nmdb User Guide

Author: Alberto Bertogli (albertito@blitiri.com.ar)


nmdb is a simple and fast cache and database for controlled networks. It allows applications in the network to use a centralized, shared cache and database in a very easy way. It stores (key, value) pairs, with each key having only one associated value. At the moment, it supports the TIPC, TCP, UDP and SCTP protocols.

This document explains how to setup nmdb and a simple guide to writing clients. It also includes a "quick start" section for the anxious.

Installing nmdb

If you installed nmdb using your Linux distribution package system, you can skip this section entirely.


Before you install nmdb, you will need the following software:

And, if you're going to use TIPC:

Compiling and installing

There are three components of the nmdb tarball: the server in the nmdb/ directory, the C library in libnmdb/, and the Python module in bindings/python/.

To install the server and the C library, run make install; ldconfig. To install the Python module, run make python_install after installing the C library.

If you want to disable support for some protocol (i.e. TIPC), you can do so by running make ENABLE_TIPC=0 install.

Quick start

For a very quick start, using a single host, you can do the following:

# nmdb -d /tmp/nmdb-db        # start the server, use the given database

At this point you have created a database and started the server. An easy and simple way to test it is to use the python module, like this:

# python
Python 2.5 (r25:51908, Sep 21 2006, 20:38:23)
[GCC 4.1.1 (Gentoo 4.1.1)] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> import nmdb               # import the module
>>> db = nmdb.DB()            # create a DB object
>>> db.add_tcp_server("localhost")  # connect to the TCP server
>>> db['x'] = 1               # store some data
>>> db[(1, 2)] = (2, 6)
>>> print db['x'], db[(1, 2)] # retreive the values
1 (2, 6)
>>> del db['x']               # delete from the database

Everything should have worked as shown, and you are now ready to use some nmdb application, or develop your own.

If you want to use this with several machines, read the next section to find out how to setup a simple TIPC cluster.

TIPC setup

If you want to use the server and the clients in different machines using TIPC, you need to setup your TIPC network. If you just want to run everything in one machine, you already have a TIPC network set up, or you only want to use TCP, UDP or SCTP connections, you can skip this section.

Before we begin, all the machines should already be connected in an Ethernet LAN, and have the tipc-config application that should come with your Linux distribution with a package named "tipcutils" or similar (if it doesn't, you can find it at http://tipc.sourceforge.net/download.html).

The only thing you will need to do is assign each machine a TIPC address and specify which interface to use for the network connection. You do it like this:

# tipc-config -a=1.1.10 -be=eth:eth0

The -a parameter specifies the address, and -be the type and name of the interface to use.

Addresses are composed of three integers. They represent the zone number, the cluster number, and the node number respectively. The zone number and cluster number should be the same for all nodes in your network, so you should change the last one for each machine. Each machine can have only one address.

That should be enough to get you started for a small network. If you have a very big network, or want to use some of the advanced TIPC features like link redundancy, you should read TIPC's docs.


If you have five machines, you can assign each one their address like this:

box1# tipc-config -a=1.1.1 -be=eth:eth0
box2# tipc-config -a=1.1.2 -be=eth:eth0
box3# tipc-config -a=1.1.3 -be=eth:eth0
box4# tipc-config -a=1.1.4 -be=eth:eth0
box5# tipc-config -a=1.1.5 -be=eth:eth0

Starting the server

Before starting the server, there are some things you need to know about it:

Cache size

nmdb's cache is a main component of the server. In fact you can use it exclusively for caching purposes, like memcached. So the size becomes an important issue if you have performance requirements.

It is only possible to limit the cache size by the maximum number of objects in it, and not by byte size.

Backend database

The backend database engine can be selected at build time; QDBM is the default.

If for some reason (hardware failure, for instance) the database becomes corrupt, you should use your database utilities to fix it. It shouldn't happen, so it's a good idea to report it if it does.

Most databases are not meant to be shared among processes, so avoid having other processes using them.

Database redundancy

If you want to have redundancy over the database, you can start a "passive server" along a normal one using the same port number. It will listen to database requests and act upon them, but it will not reply anything.

It is only useful to keep a live mirror of the database. Note that it does not do replication or failure detection, it's just a mirror.

This is the only case where you want to start two servers with the same port.

Distributed queries
If you have more than one server in the network, the library can distribute the queries among them. This is entirely done on the client side and the server doesn't know about it.
TIPC Port numbers

With TIPC, each server instance in your network (even the ones running in the same machine) should get a unique port to listen to requests. Ports identify an application instance inside the whole network, not just the machine as in TCP/IP.

The port space is very very large, and it's private to nmdb, so you can choose numbers without fear of colliding with other TIPC applications. The default port is 10.

So, if you are going to start more than one nmdb server, be careful. If you assign two active servers the same port you will get no error, but everything will act weird.

Now that you know all that, starting a server should be quite simple: just run the daemon with nmdb -d /path/to/the/database.

There are several options you can change at start time. Of course you won't remember all that (I know I don't), so check out nmdb -h to see a complete list.

Nothing prevents you from starting more than one TIPC server in the same machine, so be careful to select different TIPC ports and databases for each one.


Following the previous example, if you want to start three servers you can do it like this:

box1# nmdb -d /var/lib/nmdb/db-1 -l 11
box2# nmdb -d /var/lib/nmdb/db-2 -l 12
box3# nmdb -d /var/lib/nmdb/db-3 -l 13

Writing clients

At the moment you can write clients in C (documented in the libnmdb's manpage) and in Python (documented using Python docstrings). In this guide we will give some examples of common use as an introduction, you should consult the appropriate documentation when doing serious development.

Before we begin, you should know about the following things:

Thread safety
While the library itself is thread safe, neither the C library connections nor the Python objects are. So don't share nmdb_t variables (C) or nmdb.* objects (Python) among threads; instead, create one for each thread that needs it.
Available operations
You can request the server to do five operations: set a value to a key, get the value associated with the given key, delete a given key (with its associated value), perform a compare-and-swap of the values associated with the given key, and (atomically) increment the value associated with the given key.
Request modes

For each operation, you will have three different modes available:

  • A normal mode, which makes the operation impact on the database asynchronously (i.e. the functions return right after the operation was queued, there is no completion notification).
  • A synchronous mode similar to the previous one, but when the functions return, the operation has hit the disk.
  • A cache-only mode where the operations do not impact the database, only the cache, and can be used to implement distributed caching in a similar way to memcached.

Be careful with the last one, because mixing cache-only with database operations is a recipe for disaster.

Atomicity and coherence
All operations are atomic, and synchronous and asynchronous operations are fully coherent.
Distributed queries
You can distribute your queries among several servers, and this is entirely done on the client side. To do this, you should add each server (identified by their port numbers) to the connection before beginning to interact with them.

For all examples we will assume that you have three servers running in your network, two in TIPC ports 11 and 12, and one TCP listening on localhost on the default port.

The Python module

The Python module it's quite easy to use, because its interface is very similar to a dictionary. It has similar limitations regarding the key (it must be an object you can use as a key in a dictionary), and the values must be pickable objects (see the pickle module documentation for more information). In short, you should only use number, strings or tuples as keys, and simple objects as values, unless you know what you are doing.

To start a connection to the servers, you must first decide which mode you are going to use: the normal database-backed mode, database-backed with synchronous access, or cache only. Let's say you want to use the normal mode and connect to the TIPC servers at port 11, 12, and a TCP server on localhost at the default port:

import nmdb
db = nmdb.DB()

Now you're ready to use it. Let's suppose you want to write a recursive function to calculate the factorial of a number. But before doing the calculation, you can check if the previous factorial already is in the database to avoid recalculating it:

def fact(n):
    if n == 1:
        return 1
    if db.has_key(n):
        return db[n]

    result = n * fact(n - 1)
    db[n] = result
    return result

That was easy, wasn't it? You can use the same trick for SQL queries, complex distributed calculations, geographical data processing, whatever you want.

Now let's have some fun and do something a little advanced: a decorator for a distributed function cache. If Python magic scares you, look away and skip to the next section.

Some functions (usually the mathematical ones) have the property that the value they return depends only on the parameters, and not on the context. So they can be cached, using the parameters as keys, with the function's result as their associated values. Applying this technique is commonly known as memoization, and when we apply it to a function we say we're memoizing it.

We can use a local dictionary to cache the data, but that would mean we would have to write some cache management code to avoid using too much memory, and, worst of all, each instance of the code running in the network would have its own private cache and can't reuse calculations performed by other instances. Instead, we can use nmdb to make a cache that is shared among the network.

The functions are usually restricted to using simple types as input, like numbers, strings, tuples or dictionaries. We will take advantage of this by using as a key to the cache the string <function module>-<function name>-<string representation of the arguments>. So to cache an invocation like mod.f(1, (2, 6)) that returns 26, we want to have the following association in the database: mod-f-(1, (2, 6)) = 26.

We will use nmdb in cache-only mode, where the things we store are not saved permanently to a database, but live in the server's memory. This is very similar to what we did before, and has the advantage of not having to write our own cache management routines:

import nmdb
db = nmdb.Cache()

Let's write the decorator:

def shared_memoize(f):
    def newf(*args, **kwargs):
        key = '%s-%s-%s-%s' % (f.__module__, f.__name__,
                               repr(args), repr(kwargs))
        if key in db:
            return db[key]
        r = f(*args, **kwargs)
        db[key] = r
        return r
    return newf

Now we can use it with a normal implementation of the recursive factorial function like we did before, and a function that calculates tetrations:

def fact(n):
    if n == 1:
        return 1
    return n * fact(n - 1)

def tetration(a, b):
    if b == 1:
        return a
    return pow(a, tetration(a, b - 1))

As you can see, the module is very easy to use, but you can do useful things with it. For more information you can read the module's built-in documentation.

The C library

The C library is in essence similar to the Python module, so we won't make a very long example here, only a brief display of the available functions.

Let's begin by creating a "nmdb descriptor" which is of type nmdb_t, and connecting it to your three servers (two TIPC at ports 11 and 12, one TCP on localhost, default port):

unsigned char *key, *val;
size_t ksize, vsize;
nmdb_t *db;

db = nmdb_init();
nmdb_add_tipc_server(db, 11);
nmdb_add_tipc_server(db, 12);
nmdb_add_tcp_server(db, "", -1);

Now you can do some operations (allocations and checks are not shown for brevity):

r = nmdb_set(db, key, ksize, val, vsize);
r = nmdb_get(db, key, ksize, val, vsize);
r = nmdb_del(db, key, ksize);

And finally close and free the connection:


The operation functions have variants for cache-only (nmdb_cache_*) and synchronous operation (nmdb_sync_*). For more information you should check the manpage.

Where to go from here

The best place to go from here is to your text editor, to start writing some simple clients to play with.

If you are in doubt about something, you can consult the manpages or the documentation inside the doc/ directory.

If you want to report bugs, or have any questions or comments, just let me know at albertito@blitiri.com.ar.