Garren Smith

Couchdb Internals - The Prequel

27 Feb 2012 - Johannesburg

I'm currently taking the Introduction to CouchDB Development. The first part, obviously, was focused on learning Erlang. This alone has made the course worth it. I still have a long way to go in understanding Erlang but I now at least have a basic knowledge of what it's about. We have now reached the part where we are digging into the internals of Couchdb and I will be documentating some of my discoveries, assumptions and bad ideas as I grapple with the source code.

Before I start diving into the internals of Couchdb I want to understand how to get Couchdb up and running, how to run its tests, the layout of the code and how to configure it.


To get up and running is pretty straight forward. The Couchdb wiki has all this information it's just a matter of searching through it to find it. The first thing we want to do is get Couchdb running in dev mode. The wiki has a list of dependancies that need to be installed before looking at Couchdb. Using Homebrew it was pretty simple.

We need to checkout the code from its git repository

git checkout git://
cd couchdb
./bootstrap &&  ./configure
make dev
make check

./bootstrap && ./configure sets up the build process. make dev will create a compiled version of couchdb that can be run by ./utils/run, finally make check will run the javascript tests located at /test/javasript

Project layout

The layout of the code is pretty self-explanatory, with the src directory being the meat of the project.

couchdb src directory

This folder breaks Couchdb's code up quite nicely. Any directory prefixed with couchdb is couchdb specific code, the other directories are all the 3rd party libraries that Couchdb uses. I will be explaining all this code more in the next couple blogs as I dive into it.

Running the tests

Couchdb is tested in two ways. It has a selection of javascript tests that can be run from the browser by visiting your local Futon and clicking on Test Suite and Run All. They can also be run from the command line /test/javascript/run. There is also a collection of etap tests found under, not suprisingly, /test/etap. These can be run individually by ./test/etap/run and the file you want to run eg ./test/etap/run ./test/etap/001-load.t. I haven't found a way to run them all at once. Currently I'm not sure when you would write a javascript test or an etap test. My best guess would be to use etap to test some of the internal api's that you couldn't get at by writing a javascript test. That would possibly mean that the etap tests are more like unit tests while the javascript tests are more functional.

Configuration files

Couchdb has two main configuration files, etc/couchdb/default.ini is the main configuration file with all the standard defaults and configurations. I recommend reading through it as it gives you a good idea of how Couchdb is configured. It also lists all the default handlers.

 port = 5984
 bind_address =
 authentication_handlers = {couch_httpd_oauth, oauth_authentication_handler}, \
    {couch_httpd_auth, cookie_authentication_handler}, \
    {couch_httpd_auth, default_authentication_handler}
 default_handler = {couch_httpd_db, handle_request}
 secure_rewrites = true
 vhost_global_handlers = _utils, _uuids, _session, _oauth, _users
 allow_jsonp = false

The [httpd] section shown above can be found in default.ini. What is interesting for the default_handler and authentication_handlers, if you wanted to, you could write your own handlers. You could then change the handler config to use your one instead.

The other important config file is local.ini, this is used for overriding any settings found in default.ini. From what I understand of it, you can add your own handlers there for specific requests, set a different port address and a multitude of other options.

Going forward

I found that before I dive into code I always need to understand how the project works, hence this post. Maybe I need to see the forest before looking at individual trees. Exploring the code and writing this post helped me quite a bit. Leave a comment if I have missed anything or have documented something wrong.

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