Node Extensions


You can download all the code on this page from the code snippets directory

The node extension mechanism is an advanced topic, so you might want to skip this section at first. The examples here partly use the parallel and hinet packages, which are explained later in the tutorial.

The node extension mechanism makes it possible to dynamically add methods or class attributes for specific features to node classes (e.g. for parallelization the nodes need a _fork and _join method). Note that methods are just a special case of class attributes, the extension mechanism treats them like any other class attributes. It is also possible for users to define custom extensions to introduce new functionality for MDP nodes without having to directly modify any MDP code. The node extension mechanism basically enables some form of Aspect-oriented programming (AOP) to deal with cross-cutting concerns (i.e., you want to add a new aspect to node classes which are spread all over MDP and possibly your own code). In the AOP terminology any new methods you introduce contain advice and the pointcut is effectively defined by the calling of these methods.

Without the extension mechanism the adding of new aspects to nodes would be done through inheritance, deriving new node classes that implement the aspect for the parent node class. This is fine unless one wants to use multiple aspects, requiring multiple inheritance for every combination of aspects one wants to use. Therefore this approach does not scale well with the number of aspects.

The node extension mechanism does not directly depend on inheritance, instead it adds the methods or class attributes to the node classes dynamically at runtime (like method injection). This makes it possible to activate extensions just when they are needed, reducing the risk of interference between different extensions. One can also use multiple extensions at the same time, as long as there is no interference, i.e., both extensions do not use any attributes with the same name.

The node extension mechanism uses a special Metaclass, which allows it to define the node extensions as classes derived from nodes (bascially just what one would do without the extension mechanism). This keeps the code readable and avoids some problems when using automatic code checkers (like the background pylint checks in the Eclipse IDE with PyDev).

In MDP the node extension mechanism is currently used by the parallel package and for the the HTML representation in the hinet package, so the best way to learn more is to look there. We also use these packages in the following examples.

Using Extensions

First of all you can get all the available node extensions by calling the get_extensions function, or to get just a list of their names use get_extensions().keys(). Be careful not to modify the dict returned by get_extensions, since this will actually modify the registered extensions. The currently activated extensions are returned by get_active_extensions. To activate an extension use activate_extension, e.g. to activate the parallel extension write:

>>> mdp.activate_extension("parallel")
>>> # now you can use the added attributes / methods
>>> mdp.deactivate_extension("parallel")
>>> # the additional attributes are no longer available


As a user you will never have to activate the parallel extension yourself, this is done automatically by the ParallelFlow class. The parallel package will be explained later, it is used here only as an example.

Activating an extension adds the available extensions attributes to the supported nodes. MDP also provides a context manager for the with statement:

>>> with mdp.extension("parallel"):
...     pass

The with statement ensures that the activated extension is deactivated after the code block, even if there is an exception. But the deactivation at the end happens only for the extensions that were activated by this context manager (not for those that were already active when the context was entered). This prevents unintended side effects.

Finally there is also a function decorator:

>>> @mdp.with_extension("parallel")
... def f():
...     pass

Again this ensures that the extension is deactivated after the function call, even in the case of an exception. The deactivation happens only if the extension was activated by the decorator (not if it was already active before).

Writing Extension Nodes

Suppose you have written your own nodes and would like to make them compatible with a particular extension (e.g. add the required methods). The first way to do this is by using multiple inheritance to derive from the base class of this extension and your custom node class. For example the parallel extension of the SFA node is defined in a class

>>> class ParallelSFANode(mdp.parallel.ParallelExtensionNode, 
...                       mdp.nodes.SFANode):
...     def _fork(self):
...         # implement the forking for SFANode
...         return ...
...     def _join(self):
...         # implement the joining for SFANode
...         return ...

Here ParallelExtensionNode is the base class of the extension. Then you define the required methods or attributes just like in a normal class. If you want you could even use the new ParallelSFANode class like a normal class, ignoring the extension mechanism. Note that your extension node is automatically registered in the extension mechanism (through a little metaclass magic).

For methods you can alternatively use the extension_method function decorator. You define the extension method like a normal function, but add the function decorator on top. For example to define the _fork method for the SFANode we could have also used

>>> @mdp.extension_method("parallel", mdp.nodes.SFANode) 
... def _fork(self):
...     return ...

The first decorator argument is the name of the extension, the second is the class you want to extend. You can also specify the method name as a third argument, then the name of the function is ignored (this allows you to get rid of warnings about multiple functions with the same name).

Creating Extensions

To create a new node extension you have to create a new extension base class (unless you only use the extension decorators to define the extension methods). For example, the HTML representation extension in mdp.hinet is created with

>>> class  HTMLExtensionNode(mdp.ExtensionNode, mdp.Node): 
...     """Extension node for HTML representations of individual nodes."""
...     extension_name = "html2"
...     def html_representation(self):
...         pass
...     def _html_representation(self):
...         pass

Note that you must derive from ExtensionNode. If you also derive from mdp.Node then the methods (and attributes) in this class are the default implementation for the mdp.Node class. So they will be used by all nodes without a more specific implementation. If you do not derive from mdp.Node then there is no such default implementation. You can also derive from a more specific node class if your extension only applies to these specific nodes.

When you define a new extension then you must define the extension_name attribute. This magic attribute is used to register the new extension and you can activate or deactivate the extension by using this name.

Note that extensions can override attributes and methods that are defined in a node class. The original attributes can still be accessed by prefixing the name with _non_extension_ (the prefix string is also available as mdp.ORIGINAL_ATTR_PREFIX). On the other hand one extension is not allowed to override attributes that were defined by another currently active extension.

The extension mechanism uses some magic to make the behavior more intuitive with respect to inheritance. Basically methods or attributes defined by extensions shadow those which are not defined in the extension. Here is an example

>>> class TestExtensionNode(mdp.ExtensionNode):
...     extension_name = "test"
...     def _execute(self):
...         return 0
>>> class TestNode(mdp.Node):
...     def _execute(self):
...         return 1
>>> class ExtendedTestNode(TestExtensionNode, TestNode):
...     pass

After this extension is activated any calls of _execute in instances of TestNode will return 0 instead of 1. The _execute from the extension base-class shadows the method from TestNode. This makes it easier to share behavior for different classes. Without this magic one would have to explicitly override _execute in ExtendedTestNode (or derive the extension base-class from Node, but that would give this behavior to all node classes). Note that there is a verbose argument in activate_extension which can help with debugging.

Extension Setup and Teardown Functions

If needed you can define a setup and/or teardown function for your extension. The setup function is called when the extension is activated (before the node classes are modified) and can be used for global modifications. The teardown function is called when the extension is deactivated (after all the node class modifications have been removed). In the following simple example we set a global variable when the extension is actived

>>> is_extension_active = False
>>> @mdp.extension_setup("test")
... def _test_extension_setup():
...     global is_extension_active
...     is_extension_active = True
>>> @mdp.extension_teardown("test")
... def _test_extension_teardown():
...     global is_extension_active
...     is_extension_active = False