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<td align=LEFT valign=TOP colspan="2" bgcolor="#0080C0"><b><font face="Arial,Helvetica"><font color="#FFFFFF">&nbsp;Eclipse
Corner Article</font></font></b></td>
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<h1><img src="images/Idea.jpg" height=86 width=120 align=CENTER></h1>
<h1 ALIGN="CENTER">Notes on the Eclipse Plug-in Architecture</h1>
Eclipse plug-ins embody an architectural pattern for building an
application from constituent parts. This article presents an in-depth view
of the participant roles and collaborations of this architectural pattern,
as they exist in an instance of the Eclipse workbench. The goal is to
provide an understanding of plug-ins, and of how plug-in extensions are
defined and processed, independently of the mechanics of using the Eclipse
workbench to produce plug-ins.
<p><b> Azad Bolour, Bolour Computing</b> <br>
<font size="-1">July 3, 2003</font> </p>
<p><b>Table of Contents</b> <br>
<a href="#1.">1. Introduction</a>
<a href="#2.">2. The Eclipse Plug-in Model</a>
<a href="#3.">3. Extension Processing</a>
<a href="#4.">4. Example: An Extensible Arithmetic Function Service</a>
<a href="#5.">5. Listener Extensions and the Observer Pattern</a>
<a href="#6.">6. Summary and Conclusions</a>
<hr width="100%">
<a name="1."> </a>
1. Introduction
<p> <a href="">Eclipse</a> is an extensible platform
for building IDEs. It provides a core of services for controlling a set of
tools working together to support programming tasks. Tool builders
contribute to the Eclipse platform by wrapping their tools in pluggable
components, called <i>Eclipse plug-ins</i>, which conform to Eclipse's
plug-in contract. The basic mechanism of extensibility in Eclipse is that
new plug-ins can add new processing elements to existing plug-ins. And
Eclipse provides a set of core plug-ins to bootstrap this process.
For a general introduction to Eclipse as an extensible IDE platform,
see the literature available at <a href="">
this site</a>.
<p> Even though the Eclipse platform is specialized for building IDEs, the
core of its concepts and facilities supports a general model for composing
an application from constituent parts developed by multiple vendors. This
general model of system composition in Eclipse will be described and placed
in the context of other software patterns in this article. The article is
intended for new plug-in developers who need to understand the overall
model of how plug-ins work, either before, or in conjunction with, working
through the mechanics of building plug-ins.
<p> The article is structured as follows. Section 2 outlines the Eclipse
plug-in model and the declarative specification of plug-ins and their
relationships within this model. Section 3 explains what plug-in
developers must do programmatically to allow their plug-ins to be extended.
Section 4 provides a complete example of an extensible plug-in and its
extensions by other plug-ins. Section 5 contrasts the Eclipse plug-in
model with the much simpler <i>observer pattern</i> of [1]. Section 6
concludes the article by summarizing the main architectural concepts used
in Eclipse plug-ins.
<p> This article specifically avoids the mechanics of the required user
interactions with the Eclipse plug-in development environment (PDE) to
build and test plug-ins. See Beck and Gamma [2], Shavor, et. al. [3], the
online help documentation, and other articles at <a
href="">this site</a> for the required procedures to
build and test plug-ins in the PDE.
The <a href="">companion plug-ins zip file</a> includes
the plug-in samples appearing in this article.
<a href="#instructions">Installation instructions </a>
for the samples appear at the end of this article.
Also accompanying this article is the
<a href="doc/index.html">samples API reference</a>.
<a name="2."> </a>
2. The Eclipse Plug-in Model
<p> A plug-in in Eclipse is a component that provides a certain type of
service within the context of the Eclipse workbench. By a component here I
mean an object that may be configured into a system at system deployment
time. The Eclipse runtime provides an infrastructure to support the
activation and operation of a set of plug-ins working together to provide a
seamless environment for development activities. Within a running Eclipse
instance, a plug-in is embodied in an instance of some <var>plug-in
runtime class</var>, or <var>plug-in class</var>, for short. The plug-in
class provides configuration and management support for the plug-in
instance. A plug-in class in Eclipse must extend
<var>org.eclipse.core.runtime.Plugin</var>, which is an abstract class that
provides generic facilities for managing plug-ins.
<p> An Eclipse installation includes a <code>plugins</code> folder where
individual plug-ins are deployed. Each plug-in is installed in its own
folder under the <code>plugins</code> folder. A plug-in is described in an
XML manifest file, called <code>plugin.xml</code>, residing in the
plug-in's folder. The manifest file tells the Eclipse runtime what it needs
to know to activate the plug-in.
<p> The parsed contents of plug-in manifest files are made available
programmatically through a <i>plug-in registry API</i>. And parsed plug-in
specifications are cached in an in-memory repository called the <i>plug-in
registry</i>. The Eclipse runtime instantiates an instance of each plug-in
by using the plug-in registry API. The plug-in registry API is also used
by provider-supplied plug-in code to obtain information about
Here is what a minimal plug-in manifest file looks like:
<table width=350 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
&lt;?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?&gt;
name="JUnit Testing Framework"
&lt;library name="junit.jar"&gt;
&lt;export name="*"/&gt;
Listing 2.1. A Minimal Plug-in Manifest File.
</td></tr> </table>
<p> This manifest file describes a plug-in that provides the services of
the <i>JUnit</i> testing infrastructure to the Eclipse workbench. (Note.
To improve readability, the contents of Eclipse manifest files, such as
this one, are reproduced in this article in their English localization.)
<a href="">
The Eclipse Platform Plug-in Manifest Specification</a> documents
the XML elements and attributes used in defining plug-ins.
(This specification is also available in the Eclipse platform
help documentation under <i>Platform Plug-In Developer Guide/Other
reference information/Plug-in manifest</i>).
<p> I am not going to focus on the contents of the plug-in manifest file
at this time, except to note that each plug-in has a unique identifier (XML
attribute <code>id</code>). The unique identifier is used to refer to a plug-in
within the manifest files of other, related, plug-ins. The unique
identifier may also be used within provider-supplied plug-in code to access
the plug-in's running instance, as follows:
Plugin p = Platform.getPlugin(pluginID);
Plug-in instances are managed by the Eclipse runtime, and
are accessed by using the Eclipse platform as shown above. Plug-in
instances are not constructed by application programs.
2.1. Plug-in Deployment and Activation
Deploying a plug-in in an Eclipse installation involves
copying the resources that constitute the plug-in (the manifest file,
jar files, and other resources) into an individual folder
for the plug-in, under the installation's <code>plugins</code> directory.
Such a plug-in can then be <i>activated</i> by the Eclipse runtime
when it is required to perform some function. Activating a plug-in means
loading its runtime class and instantiating and initializing its
The main function of a plug-in class is to do special processing during
plug-in activation and deactivation, e.g., to allocate and release
resources. For simple plug-ins, like the <code>JUnit</code> plug-in above, no
specific activation or deactivation processing is required, and therefore
no specific plug-in class need be provided by the plug-in designer. In that
case, the Eclipse runtime automatically provides a default plug-in class
for the plug-in instance.
<p> When the plug-in needs to do something specific to activate or
deactivate itself, the plug-in designer subclasses
<code>org.eclipse.core.runtime.Plugin</code>, provides overrides for the
activation and deactivation methods of the class, respectively called
<var>startup</var> and <var>shutdown</var>, and includes the
fully-qualified name of this specific plug-in subclass as the value of the
attribute <code>class</code> in the corresponding plug-in manifest file.
<p> Eclipse includes a plug-in management kernel, known as the Eclipse
<i>platform</i>, or the Eclipse <i>runtime</i>, and certain core plug-ins
that are present in every Eclipse deployment. The identities of these core
plug-ins are hard-coded into the Eclipse platform, and the platform knows to
activate these plug-ins in each running instance of Eclipse. Non-core
plug-ins, on the other hand, are activated when required by other plug-ins,
as described below.
<p> In the Eclipse model, a plug-in may be related to another plug-in by one
of two relationships:
<i>Dependency</i>. The roles in this relationship are <i>dependent
plug-in</i> and <i>prerequisite plug-in</i>. A prerequisite plug-in supports the
functions of a dependent plug-in.
<i>Extension</i>. The roles in this relationship are <i>host plug-in</i> and
<i>extender plug-in</i>. An extender plug-in extends the functions of a
host plug-in.
<p> These relationships are specified declaratively in plug-in manifest
files through the XML elements <code>requires</code> and
<code>extension</code> (the details of which appear in later subsections).
<p> A non-core plug-in that has been deployed in an Eclipse installation
may be activated in a running instance of Eclipse if it is transitively
related to a core Eclipse plug-in by the union of the dependency and the
extension relations. Such a plug-in will be activated when its functions
are required to support or to extend the functions of another plug-in. A
plug-in that is deployed but unreachable from any core plug-in via the
dependency and extension relations might as well not be deployed from the
point of view of plug-in activation. Of course, even a reachable plug-in
may remain unactivated in a running instance for some time (or for the
lifetime of the instance), if no user action or other triggering event
elicits its use.
2.2. Dependency
<p> When a plug-in is dependent on other plug-ins for its functions, the
dependency is specified via a <code>requires</code> element in the plug-in manifest
file. Here is an example:
<table width=350 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
&lt;?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?&gt;
name="Extension Processing Demo"
&lt;library name="demo.jar"/&gt;
&lt;import plugin="org.eclipse.ui"/&gt;
Listing 2.2. Specifying Plug-in Dependencies.
</td></tr> </table>
In this example, the sample plug-in <code>com.bolour.sample.eclipse.demo</code>
is declared to be dependent on (i.e., to make use of) the base Eclipse
UI plug-in <code>org.eclipse.ui</code>.
<p> Dependency as defined in the plug-in manifest file is both a runtime
and a compile-time directive. At runtime, Eclipse has to make sure that a
prerequisite plug-in can be made available to a dependent plug-in when the
dependent plug-in is activated. At compile time, Eclipse can be directed to
augment the classpath for compiling a dependent plug-in by the jar files of
all of its prerequisite plug-ins.
2.3. Extension
<p> When the facilities of a plug-in are to be made directly available to
the user, one or more user interface elements have to be added to the base
Eclipse workbench. For example, to make the workbench's <i>help</i> plug-in
available to the user, <i>help</i> menu items must be added to the
workbench user interface.
<p> The process of adding some processing element or elements to a plug-in
is known as an <i>extension</i>. This process is not restricted to UI
elements, however. Any plug-in may allow other plug-ins to extend it by
adding processing elements. An extension is defined by an <i>extender
plug-in</i> and causes a <i>host plug-in</i> to modify its behavior.
Typically, this modification of behavior includes the addition of
processing elements to the host plug-in (e.g., the addition of new menu
items to the Eclipse workbench), and the customization of the behavior of
these additional elements by services provided by the extender plug-in
(e.g., the customization of new menu items by specific menu event
<p> In simple cases, a single act of extension adds a single <i>callback
object</i> to the environment, through which the host and extender plug-ins
communicate. The callback object is different from the host and extender
plug-in objects. And unlike these objects, which are components that are
automatically instantiated and managed by the Eclipse platform, a callback
object is a <i>plain old Java objects</i> that is instantiated and managed
specifically by provider-supplied code. A single act of extension can also
add more than one callback object to the environment. For example, Eclipse
allows a set of menus to be added to its user interface via a single
<p> Note, however, that the extension model, per se, is quite general, and
does not necessarily require that an extender plug-in provide custom
callback objects. It is possible, for example, that the kind of behavior
modification required of a host plug-in can be provided entirely by objects
whose classes are known to the host plug-in at compile-time, so that an
extension declaration serves merely to parameterize instances of such
built-in classes.
<p> Similarly, the extension model, per se, does not require that
the host plug-in directly expose aspects of each of its extensions
in its interface. For example, an extension may merely ask that
an extender plug-in be notified of certain events known to occur
in the host plug-in independently of the extender plug-in, without
any changes visible in the host plug-in's interface.
<p> A plug-in may allow itself to be augmented by different kinds of
extensions. For example, the workbench UI allows both its menus and its
editors to be extended. In each case, the extension must conform to a
unique set of configuration and behavioral requirements. Therefore, an
extensible plug-in provides different types of slots that extensions can
plug into. These slot types are called <i>extension points</i>. In the
remainder of this article I will use the compound form
<i>extension-point</i> to refer to these slots. An extension-point allows
any number of extensions to be plugged into it.
<p> <i>Extension</i> and <i>extension-point</i> are standard Eclipse
plug-in terminology. <i>Host plug-in</i>, <i>extender plug-in</i>, and
<i>callback object</i> are terms used in this article to describe
the different roles of objects in an extension.
<p> Figure 1 illustrates the relationships between the participants of an
extension, in this case, the extension of the Eclipse workbench by the menu
items of the Eclipse help system. In this extension, the host plug-in is
the Eclipse workbench user interface, <code>org.eclipse.ui</code>, whose
menus can be extended via an extension-point known as
<code>actionSets</code>. The extender plug-in is the Eclipse help system's
user interface, <code></code>. In order to make help
functions available to the user, the help UI plug-in uses the
<code>actionSets</code> extension-point to extend the workbench UI plug-in
by specific help-related menu items, among them, <i>Help-&gt;Help
Contents</i> and <i>Search-&gt;Help</i>. The extension is defined by the
extender plug-in. And in this case, the single extension augments the
workbench UI by multiple menu items.
<spacer type=vertical size=10>
<IMG SRC="images/eclipse_extensions.jpg" ALT="Figure-1" BORDER="0">
<table align=center width=600>
Figure 1. Participants of a plug-in extension. The workbench UI plug-in
is extended by the workbench help plug-in via an
<i>actionSets</i> extension that defines specific help-related menu items.
<spacer type=vertical size=10>
(The extension-point <i>power-strip</i> notation used in this article
was devised by Don Estberg [5].)
<p> Also shown in the figure are the classes of the extension's callback
objects: that is, the classes of the help system's menu handlers. As we
will see shortly, callback classes are typically identified by name in the
declarative specification of each extension. Thus, this extension's
<i>Help-&gt;Help Contents</i> menu specification declares its custom
callback class (menu handler) to be <code>HelpContentsAction</code>. And
the extension's <i>Search-&gt;Help</i> menu specification declares its
custom callback class (menu handler) to be
<code>OpenHelpSearchPageAction</code> (see blow for details).
<p> Note that to reduce clutter, package prefixes are not shown in this and
later figures. Here the workbench plug-in class belongs to the
<code>org.eclipse.ui.internal</code> package; and the help plug-in and
related classes belong to the <code></code>
The remainder of this section provides a detailed account of how
extension-points and extensions are defined.
2.3.1 Participants of an Extension
Let us now look more closely at the various roles played by the objects
participating in an extension. There are two plug-in roles, <i>host</i>
and <i>extender</i>, a generic role of a <i>callback</i> object,
and <i>specific callback</i> roles defined by each extension-point.
<h5> The Host Plug-in Role
<p> In the context of a particular extension, a plug-in that stands in the
<i>host</i> role provides the extension-point and is extended. In addition
to providing services in its own right, such a plug-in also acts as the
coordinator and controller of a number of extensions.
<p> Within the host plug-in's manifest file, an extension-point is declared
in an <i>extension-point XML element</i>. Here is an example of
such an element, culled from the base Eclipse workbench UI plug-in,
<table bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
&lt;?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?&gt;
<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> id="org.eclipse.ui"
name="Eclipse UI"
<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> &lt;extension-point id="actionSets" name="Action Sets"
&lt;!-- Other specifications omitted. --&gt;
Listing 2.3. Declaring an Extension-Point.
</td></tr> </table>
The documentation for this extension-point is provided in a
reference page</a>
(and is also available in the Eclipse platform on-line help at
<i>Platform Plugin Developer Guide/Reference/Extension Points
Reference/Workbench/org.eclipse.ui.actionSets</i>). The documentation
indicates, among other things, that this extension-point provides a plug-in
slot for sets of menus, menu items, and buttons to be added to the
base Eclipse workbench.
The extension-point specification
<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>
defines a unique identifier for the extension-point within this host
plug-in. To identify an extension-point uniquely in global context, the
extension-point identifier is prepended with the unique identifier of the
host plug-in
(as in <img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>)
to form a <i>fully-qualified</i> identifier for the extension-point.
Thus, the fully-qualified identifier of the <code>actionSets</code>
extension-point of the Eclipse UI plug-in is
<code>org.eclipse.ui.actionSets</code>. Plug-ins that extend an extension-point
refer to it by its fully-qualified identifier.
The extension-point specification
(<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>)
also declares an XML schema for the extensions of this extension-point,
which provides the syntax for declaring menus, menu items, and buttons to
be added to the workbench UI. We'll have more to say about the structure
and contents of such a schema in section 2.3.3.
<h5> The Extender Plug-in Role
<p> In the context of a particular extension, a plug-in that stands in the
<i>extender</i> role defines the extension, typically making certain
aspects of itself available to a host plug-in through the extension, and,
in addition, causing the host plug-in to add certain processing elements to
its environment. An extension is declared by using an
<code>extension</code> XML element in the extender plug-in's manifest file.
Here is an example of an extender plug-in, culled from the
<code></code> plug-in manifest file, that extends the
<code>actionSets</code> extension-point of Listing 2.3, by adding two menu
<a name="listing2.5"> </a>
<table width=600 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
name="Help System UI"
&lt;!-- ... --&gt;
&lt;!-- Action Sets --&gt;
<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> point="org.eclipse.ui.actionSets"&gt;
<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> &lt;action
label="&amp;Help Contents"
tooltip="Open Help Contents"
&lt;!-- ... other actionSet elements --&gt;
<img src="images/tag_3.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> &lt;action
<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> class=""
&lt;!-- ... --&gt;
Listing 2.4. Declaring an Extension.
</td></tr> </table>
Note that in this extender plug-in, the <code>actionSets</code> extension-point
is referred to by its fully-qualified identifier
(<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>).
<p> The portion of the <code>actionSets</code> extension shown in Listing 2.4
defines two actions
(<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>,
<img src="images/tag_3.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>).
The actions shown are made available through the workbench menu items
<i>Help-&gt;Help Contents</i> and <i>Search-&gt;Help</i>, respectively.
<h5> The Extension Callback Role
<p> In the context of a particular extension, an object that stands in a
<i>callback</i> role is a plain old Java object (not a plug-in) that is
called by the host plug-in when certain events specified in the
corresponding extension-point contract are recognized by the host plug-in.
The interface for callback objects is provided by the host plug-in, and is
documented in the documentation of the extension-point being extended. The
implementation of callback objects is typically a custom class specific to
the particular extension, and is furnished by the provider of the extender
plug-in. Because the implementation of the callback object in the extender
references the callback interface, which is typically packaged with the
host, an extender plug-in typically also <i>depends on</i> the host
<a name=""> </a>
<h6> Specific Callback Roles
<p> Each callback object fills a certain specific role within an extension.
I will refer to these specific roles simply as <i>callback roles</i>. In
the XML definition of an extension, callback roles are defined by child or
descendent XML elements. The <code>actionSets</code> extension-point, for
example, defines a descendent callback role known as <code>action</code>.
Multiple callback objects may stand in this role within an
<code>actionSets</code> extension, each servicing a particular workbench
menu item or button.
<p> When a custom implementation of a callback object is required, the XML
schema of the corresponding extension-point typically includes an attribute
for specifying the fully-qualified name of the custom callback implementation
class. For the <code>help</code> UI plug-in, the name of the XML attribute
designating an <code>action</code> class is "<code>class</code>",
as exemplified in Listing 2.4
(<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>).
<p> But while the extender plug-in defines the required specific callback
objects, and declares their custom implementation classes, the callback
objects only come into existence as a result of specific action by the host
plug-in (and usually only when they are required for the first time to
perform some action on behalf of the extension).
For example, in Listing 2.4
<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>,
the <code>action</code> callback
class for the workbench <i>Search-&gt;Help</i> menu is specified
by the extender plug-in <code></code> to be <code>OpenHelpSearchPageAction</code>
(package <code></code>).
But the associated callback instance is created by the host plug-in
<code>org.eclipse.ui</code>. In this case, the callback instance is created the
first time the <i>Search-&gt;Help</i> menu item is invoked.
<p> As extension designers for an extender plug-in, we need to know about
the callback roles of an extension, and supply concrete callback objects
for these roles. The roles are defined as particular elements in the XML
schema associated with the extension-point (see section 2.3.3), and are
described in the documentation of the XML schema, which, among other
things, must include the interfaces expected of callback objects filling
each role.
<p> For example, the <code>actionSets</code>
<a href="">
reference page</a> introduced earlier
specifies the callback interface for menu item actions to be <a
org.eclipse.ui.IWorkbenchWindowActionDelegate</a>. So the menu action handlers
of the help system implement this interface. In this interface,
the method whose implementation actually performs the menu action
is declared as:
public void run(org.eclipse.jface.action.IAction action);
<p> Therefore, when a new service is to be made accessible through the main
workbench menu, the service's plug-in provides an implementation of
<code>IWorkbenchWindowActionDelegate</code> in which the <code>run</code>
method invokes the service. And the fully-qualified name of the
implementation class is added to the service's plug-in manifest file as the
callback class of the service's menu.
<h5> Non-Specific Service Objects
<p> Note that not all XML elements used in defining an extension correspond
to custom callback roles. Some elements may be purely descriptive,
supplying, for example, certain parameters to the host plug-in to shape
corresponding UI elements, or to use in creating non-custom internal host
objects representing parts of the extension. In our example, an
<code>actionSet</code> element in and of itself (i.e., independently of its
child elements) does not define a custom callback object. But such an
element does cause an internal object to come into existence within the
<code>org.eclipse.ui</code> plug-in to represent the action set.
<p> Similarly, the <code>actionSets</code> extension-point allows the
declaration of new top-level workbench menus through an
<code>actionSet</code> <code>menu</code> element. But the action associated
with a top-level menu is generic: "expose the list of lower-level menu
items". Therefore, there is no need for an extender-specific callback
object to be associated with a top-level workbench menu. And the workbench
top-level menus are represented by internal workbench UI objects.
<p> As users of extension-points, we need not be concerned with these
non-specific internal objects supplied by the host plug-in. But as designers
of host plug-ins, we see that we have the flexibility to design complex
extension structures, parts of which may be exposed as callbacks to be provided
by extensions, and other parts of which would be generic, built-in to
the host plug-in code, and possibly parameterizable through corresponding XML
attributes of extensions.
2.3.2. Relationships between Plug-ins and Extension Objects
<p> The act of extension is quite a general concept in Eclipse, and to
understand its full generality, it is useful to summarize the types of
relationships that may exist between plug-in objects, extension-points, and
callback objects.
Multiple extension-points may exist in a host plug-in.
A plug-in may act both as a host plug-in, exposing
some extension-points, and as an extender plug-in, extending some
Multiple plug-ins may extend a given extension-point.
A given plug-in may extend a given extension-point multiple
An extender plug-in may include different extensions
of different host plug-ins.
A single act of extension of an extension-point by a
particular extension of a particular plug-in may create
multiple callback objects.
A plug-in can define extensions of its own extension-points.
<p> Note. The idea of a plug-in extending itself may seem odd at first.
A prominent example of a self-extending plug-in is the workbench UI
itself. This plug-in adds various facilities, e.g., editors,
to its own UI by extending its own extension-points.
2.3.3. Extension-Point Schemas
<p> A particular extension is defined by an XML configuration element in an
extender plug-in. The element provides the information required to
instantiate and initialize the required callback objects for that
extension, as well as the information required to customize the interface
and behavior of the host plug-in. When a host plug-in designer creates an
extension-point, in addition to declaring the extension-point in its
manifest file, the designer is also responsible for defining the
configuration syntax for extensions to that extension-point. This syntax
is defined as an XML schema and stored in a file with a <code>.exsd</code>
extension, e.g., <code>actionSets.exsd</code>. The schema definition then
becomes part of the documentation of the host plug-in. (Eclipse includes
an XML schema editor and a corresponding formatter for this purpose.)
<p> The extension-point schema lets extender plug-in designers know how to
parameterize their extensions. (Eclipse also provides an extension
configuration editor that is driven by the XML schema of an
extension-point being extended.)
<p> To get an idea of the structure and contents of extension-point
schemas, you can browse the extension-point schemas for the Eclipse
platform plug-ins. These schemas are available in each Eclipse installation
below the folder <code>plugins/org.eclipse.platform.source_&lt;ver&gt;/src</code>
(where <code>&lt;ver&gt;</code> is the version of Eclipse). Under this folder,
the extension-point schemas for a given platform plug-in may be found in the
folder <code>&lt;plugin&gt;_&lt;plugin_ver&gt;/schema</code>, where
<code>&lt;plugin&gt;</code> is the id of the plug-in, and
<code>&lt;plugin_ver&gt;</code> is the version of the plug-in. For example,
for Eclipse 2.1, the <code>actionSets</code> extension-point schema,
<code>actionSets.exsd</code>, may be found in the folder
<code>org.eclipse.ui_2.1.0/schema</code> below the
<code>platform.source</code> folder.
Here is a considerably abbreviated version of <code>actionSets.exsd</code>:
<table width=600 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
&lt;schema targetNamespace="org.eclipse.ui"&gt;
&lt;element name="extension"&gt;
<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> &lt;element ref="actionSet" minOccurs="1" maxOccurs="unbounded"/&gt;
&lt;attribute name="point" type="string" use="required"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
&lt;attribute name="id" type="string"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
&lt;attribute name="name" type="string"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
&lt;element name="actionSet"&gt;
&lt;element ref="menu" minOccurs="0" maxOccurs="unbounded"/&gt;
&lt;element ref="action" minOccurs="0" maxOccurs="unbounded"/&gt;
&lt;attribute name="id" type="string" use="required"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
&lt;attribute name="label" type="string" use="required"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
&lt;attribute name="visible" type="boolean"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
&lt;attribute name="description" type="string"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
&lt;element name="action"&gt;
&lt;element ref="selection" minOccurs="0" maxOccurs="unbounded"/&gt;
&lt;element ref="enablement" minOccurs="0" maxOccurs="1"/&gt;
&lt;attribute name="id" type="string" use="required"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
&lt;attribute name="label" type="string" use="required"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
&lt;attribute name="toolbarPath" type="string"&gt;
&lt;attribute name="icon" type="string"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
&lt;attribute name="tooltip" type="string"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
&lt;attribute name="class" type="string"&gt; &lt;/attribute&gt;
Listing 2.5. Extension-Point Schema Definition (<code>.exsd</code> File).
</td></tr> </table>
The schema defines an <code>actionSets</code> extension as an element that
includes some attributes and a sequence of <code>actionSet</code>'s,
and an <code>actionSet</code> as an element that includes some
attributes and a sequence of <code>menu</code>s and <code>action</code>s.
<p> In the full version of this file, each attribute is annotated with a
human-readable <i>documentation element</i>. The documentation elements of
extension-point schemas are used to generate HTML reference pages for
extension-points (e.g., <a
the <code>actionSets</code> reference page</a> mentioned earlier in this
article), similarly to the way in which Java API reference pages
are generated via <code>javadoc</code>. Such a reference page is made
available as part of the documentation of the host plug-in, and is
integrated with the workbench's help system.
The reference page supports the two tasks that must be performed
to plug new functionality into an extension-point, namely:
Configuration of an extension in the extender plug-in's manifest file.
The reference page specifies the XML configuration syntax
required for the extension.
Provision of custom implementations for the extension-point's callback objects.
<p> The reference page includes an API section for documenting the callback
interfaces expected by the host plug-in for each callback role.
<h5> Extension Members
<p> What goes into an extension-point schema definition is up to the
designer of the host plug-in. And the extension XML in the
<a href="">
Eclipse Platform Plug-in Manifest Specification</a> is defined as an XML
<code>ANY</code>, meaning that it is arbitrary. That designation is too general,
however. In fact, an XML extension specification is always a (possibly
degenerate) sequence of elements. I will refer to an item within this
sequence of elements as an <i>extension member</i>. An
extension, for example, is a sequence of <code>actionSet</code> members.
Often the members of an extension have the same element type: that is,
the sequence represents a homogeneous list of members.
<p> In XML, the number of elements of each type within a sequence may be
bounded by using the <code>minOccurs</code> and the <code>maxOccurs</code>
element definition attributes. This usage is illustrated in the
<code>actionSets</code> schema (Listing 2.5, <img src="images/tag_1.gif"
height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>), where an <code>actionSets</code>
extension is specified to contain at least one, but an otherwise
unrestricted number of <code>actionSet</code> elements.
<p> When an extension-point defines a homogeneous sequence of members and
allows its extensions to have more than one member, the extension-point is
assigned a plural name. Such extension-points and their extensions
may be referred to as <i>plural-form</i>. The plural form is typically
provided as a shorthand for representing multiple single-member extensions.
<p> The notion of an extension <i>member</i>, that is, a top-level XML
element of an extension's (top-level) sequence, may be contrasted with the
Eclipse notion of a <i>configuration element</i>, an arbitrary element
(either a top-level element or a lower-level descendent element) in the XML
specification of an extension. Both terms will be used here for the XML element
itself and for its parsed programmatic representation.
<a name="3."> </a>
3. Extension Processing
<p> In section 2, the extension model of Eclipse was presented at a high
level, and the declarative specifications of extensions and their callback
objects was introduced. In this section, we will see how such declarations are
processed programmatically to support the obligations of a host plug-in
under an extension-point contract. In other words, we will see the kind of
code host plug-in designers must write for each extension-point they
<p> Consider again the plug-in <code>org.eclipse.ui</code> and its
<code>actionsSets</code> extension-point. When this plug-in is activated,
the extension declarations in all plug-ins that extend it must be
processed, so that the UI knows how to configure its menus and buttons, and
what callback objects to call when corresponding menu and button events
occur. This section presents the API calls provided by the Eclipse platform
to aid in this type of extension processing, and exemplifies the idioms
used by plug-in developers to process extensions by using these API calls.
3.1. Obtaining References to the Extensions of an Extension-Point
How are the extension declarations processed for a given extension-point?
Well, in general, the configuration of an extension is
quite arbitrary. And the part of the system that has the knowledge
of this configuration is the host plug-in, whose design produced
the extension-point schema definition.
For example, the knowledge of how to process the <code>actionsSets</code>
extension of the UI help plug-in, <code></code>,
resides within the plug-in that defines the <code>actionsSets</code>
extension-point, namely, the plug-in <code>org.eclipse.ui</code>.
<p> In order for a host plug-in to process the extensions of one of its
extension-points, it needs to be able to obtain a list of those extensions
from the Eclipse runtime, and, for each extension, to get a parsed version
of that extension's members.
<p> Recall that the plug-in registry API provides programmatic access to
the parsed representation of all available plug-in specifications.
This API provides methods for
traversing the information about plug-ins, their components, and their
relationships. A configuration element in the registry API (interface
<var>IConfigurationElement</var>) represents the parsed version of an
extension element in an extender plug-in's manifest file.
The following sample code shows how to use the plug-in registry
API to iterate over all members of all extensions of an extension-point.
<table width=600 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
package com.bolour.sample.eclipse.demo;
import org.eclipse.core.runtime.IConfigurationElement;
import org.eclipse.core.runtime.IExtension;
public interface IProcessMember {
public Object process(IExtension extension,
IConfigurationElement member);
package com.bolour.sample.eclipse.demo;
import org.eclipse.core.runtime.IConfigurationElement;
import org.eclipse.core.runtime.IExtension;
import org.eclipse.core.runtime.IExtensionPoint;
import org.eclipse.core.runtime.IPluginRegistry;
import org.eclipse.core.runtime.Platform;
public class ProcessExtensions {
<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> public static void process(String xpid, IProcessMember processor) {
IPluginRegistry registry = Platform.getPluginRegistry();
IExtensionPoint extensionPoint =
IExtension[] extensions = extensionPoint.getExtensions();
// For each extension ...
<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> for (int i = 0; i &lt; extensions.length; i++) {
IExtension extension = extensions[i];
<img src="images/tag_3.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> IConfigurationElement[] elements =
// For each member of the extension ...
<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> for (int j = 0; j &lt; elements.length; j++) {
IConfigurationElement element = elements[j];
<img src="images/tag_5.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> processor.process(extension, element);
Listing 3.1. Iterating over the Extensions and the Members of an Extension-Point.
</td></tr> </table>
<p> The class <code>ProcessExtensions</code> provides an extension processing
method <code>process</code> (<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24
align=CENTER>), which uses the nested loop idiom for extension processing:
loop over all extensions of the given extension-point
(<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>),
and for each extension, loop over all members of that extension
(<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>).
The <code>process</code> method is made generic by providing it with a
member processing visitor: an instance of interface
<code>IProcessMember</code> that is called back on for each member being
(<img src="images/tag_5.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>).
<p> Suppose this extension processing method is called with the
id of the <code>actionSets</code> extension-point, namely,
<code>org.eclipse.ui.actionSets</code>, as the first argument. One of the
extensions of the <code>actionSets</code> extension-point is the
<code>help</code> extension of <a href="#listing2.5">Listing 2.4</a>, and
that extension happens to have a single <code>actionSet</code> member. So
when the <code>help</code> extension is reached in the outer loop, its
<code>actionSet</code> member is supplied to the inner loop, and can be
processed by the member processing visitor.
<p> A similar processing loop occurs in the Eclipse workbench UI plug-in
(the owner of the <code>actionSets</code> extension-point) when that
plug-in is activated. And the UI plug-in can then pick apart the attributes
and sub-elements of the <code>actionSet</code> member by using the methods of
<var>IConfigurationElement</var> and related interfaces, and use them to
configure the specified menu and button elements into the workbench user interface,
and to instantiate the required callback objects, when required.
<p> Within the member processing function called in the inner loop
<img src="images/tag_5.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>,
of course, the host plug-in is free to do
whatever is necessary to process each member, as directed by that
member's XML configuration element.
<a name="shorthand"/>
3.1.1. Extension-Point Member Traversal Shorthand
Listing 3.1 exemplifies the use of the method <code>IConfigurationElement[]
getConfigurationElements()</code> to obtain the configurations of all members of
an extension
(Listing 3.1 <img src="images/tag_3.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>).
A method with an identical signature also exists for an extension-point as a
whole, that is, for the interface <code>IExtensionPoint</code>, and returns
the configurations of all members of all extensions of an extension-point.
By using this <i>shorthand</i> method, the extension/member nested loop
(Listing 3.1, <img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>,
<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>)
is reduced to a single loop spanning all members of all extensions of an
extension-point. Often this simpler idiom is sufficient for processing
an extension-point.
3.1.2. Extension Processing in Action
<p> By supplying a concrete extension processing visitor to the
<code>process</code> method of our generic extension processing class
(Listing 3.1 <img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>),
we can get a taste of extension processing in action. For example, to output
identifying information about all extension members for a given
extension-point, the following implementation of the visitor interface
<code>IProcessMember</code> may be used:
<table width=600 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
package com.bolour.sample.eclipse.demo;
// imports ...
public class PrintMemberIdentity implements IProcessMember {
private String memberLabelAttribute = null;
public PrintMemberIdentity(String memberLabelAttribute) {
this.memberLabelAttribute = memberLabelAttribute;
public Object process(IExtension extension,
IConfigurationElement member) {
String label =
extension.getDeclaringPluginDescriptor().getLabel() + "/"
+ member.getAttribute(memberLabelAttribute);
return label;
public static void test(String extensionPoint,
String memberLabelAttribute) {
// Validate input ...
System.out.println("Extension members of " + extensionPoint + ":");
IProcessMember processor =
new PrintMemberIdentity(memberLabelAttribute);
ProcessExtensions.process(extensionPoint, processor);
Listing 3.2. Printing Identification Data for Extension-Point Members.
</td></tr> </table>
For <code>actionSet</code> members, there is a labeling attribute whose name
is <code>label</code>. So to get a printout of the identifying information
for all <code>actionSet</code>s present in the current instance of the
workbench, the following call may be used:
PrintMemberIdentity.test("org.eclipse.ui.actionSets", "label")
And the call produces output lines such as:
Java Development Tools UI/Java Element Creation
Java Development Tools UI/Java Navigation
Help System UI/Help
CVS Team Provider UI/CVS
Extension Processing Demo/Demo Menu Actions
Eclipse UI/Resource Navigation
<p> This extension processing demo is included with the
companion plug-ins of this article. To try it out,
see the plug-in <a href="#instructions">installation instructions </a> at
the end of this article.
<a name="3.2."> </a>
3.2. Standardized Extension Processing
<p> A principal function of extension processing is the instantiation of an
extension's callback objects. As we shall see in section 3.3, for
performance reasons, this function is normally performed in a lazy manner,
as callback objects are required to do actual work. In this section,
however, I will ignore this important performance optimization, and
concentrate instead on the main functional aspects of callback
<p> Eclipse defines a standard for instantiating and initializing callback
objects. As we have seen, a callback object is typically represented in a
specific child-level or descendent XML element of an extension, and its
fully-qualified class name is provided as the value of some attribute of
this element. Also, the initial state of a callback object is usually
completely parameterized by the corresponding element and its XML
descendants. When these conditions hold, the callback object may be
instantiated and initialized by using the standard callback object
instantiation and initialization facilities of Eclipse.
<p> Suppose that our extension processing code has traversed the parsed
representation of an extension member to an element corresponding to a
particular callback object (for example, an object standing in the
<code>action</code> role within an <code>actionSets</code> extension).
Suppose that this element is represented in a variable
<code>IConfigurationElement element</code>, and that the name of this
element's attribute designating the fully-qualified class name of the
callback object is known to be <code>class</code>. Then, the method
<code>createExecutableExtension(String classPropertyName)</code> of
<code>IConfigurationElement</code> may be used to instantiate the callback
object, as follows:
ICallback callback = (ICallback) element.createExecutableExtension("class")
where <code>ICallback</code> is the expected interface for the
corresponding callback role.
The method <code>createExecutableExtension</code> does two things:
Instantiate a member of the required class by using its
0-argument public constructor (one must exist).
<p> The fully-qualified name of the required class is looked up in the
configuration as the value of an attribute whose name is provided in the
method's <code>classPropertyName</code> argument.
Initialize this instance if it is initializable in a standard manner.
To become initializable in a standard manner, an extension class
implements Eclipse's standard extension initialization interface
package org.eclipse.core.runtime;
public interface IExecutableExtension {
public void setInitializationData(IConfigurationElement config,
String classPropertyName, Object data) throws CoreException;
<p> So if the instantiated callback object is an instance of
<code>IExecutableExtension</code>, the method
<code>createExecutableExtension</code> automatically calls
<code>setInitializationData</code> on this extension object, giving it the
configuration element of the callback object as a parameter (as well as its
class attribute name, and a data parameter whose details are beyond the
scope of this article, but can safely be ignored for now (see the Eclipse
documentation for more details)).
<p> What this initialization method actually does, of course, is up to the
callback object's designer. The configuration of the callback object
provided to this method as a parameter would drive the initialization
process and would be reflected in the callback object's state by the
initialization method.
A complete example of the use of this machinery to instantiate
and initialize callback objects appears in section 4.
<p> Note. As mentioned earlier and as we shall see in the next section,
this entire machinery is generally used in a lazy fashion only, i.e.,
when the callback object is actually required to do specific work. In the
same spirit, a callback object's initialization method should, to the
extent possible, defer time-consuming work to subsequent method calls on
the object that would require or benefit from such work. For example, when
a callback object manages access to a set of resources, it is often
possible and preferable to open a managed resource only when it is actually
required in a subsequent method call to the callback object.
3.3. Lazy Extension Processing
<p> When a host plug-in is activated, an eager processing of its extensions
would cause the activation of all of its extender plug-ins, and,
recursively, their extender plug-ins, down the plug-in hierarchy (or, more
accurately, through the plug-in extension network). Activating all plug-ins
reachable from a given plug-in involves loading their classes. And
processing all extension-points of these plug-ins means loading the custom
callback classes of all extensions of these extension-points. As a result,
an eager extension processing regime can considerably slow down plug-in
activation, and therefore system startup.
Plug-in developers are therefore encouraged to attempt to delay
the creation of extender-specific callback objects, until such
objects are actually required to perform some action.
3.3.1. Using Virtual Proxies in Lazy Extension Processing
<p> One way to implement a lazy activation regime is to use a <i>virtual
proxy</i> for each callback object during the activation of a
host plug-in. (See the <i>virtual</i> usage of the <i>proxy
pattern</i> in [1].) Such a proxy stands in the role
of a real callback object, and causes the real callback object to be
instantiated only when some action is required of it. Often, it is possible
to provide, within the proxy class, certain generic functions that are
required of a callback object. These functions can then be furnished to
the host plug-in without reference to particular custom extension
classes, and without the need to activate particular extender plug-ins.
When using virtual proxies to initialize the extensions of a
host plug-in, only a limited number of extension classes,
one for each extension-point role, would be loaded in activating
a host plug-in.
As an example, the internal package <code>org.eclipse.ui.internal</code>
contains an abstract virtual proxy class called <code>PluginAction</code> for UI
actions, and a number of concrete subclasses of this class.
And initial extension processing for the <code>actionSets</code> extension
point only instantiates such a proxy class for each UI action.
A generic constructor for an <i>action</i> proxy is defined in the abstract
class <code>PluginAction</code>, and has the following signature:
public PluginAction(IConfigurationElement actionElement,
String runAttribute, String definitionId, int style)
<p> The parameter <code>actionElement</code> provides a reference to the
parsed representation of an extension XML element representing an action.
And the parameter <code>runAttribute</code> identifies the XML attribute
that represents the name of the custom action class to be instantiated to
perform the action. The <code>PluginAction</code> proxy class simply keeps
track of these properties for later use in instantiating and initializing
the real action object.
<p> The proxy class fields action calls by implementing the workbench's
<i>action</i> interface, called <code>IAction</code>. The first time a call
is made on the <code>run</code> method of this interface, the proxy
instantiates the custom action implementation class whose name is provided
in <code>runAttribute</code>, The <code>run</code> method call is then
dispatched to this custom action instance. The custom action instance is
known as the <i>action delegate</i>.
<h5> Callback Proxies versus Callback Adapters</h5>
<p> In a canonical proxy pattern, both the proxy class and the delegate
implementation class implement the <i>same</i> functional interface. But
it is not necessary to adhere to a strict interpretation of the proxy
pattern in implementing the virtual proxies of callback objects. In fact,
an implementation following the <i>adapter</i> pattern provides a more
flexible mechanism for the purpose of lazy callback instantiation.
<p> For example, the Eclipse UI action handler, <code>PluginAction</code>,
is more precisely described as a <i>virtual adapter</i>. It implements a
high-level interface <code>IAction</code> and adapts it to a lower-level
interface, <code>IActionDelegate</code>, which is expected of implementers
of custom action callbacks. And the two interfaces <code>IAction</code> and
<code>IActionDelegate</code> are unrelated. The handler class
<code>PluginAction</code> provides some basic services without reference to
a particular custom action handler, and <i>adapts</i> the <code>run</code>
method of of the workbench's <code>IAction</code> interface to the
<code>run</code> method of the action callback interface
<code>IActionDelegate</code> to actually perform a requested action.
<p> (Note that the interface <code>IWorkbenchWindowActionDelegate</code>
expected of custom workbench menu and buttons handlers, mentioned earlier
in <a href="#">section</a>, is derived from the action
callback interface <code>IActionDelegate</code>.)
<p> Even though Eclipse developers do not necessarily use a strict proxy
regime to affect lazy callback instantiation, the term <i>proxy</i> is
commonly used in Eclipse parlance as a generic designation for internal objects
used to <i>front</i> custom callback objects for the purpose of delaying
their instantiation.
<a name="4."> </a>
4. Example: An Extensible Arithmetic Function Service
<p> So far in this article, we have used only pre-existing extension-points.
But with the machinery of extension processing in place, we are now ready
to create an extension-point of our own. Our example extension-point
is similar in its outline structure to the <code>actionSets</code> extension-point
which we have been using so far.
It provides a slot for augmenting the functions of a host plug-in
by a custom set of services.
It has a plural form, so that each of its extensions
is free to add more than one service to the host plug-in.
It requires each extension to provide concrete callback
objects that embody the services provided by that extension.
It obligates the host to add elements to its user interface for each
extension (actually for each member of each extension), so that the user
may interact with the services provided by the extension.
In addition, our example provides for the specific initialization
of callback objects by using the standard callback initialization facilities
of Eclipse.
<p> The goal is to illustrate these salient features of extensions with as
simple an extension-point as possible. Our major concern, of course, is to
illustrate architectural issues, patterns of usage, and extension
processing. User interface design issues are specifically excluded from
this article. In fact, our example uses a very simple user interface, just
sufficient to illustrate the types of interactions required between the
user interface functions and extension processing functions.
4.1. The Example in Outline
The host plugin, which supplies the user interface for this example,
will be referred to as the <i>UI plug-in</i>.
<p> A single extension-point is defined in the UI plug-in, and supports the
extension of the plug-in by a very simple type of service: a service that
provides access to an integer arithmetic function of a single argument. The
signature of the function is defined in the following callback interface:
package com.bolour.sample.eclipse.service.ui;
public interface IFunction {
public long compute(long x) throws ArithmeticException;
<p> In our example, each member of each extension will provide an
implementation of such a function through a callback object
that implements the <code>IFunction</code> interface.
<p> In order to illustrate the use of standard extension processing to
initialize callback objects, we would like our functions to be configurable
via configuration parameters (constants of the computation) supplied as XML
attributes in extension declarations. Of course, we will have different
classes of computations implemented by different callback classes, e.g.,
addition of a parameter, multiplication by a parameter, etc. And, in
general, each type of computation would be parameterized differently.
<p> But to keep our example simple, we stipulate that our computations may
be parameterized by at most one integer parameter. For example, if the
function doubles the value of its argument, then it is considered as a
multiplication by a constant factor of 2. And in this case the value 2 is
supplied as an XML configuration parameter in the extension declaration of
the corresponding callback object.
<p> The UI plug-in provides an input field to enter the argument of a
service function, a result field to display the function's value, and a
<i>constant</i> field to display the constant parameter (if any) used in
the computation. Each function also requires a specific button for
invoking it, and a specific label for giving information about it.
Therefore, for each member of each extension, the UI plug-in adds a
corresponding button and label to its user interface. And when the button is
selected, the UI plug-in calls back to the associated service function.
Figure 2 shows the UI plug-in's user interface for a typical configuration
of extender plug-ins.
<spacer type=vertical size=10>
<IMG SRC="images/functions_grid_view.jpg" ALT="Figure-2" BORDER="0">
<table align=center width=600>
Figure 2. Service UI plug-in's function invocation view. Extensions
of this host plug-in declare arithmetic functions that are made
accessible through this plug-in's function invocation view.
<p> The UI plug-in class is <code>com.bolour.sample.eclipse.service.ui</code>.
The extension-point is called <code>functions</code>.
4.2. The Extension-Point
The <code>functions</code> extension-point is declared in the UI
plug-in manifest file as follows:
&lt;extension-point id="functions" name="Functions"
<p> Here is the <a
href="doc\com_bolour_sample_eclipse_service_ui_functions.html"> reference
page</a> for this extension-point. (The source schema file for this
extension, <code>functions.exsd</code> may be found in the <a
href="">companion plug-ins zip file</a>.) As indicated in the
reference page, a <code>functions</code> extension is a sequence of
<code>function</code> members each of which has the following attributes:
<strong>class</strong>: The member function's custom callback class.
<strong>name</strong>: The member function's name. Used
in labeling the function on the user interface.
<strong>constant</strong>: An optional attribute used to parameterize
the member's function by a constant.
<p> Complete examples of extensions using these attributes appear in the
next section. For now, here is an example extension member declaration for
a multiplication function,
<code>compute(x)&nbsp;=&nbsp;constant&nbsp;*&nbsp;x</code>, with a constant
factor of 2:
<p> In this case, the <code>Multiplication</code> class implements the
standard Eclipse callback initialization interface
<code>IExecutableExtension</code> to allow its instances to be initialized
with the supplied constant factor. The details are provided in <a
href="#4.3.2.">section 4.3.2</a>. Of course, the designer of a computation
may decide not to parameterize it with a constant. The <i>echo</i>
function, <code>compute(x)&nbsp;=&nbsp;x</code> (see <a
href="#4.3.1.">section 4.3.1</a>), provides an example of such a
non-parameterized computation. In this case, no specific initialization is
required for the corresponding callback object, and the associated callback
class would not implement <code>IExecutableExtension</code>.
Figure 3 shows the relationship between the functions UI plug-in
and its extensions.
<spacer type=vertical size=10>
<IMG SRC="images/services_extensions.jpg" ALT="Figure-3" BORDER="0">
<table align=center width=600>
Figure 3. The <code>functions</code> extension-point and its extensions.
Sets of arithmetic functions are added to the UI
plug-in by extending that plug-in's <code>functions</code> extension-point.
<p> At this point, we have in place all the information we need to create
sample extensions of the <code>functions</code> extension-point. So before
getting into the implementation details of the UI plug-in, we will
present sample extensions of this extension-point. Section 4.3 presents two
such sample extensions. Then in section 4.4 we will return to the implementation
of the UI plug-in by providing the details of extension
processing in that plug-in.
4.3. Extension Examples
<a name="4.3.1."> </a>
4.3.1. Echo: A Simple Extension
The echo service provides a function that echoes its input
to its output. Its service class is defined as:
<table width=550 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
package com.bolour.sample.eclipse.service.echo;
import com.bolour.sample.eclipse.service.ui.IFunction;
public class Echo implements IFunction {
public long compute(long x) {
return x;
Listing 4.1. The Echo Callback Function Class.
</td></tr> </table>
The echo plug-in makes itself available to the user by extending
the <code>functions</code> extension-point.
Here is the specification of an echo
<table width=550 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
Listing 4.2. An Echo Extension Specification.
</td></tr> </table>
This specification declares the service callback class, and specifies
the name of the service operation to be <code>ECHO</code>.
Note that in this simple case, no specific state is required
to initialize an <code>Echo</code> object. So the optional
<code>constant</code> attribute is not used, and the
<code>Echo</code> callback class does not implement
the <code>IExecutableExtension</code> interface.
<a name="4.3.2."> </a>
4.3.2. Multiplication: An Extension with Custom Initialization
<p> Suppose now that the service function to be provided is the
multiplication of the input argument by a constant value. Such a service
is more useful if it can be configured at deployment time with the required
multiplication factor. The function attribute <code>constant</code> is used
for this purpose.
Here is a sample multiplication extension.
<table width=600 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
Listing 4.3. A Multiplication Extension Specification.
</td></tr> </table>
When this extension is processed, the attribute <code>constant</code> is
interpreted as a multiplication factor.
The multiplication callback class is reproduced below (minimally redacted
for brevity).
<table width=600 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
package com.bolour.sample.eclipse.service.multiplication;
import org.eclipse.core.runtime.CoreException;
import org.eclipse.core.runtime.IConfigurationElement;
import org.eclipse.core.runtime.IExecutableExtension;
import com.bolour.sample.eclipse.service.ui.IFunction;
public class Multiplication implements IFunction, IExecutableExtension {
private static final String FACTOR_ATTRIBUTE = "constant";
private int factor = 0;
<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> public long compute(long x) {
return factor * x;
<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> public void setInitializationData(IConfigurationElement member,
String classPropertyName, Object data) throws CoreException {
<img src="images/tag_3.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> String s = member.getAttribute(FACTOR_ATTRIBUTE);
try {
<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> factor = Integer.parseInt(s);
catch (NumberFormatException ex) {
// throw exception ...
Listing 4.3. The Multiplication Function Callback Class.
</td></tr> </table>
Note that the <code>compute</code> method
(<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>)
of this class provides the implementation of the service interface
<code>IFunction</code>, and that the <code>setInitializationData</code> method
(<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>)
of this class provides the implementation of the standard initialization
interface <code>IExecutableExtension</code>.
<p> We will see in the next section that extension processing for the
<code>functions</code> extension-point uses the standard callback
instantiation method <code>createExecutableExtension</code>. So because
the <code>Multiplication</code> class implements the
<code>IExecutableExtension</code> interface, the method
<code>createExecutableExtension</code> automatically calls a callback
instance's <code>setInitializationData</code> method, providing that
instance's parsed XML element as a parameter. The initialization method can
then extract the specified multiplication factor from the element's
<code>constant</code> XML attribute, and keep track of it for future
computations (<img src="images/tag_3.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>,
<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>).
4.4. Processing the "functions" Extension-Point
<p> Now that we have examined some sample test cases for the
<code>functions</code> extension-point, we are ready to dig deeper into the
implementation of this extension-point and its defining UI plug-in. Our
extension-processing class is called <code>ProcessServiceMembers</code>.
This class embodies the standard idioms of extension processing in Eclipse,
specialized to the <code>functions</code> extension-point. In particular,
this class implements a standard and lazy extension processing regime
for the <code>functions</code> extension-point. A separate UI class
called <code>FunctionsGrid</code> encapsulates all UI processing
for our UI plug-in.
<p> As usual in lazy extension processing, processing is required
in two distinct phases of the operation of the application.
<p> In the host plug-in startup phase, there is an initial run through the
members of all extensions of the <code>functions</code> extension-point for
the purpose of obtaining the configurations of these members, creating
generic callback proxies, and building the user interface of the host
plug-in. In this phase, our extension processing code repeatedly calls a
UI method called <code>addFunction</code> to augment the host plug-in's
user interface with function invocation elements for each extension
(see Listing 4.4 <img src="images/tag_5.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>)
<p> Then, in the interactive phase of the application, the specific
callback objects required to perform the computations of each configured
function are created in a lazy fashion, as calls are received by proxy
objects. During this phase, selecting the UI button for a function causes a
callback to that function through a proxy callback object provided by the
extension processing class. The call is delegated by the proxy to the real
callback object. And the first time such a call is made to each proxy, the
real callback object is instantiated and initialized via standard extension
Section 4.4.1 outlines the extension processing class.
Section 4.4.2 outlines the parts of the UI class that
interact with extension processing. The bulk of the user interface
code concerns UI details not directly related to extension processing
and is therefore not presented in this article.
4.4.1. The Extension Processing Class
Here is a redacted version of our initial extension processing function:
<table width=600 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
package com.bolour.sample.eclipse.service.ui;
public class ProcessServiceMembers {
private static final String EXTENSION_POINT =
private static final String FUNCTION_NAME_ATTRIBUTE = "name";
private static final String CLASS_ATTRIBUTE = "class";
private static final String CONSTANT_ATTRIBUTE = "constant";
<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> public static void process(FunctionsGrid grid)
throws WorkbenchException {
IPluginRegistry registry = Platform.getPluginRegistry();
IExtensionPoint extensionPoint =
IConfigurationElement[] members =
// For each service:
<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> for (int m = 0; m &lt; members.length; m++) {
IConfigurationElement member = members[m];
IExtension extension = member.getDeclaringExtension();
String pluginLabel =
String functionName =
String label = pluginLabel + "/" + functionName;
Integer constant = null;
String s = member.getAttribute(CONSTANT_ATTRIBUTE);
if (s != null) {
try {
constant = new Integer(s);
<img src="images/tag_3.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> catch (NumberFormatException ex) {
// Invalid function. Inform the user ... and ignore.
<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> IFunction proxy = new FunctionProxy(member);
<img src="images/tag_5.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> grid.addFunction(proxy, functionName, label, constant);
// ...
Listing 4.4. Extension Member Processing for Service Functions.
</td></tr> </table>
The extension processing loop
(<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>)
follows the <a href="#shorthand">shorthand
idiom for getting the members of all extensions of an extension-point</a>
introduced in section 3.1.1.
This run through the extension members of the <code>functions</code> extension-point
creates a proxy callback object for each function
(<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>),
and adds this proxy and its associated UI widgets to the UI
by calling the <code>addFunction</code> method of the UI's function
(<img src="images/tag_5.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>).
(The body of the <code>addFunction</code> method is presented later in
<a href="#listing4.6">Listing 4.6</a>
<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>.)
<p> Note that certain configuration errors, such as an invalid constant in
our example, can be detected in a generic manner, that is, without recourse
to specific callback objects (whose instantiations we are deferring). Such
errors should be handled during initial extension processing, so that, to the
extent possible, the host plug-in is not polluted with invalid callback
objects and associated widgets. Thus, when a non-integral constant is encountered in the
initial extension processing of the <code>functions</code> extension-point,
the corresponding misconfigured function is ignored
(<img src="images/tag_3.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>).
During the interactive phase of the application, when a function
call is received by a callback proxy, it must be delegated to the
custom implementation of the function. And
that implementation is instantiated in a lazy fashion the
first time a call is received by a proxy. The details appear
in the following code fragment.
<table width=600 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
package com.bolour.sample.eclipse.service.ui;
public class ProcessServiceMembers {
// ...
private static final String CLASS_ATTRIBUTE = "class";
// ...
private static class FunctionProxy implements IFunction {
private IFunction delegate = null; // The real callback.
private IConfigurationElement element; // Function's configuration.
private boolean invoked = false; // Called already.
public FunctionProxy(IConfigurationElement element) {
this.element = element;
public final long compute(long x) throws ArithmeticException {
try {
catch (Exception ex) {
throw new ArithmeticException("invalid function");
if (delegate == null) {
throw new ArithmeticException("invalid function");
return delegate.compute(x);
private final IFunction getDelegate() throws Exception {
if (invoked) {
return delegate;
invoked = true;
try {
Object callback =
<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> if (!(callback instanceof IFunction)) {
// throw exception ...
delegate = (IFunction)callback;
<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> catch (CoreException ex) {
// process and rethrow ...
return delegate;
Listing 4.5. Extension Member Processing for Service Functions.
</td></tr> </table>
This is a straightforward example of the use of the virtual proxy pattern,
and other than error processing, which is discussed in the next section,
requires no further comment.
<h5> Error Processing
<p> In the previous section, we saw that certain configuration errors may
be detected in a generic manner during initial extension processing, and
can be handled at that time. Unfortunately, not all configuration errors
are of this variety, since deferring the instantiation of callback objects in
a lazy regime also defers the detection of errors related to instantiating
and initializing callback objects. We will call configuration errors
that are detected during the interactive phase of the application,
<i>interaction time</i> configuration errors.
<p> Interaction time configuration errors fall into two categories:
interface mismatches: callback classes that do not implement their required
callback interfaces, and creation/initialization errors, e.g.,
non-existent classes, or invalid specific configuration parameters (for
example, 0 denominator for a division function). In Listing 4.5, interface
mismatches are detected at
<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>,
and creation/initialization errors are detected at
<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>.
Note that an error detected anywhere within the execution of
<code>createExecutableExtension</code>, including an error in the
initialization of a callback object, is communicated back to the caller via
a <code>CoreException</code>.
<p> In our application, an interaction time configuration error causes an
<code>ArithmeticException</code> to be thrown. The exception is handled in
the UI trivially by displaying <code>error</code> in the <code>result</code> field of
function invocations. However, our simple application does not disable the
UI elements associated with such misconfigured functions once the
configuration error is detected, and allows the user to repeat the failure. A
more sophisticated application might dynamically disable or remove user
interface elements associated with misconfigured members of extensions.
The <a href="">companion plug-ins zip file</a> includes
a sample plug-in, <code>errortest</code>, that exemplifies
configuration errors. By default the <code>functions</code>
extension that includes these errors is commented out.
To test the effect of configuration errors in this application,
uncomment the <code>functions.error</code> extension in the
<code>errortest</code> plug-in's manifest file, and restart
<p> In summary, the late detection of configuration errors in lazy
extension processing makes it more difficult to handle configuration
errors gracefully. And in general, a tension exists between application
startup performance, graceful error processing, and the customizability of
callback objects standing in a given role.
4.4.2. The User Interface Class
<p> This section outlines the user interface class of the UI plug-in
insofar as it interacts with the extension processing class.
For each function specification included in an extension of
the <code>functions</code> extension-point, initial extension
processing adds a function invocation button and a corresponding
label to the UI plug-in's user interface. Here is an abbreviated
version of the UI code used for this purpose:
<a name="listing4.6"> </a>
<table width=600 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
package com.bolour.sample.eclipse.service.ui;
public class FunctionsGrid {
private Composite buttons; // Function invocation area.
// ...
<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> public void addFunction(IFunction function, String functionName,
String label, Integer constant) {
GridRow row = new GridRow(function, functionName, label, constant);
// ...
private class GridRow {
private IFunction function; // Callback object.
private Button button; // UI widget.
private Label functionLabel; // UI widget.
// Constant of the computation (for display only).
private String constantDisplay;
public GridRow(IFunction function, String functionName,
String label, Integer constant) {
// ...
<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> this.function = function;
this.constantDisplay =
constant == null ? "none" : constant.toString();
button = new Button(buttons, SWT.NONE);
// ...
button.addSelectionListener(new SelectionListener() {
public void widgetSelected(SelectionEvent e) {
// ...
functionLabel = new Label(buttons, SWT.NONE);
// ...
<img src="images/tag_3.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> public void handleButton(SelectionEvent e) {
String t = input.getText();
try {
int x = Integer.parseInt(t);
<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER> result.setText(String.valueOf(function.compute(x)));
catch (Exception ex) {
Listing 4.6. Adding a Function to the User Interface.
</td></tr> </table>
<p> Extension processing makes a call to the <code>addFunction</code>
(<img src="images/tag_1.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>)
method of the UI to build a <i>grid row</i> that includes the required button
and label. This method takes four arguments:
<code>IFunction function</code>: provides the callback object to be called when the
button is selected.
<code>String functionName</code>: provides the display name of the
function's button.
<code>String label</code>: provides the text of the associated label.
<code>Integer constant</code>: provides the constant parameter (if any) used in the
computation. The constant is transmitted to the UI for display purposes only,
and is displayed along with the result of a computation when the corresponding
button is selected.
<p> Each invocation of the <code>addFunction</code> method is delegated to
a <code>GridRow</code> constructor with identical parameters. A
<code>GridRow</code> encapsulates the representation of a function in the
user interface. For each function, the <code>GridRow</code> constructor
saves the reference to the callback object for future calls
(<img src="images/tag_2.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>).
It also associates a button event handler <code>handleButton</code>
(<img src="images/tag_3.gif" height=13 width=24 align=CENTER>)
with the button. When the button is later selected by the user,
the event handler obtains the user input from the UI input field, invokes the
service function associated with the button on that input, and displays the
resulting value of the function (<img src="images/tag_4.gif" height=13
width=24 align=CENTER>). It also displays the constant parameter (if any)
used in the computation.
<p> This completes the description of our arithmetic function invocation
service The function invocation UI plug-in and sample extender plug-ins
are included in this article's companion samples. See the <a
href="#instructions">instructions</a> at the end of this article for
configuring the companion plug-ins.
<a name="5."> </a>
5. Listener Extensions and the Observer Pattern
The previous section provided a simple example of what might be
called the <i>service extension pattern</i>. Each member of
a <i>service extension</i> defines a unique set of user
interface widgets, and events on these widgets trigger
callbacks to objects unique to the extension.
<p> Other usage patterns of extensions are possible, of course. And
in this section we briefly outline one such pattern that is akin to the
<i>observer</i> design pattern of [1]. Our examination of this usage
pattern leads naturally to a comparison of the extension model of Eclipse
with the much simpler observer pattern.
<p> In the language of Java APIs, observers are called
<code>listeners</code>, and the pattern of extension usage discussed in
this section may be called the <i>listener extension pattern</i>. In the
listener extension pattern, multiple extension members may listen for the
same event in a host plug-in. And the host plug-in notifies all these
extension members, or rather their associated listener callbacks, when the
event occurs.
<p> The Eclipse JDT JUnit plug-in <code>org.eclipse.jdt.junit</code> uses such a
pattern to allow multiple observers within the Eclipse workbench to get
notification of testing events, such as the start or the completion of a
JUnit test. This usage is covered in the Beck and Gamma manuscript [2],
which is where I was first introduced to the listener extension pattern.
<p> In the listener extension pattern, the host plug-in acts as the
<i>subject</i> of the observation, and extender plug-ins act as the
<i>observers</i> or <i>listeners</i>. The host plug-in therefore
provides an extension-point that may be called <code>listeners</code>, and
a corresponding interface that may be called <code>IListener</code>. Each
extender plug-in then extends the <code>listeners</code> extension-point by
supplying a specific listener that implements the <code>IListener</code>
interface, or by supplying a sequence of such listeners.
<p> Because the listeners are then specified declaratively through the
plug-in extension mechanism, these listeners can be automatically
registered for event notification by extension processing. The first time
notification is required, the subject plug-in processes its
<code>listeners</code> members, and for each member, instantiates a
specific listener callback object and registers that listener for event
<p> The companion sample plug-ins include an example of the listener
extension pattern, whose structure is shown in Figure 4.
<spacer type=vertical size=10>
<IMG SRC="images/listeners_extensions.jpg" ALT="Figure-4" BORDER="0">
<table align=center width=600>
Figure 4. Extension structure of the <i>listener</i> extension pattern.
Each member of each <i>listener</i> extension provides a notification callback
for <i>subject</i> events.
In this example, an update of the subject causes notifications to be
broadcast to all members of all extensions of the <code>listeners</code>
Here is the
<a href="doc/com_bolour_sample_eclipse_listener_subject_listeners.html">
reference page of the <code>listeners</code>
<p> As configured out of the box, the example includes two plug-ins that
extend the <code>listeners</code> extension-point, and are called
<code>firstlistener</code> and <code>secondlistener</code>. Each of these
plug-ins has an extension with two <code>listener</code> members,
<code>ListenerX</code> and <code>ListenerY</code>. Thus, the first listener
plug-in's extension specification looks like:
<table width=600 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
point = "com.bolour.sample.eclipse.listener.subject.listeners"&gt;
Listing 5.1. A Listener Extension Specification.
</td></tr> </table>
<p> The host plug-in defines a menu item, which, when selected, causes the
state of the subject to be updated. In turn, the state change in the
subject causes listener notifications to be broadcast to each listener
configured into the system.
<p> The listener callbacks in this example are trivial and simply print an
informational message to standard output, as shown in the following
listener class:
<table width=600 bgcolor="#CCCCCC"><tr><td>
package com.bolour.sample.eclipse.listener.firstlistener;
import com.bolour.sample.eclipse.listener.subject.IListener;
public class ListenerX implements IListener {
public void listen() {
System.out.println(this.getClass().getName() + " notified");
Listing 5.2. A Listener Callback Implementation.
</td></tr> </table>
So running this example out of the box results in the following console
com.bolour.sample.eclipse.listener.secondlistener.ListenerX notified
com.bolour.sample.eclipse.listener.secondlistener.ListenerY notified
com.bolour.sample.eclipse.listener.firstlistener.ListenerX notified
com.bolour.sample.eclipse.listener.firstlistener.ListenerY notified
5.1. The Eclipse Extension Model versus the Observer Pattern
<p> As we have seen, the listener extension pattern is analogous to the
observer pattern, except for its static deployment-time registration of
listeners. So ignoring the dynamic nature of observer registrations,
the observer pattern may be thought of as a specialization of
the Eclipse extension model. In fact, modulo dynamic registration,
the extension model of Eclipse adds power to the observer pattern
at a number of levels:
<strong>Callback Bundle versus Single Callback</strong>.
A single extension may provide multiple callback objects.
A single observer provides a single callback object.
<strong>Differentiation of Extenders versus Uniform Treatment of Observers</strong>.
Depending on the parameters of an extension and the specifics of the
extension-point contract, different extensions of a given extension-point
can be treated differently. In contrast, the observer pattern treats
all observers of a given subject uniformly, notifying every one
of an observable event.
<strong>Arbitrary Semantics in Host versus Fixed Notification Semantics in Subject</strong>.
There can be arbitrary parameterized host semantics associated with an
extension instance. Based on the configuration of the extension, the
host can accept a variety of customizable responsibilities under the
extension contract, e.g., the provision of user interface elements.
There is no such parameterization and customizability
in the observer design pattern.
<p> But a closer comparison exists between the Eclipse extension model and the
extension model of a <i>microkernel</i> by so-called <i>internal servers</i>,
e.g., OS device drivers (see, for example, the microkernel pattern in [4]).
Both models allow a core set of services to be extended by additional
provider-supplied services. But the Eclipse extension model generalizes the
internal extension model of the microkernel architecture in two
ways. First, Eclipse plug-ins provide a packaging mechanism for sets of
related extensions. Second, in Eclipse any plug-in may provide
extension-points and make itself extensible by other plug-ins. In contrast,
in the microkernel architecture, the microkernel core (e.g., an OS
kernel) has unique standing as the sole extensible component in a system.
<a name="6."> </a>
6. Summary and Conclusions
<p> The plug-in extension model of Eclipse provides a powerful and general
paradigm for architecting extensible systems based on loosely-coupled
components. The principle use of this architecture, of course, is the
Eclipse workbench. But the basic extension model is an abstract
architectural pattern quite apart from its specific incarnation in the
The principle facilities of this abstract model are:
<strong>Deployment-time pluggable components</strong>.
Plug-ins are components that are assembled into a system at deployment time. A
plug-in is implemented in a running system as an instance of a plug-in
class. Characteristics of each plug-in are declaratively specified in a
manifest file, which is interpreted at runtime to instantiate the plug-in
and relate it to other plug-ins.
A particular way in which a plug-in allows itself to be extended is embodied
in an <i>extension-point</i>. An extension-point is defined by a plug-in that
stands in a <i>host</i> role with respect to the extension-point, and may be
extended by one or more plug-ins that stand in an <i>extender</i> role with
respect the extension-point. There is a contract associated
with each extension-point. The contract puts obligations on both the host
and the extender plug-ins.
<strong>Extensions as Parameterized Callback Bundles</strong>.
An extension-point contract generally provides one or more
callback interfaces, and requires extenders to provide custom
implementations (callback objects) for these interfaces. Then
the host is obligated to call back on these callback objects under
certain conditions specified in the contract, and based on a particular
extension's configuration parameters.
<strong>Obligations of the Host</strong>.
The host obligations under an extension-point contract may include
additional requirements on the behavior of the host, such as a
requirement on the host to augment its interface by additional
processing elements.
<strong>Obligations of the Extender</strong>.
The extender describes the characteristics of an extension declaratively in
its manifest file. The extension-point contract provides an XML schema for
this description, and the extension specification in the extender's
manifest file must conform to this schema. The schema includes slots for
the concrete classes of the extension's callback objects, and for the
parameters required to construct these objects. The concrete classes are
furnished by the extender, and must conform to expected interfaces defined
by the host. At runtime, the host instantiates the configured
callback objects based on their configuration parameters.
<p> In summary, Eclipse plug-ins offer a flexible model of extensibility,
and their abstract architecture for composing systems out of
loosely-coupled components provides a significant addition to the available
repertoire of architectural patterns for software systems (see, e.g., [4]).
<a name="instructions"> </a>
Sample Code Installation.
To run the samples appearing in this article and view their source code,
extract the contents of the <a href="">companion plug-ins
zip file</a> into your Eclipse installation.
In order to interact with the samples through the workbench,
you will have to enable their user interface elements
as follows:
<i>Extension Processing Demo</i>.
Bring up the <i>Windows-&gt;Customize
Perspective</i> dialog, and under <i>Other</i>, enable <i>Demo Menu Actions</i>.
Close the dialog. The <i>Demo</i> menu should now be available.
<i>Arithmetic Service</i>.
Bring up the <i>Windows-&gt;Customize
Perspective</i> dialog, and under <i>Window-&gt;Show View</i> enable
<i>Functions Grid View</i>, and close the dialog. In the workbench <i>Window-&gt;Show
View</i> list, you should now see the list item <i>Functions Grid View</i>.
Select that item to display the view for this sample.
<i>Listener Extensions</i>.
Bring up the <i>Windows-&gt;Customize
Perspective</i> dialog, and under <i>Other</i> enable <i>Listener
Menu Actions</i>. Close the dialog. The <i>Listener</i> menu should now
be available.
<p> Note that for simplicity, <i>standard output</i> and <i>standard
error</i> are used to display messages in these samples. By default, on a
<i>win32</i> platform, Eclipse uses the <i>javaw</i> virtual machine, which
does not have an associated console for standard IO. To bring up Eclipse on
a <i>win32</i> platform with an associated console, the Eclipse executable
may be asked to use <i>java</i>, rather than <i>javaw</i>, by using the
<code>-vm</code> option, e.g.,
eclipse -vm C:\jdk1.3.1_02\jre\bin\java.exe
The samples have been tested with Eclipse 2.1 and JDK 1.3.1_02
on Windows 2000.
<li value=1>
Gamma, Erich, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, John Vlissides,
<i>Design Patterns, Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software</i>,
Addition-Wesley, 1995.
<li value=2>
Beck, Kent, and Erich Gamma,
<a href="">
<i>Contributing to Eclipse</i></a>
(pre-publication draft) 2003.
<li value=3>
Shavor, S., Jim D'Anjou, et. al. <i>The Java Developer's Guide to
Eclipse</i>, Addison-Wesley, 2003.
<li value=4>
Buschmann, Frank, et. al., <i>Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture, A
System of Patterns, Volume 1</i>,
John Wiley and Sons, 1996.
<li value=5>
Estberg, Don.
<a href=""><i>How the Minimum Set of Platform
Plugins Are Related</i></a>, Wiki Page 2587, Eclipse Wiki.
<p><b>Acknowledgments</b> </br> This article originated in discussions within
the <i>Silicon Valley Patterns Group</i> on Eclipse plug-ins. Thanks to the
members of the group, and in particular to Tracy Bialik, Phil Goodwin, Jan
Looney, Jerry Louis, Chris Lopez, Russ Rufer, Rich Smith, and Carol
Thistlethwaite for the original conversations leading to these notes, and
for many great suggestions for improving the content and presentation of
the material. Special thanks to Russ Rufer and Tracy Bialik for blazing
the Eclipse trail for the rest of the group. The group discussions were
organized around a review of an early manuscript by Kent Beck and Erich
Gamma: <a href="">
Contributing to Eclipse </a>. These notes, therefore, owe much to Beck and
Gamma for introducing us to the concepts and facilities of Eclipse
plug-ins. Don Estberg devised the diagrammatic representation of
extension-points used in this article, based on the <i>power-strip</i>
metaphor. Thanks also to Don for his detailed comments. Finally, my thanks
to Dennis Allard and Dan Conde for their generous offer of time in
reviewing the final draft of this article, and to Jim des Rivi&egrave;res for his
detailed review and numerous suggestions for enhancements.