i = start; i <= end; i++) {
            std::cout << "\tRow " << model->rowCount() << ":\t ";
            std::cout << "\t" << model->data(model->index(i, 0, index), Akonadi2::Store::DomainObjectBaseRole).value<Akonadi2::ApplicationDomain::ApplicationDomainType::Ptr>()->identifier().toStdString() << "\t";
            for (int col = 0; col < model->columnCount(QModelIndex()); col++) {
                std::cout << "\t|" << model->data(model->index(i, col, index)).toString().toStdString();
            }
            std::cout << std::endl;
        }
    });
    QObject::connect(model.data(), &QAbstractItemModel::dataChanged, [model, &app](const QModelIndex &, const QModelIndex &, const QVector<int> &roles) {
        if (roles.contains(Akonadi2::Store::ChildrenFetchedRole)) {
            app.quit();
        }
    });
    if (!model->data(QModelIndex(), Akonadi2::Store::ChildrenFetchedRole).toBool()) {
        return app.exec();
    }

This is possible because we’re using QAbstractItemModel as an asynchronous result set. While one could argue whether that is the best API for an application that is essentially synchronous, it still shows that the API is useful for a variety of applications.

And last but not least, since I figured out how to record animated gifs, the above procedure in a live demo😉

akonadicmd

Bringing Akonadi Next up to speed

It’s been a while since the last progress report on akonadi next. I’ve since spent a lot of time refactoring the existing codebase, pushing it a little further,
and refactoring it again, to make sure the codebase remains as clean as possible. The result of that is that an implementation of a simple resource only takes a couple of template instantiations, apart from code that interacts with the datasource (e.g. your IMAP Server) which I obviously can’t do for the resource.

Once I was happy with that, I looked a bit into performance, to ensure the goals are actually reachable. For write speed, operations need to be batched into database transactions, this is what allows the db to write up to 50’000 values per second on my system (4 year old laptop with an SSD and an i7). After implementing the batch processing, and without looking into any other bottlenecks, it can process now ~4’000 values per second, including updating ten secondary indexes. This is not yet ideal given what we should be able to reach, but does mean that a sync of 40’000 emails would be done within 10s, which is not bad already. Because commands first enter a persistent command queue, pulling the data offline is complete even faster actually, but that command queue afterwards needs to be processed for the data to become available to the clients and all of that together leads to the actual write speed.

On the reading side we’re at around 50’000 values per second, with the read time growing linearly with the amount of messages read. Again far from ideal, which is around 400’000 values per second for a single db (excluding index lookups), but still good enough to load large email folders in a matter of a second.

I implemented the benchmarks to get these numbers, so thanks to HAWD we should be able to track progress over time, once I setup a system to run the benchmarks regularly.

With performance being in an acceptable state, I will shift my focus to the revisioned, which is a prerequisite for the resource writeback to the source. After all, performance is supposed to be a desirable side-effect, and simplicity and ease of use the goal.

Randa

Coming up next week is the yearly Randa meeting where we will have the chance to sit together for a week and work on the future of Kontact. This meetings help tremendously in injecting momentum into the project, and we have a variety of topics to cover to direct the development for the time to come (and of course a lot of stuff to actively hack on). If you’d like to contribute to that you can help us with some funding. Much appreciated!

Kontact on Windows

I recently had the dubious pleasure of getting Kontact to work on windows, and after two weeks of agony it also yielded some results =)

Not only did I get Kontact to build on windows (sadly still something to be proud off), it is also largely functional. Even timezones are now working in a way that you can collaborate with non-windows users, although that required one or the other patch to kdelibs.

To make the whole excercise as reproducible as possible I collected my complete setup in a git repository [0]. Note that these builds are from the kolab stable branches, and not all the windows specific fixes have made it back upstream yet. That will follow as soon as the waters calm a bit.

If you want to try it yourself you can download an installer here [1],
and if you don’t (I won’t judge you for not using windows) you can look at the pretty pictures.

[0] https://github.com/cmollekopf/kdepimwindows
[1] http://mirror.kolabsys.com/pub/upload/windows/Kontact-E5-2015-06-30-19-41.exe

Kontact_WindowsAccount_Wizard

Reproducible testing with docker

Reproducible testing is hard, and doing it without automated tests, is even harder. With Kontact we’re unfortunately not yet in a position where we can cover all of the functionality by automated tests.

If manual testing is required, being able to bring the test system into a “clean” state after every test is key to reproducibility.

Fortunately we have a lightweight virtualization technology available with linux containers by now, and docker makes them fairly trivial to use.

Docker

Docker allows us to create, start and stop containers very easily based on images. Every image contains the current file system state, and each running container is essentially a chroot containing that image content, and a process running in it. Let that process be bash and you have pretty much a fully functional linux system.

The nice thing about this is that it is possible to run a Ubuntu 12.04 container on a Fedora 22 host (or whatever suits your fancy), and whatever I’m doing in the container, is not affected by what happens on the host system. So i.e. upgrading the host system does not affect the container.

Also, starting a container is a matter of a second.

Reproducible builds

There is a large variety of distributions out there, and every distribution has it’s own unique set of dependency versions, so if a colleague is facing a build issue, it is by no means guaranteed that I can reproduce the same problem on my system.

As an additional annoyance, any system upgrade can break my local build setup, meaning I have to be very careful with upgrading my system if I don’t have the time to rebuild it from scratch.

Moving the build system into a docker container therefore has a variety of advantages:
* Builds are reproducible across different machines
* Build dependencies can be centrally managed
* The build system is no longer affected by changes in the host system
* Building for different distributions is a matter of having a couple of docker containers

For building I chose to use kdesrc-build, so building all the necessary repositories is the least amount of effort.

Because I’m still editing the code from outside of the docker container (where my editor runs), I’m simply mounting the source code directory into the container. That way I don’t have to work inside the container, but my builds are still isolated.

Further I’m also mounting the install and build directories, meaning my containers don’t have to store anything and can be completely non-persistent (the less customized, the more reproducible), while I keep my builds fast and incremental. This is not about packaging after all.

Reproducible testing

Now we have a set of binaries that we compiled in a docker container using certain dependencies, so all we need to run the binaries is a docker container that has the necessary runtime dependencies installed.

After a bit of hackery to reuse the hosts X11 socket, it’s possible run graphical applications inside a properly setup container.

The binaries are directly mounted from the install directory, and the prepared docker image contains everything from the necessary configurations to a seeded Kontact configuration for what I need to test. That way it is guaranteed that every time I start the container, Kontact starts up in exactly the same state, zero clicks required. Issues discovered that way can very reliably be reproduced across different machines, as the only thing that differs between two setups is the used hardware (which is largely irrelevant for Kontact).

..with a server

Because I’m typically testing Kontact against a Kolab server, I of course also have a docker container running Kolab. I can again seed the image with various settings (I have for instance a John Doe account setup, for which I have the account and credentials already setup in client container), and the server is completely fresh on every start.

Wrapping it all up

Because a bunch of commands is involved, it’s worthwhile writing a couple of scripts to make the usage a easy as possible.

I went for a python wrapper which allows me to:
* build and install kdepim: “devenv srcbuild install kdepim”
* get a shell in the kdepim dir: “devenv srcbuild shell kdepim”
* start the test environment: “devenv start set1 john”

When starting the environment the first parameter defines the dataset used by the server, and the second one specifies which client to start, so I can have two Kontact instances with different users for invitation handling testing and such.

Of course you can issue any arbitrary command inside the container, so this can be extended however necessary.

While that would of course have been possible with VMs for a long time, there is a fundamental difference in performance. Executing the build has no noticeable delay compared to simply issuing make, and that includes creating a container from an image, starting the container, and cleaning it up afterwards. Starting the test server + client also takes all of 3 seconds. This kind of efficiency is really what enables us to use this in a lather, rinse, repeat approach.

The development environment

I’m still using the development environment on the host system, so all file-editing and git handling etc. happens as usual so far. I still require the build dependencies on the host system, so clang can compile my files (using YouCompleteMe) and hint if I made a typo, but at least these dependencies are decoupled from what I’m using to build Kontact itself.

I also did a little bit of integration in Vim, so my Make command now actually executes the docker command. This way I get seamless integration and I don’t even notice that I’m no longer building on the host system. Sweet.

While I’m using Vim, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t work with KDevelop (or whatever really..).

I might dockerize my development environment as well (vim + tmux + zsh + git), but more on that in another post.

Overall I’m very happy with the results of investing in a couple of docker containers, and I doubt we could have done the work we did, without that setup. At least not without a bunch of dedicated machines just for that. I’m likely to invest more in that setup, and I’m currently contemplating dockerizing also my development setup.

In any case, sources can be found here:
https://github.com/cmollekopf/docker.git