Writing Plugins

The Dronecode SDK is split into a core and multiple independent plugins.

Plugins that are located in the correct location (a subfolder of /plugins) and have the correct structure are built at compile time. The CMakeLists.txt takes care of including the plugin folders and integration tests.

Plugins can also be defined in SDK Extensions. These are defined and tested in exactly the same way as "standard" SDK plugins.

Plugin Architecture

Plugins should be written so that they are independent of each other (they will still need to be dependent on the core source). This allows plugins to be removed/replaced as needed at the cost of some duplicated functionality across the plugin modules.

The code for each plugin (and its unit test if one has been defined) is stored in a sub-folder of the plugins directory. Integration tests for all plugins in the library are stored in integration_tests.

A simplified view of the folder structure is shown below (showing relevant directories for both the SDK and SDK Extensions):

├── DronecodeSDK
│   ├── core
│   ├── integration_tests
│   └── plugins
│       ├── action
│       ├── ...
│       └── telemetry
├── SDK_Extensions
│   ├── integration_tests
│   └── plugins
│       ├── camera
│       ├── another_plugin
│       └── etc.

Each plugin must have the same files/structure, as shown for the "example" plugin below.

└── plugins
    └── example 
        ├── CMakeLists.txt
        ├── example.cpp
        ├── example.h
        ├── example_impl.cpp
        ├── example_impl.h
        └── example_impl_test.cpp  ##optional

Create a Plugin

To create a new C++ plugin, duplicate either a standard plugin (e.g. Action, Telemetry, etc.) or the example plugin into the plugins directory (either in the DroneCore tree or a SDK Extension folder).

Modify the plugin as needed and update its CMakeLists.txt as appropriate:

  • Modify plugin filenames as appropriate
  • Add additional libraries using the variable additional_libs:
    set(additional_libs "library_name" PARENT_SCOPE)
  • Add required includes with additional_includes:
    set(additional_includes "include_dir" PARENT_SCOPE)
  • You can also add tests with unittest_source_files, as discussed below.

Plugin Code

The standard plugins can be reviewed for guidance on how to write plugin code, including how to send and process MAVLink messages.

Plugin Base Class

All plugins should derive their implementation from PluginImplBase (core/plugin_impl_base.h) and override virtual methods as needed.

Plugin Enable/Disable

The SDK provides virtual methods that a plugin should implement to allow the core to better manage resources. For example, to prevent callback being created before the System is instantiated, or messages being sent when a vehicle is not connected.

Plugin authors should provide an implementation of the following PluginImplBase pure virtual methods:

  • init()/deinit(): These are called when a system is created and just before it is destroyed. These should be used for setting up and cleaning everything that depends on having the System instantiated. This includes calls that set up callbacks.
  • enable()/disable(): These are called when a vehicle is discovered or has timed out. They should be used for managing resources needed to access a connected system/vehicle (e.g. getting a parameter or changing a setting).

The external example provides a minimal implementation.

Additional detail is provided for methods below.

virtual void init() = 0

The init() method is called when a plugin is instantiated. This happens when a System is constructed (this does not mean that the system actually exists and is connected - it might just be an empty dummy system).

Plugins should do initialization steps with other parts of the SDK at this state, e.g. set up callbacks with _parent (DeviceImpl).

virtual void deinit() = 0

The deinit() method is called before a plugin is destroyed. This usually happens only at the very end, when a Dronecode SDK instance is destroyed.

Plugins should cleanup anything that was set up during init().

virtual void enable() = 0

The enable() method is called when a system is discovered (connected). Plugins should do all initialization/configuration steps that require a system to be connected. For example, setting/getting parameters.

If any threads, call_every or timeouts are needed, they can be started in this method.

virtual void disable() = 0

The disable() method is called when a system has timed out. The method is also called before deinit() is called to stop any systems with active plugins from communicating (in order to prevent warnings and errors because communication to the system no longer works).

If any threads, call_every, or timeouts are running, they should be stopped in this method.

Test Code

Tests must be created for all new and updated plugin code. The tests should be exhaustive, and cover all aspects of using the plugin API.

The Google Test Primer provides an excellent overview of how tests are written and used.

Testing is the same for plugins in SDK and the SDK Extensions.

Writing Unit Tests

Most of the existing plugins do not have unit tests, because we do not yet have the ability to mock MAVLink communications (needed to test most plugins). Unit tests are therefore considered optional!

Comprehensive integration tests should be written instead, with the simulator providing appropriate MAVLink messages.

Adding Unit Tests

Unit test files are stored in the same directory as their associated source code. Often they test the implementation (rather than the public API), and hence are named with the suffix _impl_test.cpp.

In order to include a test in the SDK unit test program (unit_tests_runner), it must be added to the UNIT_TEST_SOURCES variable in the plugin CMakeLists.txt file.

For example, to add the example_impl_test.cpp unit test you would append the following lines to its CMakeLists.txt:


Unit Test Code

Unit tests typically include the file to be tested, dronecode_sdk.h, and gtest.h. There are no standard shared test unit resources so test functions are declared using TEST. All tests in a file should share the same test-case name (the first argument to TEST).

The skeleton example plugin unit test is shown below:

#include "example_impl.h"
#include "dronecode_sdk.h"
#include "global_include.h"
#include <gtest/gtest.h>

namespace dronecode_sdk {

TEST(ExampleImpl, NoTest)

} // namespace dronecode_sdk

Writing Integration Tests

The SDK provides the integration_tests_runner application for running the integration tests and some helper code to make it easier to log tests and run them against the simulator.

Check out the Google Test Primer and the integration_tests for our existing plugins to better understand how to write your own!

Adding Integration Tests

In order to run an integration test it needs to be added to the integration_tests_runner program.

Integration tests for core functionality and plugins delivered by the project are stored in DronecodeSDK/integration_tests. The files are added to the test program in that folder's CMakeLists.txt file:

# This includes all GTests that run integration tests

Integration tests for SDK Extensions are handled in the exactly the same way:

external_example       ## The (example) SDK/external plugin directory.
├── integration_tests
│   ├── CMakeLists.txt
│   └── hello_world.cpp

Example extension CMakeLists.txt file:


Integration Test Files/Code

The main SDK-specific functionality is provided by integration_test_helper.h. This provides access to the Plugin/Test Logger and a shared test class SitlTest for setting up and tearing down the PX4 simulator.

All tests must be declared using TEST_F and have a first argument SitlTest as shown. This is required in order to use the shared class to set up and tear down the simulator between tests.

The example integration test hello_world.cpp demonstrates this below.

#include <iostream>
#include <unistd.h>
#include "dronecode_sdk.h"
#include "plugins/example/example.h"
#include "integration_test_helper.h"

using namespace dronecode_sdk;

TEST_F(SitlTest, ExampleHello)
    DronecodeSDK dc;

    ConnectionResult ret = dc.add_udp_connection();
    ASSERT_EQ(ret, ConnectionResult::SUCCESS);

    // Wait for system to connect via heartbeat.

    System &system = dc.system();
    auto example = std::make_shared<Example>(system);

    // Apparently it can say hello.

Example Code

It is quicker and easier to write and modify integration tests than examples. Do not write example code until the plugin has been accepted!

A simple example should be written that demonstrates basic usage of its API by 3rd parties. The example need not cover all functionality, but should demonstrate enough that developers can see how it is used and how the example might be extended.

Where possible examples should demonstrate realistic use cases such that the code can usefully be copied and reused by external developers.


In-Source Comments

The public API must be fully documented using Doxygen markup. All items should minimally have a brief description (preceded by the @brief tag).

The in-source comments will be compiled to markdown and included in the API Reference. The process is outlined in Documentation > API Reference.

Internal/implementation classes need not be documented, but should be written so that their use can be inferred.

Example Code Documentation

The plugin example should be documented in markdown following the same pattern as the existing examples.

Generally this involves explaining what the example does and displaying the source. The explanation of how the code works is usually deferred to guide documentation.

Guide Documentation

Ideally, guide documentation should be created. This should be based on example code.

The purpose of the guide is to:

  • Show how different parts of the API can be used together
  • Highlight usage patterns and limitations that may not be obvious from API reference
  • Provide code fragments that can easily be reused
© Dronecode 2017. License: CC BY 4.0            Updated: 2018-07-12 03:09:32

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