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Database File System

An Alternative to Hierarchy Based File Systems

O. Gorter
University of Twente
August :ooi
Database File System An Alternative to Hierarchy Based File Systems
Author: O. Gorter
Supervisors: H. Scholten, B. van Dijk, P.G. Jansen
Copyright C 2003, 2004 O. Gorter
University of Twente, Computer Sciences
Enschede, the Netherlands
Database File System
O. Gorter 111

Over 30 years people worked with hierarchical le systems; le systems based on directories and les.
These le systems have proven their use, but today, with gigabytes of storage and millions of les,
managing les with directories is becoming increasingly dicult. This research presents an alternative to
hierarchy based le systems. At the basis of this system is a unied approach to all properties of a le.
Combining this approach with a drag and drop user interface creates an alternative that is as usable as
directories, while in the mean time going well beyond the expressive powers found in hierarchy based le
systems. The end result is a le system which makes working with les a lot easier on the user. Emphasis
of this systems lies at the user and not the operating system, therefor les like shared libraries do not
show up in this system, these should be stored by other means. The implementation is an abstraction
layer above a hierarchy based le system and the two work together in such a way that a high level of
backwards compatibility is achieved, not rendering current programs useless. This setup has been tested
on users and the results indicate that this system is a very valid alternative to hierarchical le systems.
Database File System
O. Gorter 1\

This document is my graduation report for the University of Twente and is all about the Database File System
(dbfs); my graduation project. Because this document is mainly written for the University some content might
not be relevant to all readers. For those only interested in what the dbfs is, I recommend reading chapters
Introduction and Database File System Overview.
The document assumes the reader has a fair knowledge of current computer systems and related terms. As
a reference, most terms are explained in the chapter List of Used Terms and Abbreviations, related
research and documents are in chapter References.
All of the research in this document is done from a user and user interface point of view. This is dierent from
most research on le systems, and explains why compared to these writings, seemingly important information
is left out, while almost trivial points are discussed in depth.
For those who obtained this document digitally, it is available in two versions, one optimized for screen reading
and one optimized for print (dbfs-screen.pdf and dbfs-paper.pdf resp.). The screen version has a 4 : 3
layout with a slightly larger font and is denitely recommended when reading from a monitor.
For all their advice, support, help and faith, I would like to thank Hans Scholten; Betsy van Dijk; Pierre Jansen;
all the others on the dies group; my atmates; and my family.
Also a special thanks goes out to all the usability testers, whom I will only mention by rst name, but you know
who you are.
Database File System Foreword
O. Gorter \
Database File System
O. Gorter \1

Abstract . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1\
1 Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
1.1 Relevance :
: Hierachy Based File Systems Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
:.1 Properties of Hierarchy Based File Systems j
Database File System Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . o
.1 Relevance 1o
.: Categorisation 11
i Database File System Overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
i.1 User Interaction 1i
j Database File System Internals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . :o
j.1 Server :1
j.: Client 1
j. Graphical User Interface 1
6 Usability Testing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . j
Database File System Contents
O. Gorter \11
6.1 Objective j
6.: Method
6. Results 8
Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . i1
.1 Future Work and Recommendations i1
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . i
Related Work i
Related Software ii
Other References i6
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . i
List of Used Terms and Abbreviations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . io
Assignment Database File System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . j1
1 Dutch Abstract . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ji
C Test 1 Email . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . jj
1 Test 2 Arrange . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . j8
1 Interview 1 Email Normal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
1 Interview 1 Email Dbfs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6j
G Interview 2 Arrange . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . o
H DBFS Source File Listing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . j
Database File System
O. Gorter 1
File access and le management is something we do on our pcs every day; lots of computer time is spend
browsing our directories and opening and saving les, or worse, nding les. The basis for this system was laid
down over 30 years ago, and since graphical user interfaces became main-stream not much has changed. Yet
computer hardware has become increasingly more powerful and limitations that existed are no longer there. Still
the biggest change in our le interface is preview (thumbnail) rendering in the le manager.
A new le system can introduce better metaphors on working with les and can make use of advanced gui
techniques not available when hierarchical le systems came into use. It can bring the focus of the le system
to the user, instead of the computer, and in doing so change how we think about les and the whole computer.
It can be an enabler for a new and more up-to-date user-oriented computer interface.
And this is exactly what this research is about, trying to bring le management to the user. It does so by providing
a search based le interface, based on le meta-data, and it introduces keywords in favor o directories. Being
user oriented means only storing documents and not system les like shared libraries. Where documents are all
les the user is interested in, this can be a msword document, but also images, music and more.
Because the systems searches and modies meta-data, all meta-data can be treated equally, meaning that
security, ownership and sharing are just as easy to manipulate as the le-name or keywords. And without
directories the systems does away with locations, instead it can categorize documents in a more powerful way.
Without locations on a le system, we can have applications that just save everything you do. The save button
can be completely removed from every interface element of the computer, doing away with the dualistic nature
Database File System Introduction
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of how we use a computer today; creating a system where there is no longer a dierence on what you see on
your screen and what is stored on the hard disk.
1.1 Relevance
In the References we see more works that try to extend the le system with searching. And it is a very
relevant idea, because lately it is sometimes easier to nd things on the enormous internet, using google, then
on your own hard drive. You can always use a search, but it is slow and not very ubiquitous.
This is known by the two mayor os software vendors, Microsoft and Apple: both announced a more integrated
search using some sort of database. But we will have to wait a while until the new products are available.
But already we can see what a non-hierarchical approach to les can do when we look at specialized applications
like iPhoto or Adobe Photoshop Album for digital photo management, or iTunes for digital music.
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Hierachy Based File Systems Theory
This is chapter is an overview of how todays (hierarchical) le systems work from a high level point of view.
Where appropriate some forward references are given to the database le system. Four properties of hierarchy
based lesystems are discussed, with an emphasis on their weak points. But we start with a description of what
a hierarchy based lesystem actually is.
Hierarchy based lesystems are created by directories and les. A directory is an object wich has a name and
it can contain directories and les. Files are objects that also have a name and contain data. This data can be
anything and is only relevant for the application that uses this data; the le system does not impose what the
data must look like, in fact, this data is not shown in the le system. We use a le system in order to keep track
of this data, by keeping track of our les. We keep track of our les by knowing their name and the directory in
wich they reside.
This type of lesystem creates a two dimensional space laid out as a tree like structure. This structure is
created from directory names and depth of directories. (Also see Figure 2.1.) By choosing useful names for
directories, we eectively create a categorisation over sub-hierarchies (sub-trees) and the les they contain. For
example, a digital picture from a certain user on a MS Windows system would typically be found somewhere
below: /Documents and Settings/username/My Pictures/. We can trace back why the picture would be
stored there: The picture is a document, therefor it should be in Documents and Settings; The picture is from
username therefor it should be in username; and it should be in My Pictures because it is a picture.
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Documents And Settings Program Files Winnt
User1 User2
... ...
My Documents My Pictures
Figure 2.1 A typical MS
Windows XP hierarchy.
Modern hierarchy based le systems like ntfs, hfs+ and also ext, reiserfs and more, have lots of optimal-
isations regarding how les are stored and retrieved. Using techniques like journalling, binary balanced trees,
hot-le tables and more. These techniques enable these systems to perform optimally, but on the outside they
all use the same hierarchical approach. This chapter will only discuss the basic properties that come from a
hierarchical approach, not the properties that come from their implementations. Especially when realizing that
the techniques used in these implementations will not be invalidated when moving to another type of le systems,
for instance, most database implementations are also highly optimized, perhaps even more so then le systems.
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:.1 Properties of Hierarchy Based File Systems
:.1.1 URLs
Using directories and les, hierarchy based le systems create a unique name for every le; referred to as the path
or as we will do here, the url. This is one of the strongest points of a hierarchy based le system. An example
of a url is /Documents and Settings/username/My Documents/University/Final Project/report.doc A
url is a clear means if identifying one le, and one le only. Hierarchy based lesystems are based on urls, or
create urls, depending on your point of view. This property comes from the fact that inside a directory there
can be only one object (le or directory) with a certain name. Otherwise a url could point to two or more les
at same time, without a clear way to know which le it actually refers to. urls are a feature lost in the database
le system, at least to some extend. There is more about this in the discussion of the database le system, see
Database File System Theory.
It is important to note that urls are very useful and part of the reason why hierarchy based le systems are
designed the way they are. It gives both computers and humans a way to refer to les uniquely. The next
three properties to be discussed are very much connected to the url creating property, but instead of being an
advantage only, they are the properties that are the main motivation for a new le system.
:.1.: Hiding
Directories hide what is inside of them, directories were designed to work this way, it is what keeps the le
system tidy and arranged and therefor useable; but there is a downside: Because directories hide what is inside
of them, there could be an endless set of sub-directories inside a directory. There is no way of knowing what is
inside a directory until you traverse into it. The consequences are that, if categorisation using directory names
fails, or is unclear, then a le can be hidden. There are tools to locate such lost les, but wether they are able
to help depends on the situation.
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:.1. Locations
Directories create locations, this enables users to create meaningful locations to store certain les. But many
directories means many locations, which might mean too many locations; which makes it hard to nd the right
location to store documents. Also, documents can be stored at only one location, meaning that you need to nd
the right location if you want to nd a certain document.
To make matters worse, most systems dont put emphasis on locations anymore, they emphasize the next
property, hierarchy, instead. The problem here is that locations are easier (less abstract) to understand then
hierarchy, especially for less computer literate people. Stressing locations can be done by not allowing users to
create two windows on the same directory, opening sub-directories in new windows and presenting one directory
always in the same window at the same location with the same layout. This way a user recognizes his documents
directory not only by its url, but also by its window layout and position.
The reason for the shift to hierarchy and away from locations is the ever growing size of the le system and the
amount of les we store. With too many locations it is hard to identify locations. Notorious good systems that
placed lots of emphasis on locations were Mac OS 9 (and below) and Risc OS. Also earlier versions of Microsoft
Windows placed more emphasis on locations then they do today.
:.1.i Hierarchy
Directories create a hierarchy and we do our best to create hierarchies that split up sub-hierarchies using mean-
ingful properties, in doing so we are categorizing our les. But not everything kan be tted inside a hierarchy
and the larger part of the hierarchy is created backwards: because hierarchies are a must we impose hier-
archy on our les. For example: a msword document is stored in (on a MS Windows system) /Documents
and Settings/username/My Documents/name.doc. Even though this is the most logical place to store such
a document in a hierarchy based system, there is too much hierarchy imposed on this location: The docu-
ment is a subset of Documents and Settings but not so much a subset of username , let alone Documents
and Settings/username. Arguably the hierarchy should have been laid out like /username/Documents and
Settings/My Documents/name.doc, because Documents and Settings is more a subset of username then the
Database File System Hierachy Based File Systems Theory
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other way around. And where do we store programs only for one user? Clearly programs do not fall in the
category Documents and Settings. So we cannot store them at Documents and Settings/username. Instead
we need to create a new username categorisation somewhere else where we do store programs, like Program
The problem of imposing hierarchy becomes even clearer when thinking about other le properties like security,
ownership, encryption and sharing. If we want to share a le with another user, perhaps even over a network,
most of the time we must move (or copy) the le to a public location (directory) and set the rights to the
le correctly. Because the concepts of ownership and sharing work through the hierarchy, we need to create
a dierent hierarchy to prevent all our les from becoming public all at once. Two hierarchies to store our
les means keeping track of them even becomes harder. This principle of splitting the hierarchy based on some
properties of what is inside the sub-hierarchies is not always eective; sometimes we have documents that easily
t inside both sub-hierarchies. Which one is the best hierarchy to place that le? Probably none. Properties
over les just are not one dimensional and how we would like to categorize these dimensions depends on our
point of view. When sharing les, we want those les to be placed somewhere in the hierarchy where the are
actually shared. But when trying to retrieve certain les, we would like them to be in the most logical place in
the hierarchy. Unfortunately these two views on where the les should be stored are non-reconcilable.
There is a good reason why categorizing our les with directories has it shortcomings. The properties over
which we are trying to categorize are all dierent kinds of properties. In the example /Documents and Set-
tings/username/My Documents/University/Final Project/report.doc, the rst categorisation is made over
the type of the le (Documents and Settings), the second categorisation is made over the owner of the le
(username), then we categorize again over the type of le (My Documents), and nally we categorize twice over
the role of our le. And only the last part of this categorisation is a truly hierarchical relationship.
A last issue with hierarchy is its abstract nature, also see the previous property of locations. If we want to keep
our le system organized we must create hierarchies, preferably meaning-full ones, in order to keep track of our
documents. This is a dicult task for less computer literate people. It is hard to understand that a directory
can contain a directory. The reason this is dicult, is mostly because there is no real life example that has
somewhat the same properties. A house contains a closet that contains a box that contains a photo album that
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contains a certain photo. Not a hard-drive contains a box that contains a box that contains a box that contains
a certain photo. And even when there are boxes inside other boxes, the rst box would be a big box.
Today most systems take a middle road between locations an hierarchy. They treat certain directories as locations
and from there create hierarchies if necessary. Examples are the My Documents and My Pictures directories on
an MS Windows system. These two stand out with their own icon and when opening such a directory they have
their own themes.
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Database File System Theory
In the previous chapter we discussed current (hierarchical) le systems. Four properties were analysed that
are inherent to hierarchy based le systems. The nal conclusion was that those le systems impose to much
hierarchy without a choice; the hierarchy forces categorization over dierent properties that dont have hierar-
chical relationships with each other. This chapter presents the idea of the database le system in a high level,
non-technical, overview; explaining the overall design and workings. The main dierences with hierachical le
systems will be pointed out.
The dbfs does not impose hierarchy by storing all les in one big data store, or database, hence the name
Database File System. It stores les without any restrictions on the les; multiple les can be stored with the
exact same meta-data. It is almost like storing all les in one directory, but without the need for unique names.
To retrieve les, the big store of les can be reduced by telling the system what les to look for. Like all les
that were modied today, or all les called report. The queries on the system can include any sort of meta-data
that is associated with les. This introduces a new powerful feature to a le system: You can retrieve les
independed of the perspective you took when storing them.
A little example to explain this some more, suppose you are looking for a le: If you remember you edited your
le last week, you can look for all les edited last week; If you remember giving it a certain property, you can
look for all les that have that property; If you remember you made someone else the owner of the le, you can
look for all les owned by that owner; If you remember at least some part of the le-name, you look for all les
containing that part in their le-name; Or you can use any combination of the above to look for your le.
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Because the dbfs does not use directories anymore, there are no more custom properties you can categorize les
on. To reintroduce this the dbfs uses keywords, a le can have zero or more keywords, and the keywords can be
used in a search. Keywords can be seen as the new directories. Keywords are a superset of directories in view
of their capabilities; keywords can do what directories can and more. More on this later in this chapter.
From here on, the data store of les will be called a view, just like any subset from this store of les is called
a view. And a search or query will be called a lter. A view is created by a lter, and every view has a lter;
basically, a lter denes the les you are looking at, hence a view. The reason not to use search or query, but use
lter instead, is because search or query sound too much single-shot, though the terms are almost analogous.
.1 Relevance
In comparison to a hierarchy based le system, the dbfs is much more powerful in how to store and retrieve
les. But it does sacrice the notion of urls. The dbfs can produce urls by using unique le identiers, much
like inodes, but not by using symbolic identiers, like the path in a hierarchy based le system.
The dbfs can get away with this limitation, because it services a dierent goal then todays le systems. The
dbfs is targeted at the user by only storing documents (ie. les the user is interested in). You could see it as a
document retrieval system. Consequently it does not store system les like shared libraries, conguration les
and others. These les should be stored using apis, for instance using a hierarchy based le system.
For the dbfs to perform optimally, it is not so much that les should be stored; instead documents should be
stored. Lots of programs today use multiple les as one document. A few examples: An ide uses multiple
les as source and header les (and more), but all these les are related and form one document. Movies are
often stored as multiple les, a part one and part two, and two subtitle les, one for each part, again, all les
are related and form one document. Applications (especially under MS Windows) typically come with a whole
bunch of les, but none of these les make sense unless in the context of the application, again, an application
is one unit and should be treaded as such.
It is not that all les should be stored as one large le, but more that closely related les should be treated as
one unit. And the dbfs should provide the means to do so.
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.: Categorisation
The dbfs categorizes les on any property they have, which creates a multi-dimensional categorization, as
opposed by hierarchy based le systems that have a one-dimensional categorization applied multiple times.
In the dbfs only some categorizations are hierarchical, where there are hierarchical relationships (types and
keywords). In a hierarchy based le system every categorization is hierarchical, even if there is no hierarchical
relationship. It is important to realize that pushing categorizations in hierarchy decreases the categorization its
usefulness. The way the dbfs categorizes is called a faceted system.
With an simple example we can explain a faceted system and its powers over a hierarchical system. Lets say
we are looking at carrots and oranges. They share the properties that they are both edible and orange, but the
rst is a vegetable and the second is a fruit. Also both could be from Europe, but the rst is probably from the
Netherlands and the second from Spain. All these properties have no relationship between them: being orange
has nothing to do with being a vegetable. Only Spain and Europe have a relationship, which is a hierarchical
relationship because Spain is part of Europe.
In a faceted system we can create a categorization on both the carrot and the orange in a very natural way.
Such that we can ask the system for a orange vegetable and we see a carrot. Or ask for a vegetable from the
Netherlands and see a carrot. But in a hierarchy based categorization, there is a xed order of the properties
and only when we traverse this order can we know about the properties of an object. If the rst categorization
is on fruit or vegetable, then it is impossible to retrieve all edible things from Europe. Or if we are making an
orange salad, it is impossible to retrieve all orange edible things.
The main dierence between a hierarchy based system and a faceted system (like the dbfs) is that hierarchy
based systems are made to store things in some (reasonable) logical location, as where a faceted system is made
to categorize and nd things. Hierachy based systems are what whe use in the physical world to categorize things.
In a supermarket, oranges would be stored in the fruit department, and carrots in the vegetable department.
But the fruit and vegetable departments are in the biological food department, a hierarchical ordering on the
role of the product.
The reason we use such a system is because fysical objects can only reside in one place at the time, were as this
limitation does not go for virtual objects, like les. So there is no reason to limit a le system to a hierachical
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system, when a faceted system is more powerfull, and could be considered a super-set of hierarchical systems.
This is why the beginning of this chapter stated that keywords are like a super-set of directories: A location in
a hierachical system is dened by its elements in the hierarchy, using these same elements to query a faceted
systems yields the same results.
In the example of /Documents and Settings/username/My Documents/University/Final Project/ this lo-
cation in a hierachy based le system is the same as querying the dbfs for all Documents from username where
keywords are University and Final Project. Only there is no hiding, when the /Final Project/ directory
contains more directories, these show up as directories in the hierarchy based le system, but their contents
shows up in the dbfs.
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Database File System Overview
In the previous chapter we discussed the theory behind the dbfs. In this chapter a high-level overview is given
of the current implementation used in this research. It will start at the bottom and end at the gui that has
been implemented in kde.
The dbfs has been implemented as a daemon service for unix like systems, which integrates a sql library and
accepts connections from clients. The clients are the open-le and save-le dialogs in the open-source Desktop
Environment kde, together with a standalone lemanager, called kdbfs, which replaces Konqueror. Running
this setup of kde gives the impression to a user that there is no hierarchy based le system, only the new
database le system.
The daemon service is called dbfsd and runs in the background. It does not actually store les, it only stores
references to les on the hierarchy based le system. The dbfsd tries to work together with the underlying
hierarchy, such that a high level of backwards compatibility is achieved. In the current implementation it only
supports a few pieces of meta-data: le-name, le-type, le-size, modication-date and keywords. And the server
is only meant to service one user, but every user can run its own instance.
The dbfsd can be congured using the .dbfs/dbfs.conf le in the users home directory. The main purpose of
this le is to tell the server what directories to scan and where certain new les go, according to their le-type. It
can also be set to ignore certain directories or les. Which mime-type to use for which le extension is congured
in .dbfs/mime.conf. A log goes to .dbfs/dbfsd.log and the actual database is written in .dbfs/db.db. The
next chapter will go much deeper into its implementation.
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Hierarchical File System
File Access
Figure 4.1 Overview
of the new kde.
What the user sees when using the kde implementation from this research, is a normal functioning system,
until the user accesses a open-le or save-le dialog. These fundamentally dier because they use the dbfs. But
because the dbfsd does not actually store les, only their references, while the user might see a dierent le
system, a kde application sees and uses normal les as if there was no dbfs. This is important because the
kde applications do not need to change in order to work with the dbfs. (Also see Figure 4.1.)
i.1 User Interaction
The main kdbfs application is shown in Figure 4.2, with this application the user can lookup and manage les
in the dbfs. This application replaces Konqueror which is the le manager of kde in a hierarchy based system.
(It should be noted that Konqueror is also the internet browser and more, because it is very modular in setup,
these functionalities have not been disabled.) The kdbfs application reects how the dbfs works internally,
with lters and views, as kan be seen in the gure.
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Figure 4.2 The kdbfs application. The number 1 is the view, numbers 2
through 5 are lters.
Whenever the user manipulates a lter, the view follows the lter immediately, providing direct feedback. And
because the view updates in the background, the user can continue to manipulate the lters, even when thousands
of les show up. The user can manipulate how the view is rendered using the few buttons just above the view,
which toggle the zoom level; overall layout; and sorting on name, date or size. Right next to these buttons is a
search eld (number 5 in Figure 4.2), which searches the le-name by manipulating a le-name lter. Files in
the view can also be renamed.
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i.1.1 Filters
Just above we already mentioned the name-lter, which is implemented as a search eld. All other lters the
kdbfs oers are implemented as widgets, located next to the view. These lter-widgets can be hidden or shown
by the buttons at the very top of the application. The current implementation has only three of these lter-
widgets: a general main-type widget (numbers 2 and 3 in Figure 4.2); a keyword widget (number 4); and a
date widget (not shown in gure).
The general main-type widget has two functions. First it can select on one or more of the main le-types there
are in the system, like documents or images and more (number 2). But it also supports saving the current lter
(number 3). Which means that the user can save a view he created and quickly retrieve that view, without
having to click around to recreate the accompanying lter. Moreover, after using a stored view, the rest of the
lters can be used to create sub-views on the stored view.
The date widget can select a date range which will select all les that have a modication dates inside that
range. Unfortunately the current implementation is not an optimal one, it is just two calendars on which the
user can click. A more optimal widget would display one calendar, which should be zoom-able, and ranges can
be created by clicking and dragging on the calendar. Also it is not possible to select on creation-date or last
The keyword widget is probably the most important one, because it supports user dened categorisations. The
user can create new keywords, and rename or delete existing ones. The user can also drag keywords around to
create hierarchical relationships between keywords. If a keyword is selected, the view will show all les which
have that keyword associated with them. Multiple keywords can be selected, and the view will show all les
which have at least one of the selected keywords associated with them (an or operation). When a keyword is
selected that has multiple keywords beneath it in a hierarchical relation, the created lter will be as if all the
keywords beneath and the selected keyword had been selected.
To add keywords to les, the user has a few options. One or more keywords can be dragged onto one le or
a selection of les, these les will then add these keywords to their meta-data. The user can also drag one or
more les on a keyword. Or the user can drag one or more les on an empty space in the keyword widget and a
new keyword will be created, which the user must give a name. Another function of the keywords widget is the
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inverted mode. In this mode the whole lter is appended with a not. This is useful when categorizing lots of
les, because the les already categorized will disappear from the view.
The behaviours of the lter-widgets are very natural, but chosen quite arbitrary during the development of
the kdbfs application. The dbfs supports much more powerful lters then can be created using the widgets
described above, but in order to keep the system simple, this implementation has been chosen. To really get a
feel for how the lters work together, the reader should be enabled to click around in the application himself.
More on the usability of the dbfs and the gui can be found in Chapter 6.
i.1.: Dialogs
The new open-le dialog is quite similar to the kdbfs application, except most buttons to manipulate the
keywords and the view have been removed, keeping the focus of the dialog on opening les, and not manipulation
le meta-data. For kde application that tell the dialog which le types it can open, the dialog displays only
those les by setting an appropriate lter. This can be disabled using a little checkbox located on the bottom
of the dialog. Also see Figure 4.3.
The new save-le dialog is completely dierent from the original. There is no need for an extensive dialog,
because the dbfs does not use locations. The user can enter a name, optionally add a keyword or keywords to
the new le, and press Save. For those kde application that tell the dialog what le-type to save to, the user
can leave out the extension. Also see Figure 4.4.
It is unfortunate that kde is not very focused on meta-data, and not all applications tell the dialogs what types
they can open, or what type they will use to save. This can be confusing because the dbfs save-le dialog only
asks for a le-name, not a le type (in the form of a le-extension). Happily the KOce suite fully supports
le-types when saving or opening. But for instance when Konqueror saves a le from the internet, it does not
relay its type to the dialog, the user should manually append the name with an extension. This shortcoming is
not permanent, and will be resolved if kde gets better le-type support or works together with the dbfs more.
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Figure 4.3 An open-le dialog.
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Figure 4.4 A save-le dialog; the key-
word eld can be toggled on or o.
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Database File System Internals
Readers not interested in the technical design, internals and implementation of the dbfs can safely skip this
chapter. In fact, the sections containing code can also be safely skipped for those not interested in that much
The dbfs has been designed to be client-server oriented, where a client is an user interface to the dbfs, and the
server is responsible for all the housekeeping and does all the work. The motivation behind this design is that
the users should never have to press refresh; Clients register views to the server and from there on the server
knows what a client is looking at. If the view of the client needs to be updated, the server tells the client to do
so. Updates are necessary when a client sets a new lter for a view, but also when another client renames a le,
or does any other meta-data manipulation. This scenario implies two other design aspects: the communication
between the client and server is asynchronous, and the server and the client are both multi-threaded.
The dbfs is mainly written in ocaml but on the client side there are dierent apis to interface with the system.
There are four low level apis: for ocaml, c, c++, and Objective-c. There is also a high level api for kde that
includes widgets and controllers.
The rest of this chapter will discuss various design details and a few implementation details. We will start with
the server. An overview of the system is given in Figure 5.1.
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File System
Configuration Initialization
Client Server
Operating System
Database File System
Figure 5.1 Overview of the dbfs.
j.1 Server
The server has two main responsibilities. First it lls and keeps track of all the views clients have registered to
it, and sends update to clients who need it. Secondly it keeps in sync with the underlying hierarchy based le
system, where it renames and deletes les when necessary.
The server keeps a sql database (see Data Querying) of all the les the user is interested in. There is a
crawler module in the server that lls and updates the database with les from the underlying le system. When
a client creates a view, the lter that accompanies the view is translated into a sql query. Every time the lter
or the database is changed, the sql query is run against the database. A set of les is created from the results
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of the database, this set is compared to the old set and any dierences (added or removed les) are transmitted
to the client. The same mechanism is used for meta-data like keywords and custom stored lters.
Clients connect the the server using either tcp/ip or unix domain sockets sockets. After a connection is
established, there is a protocol in place that denes the communication between the server and the client (see
Protocol and Views). As mentioned before, this protocol is completely asynchronous to allow either the
server or the client to initiate communications.
j.1.1 Synchronizing with the Hierarchical File System
The server keeps in sync with the underlying le system using a crawler module. This module periodically
indexes the congured directories and all their subdirectories; any new le is added to the database, and an
already existing le is updated so that, for example, its modication date keep in sync.
The synchronisation also goes the other way around; when the user renames a le using the dbfs, the server
will rename that le on the underlying le system. Because there is no need for unique le names in the dbfs
but there is on the regular le system, the server uses a special scheme that appends a number to the lename
when conicts arise. If in the dbfs there are two les called report, which are both msword documents and
are both stored in the same directory on the underlying le system. The rst le will be called report.doc and
the second report-1.doc. Any subsequent third le will be called report-2.doc and so on.
When using the dbfs to save les, the server will use its le-type to determine where to save the le in the
underlying le system. Such that in a standard conguration msword documents will be stored in Documents.
The same algorithm as discussed above is used to create a unique le names.
Lastly, when using the dbfs to delete les, the server will also delete the le from the underlying system. Though
it should be noted that there is an option that prevents the server from making any changes except saves. Only
in this mode the dbfs is suboptimal: the crawler will keep the dbfs in sync and will add les deleted from the
dbfs as new les and undoes renames to les in the dbfs in favor of the original name stored in the underlying
le system.
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It is rather important to keep in sync with the underlying system, by using the scheme just discussed, because
it makes it possible to use the dbfs system while maintaining full backward compatibility. As has been done
during this research using kde.
j.1.: Files and Filters
First we will discuss two fundamental types in the system: les and lters. After that we will continue on to see
how the major processes take place inside the server.
But before we start, a few notes: From here on there will be some code blocks in the text. Because the
implementation of the dbfs is in ocaml there will not be many readers familiar with the language used in these
code blocks. Still, reading through these blocks and their accompanying texts should give a general idea of how
the server is implemented and how the data ows through the system. Therefor the author encourages readers
to just read on.
Whenever a code block corresponds to an implementation le, that le will be mentioned. A complete listing of
the source les can be found in Appendix H.
Files are represented by the following ocaml record type (dened in common/
type file = {
fid: int; (* unique *)
version: int; (* increment when file info changes, caching optimization *)
name: string;
date: float;
size: int;
file: string;
mime: mime;
Where fid is a global unique identier for a le, much like an inode on a unix le system. The rest of the elds
are pretty much self explanatory except for the version eld, which is explained below.
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In the dbfs there are two notions of les. First as the entity that is represented by the file record, which is
a representation of meta-data, and a le as a piece of data which is referenced by an url using the underlying
hierarchical le system (stored in the file eld of the file record). This distinction is rather faint, as the les
used in the dbfs are basically a wrapper around the les stored on the underlying hierarchical le system. Still
the reader should be aware of this distinctions at this level.
The version eld is used as a caching optimization; every time the le changes some property, the version
is incremented. This is useful because les are processed using FileSets, which are binary trees holding les,
implemented using the ocaml Set module. The les are indexed over a total ordering, which uses the les fid
and version. The end result is that we can compare FileSets with each other to see what has changed without
making this an expensive operation. This is important as we see later in Protocol and Views.
(* module that can order files *)
module File_ord = struct
type t = file
let compare f1 f2 =
let c = f1.fid - f2.fid in if c = 0 then f1.version - f2.version else c
(* ordered set of files module *)
module FileSet = Set.Make(File_ord);;
A lter is represented by the following ocaml type (dened in common/
type filter =
| All
| Type of string * string
| Date of float * float
| Size of int * int
| Name of string
| Keyword of string
| Not of filter
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| And of filter * filter
| Or of filter * filter
And a lter that selects every le that has the keyword university and is a msword document is constructed
let filter = And (Type ("application", "msword"), Keyword "university");;
But lters can also be parsed from strings:
let filter = filter_of_string
"type \"application\" \"msword\" and keyword \"university\"";;
Which results in a lter identical to the rst one.
Filters can be converted into strings using string of filter and converted to a (partial) sql query using
sql of filter, which we will see in action in Data Querying.
j.1. Protocol and Views
When a client starts communications with the server, a view is created for this client. A view has a three
components: a FileSet which are all the les in the current view; two sets of meta-data namely: KeywordSet
and CustomSet representing the keywords and the custom stored queries in the system; a filter which is used
to select the les for the Fileset from the database (see Data Querying).
After this is setup, the client typically activates the asynchronous mode of communication by calling Set callback
and sets a new lter using Set filter. While in the mean time the server will respond to Set callback by
transmitting the current set of les (using Files) and the keywords and custom stored queries (using Key-
words, Customs resp.). These protocol elements are implemented using ocaml types and are communicated
using the Marshal module from ocaml. The protocol type a client can transmit to the server (implemented in
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(** server command type, client sends these to server *)
type server_command =
Set_filter of filter
| Get_files
| Add_file_with_keywords of string * keywordlist
| Change_file of file
| Delete_file of file
| Get_keywords
| Add_keyword of keyword
| Delete_keyword of keyword
| Change_keyword of keyword
| Set_keywords_to_files of keywordlist * filelist
| Add_keyword_with_files of keyword * filelist
| Remove_keywords_from_files of filelist * filelist
| Get_customs
| Add_custom of custom
| Delete_custom of custom
| Change_custom of custom
| Set_callback
| Remove_callback
| Set_incremental
| Set_no_incremental
| Read_dir of string
and the client receives these types from the server:
(** client command type, server send these to client, mostly as a response *)
type client_command =
Updated_files of FileSet.t * FileSet.t
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| Files of FileSet.t
| Keywords of KeywordSet.t
| Customs of CustomSet.t
| Added_file of string
| Ok
The actual transmission is done using functions like read server command:
let read_server_command inc =
(Marshal.from_channel inc : server_command);;
Which uses an input le descriptor and yields a server command. This all comes together in the main loop
of the server where it listens for incoming commands and responds to the client accordingly (implemented in
method run =
let rec loop () =
let command = read_server_command _in in
begin match command with
Set_filter f ->
debug ~file:"" ("Set filter command: " ^
(string_of_filter f));
let r, a = _view#set_filter f in
self#send_command (Updated_files (r, a))
| Get_files ->
| _ ->
info ~file:"" "command not implemented"
loop () in
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loop ()
_ -> info ~file:"" "client disconnected";
_view#remove_observer (self :> v observer)
And here we can see why we use FileSets as a store for our les. Instead of sending all les the the client as a re-
sponse to Set filter, the server sends only the removed and added les (self#send command (Updated files
(r, a))). How these les are acquired is discussed in the next section.
j.1.i Data Querying
The server uses the sqlite sql database to store and query the les in the system. The schema for the database
is shown in Figure 5.2.
version INT
name CHAR
date INT
size INT
file CHAR
base CHAR
special CHAR
version INT
name CHAR
rank INT
parent INT
fid INT
kid INT
version INT
name CHAR
filter CHAR
rank INT
inode INT KEY
fid INT
rank INT
timestamp FLOAT
Figure 5.2 Database schema as used by the dbfs.
To ll a views FileSet with les, the server translates the lter from that view into an sql query. This query
is run against the database and the results are translated into a FileSet. The whole process is described in
more detail below.
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A lter that will select all the msword documents: type "application" "msword":
let filter = filter_of_string("type \"application\" \"msword\"");;
This is translated into the following sql query and processed in the database like this:
let sql = sql_of_filter(filter);;
>>> sql = "base=application and special=msword"
let new_files = files_of_query ("SELECT * FROM files WHERE" ^ sql);;
Where the function files of query is implemented as (dened in server/
(** executes a query and returns a FileSet of files which might be empty *)
let files_of_query q =
verbose ~file:"" ("files query: " ^ q);
Mutex.lock db_mutex;
let vm = compile_simple db q in
let rec loop () =
let v = file_of_array (step vm "") in
(* verbose (string_of_file v); *)
FileSet.add v (loop ())
Sqlite_done ->
Mutex.unlock db_mutex;
loop ()
Sqlite_error s ->
Mutex.unlock db_mutex;
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warning ~file:"" ("Error (" ^ s ^ "): " ^ q);
After the new FileSet is constructed it is compared to the old FileSet and the updated les will be send to the
client, if any (see Protocol and Views). As seen in the following code (implemented in server/
let new_files = files_of_query ("SELECT * FROM files WHERE " ^ q) in
let inter = FileSet.inter new_files _files in
let removed = FileSet.diff _files inter in
let added = FileSet.diff new_files inter in
This process of lling the view is done on two events. One, if the client set a new lter to the view (using
Set filter) or two, when any client changes the database. In both cases the server will respond with a
Updated files if the view has changed.
j.1.j Server Management
In this section we will discuss a few constructs used inside the server implementation, that are important enough
to be mentioned here.
Throughout the code we can see Mutex.lock and Mutex.unlock which are used to make the server thread
save on database access and communications. This is needed because simultaneous access to the database can
lead to incorrect results. And simultaneous access to the sending mechanisms can lead to incorrect data being
We also see constructs like debug ~file:"" "initializing" which are logger commands. The
logger is implemented in common/ and can write its log to arbitrary output descriptors. A log level can
be set which can exclude messages from the log. Default only warning and fatal messages are logged.
To process events internally, the server is constructed using objects and these communicate with each other by
inheriting from either observer or observable or both (ocaml can do multiple inheritance). These classes
(implemented in common/ provide a observer/observable programming construct.
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When an object inside the server also represents a thread, it inherits from a thread class (implemented in
common/ This provides basic thread management, including shutting threads down on
command. The object only needs to re-implement the run method which will be called after the thread is
started, and the thread will stop when the run method exits.
The server accepts a few command line congurations and reads from a conguration le for the rest. These con-
gurations variables can be accessed using various data access functions like string of config or bool of config
(implemented in common/ These options are initialized in the init module of the server (implemented
in server/, and the conguration le is read using the parse files function.
j.: Client
As we have seen in the previous section, the server does all the hard work. The client only mirrors the view,
while the server keeps the view updated. The main task of the client is to expose the internals of the system
into a set of easy accessible of programming functions.
This is why there are four apis for the dbfs. And of these the c like apis have been implemented as shared
libraries. Including a header le and linking to its library is enough to implement a dbfs client. Because
the client is only a thin client, we will not discuss it here further. There is programmers reference and an
programming example, distributed with the dbfs implementation.
j. Graphical User Interface
The main interface that has been implemented for this research is kde based. The implementation les for the
dbfs client are all inside the kde library libkio (in /kdelibs/kio/kfile/). All programs that use open-le
or save-le dialogs link against this library, and will automatically use the new dialogs after a recompile. (The
recompile is necessary due to a few awkward design decisions in the original kde implementation, which make
the new implementation source-compatible but not binary compatible.) Also the widgets and support objects
created for the dbfs are implemented in libkio and used by the dialogs and the kdbfs application.
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Following are a few important implementations of the kde dbfs

Again, some code is given, this time assuming

basic knowledge of c++ and the qt and kde programming constructs.
j..1 DBFS Library Interface Handling
The DbfsHandler (implemented in /kdelibs/kio/kfile/dbfshandler.cpp) is the main entry point of kde
into the dbfs. It takes care of the threaded routines and transforms asynchronous requests into qt events, such
that the gui can take care of them. The viewHasChanged() and metaHasChanged() are the callback functions a
dbfs::DbfsViewChangedHandler object from the libdbfs cpp library must implement to handle the threaded
// low level file stuff
DbfsHandler::customEvent(QCustomEvent* e)
if (e->type() == VIEW_CHANGED_EVENT) emit(viewChanged());
if (e->type() == META_CHANGED_EVENT) emit(metaChanged());
// called from a different thread from the library cant do much here
QApplication::postEvent(this, new QCustomEvent(VIEW_CHANGED_EVENT));
QApplication::postEvent(this, new QCustomEvent(META_CHANGED_EVENT));
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The DbfsHandler listens to its own custom events, and transforms them into qt signals. Other objects can
listen for the events by connecting their slots to these signals.
The DbfsHandler is also responsible for initializing the dbfs library. It is implemented as a factory, because
the dbfs library should be initialized only once in the lifetime of an application. An instance of the DbfsHan-
dler should be created using the static getInstance and deleted when the object is no longer needed, the
implementation will take care of handling the internals.
j..: DBFS Dialogs
The implementation of the new dbfs dialogs in kde are somewhat of a hack, such that they can support full
source compatibility. The setup can be best described as a proxy; the original KFileDialog class now proxies all
its functions to either the KDbfsOpenDialog or KDbfsSaveDialog. Part of the problem is that the original dialogs
are not split into a save and open dialog, but the classs functionality changes with on a parameter that puts
the dialog in either saving or opening mode (or other mode, used for whatever reason). This proxy mechanism
can be seen in the following implementation (implemented in /kdelibs/kio/kfile/kfiledialog.cpp):
kdDebug() << " exec " << endl;
if (NULL != _wOpenDialog) return _wOpenDialog->exec();
if (NULL != _wSaveDialog) return _wSaveDialog->exec();
kdDebug() << "creating a new KDbfsOpenFileDialog" << endl;
_wOpenDialog = new KDbfsOpenFileDialog(this, _sFilter, _wParent, _sName,
_bModal| , _wWidget);
return _wOpenDialog->exec();
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The exec function of the KFileDialog calls either the KDbfsOpenFileDialogs exec function, or the KDbf-
sSaveFileDialogs exec function. If none of these objects have already been created, then it will create an
open-le dialog on the spot and execute its exec function.
There is much more to the implementation of the dbfs system from the server to the gui. This chapter only
discussed various important implementations any more thorough discussion goes well beyond the scope of this
report. Interested readers are encouraged to look through the sources themselves.
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Usability Testing
To test the ideas presented in this report, a set of real user tests have been held. This chapter will present the
results of these tests. The used tests and interviews can be found in the Appendices CG.
6.1 Objective
The nal objective of the test is to see if the dbfs is a valid replacement to hierarchy based le systems from
a user interaction point of view. To test this goal some subgoals can be stated. The database le system is a
valid replacement if it is more:
then hierarchy based le systems. If these properties hold even a little, then the database le system is a valid
replacement. If it is found that most of these properties hold very strongly, then the database le system is more
then a valid replacement; it would be a highly recommended alternative.
Unfortunately testing these properties is impossible in usability testing. Therefor these properties must be
expressed by measurable properties that can be tested. While users are using this system we can measure:
time expired;
amount of mouse clicks, mouse distance and keyboard strokes;
Database File System Usability Testing
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windows and dialogs seen;
optimal path deviation.
And we can ask the users:
comprehension and clarity;
(and more).
And by observing the users during the tests, we can get good a impression of the mindsets and approaches of
the users. This will yield very important information, which is very hard to capture using measurable data and
The interviews that accompany the tests have the following setup:
1. user information (name, computer experience);
2. global impressions;
3. dbfs impressions;
4. suggestive and philosophy questions.
A few points to keep in mind during the evaluation of these tests, ordered by importance:
1. The dbfs is a prototype grade application, it is not functional in every aspect and not as polished and
nished as the traditional systems.
2. People with computer experience already know hierarchy based le systems and will be biased toward such
3. Long term usability is very important for le systems, but this is hard (impossible) to test in this research.
4. Testing people new to a system tests learnability mostly, while learnability is an important property, usability
is the most important property.
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5. Interviews are very useful to get general impressions, but they are highly subjective.
6. The dbfs introduces le storage possibilities not present in hierarchy based le systems.
6.: Method
Two tests were constructed, one test tests general usability in day-to-day usage, the other tests very advanced
dbfs usage. Both tests serve dierent evaluation goals.
The rst test (see Appendix C) asks a user to create a document, insert a picture, save that document and
email it to somebody. This tests general opening and saving in the dbfs. And there is an extra: because this
test is not specic to the dbfs we can also test a normal system, which will give us comparable results.
The second test (see Appendix D) asks a user to categorize nine photos on various properties and then asks
to use the dbfs to look at a certain subgroup from those nine. This tests very advanced usage of the dbfs, but
it also makes users more aware of the possibilities that the dbfs introduces in terms of le storage. Also it tests
comprehension of what is going on, and to what extend this functionality is learnable.
After a user has taken a test, an interview is conducted using the interviews that accompany the tests. During
testing the screen actions of a user are recorded using two utilities, vnc2swf
in combination with x11vnc
, that
together can create a recording of everything on screen. By hand the various statistics are extracted. During
the tests and while extracting the statistics, some points were kept in mind:
Whenever a user uses the le system measurements stop as soon as they reached their goal. Sometimes users
redo the le access because they made a mistake in another area of the test.
Scrolling in a window is panelized with a mouse-click per second that they are scrolling, and counting starts
at one. Thus two seconds of scrolling is counted as three mouse clicks.
Less advanced computer users tend not to experiment in the interface, and get stuck. Minor hints are given
sometimes on the usage of something. But especially hints toward le access were kept at a minimum.
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The extracted measurements are (they dier somewhat from the original test goals stated above):
Mouse Input;
Keyboard Input;
Total Window Time (total time spend in le access windows).
6. Results
6..1 Test 1
The rst test was conducted a total of 18 times, 6 times in a normal system and 12 times using the dbfs. The
results can be seen in Table 6.1. The average time spend in the le system and the average mouse clicks are
very interesting, both decreased by a signicant amount.
But a few side-notes on the statistics must be made: 18 tests, spread over 13 users, from which 5 users did the
test a second time, rst using the normal system then using the dbfs, are not enough to provide facts, only a
general impression. Moreover, not all users are equal, some have a lot of computer experience while others have
almost none. A full blown test that could provide facts was well beyond the scope of this research; it should
account for all the dierent categories and test enough users, to make the statistics reect reality.
During the rst test some very useful observations were made:
Lots of users made remarks during the save operation in the direction of: Where is it going to store the
le?. Expressing a bias toward a hierarchy based system which uses locations.
When opening a le, most users will rst tend to scroll through all the results shown in the view. Only after
a while do most realize there must be a better way and start using the other widgets.
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dbfs normal
10 6 63 31 6 103
7 6 84 25 14 71
19 14 153 18 6 68
11 18 138 20 6 66
51 15 143 21 6 109
11 7 46 32 5 139
16 10 112
15 6 52
9 6 28
16 11 50
13 12 42
10 6 22
15.7 9.8 78 24.5 9.2 93
Table 6.1 Test 1 results: Mouse Input;
Keyboard Input; and Window Time.
Two Mac users where tested and both of them immediately used the name-search on the top right, where
as other users hardly used that eld. In the Mac OS X system, search dialogs are used extensively and are
mostly located in the top right, this recognition is apparently very useful.
The interview asks for expected speed in the le system, if the tests had to be taken again (question 17).
dbfs users predict themselves to be signicantly faster then normal users a next time around.
6..: Test 2
The second test was taken 10 times. The most notable result from these tests is that every user expects keywords,
combined with the rest of the dbfs, to be more then sucient to arrange and use their les (question 18). And
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all but one reported they would like to use this system in their current os instead of its hierarchical le system
(question 19). Though most of them also commented they would like something hybrid so they know where the
les are.
Some more observations:
Most users at rst do not understand keywords and mistake them for directories. Only a few naturally add
more then one keyword to a le, even though the test very much invites this usage. About half of the users
needed a hint during their test to point them in the right direction.
Most users do not fully understand how the whole interface creates one query; how selecting something in
another widget builds upon what has already been selected (and relationship). Still they work with it and
are quite able to do their task.
The last question of the tests is a trick question, and can only be answered using a stored view. But the
point of the question is to see if users understand the or and and relationships in queries, especially when
selecting multiple keywords. The conclusion is that only half of the users grasp this concept, others take for
granted what happens and give up on this question without being capable of formulating why they failed.
6.. Test Conclusions
The objective of the tests are to see if the dbfs is a valid alternative to hierarchy based le systems. And the
results support that it is. Users are very capable of performing the rst test without help, and most are capable
of performing the second test without much help. Considering that the last test is not something every day
users will do, these results are very positive.
Also the users are very positive toward the new system, only one answered he would not like using the dbfs on
his main system. And the statistics support this as well, both mouse input and time spend in the le system
decreases when using the dbfs.
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The usability tests set out to test wether the dbfs is a valid replacement for hierarchy based le systems. And
the conclusion is that indeed the dbfs is a very valid replacement. This is very promising, considering that the
software in this research is prototype grade at best.
We have seen that users can use the dbfs system just as easy as traditional systems. And because the dbfs
has the same expressive powers as hierarchy based systems, switching to the dbfs is easy.
This research also shows that it is possible to integrate a new le system on top of what we already have. There
is no need to rewrite all software if we want to switch to a dierent le system.
.1 Future Work and Recommendations
The dbfs as implemented in this research is a prototype, there are a lot features that can be added to make it
more complete. First things that can be done:
multi-user, with security and encryption;
networking support;
meta-data indexing for les like jpeg and mp3.
Because the dbfs is search based, a lot of other extensions can be implemented quite natural. Think about:
full content searching;
picture indexing using facial recognition.
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Also context sensitive searches, or implicit searches could be supported. Where when you select a msword
document, the system is going to let you search for all documents from the same author, or on the same subject.
Another approach to displaying les and creating lters can also be explored: In the current implementation
sometimes lots of les are in the view, and the view simply contains them all in a very long scrolling list. And
sometimes the view is empty. Both situations are not ideal, and the dbfs could help the user: Whenever there
is a large amount of les, the dbfs could group les with similar meta-data together, with a link to a search
that uses that meta-data. And whenever the view is empty, the dbfs could suggest multiple links to searches
related to the current search, which do contain les. And this can all be done based on popularity of the les or
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Related Work
Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework
Douglas C. Engelbard.
Stanford Research Institute
Semantic File Systems
Mark A. Sheldon David K. Giord, Pierre Jouvelot and James W. OToole Jr.
Proceedings of the 13th ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles; pages 1625
Scatter/Gather: A Cluster-based Approach to Browsing Large Document Collections
Douglass R. Cutting and Jan O. Pedersen and David Karger and John W. Tukey
Proceedings of the Fifteenth Annual International ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in
Information Retrieval; pages 318329
The Harvest information discovery and access system
C. Mic Bowman and Peter B. Danzig and Darren R. Hardy and Udi Manber and Michael F. Schwartz
Computer Networks and ISDN Systems; vol 28; pages 119125
Lifestreams: An Alternative to the Desktop Metaphor
Fertig, S., Freeman, E., and Gelernter, D.
Database File System References
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In ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Conference Companion (CHI 96);
pages 410411
Towards a Semantic-Aware File Store
Z. Xu and M. Karlsson and C. Tang and C. Karamanolis
Xu, Z., Karlsson, M., Tang, C., and Karamanolis, C. Towards a Semantic-Aware File Store. In Workshop
on Hot Topics in Operating Systems (Lihue, HI, May 2003); pages 145150
Why cant I nd my les? New methods for automating attribute assignment
Craig A. N. Soules and Gregory R. Ganger
Faceted Metadata for Image Search and Browsing
Ping Yee, Kirsten Swearingen, Kevin Li, and Marti Hearst
the Proceedings of ACM CHI 2003
Related Software
Microsoft Corporation
The MS Windows operating system and the MS Oce suite.
Apple Corporation
The MacOS operating system.
Linux operating system, a free operating system based around the Linux kernel.
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Risc OS.
The K Desktop Environment; a complete open-source desktop environment.
The GNOME Desktop Environment; a complete open-source desktop environment.
Haystack; The Universal Information Client
Integrating every day computer information like emails and les.
GNOME storage
Free text queries against a the le system.
Implicit searching of information relevant to the current activity.
A persistant object store.
Disk Based Hashtables
Files associated with a hashed key.
Digital photo management.
Adobe Photoshopt Album
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Digital photo management.
Digital music jukebox.
Other References
Practical File System Design with the Be File System
Dominic Giampaolo
Morgan Kaufmann Publishers
ISBN 1558604979
The Naming System Venture Future Vision
Hans Reiser
The Death of File Systems
Jakob Nielsen
When good interfaces go crufty
Matthew Thomas$374
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categorisation 3, 11
client 13, 31
client-server 20
crawler 22
database 28
dbfsd 13
directory 3
document 10
faceted system 11
le 3, 23
lter 10, 14, 24
hiding 5
hierarchy 6
Hierarchy Based File System 3
kdbfs 14
keyword 10, 16
konqueror 14
location 6
meta-data 1, 13
open-le dialog 17
save-le dialog 17
server 13, 21
test 35
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url 5
usability 35
view 10, 14, 25
widget 16
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List of Used Terms and Abbreviations

api Application Programmers Interface

c The c programming language.
c++ The c++ programming language.
dbfs Database File System
directory Also called a Folder or Map; a container in hierarchy based le systems that contains
other directories or les
ext Third Extended File System; the rst choice of le system for Linux.
le Piece of stored data on a le system.
gui Graphical User Interface
hfs+ Hierarchical File System; Introduced in Mac OS 8, today used in most Apple systems.
ide Integrated Development Environment
inode On unix systems each le has a inode, which contains information like ownership,
security etc.; each inode has a unique number, which is also referred to as the inode.
kde The K Desktop Environment; a complete desktop system.
msword Microsoft Word Application; arguably the most famous application in the world
ntfs New Technology File System; Designed for Windows NT, today used in most MS Win-
dows Flavors.
Objective-c The Objective-c programming language.
ocaml The Objective Caml programming language.
qt Trolltechs c++ gui library; the basis of kde.
reiserfs State of the art le system; a very popular le system for Linux.
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socket A programmers abstraction for communications; tcp/ip communication is typically
accessed using this abstraction.
sql Structured Query Language
sqlite An embeddable sql database library.
tcp/ip Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol; also called the internet protocol
unix domain sockets An interprocess communications mechanism, stream based.
url Uniform Resource Locater; sometimes referred to as a Universal Resource Locator or
Unique Resource Locator.
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Assignment Database File System
Research the usability of a le system that uses a dierent approach then hierarchy, namely a databased approach.
Instead of using the hierarchy to locate and identify les, use all the metadata properties of a le and use that to
locate and identify les. The main focus of this assignment should be to research if such an approach is feasible
as the (only) interface to the les on a desktop system.
Today computers store lots of data and therefor have lots of les. The only common interface to these les in a
computer system is a hierarchy based le system. These systems use directories (also called folders). Directories
impose a way of arranging les and keeping the system clean, in order for the user (and the system) to be able
nd the les. The problem area of this approach is that directories create locations where les are stored.
Users need to be aware of this principle of locations. Furthermore, directories have this properties of locations
because they hide what is inside them. This makes it hard to retrieve les of which one has no more knowledge
of then that the le must exist somewhere. For knowledgeable computer users a hierarchy based le system can
be put to good use and it works quite well. But less knowledgeable computer users often have problems with
this kind of le system.
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Database File System
A at le system would address the problem of locations, but with the sacrice of tidiness. A database le
system is basically a at le system, but with the ability to do searches over the entire set of les. If a user
would be oered an user interface to the le system that is capable of making searches over all the properties of
the les (metadata), that would bring back the tidiness of the system, without resorting to locations. That way,
for example, the user could be only two clicks away form all its current MS Word documents. By rst selecting
the type of a MS Word document and then select a date property that selects the current month. This would
result in a set of documents that have been edited since last month. This idea can be extended if we allow
arbitrary metadata to be added to a le, upon which the user can search. Like keywords, which can be used like
directories, but also other metadata like mp3-tags from music les.
No more locations, instead there is a powerful search mechanism.
No locations also mean less choice while saving les, wich in term means a simpeler interface.
Files can show up in multiple (disjunct) queries, much like playlists.
No need for unique le names.
Create a database le system for the users of a computer.
Create a user interface to this le system that makes it natural to use this le system.
Research this idea, nd out what users want, what makes it easy and what needs to be extended.
Implementation Ideas
Place the database le system between the (hierarchy based) le system and the user. Override the main
interfaces to the hierarchy le system with interfaces to the database le system, basically replace all open-le
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and save-le dialogs and create an Explorer like application. It is probably a good idea to choose KDE or
GNOME as the desktop system.
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Dutch Abstract
Voor meer dan 30 jaar hebben mensen gewerkt met hierarchische le systemen; le systemen gebaseerd
op directories en les. Deze systemen hebben hun nut bewezen, maar vandaag de dag, met gigabytes aan
opslag en miljoenen les, wordt het beheren van les met directories steeds moeilijker. Dit onderzoek
presenteert een alternatief op hierarchische le systemen. Aan de basis van dit systeem ligt een universele
benadering naar de eigenschappen van een le. Gecombineerd met een drag-and-drop gebruiker-interface
creeert het een alternatief dat net zo bruikbaar is als directories, maar veel verder gaat in expressiviteit.
Het eind resultaat is een le systeem dat het werken met les een stuk gemakkelijker maakt voor de
gebruiker. Nadruk in dit systeem ligt bij de gebruiker en niet het besturingssysteem, daarom worden les
als shared-libraries niet getoont in het systeem, deze moeten met andere methoden worden opgeslagen.
De implementatie is een abstractie over een hierarchisch le systeem heen en de twee werken samen zodat
een hoge mate van compatibiliteit bewaard blijft, waardoor huidige systemen niet nutteloos worden. Het
systeem is getest op gebruikers en de resultaten geven aan dat het systeem een geldig alternatief is op
hierarchische le systemen.
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Test 1 Email
Just a quick reminder: We are testing a computer system here; Not you!
You are behind the new KDE desktop, a system which works quite similar to the Windows XP desktop most of
us are familiar with. Just to further help you on your way:
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The KDE Start menu, you nd applications here.
The Taskbar, you nd your windows here.
The Clock.
The Desktop, you can nd some les here.
System Tray, holds some status icons.
Quick access to frequently used applications.
A window.
We are going to send somebody an email with an invitation to a ctional party.
Using the KWord application, create a document that says: Invite to my party in nice bold lettering. You
may add more text if you like.
Insert an Image of Spongebob waving in the document.
Save the KWord document as invite and quit KWord.
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Open KMail and start a new message. Address this message to test@localhost.
Set invite as the subject of the message, and attach the just created invite. Send the message.
Thank You.
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Test 2 Arrange
Once again you are behind the new KDE desktop. This time we are going to try some of the new le organizing
Just a little help:
Turn various search elds on or o.
Main type search.
User stored searches. Keyword search.
Search in le name.
Your les.
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A few extra pointers:
You assign keywords by drag and drop.
You can reorganize keywords by drag and drop.
To start over, use the middle mouse button.
Imagine we have to prepare a report about photography styles. To do this properly we want to be able to classify
the pictures we got for this assignment (they are under photography) in a few categories:
color and black-and-white pictures;
pictures with people and with cars;
by date (date the picture was taken).
Look through the pictures from photography and rename or add keywords as you see t.
Suppose it is a few days later now and you want to start your report. First we have to do some research. Try
to search the system so that the only pictures showing are:
all pictures with people in them;
all pictures that have people or cars in them;
all pictures that are black-and-white;
all pictures that are black-and-white and before the year :ooo;
all pictures that are black-and-white and before the year :ooo and have cars in them.
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Thank You.
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Interview 1 Email Normal
Usability Test 1 Interview
1. First Name and Age:
2. Gender: Male / Female
3. What computer system do you use mostly?
Windows (older) / Windows XP / Mac / Linux / Other
4. How often do you use a computer:
a little a lot
5. You just completed the test, what is your rst impression of the system?
not good very good
6. Were there moments where you didnt know what to do?
No / Yes, namely:
Database File System Interview 1 Email Normal
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7. There are many ways to reach a certain goal on a computer. Do you think you reached the goals of this test
eciently or ineciently?
inecient ecient
8. If you had to do the test again, do you feel you would be faster or slower?
slower faster
9. You had to use few applications; how hard or easy were they to use:
Application hard. . . easy
KWord used to create invite
KMail used to send email
Desktop overall system (ie taskbar, menu ...)
10. You had to do a few actions; how hard or easy were they to do:
Action hard. . . easy
opening a le spongebob, invite
saving a le invite
emailing a le invite
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11. When you had to open the image of spongebob, do you think you found it fast?
slow fast
12. How did you nd the image of spongebob?
scrolled through lots of les
selected Pictures
selected Cartoons
selected Spongebob
used previews
13. When you had to save invite, do you think you were fast?
slow fast
14. Did you do anything special while saving, like create a new directory?
No / Yes
15. When you had to attach the invite document to the email, do you think you were fast?
slow fast
16. How did you nd the invite?
scrolled through lots of les
selected the directory where I saved the le
used previews
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17. If you had to do this test again, would you be faster when saving or opening les?
slower faster
Thank You.
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Interview 1 Email Dbfs
Usability Test 1 Interview
1. First Name and Age:
2. Gender: Male / Female
3. What computer system do you use mostly?
Windows (older) / Windows XP / Mac / Linux / Other
4. How often do you use a computer:
a little a lot
5. You just completed the test, what is your rst impression of the system?
not good very good
6. Were there moments where you didnt know what to do?
No / Yes, namely:
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7. There are many ways to reach a certain goal on a computer. Do you think you reached the goals of this test
eciently or ineciently?
inecient ecient
8. If you had to do the test again, do you feel you would be faster or slower?
slower faster
9. You had to use few applications; how hard or easy were they to use:
Application hard. . . easy
KWord used to create invite
KMail used to send email
Desktop overall system (ie taskbar, menu ...)
10. You had to do a few actions; how hard or easy were they to do:
Action hard. . . easy
opening a le spongebob, invite
saving a le invite
emailing a le invite
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11. When you had to open the image of spongebob, do you think you found it fast?
slow fast
12. How did you nd the image of spongebob?
scrolled through lots of les
used search eld
selected Pictures
selected Cartoons
selected Spongebob
used previews
13. When you had to save invite, do you think you were fast?
slow fast
14. Did you do anything special while saving, like add a keyword?
No / Yes
15. When you had to attaching the invite document to the email, do you think you were fast?
slow fast
16. How did you nd the invite?
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scrolled through lots of les
used search eld
selected Documents
used a keyword
used date search
used previews
17. If you had to do this test again, would you be faster when saving or opening les?
slower faster
18. The le system was not what we usually use, did you notice this?
No / Yes
19. Which of the features of the system did you use (if you noticed them)?
main types (Documents, Images, . . . )
search eld
date search
custom stored search
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20. If you have any comments, tips, thoughts. Please write them down here:
Thank You.
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Interview 2 Arrange
Usability Test 2 Interview
1. First Name and Age:
2. Gender: Male / Female
3. What computer system do you use mostly?
Windows (older) / Windows XP / Mac / Linux / Other
4. How often do you use a computer:
a little a lot
5. You just completed the test, what is your rst impression of the system?
not good very good
6. Were there moments where you didnt know what to do?
No / Yes, namely:
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7. How fast or slow do you think you completed the test?
slow fast
8. If you had to do the test again, do you feel you would be faster or slower?
slower faster
9. Where there things you disliked about the interface, like certain buttons, or how you had to move stu around?
No / Yes, namely:
10. When you had to categorize the pictures, at rst, did you know what to do?
not clear at all very clear
11. What did you do to categorize the pictures?
added keyword(s)
renamed some/all of the pictures
added a custom stored search
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12. Did you use multiple keywords on a le?
No / Yes
13. If you had to do the test again, would you use a dierent approach to categorization?
Same / Dierent
14. When you had to look up the pictures, did the system work as you expected?
not at all yes
15. Do think you performed the asked tasks fast or slow?
slow fast
16. To select the asked pictures, what features did you use:
main types (Documents, Images, . . . )
search eld
date search
custom stored search
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17. Was there a set of fotos you could not create using the system?
No / Yes, namely:
18. The system does not use directories. Without them, do you think you can still suciently arrange your les (by
using keywords or other properties)?
No Yes
19. If this type of le access was built into the system you use today (into Windows for example), and you had to
use it to manage all your les, would you like that?
not at all very much
20. If you have any thoughts on the following items, or something else, please write them down below.
No directories, no locations, no organization?
Keywords can be like playlists?
What if you could use more properties like music le information artiest, album, year,. . . ?
Other properties you can add to les (just like keywords), like owners, encryption,. . . ?
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Thank You.
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DBFS Source File Listing
1 The README le
Database File System
author: Onne Gorter
This is my Master Thesis work for the University of Twente. My thesis
is about a new file system and interface to this file system. The new
system is databased, henceforth the name dbfs: database file system.
README: this file
university: my thesis report and presentations and other stuff.
ocamldbfs: implementation of the base system; a server; a client; an
ocaml library; a c library and other libraries.
qtdbfs: implementation of GUI using only qt (incomplete)
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kdelibs: all the changed files in kdelibs (version 3.2.3) to implement
dbfs in KDE completely. Thus replacing the file-open,
file-save dialogs.
kdbfs: implementation of GUI interface from KDE. Needs kdelibs.
macdbfs: some work at an implementation of a GUI for Mac OS X
(Cocoa, inclomplete)
dbfsmplayer: a Mac OS X GUI for mplayer (media player) which finds
movies and music on its own (Cocoa).
Makefile: makes everything from documentation to sources, but not very
usefull except for myself.
The complete archive is managed by subversion version control system
( just in case some .svn/ directories
show up. Note that this can give some trouble when using (an old
version of) Interface Builder on Mac OS X.
In order to install dbfs you need to have (installed):
qt 3.x or better (optional):
KDE 3.2.3 or better (optional):
Mac OS X 10.3 or better (optional):
There are two parts to my project, a server and some client
implementations. In order to work with the clients you need the server
compiled and installed, which provides a set of shared libraries the
clients need.
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* compiling the server *
cd ocamldbfs
make install
If make fails, edit to reflect your setup, the
makefiles assume that the dependend libraries have been installed with
a prefix of /usr/local. The target of the makefiles is
$HOME. Change all this in and run make clean make
make install. Edit Makefile if you want to change the support
libraries that get installed.
If make install fails check if you need to be superuser.
You are left with:
/usr/local/bin/dbfsd: the server daemon
/usr/local/bin/dbfsnotify: a client to make daemon sync with disk
/usr/local/include/dbfs.h: client library headers
/usr/local/lib/ client library
/usr/local/share/dbfs/dbfs.conf: a default configuration
/usr/local/share/dbfs/mime.conf: a default mime type map
client/client: a very basic client written in ocaml
c-api/example: a very basic c implemented client, check
c-api/main.c for its sources.
There are also objective-c and C++ libraries available and some
clients need these. If all goes well they are installed as appropriate
for your system otherwise install them by hand:
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cd objc-api (or cpp-api)
make install
this will give you:
Again, make install probably needs superuser powers. Note that the
objective-c library needs Foundation classes from the Mac OS X or
GNUstep (OpenStep) environment, the library has only been tested for
Mac OS X.
* compiling the clients *
If you are under KDE you can compile a kde client, which is a pretty
usable client. Qt needs to be installed with STL! this is not default
for KDE with most distributions unfortunately.
cd kdbfs
If under Mac OS X you can compile a media player based on MPlayer OS
X, you need the developers tools (XCode) to be installed. Also the
objective-c library needs to be installed, see above.
cd dbfsmplayer
open dbfs\ MPlayer.pbproj
and use XCode to compile and run
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Most platforms can run the qt client. C++ library needs to be
installed. The Qt client is not at all up to date.
cd qtdbfs
./qtdbfs (or under macosx: open
If you want to install a whole new KDE environment which works with
only dbfs (ie no more normal file access). This has been done on x86
linux, the following steps are needed to reproduce that: download to
the directory ~/Sources/kde/
* qt-x11-free-3.3.2.tar.bz2
* arts-1.2.3.tar.bz2
* kdelibs-3.2.3.tar.bz2
* kdebase-3.2.3.tar.bz2
* kdeartwork-3.2.3.tar.bz2
* koffice-1.3.1.tar.bz2 (optional)
* kdevelop-3.0.4.tar.bz2 (optional)
setup your environment to use our QTDIR and KDEDIR: (in .bashrc)
export QTDIR="$HOME/qt-testing"
export KDEDIR="$HOME/kde-testing"
export PATH="$QTDIR/bin:$KDEDIR/bin:$HOME/bin:$PATH"
export KDEHOME="$HOME/.kde-home-testing"
make sure your environment is correctly setup in the current shell!
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tar -xjvf qt-x11-free-3.3.2.tar.bz2
ln -sf Sources/kde/qt-x11-free-3.3.2 qt-testing
mkdir kde-testing
mkdir .kde-home-testing
cd Sources/kde/qt-x11-free-3.3.2
./configure -system-zlib -qt-gif -system-libpng \
-system-libjpeg -plugin-imgfmt-mng -thread \
-no-xinerama -no-g++-exceptions
(accept the license by typing yes <enter>)
cd ..
(NO make install !!)
tar -xjvf arts-1.2.3.tar.bz2
cd arts-1.2.3
./configure --with-extra-includes=$HOME/include --with-extra-libs=$home/lib
make install
tar -xjvf kdelibs-3.2.3.tar.bz2
cd kdelibs-3.2.3
cp -Rf /path/to/development-tree-dbfs/kdelibs/* .
sh admin/ cvs
./configure --with-extra-includes=$HOME/include --with-extra-libs=$HOME/lib
make install
Repeat the arts steps for each other package:
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* kdebase-3.2.3
* kdeartwork-3.2.3 (optional)
* koffice-1.3.1 (optional)
To install the main interface:
cd /path/to/development-tree-dbfs/kdbfs
Done? good, now we setup some final settings:
cp -Rf /path/to/development-tree-dbfs/share ~/.kde-home-testing/
mkdir Applications
mkdir Documents
mkdir Misc
mkdir Movies
mkdir Music
mkdir Pictures
cd kde-testing/share/applnk
cp <applications you like to see in dbfs> ~/Applications
cd ../applications/kde/
cp <applications you like to see in dbfs> ~/Applications
finally setup done ...
To run KDE use startkde or place startkde in .xinitrc (exec startkde)
or in .Xclients for redhat users. But first start the dbfs daemon
following the next section.
Database File System DBFS Source File Listing
O. Gorter 8:
You need to create a directory ~/.dbfs/ and copy
/usr/local/share/dbfs/* to this directory. Edit ~/.dbfs/dbfs.conf. (This
could be in ~/share/dbfs/)
To run a client first run the server then the client, run the server
with dbfsd. Use dbfsd --help to read about its options. Note that
the server is personal, and not run as superuser. With the current
implementation you cannot run a server for multiple users (but each
one can run its own private version).
: dbfsd Directory Listing
Database File System DBFS Source File Listing
O. Gorter 8
kdelibs Directory Listing
Database File System DBFS Source File Listing
O. Gorter 8i
Database File System DBFS Source File Listing
O. Gorter 8j