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Developer Handbook


Welcome to Thali! So you want to learn more? Great!

Checklist for adding a new team member

General checklist:

  1. Tell them that they need to read this doc and make sure they do what it says in terms of things to sign up for.
  2. Go here and add them as a member.
  3. Go here and add them to the “Who?” section.
  4. Send out a mail to the public mailing list about them joining
  5. Add them to our slack channel

For Microsoft employees:

  1. Add them to the internal OWA Thali group
  2. Add them to our weekly standup and other random meetings
  3. Send out a mail to the internal mailing list about them joining
  4. Harass the new member to go get connected via https://opensourcehub.microsoft.com/
  5. Add them to our various private slack channels


The first thing to do is read. Please start here. You can probably skip most of the links except for this one and this one which will drive all of our immediate work. With these three articles you should have the background you need to understand what we are up to.

Next step is to walk through our spec stack. After reading the above the specs to read are roughly in this order (feel free to skim):

  • Notification Crypto Design - This drives a lot of what we do so understanding it’s basic outline is useful
  • Non-TCP/IP Bindings - This drives how we actually talk over Android, iOS and WiFi.
  • thaliMobileNative.js - This defines the API that our native code implementations are supposed to expose to JXcore.
  • thaliMobileNativeWrapper.js - This turns the rather raw mobile layer into something easier to deal with, it also implements some of the logic needed for the mobile layer.
  • thaliWifiInfrastructure.js - How we do discovery when we have WiFi available
  • thaliMobile.js - This is a common API to handle both TCP and non-TCP transports
  • wifiBasedNativeMock.js - Defines how to use our WiFi support to create a mock for Thali Native. This lets us test our native functionality on the desktop. We aren’t completely committed to this yet.
  • mux - We turn non-TCP transports like Bluetooth or Multi-Peer Connectivity Framework into a single TCP connection but we need to run multiple simultaneous TCP connections over that single connection. The files in this directory handle that logic.
  • notification - As described in the crypto documents we both send out notifications of people we want to talk to as well as process incoming notifications. This directory contains the logic to handle that.
  • replication - This handles telling the notification layer when to send out notifications based on changes in the local DB. It also handles incoming notifications that someone wants to replicate with us.
  • security - Various security related stuff
  • thaliPeerPool - This is the central controller which receives requests to use the local nework connectivity and decides which ones will get through.

With the exception of the first two all the other docs are JSDoc and so you can generate them locally by cloning Thali_CordovaPlugin, switching to master branch and then running jx npm run createInternalDocs. This will create an “out” directory which contains an index.html which has all the docs.

At this time our repo’s are:

Sign up to follow us

Please go here and subscribe to our blog, to our mailing list, follow us on Twitter, bookmark our backlog webpage, etc. Also make sure you hit ‘watch’ on all the projects listed above.

If you don’t ‘watch’ the projects then you won’t get notified when we have updates, new issues, etc. So please hit ‘watch’.


Our main website is www.thaliproject.org and it is a Github pages site that is run out of the ‘gh-pages’ branch in the Thali repository. Please go read up on Github pages and understand what the header matter is, how MD files work, etc. The good news is that you can edit the pages directly in the Github web UX in our depot. You don’t have to download the site and then submit PRs.

HOWEVER!!!! If you make a significant changes to the website then please submit the change as a PR (you can do that from the Github repo web UX, just choose the second option by commit) and then accept your own PR. This will send a notification out to everyone about the change. Otherwise you can just use automatic commit.

Also check any Markdown links start with a backslash ‘/’ otherwise Jekyll will create a relative link from the directory in the ‘pages’ folder.


We like to blog but most of us blog on our own blogs. But we would like to republish here interesting articles. So here are the instructions on how to use our blog.

  1. Go to gh-pages/_posts
  2. Create a new entry following the date format you see in the directory, the definition is given here
  3. Make sure you put in the ‘front matter’ (just look at any of the existing posts, they all have it at the top) and then write up your blog article.
  4. Keep in mind that your blog article will be automatically pushed to our twitter feed so please make the first sentence in the blog article something that will read reasonably well on Twitter.

That’s it. The article will automatically be picked up by our blog feed.


Naming branches in our depots

Right now we have one primary branch. master (which is what people should be downloading) and vNext which is our next major release. To implement a new feature/improvement you typically will have a new branch with the name master_[your email alias]_[Issue Number], where master is a target branch for your feature, [your email alias] is your current email alias, [Issue Number] is number of corresponding issue in GitHub. So, for example, there is master_yarong_417 which is a branch that was created from master, by yarong working on issue #417.

Code Reviews

All code MUST be submitted as a PR from a dev’s branch to a story branch. No PR can be checked in until it is +1’d by someone who is qualified to do a code review.

A code reviewer upon reviewing a PR is certifying two things:

  1. The code under review is readable and understandable. Or perhaps put a different way, the reviewer is saying that if the code under review has a bug or needs a new feature the reviewer is confident that they could fix that bug or add that feature. The point is to make sure that the code we are submitting is understandable by someone other than the person who wrote it.
  2. The code under review meets our style guidelines and is properly tested. Proper testing means there are unit tests, functional tests and end to end tests as appropriate.

+1’ing a PR is a big deal. You, as the reviewer, are taking personal responsibility for that code. If it later turns out that the code is not understandable, wasn’t properly tested, etc. then you personally have failed.

In general PRs should be done “silently”. A PR gets submitted and someone grabs it and reviews it. Comments should be transmitted via GitHub using in-line commenting. Please DO NOT engage in long discussions. That defeats the purpose since those discussions won’t be in the code. Instead the best response to a comment is for the submitter to submit an update to the PR. Good comments aren’t offensive and are focused. Unfortunately submitters do need to be able to handle comments like “I really don’t understand what this code is doing.” However a good reviewer will then follow up that comment with details. Such as “I expected that the code would do X, but I don’t see any variables related to X and I don’t understand how this function relates to X. For X you would to do A, B and C. I don’t see A, B and C.” In other words be clear as to what you thought would happen and were your expectations were confounded.

You will notice that there is a link to reviewable in our code reviews. Please use it to do your code reviews.

Coding guidelines

Javascript (both Node.js and in our demo apps)

We follow PouchDB on this one, please read their “Guide to Contributions” here

In our case we will also be using lint, specifically JSHint

Note that IntelliJ/WebStorm has built in support for JSHint. Also note that there is a jquery option for JSHint to include JQuery’s globals. See documentation for details.


We will follow the Google Java Style Guide.

Check Style provides for automatic enforcement and note that there is a CheckStyle-IDEA plugin for IntelliJ.


We will follow the Google Objective-C Style Guide.

We will use Clang Format to handle formatting with the ClangFormat-Xcode plugin.


We use Ray Wenderlich’s guidelines, with these amendments:

  • Lines are at most 100 characters long

Also we use SwiftLint tool with some custom rules. All rules are listed in .swiftlint.yml file.


We don’t really have coding guidelines per se in HTML (we don’t write enough for it to really be worth it) but all HTML should be validated with HTML TIDY

Dev Machine Set Up

We need a bunch of software. We use IntelliJ Ultimate Edition although I’m told that the (free) Community Edition supports what we do just fine. What else you need depends on what platforms you are developing for. At a minimum you need Node.js. Most people seem to end up doing some Android work so you need the latest JDK, latest Android SDK, a local Maven installation, Gradle and a decent android emulator and/or device.

We have a bunch of instructions on how to get this software for Windows, see set up for windows but we have tested everything on Mac and Linux and it all runs just fine there as well.



The Thali Guide to Git has a bunch of information about how we use git but anyone who has used git regularly isn’t going to find anything new there. First of all you MUST set ignorecase setting to false:

git config core.ignorecase false

You may set it globally:

git config --global core.ignorecase false

But please, DO NOT SUBMIT COMMITS DIRECTLY TO THE DEPOT! Fork and then submit PRs from a branch on your fork. The only exception to this rule is update to gh-pages for the website. Those (and those alone) may be pushed directly to the depot.

Dealing with JSDoc 3’s namepath syntax

This section records how to deal with declaring and using @link to refer to events, modules, etc. in JSDoc. I found the documentation hard to follow.

There is always a module declaration

All files should start with /** @module name */ where name is the name of the file. This is the beginning of all the paths. For the examples in this text we will use:

/** @module foo */.


When declaring an event use the form:

@event module:foo.event:MyEventName

When refering to the event in a link use:

{@link module:foo.event:MyEventName}

When refering to the event in an @fires we also have to use the same syntax, not the event: syntax.

@fires module:foo.event:MyEventName

Methods on modules and statics in general

Imagine we have defined a node.js module and we are using module.exports.bar = function(). We now want to refer to bar. The way to do it would be:

{@link module:foo.bar}

Another example of the “.” syntax is statics. For example:

function Blah() {

Blah.foo = 3; // This is NOT a prototype, it's a static member of Blah called via Blah.foo

module.exports = Blah;

This would be linked to as:

{@link module:foo~Blah.foo}

Refering to prototypes

Imagine we have a node.js module that returns a class called Bar:

function Bar() {

Bar.prototype.ick = function() {
module.exports = Bar;

With the idea that someone would then:

var Bar = require('Bar');
var bick = new Bar();

To refer to ick we would use:

{@link module:foo~Bar#ick}

Fun with Macs

When I had to set up IntelliJ to run on OS/X and support our Cordova work I ran into two issues immediately. Both have similar solutions. The problems were that JAVA_HOME wasn’t set in a way that made IntelliJ happy so Gradle wouldn’t run. And IntelliJ couldn’t find the Android SDK and so wouldn’t load Android projects.

Go download the latest Java JDK and install. Then go and install the latest Android SDK.

To solve both problems go load some random file just to get an IntelliJ project open. Then go to file->Project Structure and under Project Settings/Project hit New, select Java and navigate to your JDK. You can find its location by running java_home. However java_home isn’t necessarily set up by default. You can run it by using /usr/libexec/java_home. If you want it always available at the command line see the link command given here.

And before someone asks, yes I did set JAVA_HOME and no it didn’t work with Intellij 14.

Now go back to Project Settings/Project, hit New again and select the Android SDK and navigate to where it lives. If you installed the Android SDK manually then it lives in ~/Library/Android/sdk. The problem is that you cannot, by default, select the Library folder from the Home folder in an OS/X dialog. To fix this you have to switch to the finder, go to the go menu and hit home. Then go to view->Show View Options and select the check box by “Show Library Folder”. Now you should be able to navigate to the library folder from the chooser that Intellij will display.

Hints with IntelliJ

Go here to get general instructions on how to set custom configurations for IntelliJ.

Then you want to look here for the option that will let you increase the size of Intellij’s buffer for logcat. Right now it’s so small that after a minute or two of output it flips. So, for example, I’ll miss the point where tests declare themselves done!

First we need some plugins. Go to Settings->Plugins->Browser repositories and then find and install the following:

  • NodeJS
  • Wrap To Column

The default key binding for Wrap to Column uses meta which doesn’t work on Windows. To get around that I go to Settings->KeyMap->Main menu->Edit->Wrap to Column, double click, select add keyboard shortcut, select the first stroke field and then hit “ctrl alt w”. I wanted window+ctrl+shift+w to mirror the Mac keymap but the window key doesn’t like to be used with other keys in Intellij. I also tried ctrl+alt+shift+w but that was already assigned to something.

Here are the settings I use:

  • Appearance & Behavior -> Appearance ->Theme->Darcula
  • Editor->General->Appearance->Show line numbers
  • Editor->Code Style->Right margin (columns): 80
  • Editor->Code Style->JavaScript-> Tab Size, Indent, Continuation indent = 2
  • Languages & Frameworks -> JavaScript -> Code Quality Tools -> JSHint -> Enable = true
  • Languages & Frameworks -> JavaScript -> Code Quality Tools -> JSHint ->Use config files = true and location set to Default
  • Languages & Frameworks -> JavaScript -> Code Quality Tools -> JSCS -> Enable = true
  • Then follow the instructions here to actually install JSCS and come back to the dialog and set JSCS package.
  • Languages & Frameworks -> Node.js and NPM -> Code Assistance, hit Enable
  • Languages & Frameworks -> JavaScript -> Libraries -> Node.js Core

What you have to know about Cordova development

If you add some native code files to src/android or src/ios, you have to add these files to plugin.xml in root folder.

How to run our wifi only tests on desktop

Running tests in the iOS simulator

To run WiFi only tests on the simulator please go through following steps:

  1. First, you need to run the app in the simulator from Xcode, in order to get it installed in the simulator. Make sure you’re running the same simulators you’ll ultimately be using.
  2. Then you have to launch all simulators on macOS. To do this:
    • Open Terminal and run cd /Applications/Xcode.app/Contents/Developer/Applications
    • Run open -n Simulator.app.
    • Run open -n Simulator.app one more time to run another instance of simulator app. You’ll get a warning message with text Unable to boot device in current state: Booted. Just click OK, then goto Hardware -> Device and select device on which you installed Thali app earlier.
    • If you need more simulators just repeat previous step.
  3. Run Thali application on each simulator you opened.
  4. Goto test/TestServer directory in your Thali_CordovaPlugin repository.
  5. Run tests like jx ./index.js "{\"devices\":{\"android\":0,\"ios\":3}}"

Notes on adventures in node.js land

How to debug PouchDB tests in Node.js and Intellij

I wanted to debug the tests in PouchDB as part of a PR. The main problem I ran into is that I use IntelliJ as my IDE and I needed a way to run PouchDB’s mocha tests. Normally this is handled easily by just executing ./bin/test-node.sh which handles all the details. The good news is that what test-node.sh does is very straight forward and easy to set up as a test in IntelliJ. Except…. it turns out that in the tests directory there are tests both for node.js and tests for the browser. test-node.sh works around this by providing a test file path that ends with test.*.js where all files that match that pattern are guaranteed to be safe for node.js. The shell then expands the wild card into a set of files and then node/mocha gets called. The issue is https://youtrack.jetbrains.com/issue/WEB-10067 which doesn’t support wild card expansing of files when specifying the test directory. To work around this here is what I do.

  1. Run -> Edit Configurations -> Green Plus -> Mocha
  2. Set Node Interpreter (if not already set) to /usr/bin/node
  3. Set working directory to the pouchdb root directory from git
  4. Set Mocha package to the path for the working directory plus /node_modules/mocha
  5. Set extra Mocha options to “–timeout 50000 –require ./tests/integration/node.setup.js –grep test.replication.js” (obviously grep should be set to whatever you need, in my case I was running replication tests)
  6. Set test directory to working directory plus /tests/integration/ (MAKE SURE TO END WITH A FINAL SLASH)
  7. Do NOT check ‘Include sub directory”
  8. Now hit OK
  9. Now get out your favorite editor and open up working directory plus node_modules/mocha/bin/_mocha
  10. At line 23 (right after the initial var declaration with all the dependencies) insert the code below
Awful hack for which I will burn in hades for eternity. But it lets me run the pouchdb node.js tests
var lastIndexOfArgv = process.argv.length - 1;
process.argv[lastIndexOfArgv] += "test.*.js";
var globMatchedFiles = glob.sync(process.argv[process.argv.length - 1]);
process.argv = process.argv.slice(0, -1).concat(globMatchedFiles);

This code specifically extends the last argument to add the wildcard ‘test.*.js’ and then uses glob to extend it to a list of matching files and then adding those to the args. This is an awful hack. The right way to do this would be to add a new argument to mocha specifying a wildcard for files to be processed (which is different than grep, that is applied AFTER the list of files is chosen). But honestly I don’t care. I just need this one thing to work for PouchDB so I can debug.

How to get better pull replication perf out of PouchDB in Node.js

Assuming that my pr gets accepted then it becomes possible to get reasonable pull replication perf with PouchDB. The logic that PouchDB uses is that it collects B GET requests into a batch. With the PR the entries in the batch will be spread across C parallel connections. By default B = 100 and C = 5. But in heavy replication those numbers suck. Especially because of a bug in Node.js 0.10 that causes it to be extremely aggressive in garbage collecting connections which in practice means all TCP connections are closed between batches. So one wants a bigger batch size to increase the number of requests that use the same pool of connections (before they get recycled at the end of the batch) and one wants more connections in the connection pool because real world testing shows that 15 is much better than 5 connections (note that after 15 we didn’t see as good a perf increase).

To set the batch size one has to pass in an option ‘batch_size’ to replicate.

To set the connection pool size one has two options. One option is to globally set ‘http.globalAgent.maxSockets’ and ‘https.globalAgent.maxSockets’. These require(‘http’) and require(‘https’) respectively. Another way to do this is to pass in {ajax: {pool: {maxSockets: 15}}} to the PouchDB constructor for a DB. This option CANNOT be passed into the replicate method. It has to be passed into the PouchDB constructor used to create the database instance.

There is however another complication. The default timeout for node.js ajax requests is 10 second. In practice 1000 batches * 15 connections can push over that limit (because the time the request sits in the queue is considered part of the time out, not just the time the request was outstanding on the wire). So depending on your usage profile you have to play around with the timeout. The way to set this is via the ajax option passed into the PouchDB constructor. E.g. {ajax: {timeout: 30000, pool: {maxSockets: 15}}}.

In node.js 0.11 the aggressive connection recycling is supposed to go away. If true then it means that it’s safe to use smaller batch sizes and therefore not worry about the timeout. So at that point the only thing one should have to set is how many connections are in the pool. So let’s hope we get to node.js 0.12 soon.

How to use our custom PouchDB with our node.js project

We often seem to be running custom version of PouchDB so it’s useful to know how to link things together.

  1. Go to where we have cloned our pouchdb repro and run ‘npm link’ in that directory
  2. Go to the node_modules directory which already contains pouchdb where you want to hook in the custom pouchdb and run ‘npm link pouchdb’
  3. An issue I ran into is permissions because of where I happened to have the code I wanted to link to. Since I’m using windows I had to open a git bash window as an admin and then run ‘npm link pouchdb’.
  4. Anytime you refresh (such as with npm install pouchdb-server, in my case) the parent project the link to pouchdb gets lost and has to be re-created.

How to get debug statements to output in node.js using IntelliJ

Go edit your configuration and set Environment variables to have the name “NODE_DEBUG” and the value equal to a comma separated list of the ‘require’ values you want to output debug for. For example “request”.

However the default debug package that folks like PouchDB as well as Thali use require a different variable, “DEBUG”. In the case of pouchdb one wants a value such as “pouchdb:*” because pouchdb actually breaks down its debug targets. For Thali, at least right now, one can just say thalinode. So something like “pouchdb:*, thalinode” should work.

How to run PouchDB Integration tests against IE locally

When running tests locally while developing PouchDB we need to test things in IE, e.g. navigating IE to etc. Unfortunately CORS requests to localhost pretty much fail by default. This is a known bug in IE. The work around is to go to internet options -> Security -> Trusted Sites -> Sites and then disable ‘Require server verification (https:) for all sites in this zone) and then put ‘’ into ‘Add this website to the zone’ and then add.

How to run the PouchDB perf tests on our existing node.js Android system

I wanted to benchmark our existing node.js Android system against JXCore and decided to do it by running the PouchDB perf tests. I set up the tests so that both the node code that runs the test and the remote server are running on the Android device. To make this work I took our existing Cordova plugin and:

  1. Went to the directory that contains node_modules
  2. Ran “npm install express pouchdb memdown express-pouchdb”
  3. Went into node_modules/pouchdb and issued “npm install” (this will put in place the dev dependencies we need to run the perf tests)
  4. Went inside of pouchdb/tests/performance/index.js and replaced:
var PouchDB = process.browser ? window.PouchDB : require('../..');


var PouchDB = require('../..').defaults({db: require("memdown")});

I also edited in a new service which when called runs:

var express = require("express");
var pouchDBApp = express();
var PouchDB = require("pouchdb");
var InMemPouchDB = PouchDB.defaults({db: require("memdown")});

// Set up our test server
pouchDBApp.use("/", require("express-pouchdb")(InMemPouchDB, {mode: "minimumForPouchDB"}));
// Node tests by default will look at http://localhost:5984

var eek = require('pouchdb/tests/performance/index.js');

The PouchDB perf results will be automatically output to the Android log.

How to build and deploy JXCore for Android

The core depot for JXCore’s Android code is here. However it’s designed for eclipse and not for IntelliJ. I had to use Intellij 14.0.3 specifically to import the project and even then I ran into issues. We have my own fork that works in Intellij. See the first commit that we made to understand what we had to do in order to get it to work in IntelliJ.

Hopefully you don’t need to do this

When you clone our fork if you are using Windows you are going to have a problem because we need to use the NDK and it doesn’t work all that well on Windows. The way I have been working around this is that I have a Linux image in a VM with a shared folder. I put the clone into the shared folder. I then go into Linux, into jxcore-droid and run android-ndk-r10d/ndk-build to hook things together. BUT!!! You may not need to do this. The binaries are already compiled and (sigh) checked in. So it might ‘just work’ without further effort.

How to get a newer JXCore binary

The downside to jxcore-android-basics is that it ships with the jx core binaries which means if you want to run later binaries you have to set things up yourself. The way to do that is to:

  1. Get our your favorite Linux image (I use Elementary OS running in Virtual Box)
  2. Following JXCore’s instructions, they worked great for me on Linux (not so much on Windows). This builds JXCore. Remember the path to the project.
  3. Get a coffee or a tea, maybe a magazine, that compile takes forever.
  4. Go to jxcore-droid/jni/Android.mk which contains a value JXCORE_OUT_ANDROID that I needed to point to the jxcore/out_android/android/bin/ sub-directory created in step 2.
  5. Now run android-ndk-r10d/ndk-build in the root of the Android project we want to use JXCore in.