[c-lightning] Plugins/passthrough for next version?

Christian Decker decker.christian at gmail.com
Mon Aug 27 19:55:34 AEST 2018

Rusty Russell <rusty at rustcorp.com.au> writes:

> Christian Decker <decker.christian at gmail.com> writes:
>> I think we have quite a few different options to foster extensibility on
>> top of a focused and lean lightning implementation, each with its own
>> pros and cons:
>>  - Driver: a program that controls the lightning daemon, tails its
>>    output, or has another way to stream events from the daemon, and
>>    interacts with the JSON-RPC we already have. That's basically how we
>>    drive the tests, both for c-lightning [1] as well as the
>>    integration tests across all implementations [2]. It's a bit cludgy
>>    since we tail the logs which were not intended for machine
>>    consumption, but it works right now and is how I've been building a
>>    number of applications. An event stream, e.g., streaming JSON events,
>>    would make this a lot easier.
> Yes, we probably need to add some pub-sub API to the JSON-RPC interface
> eventually.  It's fairly easy to do; the hard part is selecting and
> defining the events.

Pub-sub is even a step further, I'd just create a unidirectional stream
of all events, without the option to subscribe to things. Chances are
everybody would subscribe to everything anyway.

As for events, there are a number of topics that come to mind:

 - Channel events: opening, confirming, closing, and disconnects
 - Commitment events: adding, removing an HTLC
 - Payment events: initiating a payment, finalizing/failing a payment
 - Invoice events: incoming payment matching an invoice, timeout of an

If we decide to allow subscribing to events then these could be the
broad topics that can be subscribed to as well, but initially I'd just
go full firehydrant.

>>  - Sidecar: this is just a small variation of the above, in that it
>>    doesn't control the daemon, and has to rely on polling it. It's
>>    higher overhead, slower and would also benefit from an event stream.
>>  - Callbacks: c-lightning hooks into certain events and calls out to a
>>    registered external program if something of interest has
>>    happened. This is basically the model `-blocknotify` option of
>>    bitcoind. It's simple and allows the external tool to be written in
>>    any conceivable language, but it forces the external tool to manage
>>    state across multiple runs, and may come with some
>>    overhead. Ultimately it'd result in people just using it as an event
>>    stream that pipes into a long running program anyway.
> This is what you do when you don't want to create an API :)  But we
> already have an API, so I dislike this option.  As you say, you end up
> building a layer on top of it to make it usable...
> My rough thinking was that we would activate extensions with the
> callback model on startup (presumably handing it any options which
> matched its prefix), and it would tell us what commands it provided,
> then we'd relay those JSON RPC commands to it (and return the replies).

That might work for things that are initiated by a JSON-RPC call, but
not for internal events (forwarding, topology changes, etc). So we'd
need to define an event format anyway.

>>  - Embedded plugins: this is probably the most ambitious in that we
>>    build plugins that are executed directly in the context of
>>    c-lightning, either by compiling them in, dynamically loading them,
>>    or embedding an interpreter. The first two options would again limit
>>    us to languages that work well in C, while the last would give us
>>    free choice of languages, and why not, we could even implement a
>>    small wasm interpreter, e.g., wac [3]. It'd be the least overhead
>>    option, but also the hardest to pull off.
> It's dangerous in C, and makes bug reporting complex; to diag your crash
> I might need to reproduce your plugins, etc.
> Plus: since we use multi-process for isolation, not using that for
> plugins seems weird.

Isn't the need to reproduce the exact environment the case for all types
of plugins? We had quite a few bug reports in past complaining about log
files getting spammed, and it turns out they had a cronjob or a sidecar
that was hammering the daemon, which then lead to the logs being

My main issue with the sidecar, driver and callback kind of extensions
is that they can only alter the behavior of the daemon in a reactive
fashion. For example the use-case of calling out to a script if we
receive an unroutable payment to forward, because it is on another
chain (cross chain atomic swaps) needs to reach far into the forwarding
logic to hook into the correct events.

One solution to this is to say that these behavioral changes should be
rare and warrant some extra work, and that's ok, we just need to be
clear about this :-)


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