pw_rpc

The pw_rpc module provides a system for defining and invoking remote procedure calls (RPCs) on a device.

This document discusses the pw_rpc protocol and its C++ implementation. pw_rpc implementations for other languages are described in their own documents:

Try it out!

For a quick intro to pw_rpc, see the RPC over HDLC example project in the pw_hdlc module.

Attention

This documentation is under construction.

Creating an RPC

1. RPC service declaration

Pigweed RPCs are declared in a protocol buffer service definition.

syntax = "proto3";

package foo.bar;

message Request {}

message Response {
  int32 number = 1;
}

service TheService {
  rpc MethodOne(Request) returns (Response) {}
  rpc MethodTwo(Request) returns (stream Response) {}
}

This protocol buffer is declared in a BUILD.gn file as follows:

import("//build_overrides/pigweed.gni")
import("$dir_pw_protobuf_compiler/proto.gni")

pw_proto_library("the_service_proto") {
  sources = [ "foo_bar/the_service.proto" ]
}

proto2 or proto3 syntax?

Always use proto3 syntax rather than proto2 for new protocol buffers. Proto2 protobufs can be compiled for pw_rpc, but they are not as well supported as proto3. Specifically, pw_rpc lacks support for non-zero default values in proto2. When using Nanopb with pw_rpc, proto2 response protobufs with non-zero field defaults should be manually initialized to the default struct.

In the past, proto3 was sometimes avoided because it lacked support for field presence detection. Fortunately, this has been fixed: proto3 now supports optional fields, which are equivalent to proto2 optional fields.

If you need to distinguish between a default-valued field and a missing field, mark the field as optional. The presence of the field can be detected with a HasField(name) or has_<field> member, depending on the library.

Optional fields have some overhead — default-valued fields are included in the encoded proto, and, if using Nanopb, the proto structs have a has_<field> flag for each optional field. Use plain fields if field presence detection is not needed.

syntax = "proto3";

message MyMessage {
  // Leaving this field unset is equivalent to setting it to 0.
  int32 number = 1;

  // Setting this field to 0 is different from leaving it unset.
  optional int32 other_number = 2;
}

2. RPC code generation

pw_rpc generates a C++ header file for each .proto file. This header is generated in the build output directory. Its exact location varies by build system and toolchain, but the C++ include path always matches the sources declaration in the pw_proto_library. The .proto extension is replaced with an extension corresponding to the protobuf library in use.

Protobuf libraries

Build subtarget

Protobuf header

pw_rpc header

Raw only

.raw_rpc

(none)

.raw_rpc.pb.h

Nanopb or raw

.nanopb_rpc

.pb.h

.rpc.pb.h

pw_protobuf or raw

.pwpb_rpc

.pwpb.h

.rpc.pwpb.h

For example, the generated RPC header for "foo_bar/the_service.proto" is "foo_bar/the_service.rpc.pb.h" for Nanopb or "foo_bar/the_service.raw_rpc.pb.h" for raw RPCs.

The generated header defines a base class for each RPC service declared in the .proto file. A service named TheService in package foo.bar would generate the following base class:

template<typename Implementation>
class foo::bar::generated::TheService

3. RPC service definition

The serivce class is implemented by inheriting from the generated RPC service base class and defining a method for each RPC. The methods must match the name and function signature for one of the supported protobuf implementations. Services may mix and match protobuf implementations within one service.

Tip

The generated code includes RPC service implementation stubs. You can reference or copy and paste these to get started with implementing a service. These stub classes are generated at the bottom of the pw_rpc proto header.

A Nanopb implementation of this service would be as follows:

#include "foo_bar/the_service.rpc.pb.h"

namespace foo::bar {

class TheService : public generated::TheService<TheService> {
 public:
  pw::Status MethodOne(ServerContext& ctx,
                       const foo_bar_Request& request,
                       foo_bar_Response& response) {
    // implementation
    return pw::OkStatus();
  }

  void MethodTwo(ServerContext& ctx,
                 const foo_bar_Request& request,
                 ServerWriter<foo_bar_Response>& response) {
    // implementation
    response.Write(foo_bar_Response{.number = 123});
  }
};

}  // namespace foo::bar

The Nanopb implementation would be declared in a BUILD.gn:

import("//build_overrides/pigweed.gni")

import("$dir_pw_build/target_types.gni")

pw_source_set("the_service") {
  public_configs = [ ":public" ]
  public = [ "public/foo_bar/service.h" ]
  public_deps = [ ":the_service_proto.nanopb_rpc" ]
}

Attention

pw_rpc’s generated classes will support using pw_protobuf or raw buffers (no protobuf library) in the future.

4. Register the service with a server

This example code sets up an RPC server with an HDLC channel output and the example service.

// Set up the output channel for the pw_rpc server to use. This configures the
// pw_rpc server to use HDLC over UART; projects not using UART and HDLC must
// adapt this as necessary.
pw::stream::SysIoWriter writer;
pw::rpc::RpcChannelOutput<kMaxTransmissionUnit> hdlc_channel_output(
    writer, pw::hdlc::kDefaultRpcAddress, "HDLC output");

pw::rpc::Channel channels[] = {
    pw::rpc::Channel::Create<1>(&hdlc_channel_output)};

// Declare the pw_rpc server with the HDLC channel.
pw::rpc::Server server(channels);

pw::rpc::TheService the_service;

void RegisterServices() {
  // Register the foo.bar.TheService example service.
  server.Register(the_service);

  // Register other services
}

int main() {
  // Set up the server.
  RegisterServices();

  // Declare a buffer for decoding incoming HDLC frames.
  std::array<std::byte, kMaxTransmissionUnit> input_buffer;

  PW_LOG_INFO("Starting pw_rpc server");
  pw::hdlc::ReadAndProcessPackets(
      server, hdlc_channel_output, input_buffer);
}

Services

A service is a logical grouping of RPCs defined within a .proto file. pw_rpc uses these .proto definitions to generate code for a base service, from which user-defined RPCs are implemented.

pw_rpc supports multiple protobuf libraries, and the generated code API depends on which is used.

Protobuf library APIs

Testing a pw_rpc integration

After setting up a pw_rpc server in your project, you can test that it is working as intended by registering the provided EchoService, defined in echo.proto, which echoes back a message that it receives.

syntax = "proto3";

package pw.rpc;

service EchoService {
  rpc Echo(EchoMessage) returns (EchoMessage) {}
}

message EchoMessage {
  string msg = 1;
}

For example, in C++ with nanopb:

#include "pw_rpc/server.h"

// Include the apporpriate header for your protobuf library.
#include "pw_rpc/echo_service_nanopb.h"

constexpr pw::rpc::Channel kChannels[] = { /* ... */ };
static pw::rpc::Server server(kChannels);

static pw::rpc::EchoService echo_service;

void Init() {
  server.RegisterService(&echo_service);
}

Protocol description

Pigweed RPC servers and clients communicate using pw_rpc packets. These packets are used to send requests and responses, control streams, cancel ongoing RPCs, and report errors.

Packet format

Pigweed RPC packets consist of a type and a set of fields. The packets are encoded as protocol buffers. The full packet format is described in pw_rpc/pw_rpc_protos/internal/packet.proto.

syntax = "proto3";

package pw.rpc.internal;

option java_package = "dev.pigweed.pw.rpc.internal";

enum PacketType {
  // To simplify identifying the origin of a packet, client-to-server packets
  // use even numbers and server-to-client packets use odd numbers.

  // Client-to-server packets

  // A request from a client for a service method.
  REQUEST = 0;

  // A client stream has completed.
  CLIENT_STREAM_END = 2;

  // The client received a packet for an RPC it did not request.
  CLIENT_ERROR = 4;

  // The client requests cancellation of an ongoing server stream.
  CANCEL_SERVER_STREAM = 6;

  // Server-to-client packets

  // A response from a server for a service method.
  RESPONSE = 1;

  // A server streaming or bidirectional RPC has completed.
  SERVER_STREAM_END = 3;

  // The server was unable to process a request.
  SERVER_ERROR = 5;
}

message RpcPacket {
  // The type of packet. Determines which other fields are used.
  PacketType type = 1;

  // Channel through which the packet is sent.
  uint32 channel_id = 2;

  // Hash of the fully-qualified name of the service with which this packet is
  // associated. For RPC packets, this is the service that processes the packet.
  fixed32 service_id = 3;

  // Hash of the name of the method which should process this packet.
  fixed32 method_id = 4;

  // The packet's payload, which is an encoded protobuf.
  bytes payload = 5;

  // Status code for the RPC response or error.
  uint32 status = 6;
}

The packet type and RPC type determine which fields are present in a Pigweed RPC packet. Each packet type is only sent by either the client or the server. These tables describe the meaning of and fields included with each packet type.

Client-to-server packets

packet type

description

REQUEST

RPC request

- channel_id
- service_id
- method_id
- payload
  (unless first client stream)

CLIENT_STREAM_END

Client stream finished

- channel_id
- service_id
- method_id

CLIENT_ERROR

Received unexpected packet

- channel_id
- service_id
- method_id
- status

CANCEL_SERVER_STREAM

Cancel a server stream

- channel_id
- service_id
- method_id

Errors

The client sends CLIENT_ERROR packets to a server when it receives a packet it did not request. If the RPC is a streaming RPC, the server should abort it.

The status code indicates the type of error. If the client does not distinguish between the error types, it can send whichever status is most relevant. The status code is logged, but all status codes result in the same action by the server: aborting the RPC.

  • NOT_FOUND – Received a packet for a service method the client does not recognize.

  • FAILED_PRECONDITION – Received a packet for a service method that the client did not invoke.

Server-to-client packets

packet type

description

RESPONSE

RPC response

- channel_id
- service_id
- method_id
- payload
- status
  (unless in server stream)

SERVER_STREAM_END

Server stream and RPC finished

- channel_id
- service_id
- method_id
- status

SERVER_ERROR

Received unexpected packet

- channel_id
- service_id (if relevant)
- method_id (if relevant)
- status

Errors

The server sends SERVER_ERROR packets when it receives a packet it cannot process. The client should abort any RPC for which it receives an error. The status field indicates the type of error.

  • NOT_FOUND – The requested service or method does not exist.

  • FAILED_PRECONDITION – Attempted to cancel an RPC that is not pending.

  • RESOURCE_EXHAUSTED – The request came on a new channel, but a channel could not be allocated for it.

  • INTERNAL – The server was unable to respond to an RPC due to an unrecoverable internal error.

Inovking a service method

Calling an RPC requires a specific sequence of packets. This section describes the protocol for calling service methods of each type: unary, server streaming, client streaming, and bidirectional streaming.

Unary RPC

In a unary RPC, the client sends a single request and the server sends a single response.

blockdiag client server PacketType.REQUEST channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.RESPONSE channel ID service ID method ID payload status request response

Server streaming RPC

In a server streaming RPC, the client sends a single request and the server sends any number of responses followed by a SERVER_STREAM_END packet.

blockdiag client server PacketType.REQUEST channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.RESPONSE channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.SERVER_STREAM_END channel ID service ID method ID status request responses (zero or more) done

Server streaming RPCs may be cancelled by the client. The client sends a CANCEL_SERVER_STREAM packet to terminate the RPC.

blockdiag client server PacketType.REQUEST channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.RESPONSE channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.CANCEL_SERVER_STREAM channel ID service ID method ID PacketType.SERVER_STREAM_END channel ID service ID method ID status request responses (zero or more) cancel done

Client streaming RPC

In a client streaming RPC, the client sends any number of RPC requests followed by a CLIENT_STREAM_END packet. The server then sends a single response.

The first client-to-server RPC packet does not include a payload.

Attention

pw_rpc does not yet support client streaming RPCs.

blockdiag client server PacketType.REQUEST channel ID service ID method ID PacketType.REQUEST channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.CLIENT_STREAM_END channel ID service ID method ID PacketType.RESPONSE channel ID service ID method ID payload status start requests (zero or more) done response

The server may terminate a client streaming RPC at any time by sending its response packet.

blockdiag client server PacketType.REQUEST channel ID service ID method ID PacketType.REQUEST channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.RESPONSE channel ID service ID method ID payload status start requests (zero or more) response

Bidirectional streaming RPC

In a bidirectional streaming RPC, the client sends any number of requests and the server sends any number of responses. The client sends a CLIENT_STREAM_END packet when it has finished sending requests. The server sends a SERVER_STREAM_END packet after it receives the client’s CLIENT_STREAM_END and finished sending its responses.

The first client-to-server RPC packet does not include a payload.

Attention

pw_rpc does not yet support bidirectional streaming RPCs.

blockdiag client server PacketType.REQUEST channel ID service ID method ID PacketType.REQUEST channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.RESPONSE channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.CLIENT_STREAM_END channel ID service ID method ID PacketType.RPC channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.SERVER_STREAM_END channel ID service ID method ID status start requests (zero or more) responses (zero or more) done responses (zero or more) done (messages in any order)

The server may terminate the RPC at any time by sending a SERVER_STREAM_END packet with the status, even if the client has not sent its STREAM_END. The client may cancel the RPC at any time by sending a CANCEL_SERVER_STREAM packet.

blockdiag client server PacketType.RPC channel ID service ID method ID PacketType.RPC channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.RPC channel ID service ID method ID payload PacketType.CANCEL_SERVER_STREAM channel ID service ID method ID PacketType.STREAM_END channel ID service ID method ID status start requests (zero or more) responses (zero or more) cancel done

RPC server

Declare an instance of rpc::Server and register services with it.

TODO

Document the public interface

Size report

The following size report showcases the memory usage of the core RPC server. It is configured with a single channel using a basic transport interface that directly reads from and writes to pw_sys_io. The transport has a 128-byte packet buffer, which comprises the plurality of the example’s RAM usage. This is not a suitable transport for an actual product; a real implementation would have additional overhead proportional to the complexity of the transport.

Label

Segment

Before

Delta

After

Server by itself

FLASH
RAM
20,544
680
+4,284
+168
24,828
848

RPC server implementation

The Method class

The RPC Server depends on the pw::rpc::internal::Method class. Method serves as the bridge between the pw_rpc server library and the user-defined RPC functions. Each supported protobuf implementation extends Method to implement its request and response proto handling. The pw_rpc server calls into the Method implementation through the base class’s Invoke function.

Method implementations store metadata about each method, including a function pointer to the user-defined method implementation. They also provide static constexpr functions for creating each type of method. Method implementations must satisfy the MethodImplTester test class in pw_rpc_private/method_impl_tester.h.

See pw_rpc/internal/method.h for more details about Method.

Packet flow

Requests
blockdiag packets Server Service internal::Method generated services user-defined RPCs pw_rpc library
Responses
blockdiag user-defined RPCs generated services Server internal::Method Channel packets pw_rpc library

RPC client

The RPC client is used to send requests to a server and manages the contexts of ongoing RPCs.

Setting up a client

The pw::rpc::Client class is instantiated with a list of channels that it uses to communicate. These channels can be shared with a server, but multiple clients cannot use the same channels.

To send incoming RPC packets from the transport layer to be processed by a client, the client’s ProcessPacket function is called with the packet data.

#include "pw_rpc/client.h"

namespace {

pw::rpc::Channel my_channels[] = {
    pw::rpc::Channel::Create<1>(&my_channel_output)};
pw::rpc::Client my_client(my_channels);

}  // namespace

// Called when the transport layer receives an RPC packet.
void ProcessRpcPacket(ConstByteSpan packet) {
  my_client.ProcessPacket(packet);
}

Making RPC calls

RPC calls are not made directly through the client, but using one of its registered channels instead. A service client class is generated from a .proto file for each selected protobuf library, which is then used to send RPC requests through a given channel. The API for this depends on the protobuf library; please refer to the appropriate documentation. Multiple service client implementations can exist simulatenously and share the same Client class.

When a call is made, a pw::rpc::ClientCall object is returned to the caller. This object tracks the ongoing RPC call, and can be used to manage it. An RPC call is only active as long as its ClientCall object is alive.

Tip

Use std::move when passing around ClientCall objects to keep RPCs alive.

Client implementation details

The ClientCall class

ClientCall stores the context of an active RPC, and serves as the user’s interface to the RPC client. The core RPC library provides a base ClientCall class with common functionality, which is then extended for RPC client implementations tied to different protobuf libraries to provide convenient interfaces for working with RPCs.

The RPC server stores a list of all of active ClientCall objects. When an incoming packet is recieved, it dispatches to one of its active calls, which then decodes the payload and presents it to the user.