Configuration Usage


The vital config_block supports general configuration tasks where a general purpose key/value pair is needed. The configuration block is used to specify, communicate and set configurable items in many different situations. The two major users of the configuration support are algorithms and processes. In addition, there are a few other places that they are used also.

Configurations are ususally established in an external file which are read and converted to an internal config_block object. This is the typical way to control the behaviour of the software. Configuration blocks can also be created pragmatically such as when specifying an expected set of configurable items.

When algorithms are used within processes, the configuration entries are specified as a block in the pipe file. The process takes the appropriate config subblock and passes it to the set_nested_algo_configuration() method to instantiate and configure the algorithm.

From File to config_block

Using config_block_io to directly convert config file into block. This can be used by a main program that manages configs and algorithms directly. The read_congfig_file() uses a complex set of rules to locate config files based on host system and application name.

Configuration Features

config features. what they do and why you would want to use them - relativepath

  • macro providers and how they can be used to make portable and reusable config files

  • config sub-blocks and configuration context

Establishing Expected Config

Typically the expected config is formulated by creating a config block with all the expected keys, default values, and entry description. This is done for both algorithms and processes.

Don’t be shy with the entry description. This description serves as the design specification for the entry. The expected format is a short description followed by a longer detailed description separated by two new-lines, as shown below.

config->set_value( "config_name", <default_value>,
                   "Short description.\n\n"
                   "Longer description which contains all information needed "
                   "to correctly specify this parameter including any range "
                   "limitations etc." );

The long description does not need any new-line characters for formatting unless specific formatting is desired. The text is wrapped into a text block by all tools that display it.

This expected configuration serves as documentation for the algorithm or process configuration items when it is displayed by the plugin_explorer and other tools. It is also used to validate the configuration supplied at run time to make sure all expected items are present.

Usage by Algorithms

Algorithms specify their expected set of configurable items in their get_configuration() method using the config_block set_value() method, described above.

The run time configuration is passed to an algorithm through the set_configuration() method. This method typically extracts the expected configuration values and saves them locally for the algorithm to use. When a configuration is read from the file, there is no guarantee that all expected configuration items are present and attempting to get a value that is not present generates an exception.

The recommended way to avoid this problem is to use the expected configuration, as created by the get_configuration() method to supply any missing entries. The following code snippet shows how this is done.

// Set this algorithm's properties via a config block
::set_configuration(vital::config_block_sptr in_config)
  // Starting with our generated vital::config_block to ensure that assumed values are present
  // An alternative is to check for key presence before performing a get_value() call.
  vital::config_block_sptr config = this->get_configuration();

  // Merge in supplied config to cause these values to overwrite the defaults.

  // Get individual config entry values
  this->write_float_features = config->get_value<bool>("write_float_features",

Instantiating Algorithms

Algorithms can be used directly in application code or they can be wrapped by a sprokit process. In either case the actual implementation of the abstract algorithm interface is specified through a config block.

Lets first look at the code that will instantiate the configured algorithm and then look at the contents of the configuration file.

The following code snippet instantiates a draw_detected_object_set algorithm.

// this pointer will be used to reference the algorithm after it is created.
vital::algo::draw_detected_object_set_sptr m_algo;

// Get algorithm configuration
auto algo_config = get_config(); // or an equivalent call

// Check config so it will give run-time diagnostic of config problems
if ( ! vital::algo::draw_detected_object_set::check_nested_algo_configuration( "draw_algo", algo_config ) )
  LOG_ERROR( logger, "Configuration check failed." );

vital::algo::draw_detected_object_set::set_nested_algo_configuration( "draw_algo", algo_config, m_algo );
if ( ! d->m_algo )
  LOG_ERROR( logger, "Unable to create algorithm." );

After the configuration is extracted, it is passed to the check_nested_algo_configuration() method to determine if the configuration has the basic type entry and the requested type is available. If the type entry is missing or the specified implementation is not available, a detailed log message is generated with the available implementations.

If the configuration is acceptable, the set_nested_algo_configuration() call will actually instantiate and configure the selected algorithm implementation.

The name that is supplied to these calls, “draw_algo” in this case, is used access the configuration block for this algorithm.

The following configuration file snippet can be used to configure the above algorithm.:

block draw_algo
  type = ocv    # select the ocv instance of this algorithm

  block ocv     # configure the 'ocv' instance
    alpha_blend_prob   = true
    default_line_thickness   = 1.25
    draw_text   = false
  endblock # for ocv
endblock  # for draw_algo

The outer block labeled “draw_algo” specifies the configuration to be used for the above code snippet. The config entry “type” specifies which implementation of the algorithm to instantiate. The following block labeled “ocv” is used to configure the algorithm after it is instantiated. The block labeled “ocv” is used for algorithm type “ocv”. If the algorithm type was “foo”, then the block “foo” would be used to configure the algorithm.

Usage by Processes

The configuration for sprokit processes is presented slightly differently than for algorithms, but underneath, they both use the same structure.

Configuration items for a process are defined using create_config_trait() macro as shown below.

//                    name,      type,  default,        description
create_config_trait( threshold, float, "-1", "min threshold for output (float).\n\n"
                     "Detections with confidence values below this threshold are not drawn." );

When the process is constructed all configuration parameters must be declared using the declare_config_using_trait() call, as shown below.:

declare_config_using_trait( threshold );

All configuration items declared in this way are available for display using the plugin_explorer tool.

Configuration values are extracted from the process configuration in the _configure() method of the process as shown below.:

float local_threshold = config_value_using_trait( threshold );

Processes can instantiate and configure algorithms using the approach described above.

Configuration for a process comes from a section of the pipe file. The following section of a pipe file shows configuration for a process which supplies the threshold configuration item.:

# ================================
process draw_boxes :: draw_detected_object_boxes
  threshold = 3.14

Verifying a Configuration

When a configuration file (or configuration section of a pipe file) is read in, there is no checking of the configuration key names. There is no way of knowing which configuration items are valid or expected and which ones are not. If a name is misspelled, which sometimes happens, it will be misspelled in the configuration block. This can lead to hours of frustration diagnosing a problem.

A configuration can be checked against a baseline using the config_difference class. This class provides methods to determine the differences between a reference configuration and one created from an input file. The difference between these two configurations is presented in two different ways. It provides a list of keys that are baseline config and not in the supplied config. These are the config items that were expected but not supplied. It also provides a list of keys that are in the supplied config but not in the expected config. These items are supplied but not expected.

The following code snippet shows how to report the difference between two config blocks.

//                                    ref-config                received-config
kwiver::vital::config_difference cd( this->get_configuration(), config );
const auto key_list = cd.extra_keys();
if ( ! key_list.empty() )
  // This may be considered an error in some cases
  LOG_WARN( logger(), "Additional parameters found in config block that are not required or desired: "
            << kwiver::vital::join( key_list, ", " ) );

key_list = cd.unspecified_keys();
if ( ! key_list.empty() )
  LOG_WARN( logger(), "Parameters that were not supplied in the config, using default values: "
            << kwiver::vital::join( key_list, ", " ) );

Not all applications need to check both cases. There may be good reasons for not specifying all expected configuration items when the default values are as expected. In some cases, unexpected items that are supplied by the configuration may be indications of misspelled entries.

Config Management Techniques

The configuration file reader provides several alternatives for managing the complexity of a large configuration. The block / endblock construct can be used to shorted config lines and modularize the configuration. The include directove can be used to share or reuse portions of a config.

Starting with the example config section that selects an algorithm and configures it:

algorithm_instance_name:type = type_name
algorithm_instance_name:type_name:algo_param = value
algorithm_instance_name:type_name:threshold = 234

The block construct can be used to simplify the configuration and make it easier to navigate.:

block algorithm_instance_name
  type = type_name
  block  type_name
    algo_param = value
    threshold = 234

In cases where the configuration block is extensive or used in multiple applications, that part of the configuration can exist as a stand-alone file and be included where it is needed.:

block  algorithm_instance_name
  include type_name.conf

where type_name.conf contains:

type = type_name
block   type_name
  algo_param = value
  threshold = 234

Environment variables and config macros can be combined to provide a level of adaptability to config files. Using the environment macro in an include directive can provide run time agility without requiring the file to be edited. The following is an example of selecting a different include file based on mode.:

include $ENV{MODE}/config.file.conf

Using enums in config entries

Quite often a configuration parameter can only take a fixed number of values such as when the user is trying to configure an enum. The enum support in vital directly supports converting strings to enum values with the use of the enum_converter and enum support in the config block. The enum converter will verify that the supplied string represents an enum value, and throw an error if it does not. The list of valid enum strings is provided to assist in documenting config entries.

The following code snippet shows how to use the enum support to create a new config entry and convert config entry to an enum value.:

#include <vital/util/enum_converter.h>

using kvll = kwiver::vital::kwiver_logger::log_level_t;

// Declare the enum converter
//              converter-name   enum-type
ENUM_CONVERTER( level_converter, kvll,
   { "trace", kvll::LEVEL_TRACE },
   { "debug", kvll::LEVEL_DEBUG },
   { "info",  kvll::LEVEL_INFO },
   { "warn",  kvll::LEVEL_WARN },
   { "error", kvll::LEVEL_ERROR }

 // Create config entry from enum. level_converter supplies the list of
 // valid enum strings.
conf->set_value( "level", level_converter().to_string( m_log_level ),
                "Logger level to use when generating log messages. "
                "Allowable values are: " + level_converter().element_name_string()

// Convert config entry to an enum value.
kvll log_level = conf->get_enum_value<level_converter>( "level" );