[openstack-dev] [all] private symbols in Oslo libraries

Doug Hellmann doug at doughellmann.com
Tue Jan 20 15:11:42 UTC 2015

tl;dr: The Oslo team differentiates between "public" and "private"
parts of Oslo libraries using "_" as a prefix in private names. Code
using private symbols is going to break as we move things around in
the libraries, so it should be changed to avoid those symbols.

The Oslo team has been working over the last several cycles to define
stable APIs for the code that is graduating into libraries. We are
trying to follow good practices for defining those APIs, by making
them as small as possible at first and by extending existing APIs in
backwards-compatible ways. We haven't done this perfectly, and we've
uncovered some interesting edge cases in a few situations.

One challenge we have is with protecting implementation details from
consuming projects. Languages like C++ and Java have language-level
constructs for hiding data and methods inside classes and
modules. Python is a more open language, and has no parallel to those
data-hiding facilities. Instead, Python developers have adopted
conventions of designating private parts of libraries by naming
symbols that are "private" with a single underscore as the prefix for
the name and by explicitly documenting the supported public interface
of a library. The Oslo team is following these conventions throughout
the Oslo code base.

The work we are doing to move out of the "oslo" namespace package [1]
is exposing places in several projects where symbols we have marked as
private are being imported and used directly. Usually this happens in
tests, but not always. This has been the source of problems in a
couple of applications as we have released new versions of the
libraries where those private symbols either no longer exist or have
moved to a new location.

As a result, we have built some tools to let us run the tests for
projects with pre-release versions of the libraries. Running those
tests is very expensive. A single pre-release of oslo.i18n currently
requires running test jobs against 37 repositories. We run the py27
and pep8 jobs for each of those projects, so we actually run 74
jobs. We cannot do that on the CI infrastructure without consuming
enough VMs to negatively impact the ability to land patches elsewhere
[2], so we are using other resources and doing the testing by hand.

We will be running these tests for the remaining namespace package
releases, to try to minimize further breaks. However, I do not plan
for us to continue doing this level of testing by hand after the
namespace package changes are completed (currently scheduled for K-2)
because we do not anticipate having the same level of code churn.

At the same time, we do expect to be able to change the implementation
details of libraries fairly freely -- that's why we go to such lengths
to designate the public API, just as with the REST APIs of the
applications. We expect consuming projects to honor the private
designations of symbols and to avoid using them directly or mocking
them in tests. Where it is impossible or inconvenient to mock the public
API of the library, we have provided (and can continue to add) fixtures
for configuring libraries to be used in application unit tests. We also
have documentation for the public APIs of all Oslo libraries [3] to
try to make clear what portion of the API is considered stable and

There are a couple of easy guidelines for determining what part of a
library is private:

1. If the name of the module, class, function, variable, attribute, or
   other symbol starts with '_' it is private and should not be used.

2. If the symbol is not documented, it may be private and should
   probably not be used. There may be symbols we've missed in the
   documentation, so please ask in #openstack-oslo or here on the
   mailing list if you aren't sure.


[1] https://blueprints.launchpad.net/oslo-incubator/+spec/drop-namespace-packages
[2] https://etherpad.openstack.org/p/juno-infra-library-testing
[3] http://docs.openstack.org/developer/openstack-projects.html

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