Google is committed to advancing racial equity for Black communities. See how.

RFC-0127: Structured Configuration

RFC-0127: Structured Configuration
StatusAccepted
Areas
  • Component Framework
Description

A new configuration system to solve a set of common component configuration problems.

Issues
Gerrit change
Authors
Reviewers
Date submitted (year-month-day)2021-07-08
Date reviewed (year-month-day)2021-09-22

Summary

This RFC proposes a new "structured" configuration system that lets component developers easily and consistently solve a set of common component configuration problems using the component framework. It is intended to supplement rather than replace the existing configuration mechanisms on Fuchsia.

Component developers may declare configuration keys for their component in the component manifest then the component framework delivers configuration values to the component as each instance starts. Initial configuration values are defined at assembly time. When permitted at assembly time, configuration values may also be set while the system is running by the component's parent or over a FIDL interface.

This RFC covers the motivation, expected use cases, and overall design. Future RFCs will define the implementation and the syntax developers use to interact with this new system.

Motivation

Software is more flexible and reusable if it can be "configured"; that is, if aspects of its behavior can be controlled externally rather than being fixed by its source code. Fuchsia is intended for use across a wide range of products in large scale production environments; configuration is essential both to enable this flexibility and to safely evolve the platform over time.

Other large platforms provide infrastructure that helps developers add configuration to their software (for example Chromium) but configuration on Fuchsia is currently a manual process, requiring bespoke work both to consume configuration values at runtime and to supply those configuration values for different environments.

The most common tools for configuration on Fuchsia are currently reading files from the config-data package and reading data from configuration-oriented FIDL APIs. These existing tools have been used to solve several important problems to date, but they are used neither widely nor consistently.

This RFC proposes a new "structured" configuration system that lets component developers easily and consistently solve a set of common component configuration problems using the component framework. It is intended to supplement rather than replace the existing configuration mechanisms.

Enabling simple and consistent component configuration offers several benefits to Fuchsia, for example:

  • Platform components can be made more flexible to support a wider range of products.
  • The migration to Component Framework v2 can be simplified by providing a replacement for the CFv1 ability to supply arguments while launching a child component.
  • New platform and product features can be deployed to production more safely through the use of feature flags.
  • The cost associated with developing, testing, and maintaining configurable behavior can be reduced.

Stakeholders

The stakeholders for this RFC are the Fuchsia Engineering Council, the Component Platform teams whose scope it increases (i.e., Component Framework and Software Delivery) and teams working on process where it can unlock improvements (PDK and Security).

Potential clients of the system are also important, but since this RFC does not propose a universal configuration system it should not be expected to meet all the configuration desires of all potential clients.

Facilitator: abarth

Reviewers: geb (Component Framework), wittrock (SWD), aaronwood (SWD & PDK), ampearce (Security)

Consulted: ddorwin, hjfreyer, ejia, thatguy, shayba, jamesr, ypomortsev, crjohns, surajmalhotra, curtisgalloways, adamperry

Socialization: Early drafts of this design or the preceding documents were reviewed within the Component Framework, Security, Software Delivery, Cobalt, and PDK teams. Several additional discussions were held with potential clients.

Use cases

Common use case: feature flags

Adding new features to a deployed system can be a risky proposition; new designs and new code occasionally contain errors or invalid assumptions that are not discovered until after deployment to a production environment. Many other platforms mitigate this risk through the use of "feature flags": boolean configuration parameters used to control whether a feature is active or not. Feature flags offer several benefits:

  • Deployment of new software versions can be decoupled from activation of new functionality; features added in the same software version do not have to be enabled simultaneously.
  • The correct operation of a new feature can be thoroughly tested before the feature is enabled.
  • Each feature can be enabled progressively across devices, either using release channels, percentage rollouts, or a combination of both.
  • Each feature can be safely and quickly disabled if necessary; disabling a feature does not require rollback to an earlier software version.

Let's take one example of a recent feature that would have benefitted from a feature flag: the introduction of frequency estimation to Timekeeper. In the submitted CL this feature was instantly and permanently enabled across all releases of all products.

estimator/mod.rs (without structured configuration)

match self.frequency_estimator.update(&sample) {
  // use resulting frequency update
  ...
}

With structured configuration we would have been able to declare a feature flag in the component manifest for Timekeeper and then gate the use of the frequency estimator on this flag:

timekeeper.cml

{
  ...
  config: {
    enable_frequency: {
      type: "boolean",
      default: "false"
    }
  },
  ...
}

main.rs

import config_timekeeper as config;
...
let config: config::Struct = config::parse();
// Pass config through to each new Estimator

estimator/mod.rs

if self.config.enable_frequency {
  match self.frequency_estimator.update(&sample) {
    // Use resulting frequency update
    ...
  }
}

In this example, declaring a config section in the manifest caused the build system to generate a library containing a FIDL struct definition for that configuration and the code necessary to populate this struct at runtime from inputs supplied to the component by its runner. The implementation of the component can then import this library and use fields in the struct to control its behavior.

Note the component developer can gate a new feature behind a flag with ~10 lines of code. What do they get in exchange for those 10 lines of code?

  • Initially the feature will be disabled everywhere. Since the component author supplied a default value of "false", the flag will be off until some other input to the assembly process explicitly sets a different value.

  • Initially the feature cannot be enabled while the system is running in production releases. Which configuration keys can be mutated while the system is running is a policy question and this RFC does not specify policy. However, for security reasons it is very likely that no runtime mutation will be allowed in production (e.g. "user") releases unless explicitly requested and reviewed.

  • Developers can test the feature while the system is running in engineering releases. Which configuration keys can be mutated while the system is running is a policy question and this RFC does not specify policy. However, to simplify development, test, and debug it is likely that runtime mutation will be allowed for most configuration keys in engineering (e.g., "eng") releases. A developer could enable the feature for a local device using ffx. For example (using notional syntax): ffx target config set timekeeper.cml enable_frequency=true. If allowed by policy, the developer could also enable the feature such that it persists across device power cycles.

  • Tests can cover both the "feature enabled" and "feature disabled" cases. For unit and component-level tests this involves manually constructing and injecting the FIDL config struct, for integration tests it involves providing configuration as the component under test is started, for example using Realm Builder.

  • Build & assembly tooling could control the feature as a part of the platform boundary. Build and assembly tooling is currently in work through the DPI and SPAC efforts. The outcome of this work would let platform maintainers control whether each platform feature is exposed to products. Depending on policy and the risk of a feature, the platform could either control the rollout of the feature or delegate the rollout of the feature to products. For more complex cases the platform could enable mutation of the feature flag while the system is running even in production (e.g., "user") releases. This would let a product enable the feature on individual devices, for example setting the configuration value based on an experiment rollout system or an enterprise management console.

  • The flag state is reflected in device metrics. For releases where the flag state can be mutated while the system is running its value is included in an additional hash that can be used to separate the feature-enabled cohort from the feature-disabled cohort during metric analysis.

Common use case: product/board/build type tailoring

Fuchsia is a general purpose operating system that can be used across widely different products and device categories. This means occasionally platform components need to tailor their behavior based on the characteristics of the product or board they are operating on.

Let's take another example from Timekeeper: the UTC maintenance algorithm needs to know the accuracy of the device's oscillator to understand the growth in error bound and to weight successive samples. Some oscillators are significantly more accurate (and expensive!) than others, but there is currently no easy way to express board-based variation so oscillator error is currently hardcoded as a constant:

estimator/mod.rs (without structured configuration)

const OSCILLATOR_ERROR_STD_DEV_PPM: u64 = 15;

kalman_filter.rs (without structured configuration)

static ref OSCILLATOR_ERROR_VARIANCE: f64 =
    (OSCILLATOR_ERROR_STD_DEV_PPM as f64 / MILLION as f64).powi(2);
...
self.covariance_00 += monotonic_step.powf(2.0) * *OSCILLATOR_ERROR_VARIANCE;

With structured configuration we would be able to declare an integer configuration key in the manifest for Timekeeper and then the use the value supplied by the product or board:

timekeeper.cml

{
  ...
  config: {
    oscillator_error_std_dev_ppm: {
      type: "uint8"
    }
  },
  ...
}

main.rs

import config_timekeeper as config;
...
let config: config::Table = config::parse();
// Pass config through to each new KalmanFilter

estimator/mod.rs

// Delete hard-coded constant.

kalman_filter.rs

let oscillator_error_variance: f64 =
    (config.oscillator_error_std_dev_ppm as f64 / MILLION as f64).powi(2);
...
self.covariance_00 += monotonic_step.powf(2.0) * oscillator_error_variance;

As in the first use case, the component developer can introduce this tailorable parameter with ~10 lines of code and receive the same useful properties. In this use case the manifest does not provide a default value (since the component author had no idea how good or bad an oscillator might be used) so the assembly process will fail with an informative error if no other input supplies the value.

Other use cases

The previous sections discussed what we see as two very common use cases for structured configuration, but the same system can also be used to address a range of other simple configuration use cases. For example:

  • Inhibit-for-test flags. Some components naturally exhibit behavior that makes integration testing difficult (for example the time system has a 5 minute cooldown after time source failures). Test-only flags can be used to inhibit these behaviors during integration or end to end tests.

  • Component instance creation-time configuration. Occasionally the appropriate configuration for a component cannot be determined until a component instance is to be created. Configuration keys may be defined that let the parent creating a new component instance supply configuration values on creation. This can both replace the use of launch args in CFv1 and support tailoring multiple instances of a component for different roles (e.g., one AccountHandler instance is started for each active account).

  • Simple A/B tests. Creating an optimal design sometimes requires experimenting with two or more options in parallel, each on a different set of devices. Products with access to an server-side experiment system may perform A/B tests by using this experiment system to drive the configuration values for one or more components.

Philosophy

The design of structured configuration is driven by four congruent philosophies:

  • Simple. The system must be both simple to use and be designed in a way that is simple to understand and analyze. Simplicity encourages adoption and supports the "reliable" and "secure" philosophies.
  • Reliable. Reliability simplifies development and debugging and lets the system be used for components that are critical to the operation of a Fuchsia device.
  • Secure. Security aligns directly with Fuchsia's platform objectives and lets the system be used for components that are critical to the security of a Fuchsia device.
  • Testable. Configuration adds new inputs to a component and hence the potential for new problems. A developer must be able to fully test the component's response to these new inputs.

Scope

Structured configuration is not intended to be a universal solution for every configuration problem. The gamut of configuration needs across products built on Fuchsia is vast and the requirements they bring are often conflicting - a system that attempted to meet all needs would either be very complex (thereby failing the simple philosophy and threatening the other three philosophies) or be simple and overly general (thereby failing to provide the guarantees on presence, stability, meaning, and auditability of data that are necessary for the reliable and secure philosophies).

Instead, structured configuration is designed to solve a set of common use cases easily and well. Components may use general file-based and API-based solutions to solve other configuration problems. In particular, structured configuration does not intend to address the following problems:

  • Arbitrarily large and complex configuration data. Large and complex data is difficult to audit and selectively constrain using general tools, in conflict with the security philosophy. This data typically requires additional domain-specific interpretation and validation, introducing failure modes that the configuration system would be unaware of. Finally, large and complex data is difficult to combine from multiple sources, limiting the usefulness of the assembly tooling and the ability to override configuration while the system is running.

    • Components needing large and complex configuration data should read this data from a file instead.
  • Configuration data that changes frequently. Data that changes frequently must be delivered to a component multiple times rather than only one time at component start. This introduces new failure modes and creates additional complexity on the component, in conflict with the reliable and simple philosophies. It is also much harder to test. Note that data that changes frequently fails our definition of "configuration" below.

    • Components needing configuration data that changes frequently should receive this data over a FIDL protocol instead.
  • Configuration data that is set by other components (except parent components and admin components). Structured configuration supports a parent component setting configuration for the components it creates and supports administrative components setting all mutable configuration for the device. Structured configuration does not provide the access controls needed for arbitrary components to set subsets of configuration across specific components.

    • Components needing configuration data set by other arbitrary components in the system should receive this data over a FIDL protocol instead and limit access using service routing.
  • Configuration data that is controlled by end users. Configuration controlled by end users (rather than developers or administrators) requires a user interface. This user interface fails the "configuration data set by other components" test and may also fail the "configuration data that changes frequently" test.

    • Configuration that is controlled by end users should either be included in fuchsia.settings, or use a similar approach with a FIDL API separating frontend and backend components.

Meaning of "configuration"

Components consume a wide range of different inputs. Most of these inputs potentially alter the behavior of the component but only some inputs should be considered "component configuration" rather than the more general "system state" or "input data".

For the purposes of this RFC we consider "configuration" to be the inputs a component instance uses to tailor its operation to the context in which it was launched (such as the product, board, build type, channel, regulatory region, or integration test realm). Configuration values are constant during the lifecycle of a component instance, and are usually constant across some set of devices. Configuration values are usually set by developers, maintainers, or administrators rather than end users.

Data types

Structured configuration is intended for a moderate number of bounded and well defined configuration keys for each component. Limiting the scope and size of configuration in this way encourages configuration that is well documented, testable, has minimal mutability, and is easy to audit. It also enables the automatic composition of configuration from multiple sources. These well defined key-value pairs create the "structure" in "structured configuration".

We do not intend to support bytes or arbitrary length strings due to the "arbitrarily large and complex configuration data" constraint above. The set of initially supported data types will be defined in further work, but will include as a minimum: booleans, integers, bounded length strings, and lists of these data types (where the list length is bounded and all entries in the list are supplied atomically).

Support for enumerations is highly desirable in the future but is more complex since all places that verify configuration values (both during assembly and at run time) must have access to the set of valid enumerators. Developer tools would be more ergonomic if the system could translate between enumerator names and values but this adds further complexity.

Support for composable lists (i.e. lists where the entries can be supplied by multiple configuration sources) might be desirable in the future but this adds significant complexity. With an atomic type manipulating a configuration key means simply replacing its value but composable lists would require more complex operations such as appending, inserting, or removing values or merging list fragments. These operations would need support both during assembly and at runtime and would create new failure modes, such as failure to insert an item because doing so would exceed the maximum list length. The system would need to distinguish between lists where the order of entries has no impact on the consumer (and therefore where the configuration hash should be performed using some canonical order) and lists where the order of entries does matter (and therefore where configuration manipulation must be explicit in maintaining that order).

Component framework version

Structured configuration only supports component framework v2 components. It is a large project touching many areas and won't be ready for widespread adoption until early 2022. Supporting two different frameworks would substantially increase scope and push the end date to beyond the expected deprecation of component framework v1.

Design

Overview

This subsection briefly introduces the overall design of the system. The following subsections provide more detail on each of the steps introduced here.

The design is summarized in the diagram below:

This figure presents the top level interactions in the system as described in the text below.

Each element of configurable data is a key-value pair. Component authors declare the configuration keys (and optionally default values) for their component in the component manifest, and together the build system and component framework are responsible for delivering the configuration values to the component on start.

The build and assembly process produces a configuration definition file containing the configuration key data types and names, plus a configuration value file containing a value and mutability for each configuration key. In the initial implementation both of these files are placed inside the same package as the component (or as separate bootfs files for components that run before pkgfs is available). See alternative 3 below for rationale and a discussion on the future direction.

Each time a component instance is started, the component framework checks for the presence of a configuration definition file. If a configuration definition file is present the component framework combines the static values in the configuration value file with any values supplied by the parent component instance and any values supplied by a configuration override service, respecting the mutability constraints in the configuration value file. The component framework passes these combined values to the new component instance on start using whichever technique is most idiomatic for the runtime.

The component framework exposes a new FIDL interface that developer tools or product components may use to query configuration values and define new overrides. New values set using this interface will be picked up next time a component instance starts.

Statistics for configuration values are included in inspect and hence included in snapshots to aid debugging. Hashes of the configuration values that differ from assembly time are reported for each component through Cobalt so that cohorts of devices with different configuration values can be assessed independently.

Configuration definition

A component author may define configuration keys (each with a data type and optionally a default value) in their component manifest. Future work will define the exact syntax, but notionally this may look like:

{
  program: {
    ...
  },
  config: {
    enable_frequency: {
      type: "boolean",
      default: "false"
    },
    oscillator_error_std_dev_ppm: {
      type: "uint8"
    }
  },
  ...
}

In the initial implementation all keys are defined in a single "flat" namespace for each component but we limit the legal characters in a configuration key to [-_a-z0-9]. If nested or grouped configuration keys are considered valuable in the future they could be supported and referenced using dot-separated or slash-separated syntax.

Some runtimes, such as cast and web, will generate CFv2 ComponentDecls automatically rather than from a component manifest. Initially these runtimes will not support structured configuration.

Including a config section in the manifest causes the component build rule to generate a library containing a FIDL table definition for that configuration and the code necessary to populate this table at runtime from inputs supplied to the component by its runner. The implementation of the component can then import this library and use fields in the table to control its behavior.

A component manifest describes both the needs of a component and a contract that component must fulfil. Prior to this RFC the *_binary build rules did not depend on the contents of a manifest while the fuchsia_component build rules had an optional dependency on the binary. Some changes to build rules are necessary to avoid circular dependencies.

In some cases a single binary is used by multiple components; these cases will require some refactoring in order to use structured configuration. One option is to ensure all components define an identical configuration through the inclusion of a common CML shard. Another option is to merge the components into a single definition and use structured configuration to describe differences in behavior that were previously expressed using different manifests.

Build, assembly, and release

The build, assembly, and release process is responsible for generating two files for each configurable component. Both files are placed in the same package as the component (in the future this will be extended to support supplying values through a different package, see this alternative.

Configuration definition file

This file contains the following information for each configuration key:

  • FIDL field number
  • Field name
  • Data type

This information is all available in the component manifest so this file may be generated during the component build process. It is helpful to also calculate and include a hash over all the information in the configuration definition file for use as a configuration version ID.

Note that we describe the configuration definition as a "file" to simplify the discussion of its use, but the implementation is likely to include this information inside the compiled component manifest (i.e., *.cm file) instead of as a separate file.

Configuration value file

This file contains the following information for each configuration key:

  • FIDL field number
  • Configuration value
  • Mutable by ChildDecl (boolean)
  • Mutable by override (boolean)

The format of the file is not defined by this RFC.

In a mature and scalable assembly system several different actors may wish to specify or constrain this information for one or more keys. For example: component authors, board bringup engineers, platform boundary owners, product integrators, or security reviewers. Some of the tools needed to enable this are currently in work through the DPI and SPAC platform roadmap entries and this RFC does not specify how these tools will be used to generate the configuration value file.

In the interim, while structured configuration is only used by a small number of components for a small number of keys, we will maintain these files manually in source code repositories. If a product built out of tree needs to modify the configuration of a platform component it will do so by replacing the configuration value file in the platform package.

The assembly process must verify that the contents of the configuration value file are consistent with the corresponding configuration definition file, i.e., that they contain an identical set of field numbers and the data types are consistent.

VBMeta

It is desirable to vary configuration across the formal releases generated from the same image. For example, debug features could be enabled when signing with development keys and left disabled when signing for production. Using the same image reduces the possibility of unintentional differences between the prod and dev releases and has the potential to reduce the number of images we maintain.

In the future we intend to support this by allowing some configuration values to be overridden in vbmeta. VBMeta is the central data structure used by Fuchsia's verified boot implementation and contains metadata for the software included in a Fuchsia release. Since vbmeta is signed, configuration values that were overridden by vbmeta would be covered by verified execution.

Configuration by vbmeta would add value when multiple releases could be created from the same image and those releases could exhibit meaningfully different and useful behaviors. This in turn would require several infrastructure components to have already integrated with structured configuration, hence we exclude configuration by vbmeta from the initial minimal scope.

Component start

Each time a component instance is started, component manager resolves the configuration definition file and the configuration value file and uses their contents to determine which of several sources may supply configuration values. Each of these sources is discussed in more detail below. Component manager combines the contributions from the allowed sources to produce the final set of configuration values.

Once the configuration values have been determined, component manager passes these values to the runner. The runner passes the configuration values to the newly started component in the most idiomatic way for the runtime. In many cases we expect this will be passing a new procarg containing a handle to a VMO containing the FIDL table. In some cases it might be necessary to pass the configuration as key=value command line arguments.

A component can trust that the framework will always deliver a configuration value for every configuration key declared in its manifest at start and should fail with a fatal error if this does not occur. Components should never define internal default values to accommodate missing configuration - doing so can result in runtime errors altering behavior that was intended to be fixed at assembly time.

With values from the release

The simplest case is where the values provided in the configuration value file are used. If the configuration value file states that none of a component's configuration keys are mutable by ChildDecl or mutable by override this will always be the case and component manager does not need to query the configuration override service discussed below.

This flow is illustrated below:

This figure presents the interactions during component start using configuration from the release, as described in the text above.

With values from the ChildDecl

We expand ChildDecl to include a vector of configuration key-value pairs, effectively replacing the CFv1 ability to supply command line arguments when starting a new component instance. A ChildDecl may be supplied by a parent adding a new instance to a component collection, by a test constructing a test environment using realm builder, or by the author of a parent component manifest.

When configuration is present in the ChildDecl, component manager:

  • Verifies the ChildDecl keys are present in the configuration definition file and have the correct data type.
  • Verifies the ChildDecl keys are mutable by ChildDecl in the configuration value file.
  • Populates the supplied keys using the ChildDecl values.
  • Populates the remaining keys using the configuration value file.

Component manager records an informative error and returns a failure if any keys are not found, contain the wrong data type, or are not mutable by ChildDecl.

This flow, initiated by a parent component calling CreateChild, is illustrated below:

This figure presents the interactions during component start using configuration from the parent component, as described in the text above.

With values from an override service

When the configuration value file states that one or more configuration keys are "mutable by override", component manager makes a FIDL request to a configuration override service to get override values. This request contains the component instance ID of the new component instance and a handle to the configuration definition file. The response contains a (potentially empty) set of override configuration values to apply.

The typical implementation of the configuration override service is a new "configuration override manager" component, but the configuration override service is routed as a capability through the component topology (similar to storage capabilities and parameterized with a string as in that case) so different parts of the topology may use configuration overrides supplied by different implementations of the override service API.

Configuration override manager maintains a database of "overridden" configuration key-value pairs, editable over FIDL as described below. Each entry in this database is defined at the component instance level and indexed by component instance ID (see this alternative for additional justification). Each override entry is either stored on disk to persist across power cycles or is retained in memory for the remainder of the current power cycle. Persistence is specified when the entry is created.

On receiving a request for configuration overrides, configuration override manager:

  • Checks for matching entries in the override database.
  • Verifies that overridden keys are present in the configuration definition file and have the correct data type.
  • Returns the matching key-value pairs.

Configuration override manager logs an informative error and deletes the database entry if a key is not found or the data type is incorrect (these conditions might occur if a new component version is downloaded after setting a configuration override).

On receiving a configuration override response, component manager:

  • Verifies that overridden keys are mutable by override in the configuration value file.
  • Populates the overridden keys using the overridden values.
  • Populates the remaining keys using the configuration value file.

If component manager does not receive a valid response from the configuration override service the component start fails.

This flow, in the case where configuration override manager implements the configuration override service, is illustrated below:

This figure presents the interactions during component start using configuration from overrides, as described in the text above.

Note that configuration keys are stored in the override database as strings. The set of configuration fields is likely to change often as a component evolves, but a configuration override remains valid so long as the key name and data type do not change. As an optimization the last seen configuration version ID and field number could also be cached in the database.

Value selection summary

Putting these flows together, component manager selects a value for each configuration key as follows:

  1. If the key is mutable by override and a matching override is returned from the configuration override service, use this value.
  2. Otherwise, if the key is mutable by ChildDecl and a value was supplied in the ChildDecl, use this value.
  3. Otherwise, use the value from the configuration value file.

Configuration FIDL interface and override database

Configuration override manager exposes two FIDL services that can be used to interact with its override database:

  1. A service that can:
    • Read all configuration overrides.
    • Create and delete configuration overrides that are held in memory but do not persist across configuration override manager restarts.
  2. A service that can:
    • Read all configuration overrides
    • Delete all configuration overrides
    • Create configuration overrides that are held in memory but do not persist across configuration override manager restarts
    • Create configuration overrides that are stored on disk and persist across configuration override manager restarts

The first service cannot introduce long term changes to the configuration and may be useful for automated end to end testing. Both services are sensitive and their usage is allowlisted.

We will introduce an ffx plugin that uses the second service to let developers query and modify configuration on their test devices. The set of configuration keys that may be edited over FIDL in a particular release is a policy question and not defined by this RFC, but we imagine that in eng builds there is little need to restrict the editing of configuration over FIDL.

Even if entries in the override database are validated against the configuration definition file on creation, entries could become invalid over time as components are removed or upgraded to new versions containing different configuration keys. We address this using several garbage collection measures:

  • Each entry in the override database may have an expiry time after which it will be deleted. In a production system we will consider making expiry time mandatory.
  • The FIDL service includes methods for easy deletion of redundant entries including deleting all entries for a component instance and deleting the entire database.
  • In future work we will investigate receiving notifications from software delivery when packages are removed or upgraded so that corresponding override entries could be deleted or revalidated.

Diagnostics

Understanding the configuration a component is using is important to debug problems. Separating the metrics from device cohorts running different configurations is important to assess fractional rollouts and A/B studies.

Most configuration keys on most devices will use the values set during assembly. For these, knowing the release version (or package version when apps are updatable) infers the configuration value. Each time a component instance is started, component manager calculates two hashes: a "ChildDecl configuration hash" over all the configuration keys and values that were set by ChildDecl and an "override configuration hash" over all the configuration keys and values that were set by an override. If no fields were set the corresponding hash will be zero.

If a moderate number of different configurations are in use these configuration hashes are sufficient to identify each cohort. If a large number of configuration values are possible (for example, a developer setting arbitrary URLs during testing) the configuration hashes may not be sufficient to determine the configuration values but they still indicate devices that are running with a different configuration from their assembly and devices that are running with a different configuration to their peers.

Logging

Component manager logs statistics for each calculation of component configuration but does not log raw configuration values. Configuration override manager logs all FIDL requests to modify the override database.

Inspect & Snapshots

Component manager's inspect data includes statistics about the configuration of each component instance to aid in debugging. This includes the number of configuration values set from each source and the configuration hashes introduced above. Since snapshots include inspect data this means the configuration hashes of all running component instances are included in a snapshot.

Where configuration keys are important to the operation and debugging of a component then the component may choose to include these configuration values in its own inspect data.

Cobalt

Component manager sends both configuration hashes to a component instance on start (via the runner). We expand fuchsia.metrics.MetricEventLoggerFactory to accept these hashes as a new MetricEventLogger is created.

Cobalt uses these configuration hashes in conjunction with the existing SystemProfile fields to define the context that a component is running in, allowing metrics from devices with different configurations to be analyzed separately. The standard thresholding still applies so metrics are only available when some minimum number of devices share the same configuration.

Implementation

We will select a small number of "early access" components to use as clients during the development of structured configuration while the syntax and tooling evolves.

The implementation will be split into three phases that provide increasing capability:

  • Phase 1: Static values
    • After this phase it will be possible to create a configuration definition (potentially using syntax and tools that are not final), place configuration values in a package, and deliver these values to the component instance at start.
    • This phase provides a basic way for the behavior of early access components to be varied across products or build types.
  • Phase 2: Parent values
    • After this phase it will additionally be possible to limit mutability for the packaged configuration values, to specify configuration values in a ChildDecl, and to deliver these values to the component instance at start. The definition of configuration should be through the component manifest and use near final syntax.
    • This phase unblocks integration testing of configuration and use cases that require a parent component to supply configuration for its children.
  • Phase 3: Overridden values
    • After this phase it will additionally be possible to set and read configuration overrides through a FIDL interface or an ffx plugin using that interface, to deliver these values to the component instance at start, and to isolate metrics by configuration in Cobalt.
    • The phase completes the work defined in this RFC and unblocks local developer testing, end to end testing, and further product integrations.

Performance

This RFC introduces a new component, incurring (modest) CPU, memory, and storage costs. All of these scale with the number of components using structured configuration and the number of configuration keys.

Calculating configuration values introduces a small delay to the launching of components whose configuration is mutable by override due to an additional FIDL call and additional file reads. We will monitor this cost and optimize the implementation of configuration override manager if necessary.

Security

Structured configuration may be used by many components to control many different aspects of their behavior. An attacker who could modify configuration could potentially compromise the security of a device in numerous and varied ways. For example:

  • Enable debugging output to leak user information.
  • Redirect network requests to servers controlled by the attacker.
  • Enable experimental features and exploit vulnerabilities in their implementation.

This design includes several features intended to prevent these attacks:

  • The scope of configurable data is constrained and each element is well defined, making them easier to audit.
  • A value is defined for every configuration key when a release is signed, these values are covered by verified execution.
  • The ability to modify configuration keys while the system is running is set when a release is signed, separately for each key and each mutation mechanism. These mutabilities are covered by verified execution.
  • Mutability and default value are defined at the component level not the component instance level. New instances of a component with different configurations can only be created when mutable by ChildDecl or mutable by override is set for the configuration key.
  • The ability to change configuration ephemerally and persistently are exposed as separate FIDL services.
  • The FIDL services to change configuration are controlled by allowlists.
  • Configuration data is parsed by the existing well-reviewed FIDL bindings rather than by application-specific logic.
  • Configuration override manager will be a lucrative target so we will request a security review for its implementation.

Privacy

Structured configuration is not designed to store user settings (these have different stability, persistence, access, and timing needs) so configuration values should never contain user generated data. This will be clearly documented in the guidance to developers.

It is potentially useful for a parent component to pass PII configuration to dynamically created children (for example, the hardware UID or network address that a new component instance should use). Without care this information might leak into logs or metrics through the ChildDecl configuration hash. This will be addressed during detailed design but several options are available (for example, sensitive fields could be marked in the configuration definition and then salted before inclusion in the hash).

Testing

The ability to test multiple configuration values is important to verify correctness. This design enables testing of different configuration values in all phases:

  • Unit tests and component tests may manually construct the FIDL configuration struct (i.e. the struct supplied by the component runner under normal operation) and pass this to methods that consume configuration.
  • Integration tests may provide configuration for each component instance through realm builder (using a ChildDecl) when constructing the test realm.
  • End to end tests may set additional configuration from the host device using the configuration FIDL interface. Additional work may be required to pause the normal startup sequence to avoid a race condition on component start.
  • Manual tests may use ffx commands to conveniently set additional configuration using the configuration FIDL interface.
  • Future work will consider automated fuzzing of a component's configuration.

Several different options are available to avoid an implicit dependency on the configuration override service from hermetic integration tests. For example, integration test packages could be built with configuration value files that do not allow overrides and construction of the test realm could avoid routing a configuration override service.

The implementation of structured configuration itself will be tested using standard best practices, including unit test and an integration test of the component manager - configuration override manager - runner interaction.

Documentation

Once this RFC is approved we will publish a document in /docs/concepts explaining the configuration mechanisms available on Fuchsia and their relationship.

Once the syntax has stabilized and the structured configuration implementation is ready for more widespread adoption we will publish a developer guide and reference documentation.

As developers begin to use structured configuration and discover patterns that work well we'll develop documentation for best practices and recommended style.

Alternatives considered

Implement configuration merges in configuration override manager

An earlier revision of this RFC placed the logic to merge different sets of configuration data inside component override manager (then named configuration manager) instead of component manager.

That design would have led to a smaller scope for component manager but the scope of both component manager and configuration manager would have been less cleanly defined:

  • Component manager would have needed to understand enough about configuration to know when to invoke configuration manager while not understanding enough to merge values.
  • Configuration manager would have been responsible for some of the business logic to present configuration to components in addition to the maintenance of a database.

The design would also have increased the number of situations in which a FIDL call was required.

Implement configuration override database in component manager

This RFC places the responsibility for maintaining the configuration override database in a new component: configuration override manager. An alternative would have been to perform this functionality inside component manager.

This alternative would have eliminated a FIDL call and some failure modes, but would have increased the complexity of component manager and would have been the first time component manager needed to persist its own data rather than simply allocating storage for use by other components. This use of storage would have raising additional security questions and required new infrastructure in CF.

Deliver configuration through a central package

This RFC places the configuration values for a component in the component’s package. An alternative would have been to place all configuration for all components in a single configuration package, similar to the design of the config-data package in CFv1.

There are two main reasons reasons we prefer the decentralized approach over the centralized approach:

  1. In the future Fuchsia will need to run components that were not known to the base image (for example, as a result of app updates). The configuration for these unknown components cannot not be distributed in a central package so would require a different solution.
  2. Delivering a binary and its configuration atomically lets us make stronger statements about their consistency, particularly when a package might be updated independently of the base image. There are fewer failure modes that lead to a component being available but its configuration being unavailable, or to a component and its configuration being incompatible.

As described in the body of the RFC, our decentralized approach currently places configuration values inside the same package as the component they apply to. This means changing the configuration of a component at assembly time changes the root hash of its package. Longer term this is undesirable because it does not support one organization (for example, the Fuchsia platform maintainers) publishing and signing a component and a different organization (for example, a product integrator) supplying the configuration.

In the future, we imagine each package will contain default configuration values as set by the publishing organization and also declare which subset of these values may be overridden through a different package potentially published by a different organization (e.g., a platform component can chose which of its configuration "knobs" are accessible to product integrators). Future work will define the nature of this "different package" - options include a meta-package, a sidecar package, or a wrapper package.

Index configuration overrides by component URL and moniker

This RFC indexes configuration overrides by a component's instance ID. Instance IDs are used to index other persistent resources in component framework, such as isolated persistent storage, and are therefore an obvious choice for indexing configuration overrides.

However, component instance IDs are currently assigned manually at build time through index files. This means instance IDs and therefore structured configuration overrides are not available for component instances inside a component collection or component instances that were introduced by an app update rather than in the base image.

As an alternative we considered indexing configuration overrides by component URL and moniker. This would have avoided the limitations of instance ID but both component URL and moniker may change as the system is refactored so this alternative would have introduced new stability problems in addition to creating inconsistency across the handling of component framework persistent resources.

Instead we prefer to address the limitations of instance ID through changes to the design of instance ID in a future RFC.

Support configuration override at the component level

This RFC indexes configuration overrides by a component's instance ID, meaning every instance of a component needs to be overridden separately.

In the future it may be desirable to support overrides at the component level in addition to at the component instance level. This would be particularly useful in cases where a component is instantiated many times or where the component instances are not known in advance.

Currently there is no well-defined canonical and stable identifier for components that we could use for component-level overrides. Since we have not yet identified a concrete need for component-level overrides we defer including the feature.

The changes to the design of instance ID referenced in the previous alternative may well provide stable component identifiers in addition to component instance identifiers (for example, instance ID could be a self-certifying identifier for a component combined with some a function of the instance's moniker through some quirks database to handle changes in topology). This would simplify adding component-level override in the future.

Define configuration keys using FIDL

This design defines configuration keys inside a component manifest using JSON. Some of this information is used to build a FIDL table. An alternative would have been to define configuration keys in a .fidl file.

Firstly we note that the FIDL toolchain is deliberately composed of a frontend and a backend separated by an IR - it is possible to use FIDL technology without requiring the input be defined in the FIDL language.

The decision to use .cml rather than .fidl is mainly driven by developer experience:

  1. A component manifest is where a developer describes the needs of their component to the framework and defining configuration keys fits within this definition. Maintaining a single file is less work than adding a new file.
  2. The syntax and data types that are available for defining configuration is a small subset of the full FIDL language (see scope). Requiring FIDL syntax while only supporting a subset could be both confusing and frustrating.
  3. Configuration requires information that cannot be represented in the FIDL language (a default value for a table field today and likely additional constraints in the future). This information could be stored in custom attributes but this would be inconsistent with the rest of the FIDL language and confusing to developers.

Where the JSON configuration definition uses concepts that exist in the FIDL language we will use consistent syntax. For example, data type names will be consistent.

cmc already builds FIDL tables from JSON component manifests and the additional work needed to parse configuration from a manifest is modest.

Support configuration routing between components

Many resources in component framework support routing from one component instance to another e.g., protocols, directories, and storage capabilities. It would be natural to support routing of configuration between components, so that say a child could use some configuration values from its parent.

Configuration routing is not supported in this initial design to avoid introducing new versioning challenges. If we supported defining configuration in one component and using it in another component packaged at a different point in time (either because these components were defined in different repositories or because there were not delivered to devices as a monolithic) we can no longer guarantee the configuration definition compiled into the component matches the definition used for the configuration values. We would be introducing a new ABI between these two components but since this interface would be expressing in the PDK rather then the IDK we cannot use the process defined in RFC-0002 to manage version compatibility.

Component surface and versioning are likely to be discussed more as the PDK and out of tree assembly efforts continue and we defer routing of configuration between components until this is more mature. In the meantime, assembly tools can be used to deliver consistent configuration values in multiple packages if necessary.

We have introduced a more limited version of this cross-component compatibility problem by supporting parents dynamically configuring child components on creation. We argue these cases are unlikely to create problems in the near term because this mutability must be opted into and the configuration field will normally be explicitly designed by the child for the use of the parent.

Support transparent configuration for reusable libraries.

Many components are built using reusable libraries which support some form of configuration. Structured configuration as defined in this RFC could be used to supply this configuration but only in a manual fashion; each component using a library would need to declare matching configuration keys in its own manifest then route the configuration values into the library at initialization. A similar situation exists with runners, in that a runner may directly control configurable behavior in a library used by the components it runs.

An alternative would be to support a more "transparent" configuration for libraries where a library could declare its configuration keys and could consume configuration values directly at runtime. A component would only need to declare its usage of the library to let the configuration providers set configuration values for the instance of the library in that component.

As with routing between components (discussed in the alternative above) this would involve wider agreement about configuration keys across different software artifacts, such as when a platform library is used by an out of tree component. This may favor a more formal definition of configuration that provides stronger guarantees about the forwards and backwards compatibility between configuration versions. Transparent configuration for libraries would also raise the question of how to deliver multiple sets of configuration values to a component.

Although transparent configuration for libraries is a desirable feature in the longer term, we defer this work until the simpler and more "private" configuration system defined in this RFC is working.

Support configuration updates after component start

This design only delivers component configuration when a component instance is started. If configuration were to be modified after component start it would not reach the component until the next start. An alternative would be to deliver configuration to components periodically over FIDL.

The decision to focus on component start aligns with our definition of "configuration" being bound to component lifecycle but also simplifies implementation for component authors:

  1. A component instance that only receives configuration once can initialize all its configuration-driven resources during component start. A component that must receive new configuration periodically also needs to allocate or collect resources periodically as changes in configuration warrant this.
  2. A component that must receive new configuration periodically requires some periodic or asynchronous processing that otherwise may not have been necessary.
  3. A component that must receive new configuration periodically must also record any changes in configuration through its diagnostics connections, for example by creating a new MetricEventLogger.
  4. A component that must receive new configuration periodically has additional failure modes that must be handled, such as termination of the FIDL connection and timeouts.

Today the need for configuration update after start is very limited: configuration values supplied in the release or through ChildDecl cannot change after component start. The FIDL interface can introduce changes after start but will initially only be used in developer tools that could easily offer ways to automatically restart a component after changing its configuration.

In the future, some product-specific components might prefer to implement the complexity discussed above rather than restart. If so we will consider an opt-in ability for components to receive updates over FIDL.

Prior art and references