KRunner C++ plugin

Abstract

The Plasma workspace provides an application called KRunner which, among other things, allows one to type into a text area which causes various actions and information that match the text appear as the text is being typed.

This functionality is provided via plugins loaded at runtime called "Runners". These plugins can be used by any application using the KRunner library, like the normal Application Launcher or the Plasma-Mobile search applet. This tutorial explores how to create a runner plugin.

Basic Anatomy of a Runner

Plasma::AbstractRunner is the base class of all Runners. It provides the basic structure for Runner plugins to:

  • Perform one-time setup upon creation
  • Perform setup and teardown before and after matching starts
  • Create and register matches for a given search term
  • Define secondary actions for a given match
  • Take action on a given match registered by the runner
  • Show configuration options

In addition to Plasma::AbstractRunner there are three other important classes that we will be using from the Plasma library:

Each of these classes will be covered in more detail as we encounter them in the Runner plugin implementation.

Creating a Runner Plugin Project

In this tutorial we will be creating a Runner plugin that finds files in the user's home directory that match the query and offers to open them. We begin by setting up the basic project files including a CMakeLists.txt file for building and installing the plugin, a class definition in a header file and a source code file containing the class implementation.

The CMakeLists.txt File

CMake makes it very easy to set up the build system for our plugin:

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cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 3.16)
project(runnerexample)

set(KF5_MIN_VERSION "5.90")

# Include the Extra-CMake-Modules project
find_package(ECM ${KF5_MIN_VERSION} REQUIRED NO_MODULE)
set(CMAKE_MODULE_PATH ${ECM_MODULE_PATH} ${ECM_KDE_MODULE_DIR} ${CMAKE_MODULE_PATH})

include(KDEInstallDirs)
include(KDECMakeSettings)
include(KDECompilerSettings NO_POLICY_SCOPE)
include(FeatureSummary)

find_package(KF5 ${KF5_MIN_VERSION} REQUIRED COMPONENTS I18n Config Runner KIO Notifications)

# This takes care of building and installing the plugin
kcoreaddons_add_plugin(runner_example_homefiles SOURCES homefilesrunner.cpp INSTALL_NAMESPACE "kf5/krunner")
# We need to link the KRunner and other used libraries  to it
target_link_libraries(runner_example_homefiles
    KF5::I18n
    KF5::ConfigCore
    KF5::Runner
    KF5::KIOWidgets
    KF5::Notifications
)

The .json Metadata File

When KRunner queries the available plugins, it reads the embedded metadata. in order to provide this, we have to embed a json metadata file. In this case we call it homefilesrunner.json. This name is referenced in the K_PLUGIN_CLASS_WITH_JSON macro further below.

The contents of this file, as seen below, contain the name, description and technical details about the plugin.

{
    "KPlugin": {
        "Authors": [
            {
                "Email": "your.name@mail.com",
                "Name": "Your Name"
            }
        ],
        "Description": "Part of a tutorial demonstrating how to create Runner plugins",
        "EnabledByDefault": true,
        "Icon": "user-home",
        "License": "GPL",
        "Name": "Home Files",
        "Version": "0.1",
        "Website": "http://plasma.kde.org/"
    }
}

In this example the plugin id gets derived from the plugin file name, in this case "runner_example_homefiles" The entries such as Name, Description, License and Authors are information and are shown in the user interface but have no other technical importance. Try to avoid using jargon in the Name and Description entries, however, to make it easy for people to understand what your plugin does.

The Class Definition (Header file)

Our class definition for this project looks as follows:

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#pragma once

#include <KRunner/AbstractRunner>

class HomeFilesRunner : public Plasma::AbstractRunner
{
    Q_OBJECT

public:
    HomeFilesRunner(QObject *parent, const KPluginMetaData &data, const QVariantList &args);

    void match(Plasma::RunnerContext &context) override;
    void run(const Plasma::RunnerContext &context, const Plasma::QueryMatch &match) override;
    void reloadConfiguration() override;

protected:
    void init() override;

private:
    QString m_path;
    QString m_triggerWord;
};

Even though it is a full featured Runner plugin it is just a handful of methods, each of which will be examined.

Initializing the Runner

In typical usage, a Runner plugin is instantiated once and then reused multiple times for different queries. Each time a Runner is launched with a query to match against, it is called from a new thread so some parts of our plugin will need to be thread safe.

Initialization of the Runner is done in four parts: the plugin declaration macro, the constructor, init() and in prepareForMatchSession(), none of which need to be thread safe as they are all guaranteed to be called from the main application thread prior to any query matching activity.

The Plugin Declaration Macro

At the end of our implementation (.cpp) file we have this:

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K_PLUGIN_CLASS_WITH_JSON(HomeFilesRunner, "homefilesrunner.json")

#include "homefilesrunner.moc"

The .moc file include looks familiar enough from other Qt code, but the macro right above it probably does not. This the macro generates the plugin factory that the plugin is created from and as a second parameter the json metadata file.

The Constructor

The constructor look like this:

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HomeFilesRunner::HomeFilesRunner(QObject *parent, const KPluginMetaData &data, const QVariantList &args)
    : AbstractRunner(parent, data, args)
{
    setPriority(LowPriority);
}

The parent and data parameters are critical to the proper loading of the plugin and are passed into the AbstractRunner superclass in the initialization list. The args can optionally contain additional information for loading the plugin, in case of KRunner we should just pass this to the superclass.

Next we set the expected priority of the runner. This property affects the scheduling of the Runner when there is a pool of plugins to choose from during query matching.

init()

The init() method should contain any set up that needs to happen prior to matching queries that should be done exactly once during the lifespan of the plugin. In the HomeFilesRunner the init() method is very simple:

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void HomeFilesRunner::init()
{
    reloadConfiguration();
    connect(this, &Plasma::AbstractRunner::prepare, this, []() {
        // Initialize data for the match session. This gets called from the main thread
    });
    connect(this, &Plasma::AbstractRunner::teardown, this, []() {
        // Cleanup data from the match session. This gets called from the main thread
    });
}

It loads the configuration for the runner (see below) and connects up two critical signals: prepare and teardown.

init() should try to avoid load large amounts of data if unneeded, because it blocks the main thread. The final place that initialization may occur is in the lambda connected to the prepare() signal. This signal is emitted whenever matches for queries are going to commence. Zero, one or more query match requests may then be made after which the teardown() signal will be emitted. In the connected slots, data that is used during the match session can be initialized. These methods are also called in the main thread.

The Main Event: Matching Queries

The primary purpose of a Runner plugin is to return potential matches for a given query string. These matches are then presented in some fashion to the user who may select one or more of the matches.

For each letter typed, the plugins match method gets called in a new thread. This ensures the user interface remains fluid. Old match method calls can run to their completion even though ignored.

Whenever a Runner is asked to perform a match, the match(Plasma::RunnerContext &context) method is called. This method must be thread safe as it can be called simultaneously in different threads. Ensure that all data used is read-only (and thread safe when reading), local to the match method or protected by a mutex.

The Plasma::RunnerContext passed into match offers all the information we'll need about the query being made. The Plasma::RunnerContext will also take care of accepting matches our Runner generates and collating them with the matches produced by other Runners that may also be in use.

Let's examine the match method in our example Runner, line by line:

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void HomeFilesRunner::match(Plasma::RunnerContext &context)
{
    QString query = context.query();
    if (query == QLatin1Char('.') || query == QLatin1String("..")) {
        return;
    }
    // This should not get in the way of the Help-Runner which gets triggered by queries starting with '?'
    if (query.startsWith(QLatin1Char('?'))) {
        return;
    }

    if (!m_triggerWord.isEmpty()) {
        if (!query.startsWith(m_triggerWord)) {
            return;
        }

        query.remove(0, m_triggerWord.length());
    }

    if (query.length() > 2) {
        query.prepend(QLatin1Char('*')).append(QLatin1Char('*'));
    }

So far it is quite straight forward, though we can already see a few common techniques. Before doing any more complex processing, if the query matches certain criteria, the match method returns quickly. This frees up that thread in the pool for use by another Runner or for another query.

We can also see the use of a "trigger word". A trigger word is used to mark a specific query so that the user can, through the use of keywords, better control the results. For example, the spell checker Runner uses "spell" (translated to the current user's language, of course) as its trigger word; this allows one to type "spell plasma" and have it checked in the dictionary. This concept does not map well to all Runners, but can be a very effective technique in the right circumstances.

A third technique is to modify the query (or even accept it) based on a minimal size. In this case, we turn any query that has 3 or more letters in it into a glob with a * on each end. To preserve efficiency and make the results more useful, we limit globbing to only queries of at least 2 characters. This isn't done for queries of only one or two letters since that would likely generate far more matches than desired on any query text. Skipping some or all processing of such small queries is a common practice.

    QDir dir(m_path);

Next, a QDir object is created. According to the Qt documentation, QDir is reentrant but not thread safe. Because of this it is safe to use a QDir object in a thread, but not to share one between different threads. So we are forced to create a local object to use in the match method. If QDir was thread safe, we could create one in the slot connected to the prepare signal, for instance, and potentially gain some additional efficiencies.

    QList<Plasma::QueryMatch> matches;

Next, a list is defined to hold the matches the Runner creates. This will allow the matches to be queued up and then added all at once at the end. This is slightly more efficient than the alternative of adding matches one at a time as they are created.

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    QList<Plasma::QueryMatch> matches;
    qWarning() << query << m_path;
    for (const QString &file : dir.entryList(QStringList(query))) {
        const QString path = dir.absoluteFilePath(file);
        if (!path.startsWith(m_path)) {
            // this file isn't in our directory; looks like we got a query with some
            // ..'s in it!
            continue;
        }

Now to the heart of the matter! We ask the QDir object for a list of files in our target directory that match the query. We do some basic sanity checking on the result before moving on and checking if the context itself is still valid:

        if (!context.isValid()) {
            return;
        }

Since the query may change while the Runner is processing in another thread, the user may not longer care about the results the Runner in this thread is currently generating. In this case, the context object we received will be marked as invalid. By checking this, particularly before doing expensive processing or spinning in a potentially large loop, the Runner can avoid using more CPU and thread pool time than necessary. This makes the user interface feel more snappy.

Next, we create a Plasma::QueryMatch object and add it to our list of matches:

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        Plasma::QueryMatch match(this);
        match.setText(i18n("Open %1", path));
        match.setData(path);
        match.setId(path);
        QIcon icon = QIcon::fromTheme(mimeDb.mimeTypeForFile(path).iconName());
        match.setIcon(icon);

        if (file.compare(query, Qt::CaseInsensitive)) {
            match.setRelevance(1.0);
            match.setType(Plasma::QueryMatch::ExactMatch);
        } else {
            match.setRelevance(0.8);
        }

        matches.append(match);
    }

Plasma::QueryMatch objects are small data containers, little more than glorified structs really. As such, they are generally created on the stack, thread safe and can be copied and assigned without worry.

We set several of the properties on the match, including the text and icon that will be shown in the user interface. The id that is set is specific to our Runner and can be used for later saving, ranking and even re-creation of the match. The data associated with the match is also specific to the runner; any QVariant may be associated with the match, making later execution of the match easier.

Finally, a relevance between 0.0 and 1.0 is assigned according to how "close" a match is to the query according to the Runner. In the case of the Home Files runner, if the query matches a file exactly the type of the match is set to "ExactMatch". Other possible match types of interest to Runner plugins include PossibleMatch (the default) and InformationalMatch. InformationMatch is an interesting variation: it is a match which offers information but no further action to be taken; an example might be the answer to a mathematical equation. Not only are InformationalMatch matches shown with higher ranking than PossibleMatch matches, but when selected the data value is copied to the clipboard and put into the query text edit.

Also note how the icons are cached in a QHash so that the relatively expensive call to KMimeType for the icon need only be made once per matching file. This can really add up if the query grows in length (e.g. "p", "pl", "pla", "plas", etc) but continues to match the same file repeatedly. Since the QHash is cleared when the teardown signal is called, the added memory overhead does not become a concern.

Finally, once the for loop is completed, we add any matches created to the context that was passed in:

    context.addMatches(matches);

That's it! The runner does not need to worry if the matches are still valid for the current query and can create any number of matches as it goes. It can even offer them up in batches by either calling context.addMatch for each match created or calling context.addMatches every so often. Generally Runners match quickly and so batch up their finds and submit them all at once.

"Running" a Match

If a match is selected by the user and it is not an Plasma::QueryMatch::InformationalMatch, the Runner is once again called into action and the run method is invoked. This method does not need to be thread safe, so we can code with a bit more ease here. Our example Runner has this for its implementation:

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void HomeFilesRunner::run(const Plasma::RunnerContext & /*context*/, const Plasma::QueryMatch &match)
{
    // KIO::OpenUrlJob autodeletes itself, so we can just create it and forget it!
    auto *job = new KIO::OpenUrlJob(QUrl::fromLocalFile(match.data().toString()));
    job->setUiDelegate(new KNotificationJobUiDelegate(KJobUiDelegate::AutoErrorHandlingEnabled));
    job->setRunExecutables(false);
    job->start();
}

As can be seen, the match that was selected was passed back to the Runner again along with the relevant context (though this object is rarely needed). What the Runner does at this point is completely up to the given implementation; in this case the Home Files Runner just uses KRun to open up the file it found earlier.

There is no limitation as to what the Runner can do, but this method is run from the main thread so blocking in the run method is considered poor form. If the process will take any considerable amount of time, consider making it asynchronous.

Configuration

Runners can offer two kinds of configuration: configuration of the Runner itself (such as what the trigger word is) and configuration that controls what (or how) action is taken on a given match when it is selected.

Runner Options

Configuration options for a Runner can be read and written to the KConfigGroup returned by the AbstractRunner::config() method. The best place to read configuration values is in the reloadConfiguration() method; this is a virtual method in AbstractRunner that gets called when the configuration changes on disk.

In the Home Files Runner, configuration values are read in this fashion:

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void HomeFilesRunner::reloadConfiguration()
{
    KConfigGroup c = config();
    m_triggerWord = c.readEntry("trigger", QString());
    if (!m_triggerWord.isEmpty()) {
        m_triggerWord.append(QLatin1Char(' '));
    }

    m_path = c.readPathEntry("path", QDir::homePath());
    QFileInfo pathInfo(m_path);
    if (!pathInfo.isDir()) {
        m_path = QDir::homePath();
    }

    QList<Plasma::RunnerSyntax> syntaxes;
    Plasma::RunnerSyntax syntax(QStringLiteral("%1:q:").arg(m_triggerWord), i18n("Finds files matching :q: in the %1 folder", m_path));
    syntaxes.append(syntax);
    setSyntaxes(syntaxes);
}

Both the trigger word and the path of the directory to look in are read from the configuration group and this method is called from Home File Runner's init() implementation.

Note that if there was a trigger word provided by default that it should be marked for translation with i18nc("Note this is a KRunner keyword", "trigger"). This will both ensure that translators know how to translate it properly (thanks to the comment) and that users will be able to use the runner in their own language.

What you may also notice in the above code snippet is the use of a new class: Plasma::RunnerSyntax .

Publishing Recognized Syntax

Runners may advertise what sorts of queries they understand by creating Plasma::RunnerSyntax . objects. This information can be requested by the user as a form or run-time documentation and may even be used by some applications to decide which Runners to launch or not. Therefore, while creating Plasma::RunnerSyntax . objects is optional it is also highly recommended.

Let's examine the code in HomeFilesRunner::reloadConfiguration() concerning syntax definition a bit closer:

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    QList<Plasma::RunnerSyntax> syntaxes;
    Plasma::RunnerSyntax syntax(QStringLiteral("%1:q:").arg(m_triggerWord), i18n("Finds files matching :q: in the %1 folder", m_path));
    syntaxes.append(syntax);
    setSyntaxes(syntaxes);

On the first line, we create a QList object to put our syntax objects into. We can add syntax objects one at a time, but using a QList, even if there is only one syntax, is usually more convenient.

The syntax object is created on lines 2-3 with the first parameter being an example of the query and the second parameter being a description of what such a query will result in. In the case of the HomeFilesRunner the syntax is created when the configuration is read in because the syntax depends on the trigger word (if any) that is set.

One special string in both the query example and the explanatory text is ":q:". This is stands for "the variable query text entered by the user" and will be replaced in the user interface with something more meaningful when shown as documentation or as a delimiter to look for when analyzing Runner appropriateness.

If a Runner understands multiple query formulations that result in the same matches being generated (or "query synonyms"), such synonymous queries can be added to the syntax object using Plasma::RunnerSyntax::addExampleQuery .

Runner Configuration

Providing a configuration interface for a Runner is accomplished by create a KCModule plugin. The path to the plugin should be registered in the json metadata:

{
    "KPlugin": {
    },
    "X-KDE-ConfigModule": "kf5/krunner/kcms/kcm_homefilesrunner"
}

The installation of the plugin goes as follows:

kcoreaddons_add_plugin(kcm_homefilesrunner SOURCES kcm_homefilesrunner.cpp INSTALL_NAMESPACE kf5/krunner/kcms)

The config module does not need embedded json metadata and can be exported using:

K_PLUGIN_CLASS(HomeFilesRunnerConfig)

This KCM can be launched from the KRunner configuration page or the help-runner. When the settings are saved, reloadConfiguration will be called.

Single Runner Mode

For some Runners, it can make sense to support being the only Runner being used. Usually an application will use multiple runners at once via Plasma::RunnerManager, but it can also use just one runner or put Plasma::RunnerManager into a special "single runner" mode. This feature is currently only exposed using the D-Bus interface. A common usecase is to a keyboard shortcut to a runner. See https://github.com/alex1701c/EmojiRunner/blob/master/EmojiRunnerCommands.khotkeys#L26 for an example.

A Runner can, if desired, detect when it is being used as the sole runner by calling Plasma::RunnerContext::singleRunnerQueryMode on the context object passed into the match method. If the return value is true, then the runner may decide to alter its behavior (like not requiring a trigger word).