Alan Karp on naming in e-speak

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From: Kragen Sitaker (
Date: Fri Jul 07 2000 - 17:44:33 PDT

Just got this from the eros-arch mailing list (hosted at
I think there are some very important insights here, but I don't
understand it well enough to be sure. :)

> I believe that most distributed systems have given naming short shrift. The
> discussion in this thread illustrates the importance of getting it right.
> I've just browsed through the mail archive to catch up on the discussion,
> and I hope I understand what people are saying. I'd like to explain how we
> solved these problems when developing e-speak. I've seen pieces of our
> approach in the discussion, but we managed to produce an integreated whole
> (an integrated hole if you listen to Scott McNealy).
> E-speak took a very different approach to naming. I'll describe e-speak
> Alpha 1.0 as the purest implementation of these ideas. Many of them
> survived to Beta 2.2, but only some of it appears in Beta 3.0. These
> changes occurred as e-speak was retargeted to be more acceptable as a
> platform for B2B interactions. Buy me a beer, and I'll tell the whole
> story.
> E-speak is an integrated system; everything depends on everything else.
> This fact makes it difficult to describe the system without forward
> references. I put together a tutorial that simply lies early on and
> introduces the concepts piecemeal. I don't think that's necessary for this
> audience. If you have a problem, just read what follows twice. I've
> capitalized the words that have special meaning in e-speak.
> In e-speak everything is a Resource with a Repository Entry in the e-speak
> Repository. The only way to access a Resource is via the e-speak Engine,
> and the only way to refer to a Resource is by Name. Each request to the
> Engine is interpreted in the context of a Protection Domain. The Protection
> Domain contains a number of elements, one of them being a root Name Space.
> In e-speak, a Name Space consists of an ordered list of Name Frames or Name
> Spaces. Each Name Frame contains a list of bindings that associate a string
> with a Mapping Object. (OK. I lied. The Mapping Object is not a
> Resource.) The Mapping Object contains zero or more Repository Handles and
> an optional Search Request. The Search Request is used for discovering
> Resources, so I won't discuss it further, but it's one way to populate a
> Name Frame. In addition, I'll assume the Mapping Object only contains a
> single Repository Handle, what we call a Simple Binding. The Repository,
> Name Spaces, and Name Frames are kept in the address space of the Engine, so
> there is no way to tamper with them.
> When a Client wants to use a Resource, it constructs a message consisting of
> two parts. The payload contains the application API; the envelope contains
> e-speak related information. Among the information in the envelope is a
> list of Name Fields. Each Name Field consists of an e-speak Name and a
> Label. In general, each Label corresponds to a resource reference in the
> payload. When this message is sent to the Engine, the Engine resolves the
> Name to find the corresponding Repository Handle. Thus, if there is no
> Mapping Object containing a particular Repository Handle, there is no way
> for the Client to reference the corresponding Resource. In this sense, an
> e-speak Name is a capability representing the right to name the Resource
> with a Repository Handle in the corresponding Mapping Object.
> Each Repository Entry designates a Handler to which the message is to be
> delivered. On delivering the message, the Engine puts a name binding for
> each Name Field into a Name Frame associated with the message. Each binding
> consists of the Label bound to a copy of the Mapping Object. We could have
> used the string used by the sender, but we wanted to be able to have things
> named "the_boss_is_dumb" without getting into trouble. More seriously,
> names can leak information, as in "resume.txt". We can also do things like
> have the string be /u/ahk/foo and the corresponding Label be d:\u\ahk\foo.
> The upshot is that by default each client has a separate Name Space. Two
> Clients can have the same Name for different Resources or different Names
> for the same one. Bindings for Name Spaces and Name Frames can be shared,
> so that two clients can use the same set of name bindings by referring to
> the same Name Frame or Name Space. Anyone can change a Name at any time by
> changing the string in a Name Frame and not affect anyone else's use of the
> same Resource unless that Client is using the same Name Frame to reference
> the Resource. (I was going to title a paper on this subject "No More 404".)
> Names are handled by pairwise translation - Client to Engine, Engine to
> Client. The model works just as well when the Clients are using different
> Engines, each with its own Repository.
> Some people have had trouble understanding how this all works. In fact, one
> of the early developers who had been on the project about a month said to me
> one day, "There are no global names in e-speak. You can't build a
> distributed system without global names." It took him another week or so to
> convince himself that you could and that we had.
> What's all this got to do with the discussion. Well, it means that the
> system designer doesn't have to worry about how names are structured. Each
> client can make his own decision. One can put all its bindings into a
> single frame; another can use a complex hierarchy. If you want everyone to
> share a set of names, put a binding for a particular Name Frame in
> everyone's root Name Frame. Thus, e-speak naming covers the cases discussed
> in the note, as well as addressing other problems such as name changes, name
> conflicts, and hiding the semantic content of names.
> _________________________
> Alan Karp
> Decision Technology Department
> Hewlett-Packard Laboratories MS 1U-2
> 1501 Page Mill Road

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