1. Introduction to GemStone

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This chapter introduces you to the GemStone/S 64 Bit™ (GemStone) system. GemStone provides a distributed, server-based, multi-user, transactional Smalltalk runtime system, with the ability to partition the application between client and server.

GemStone provides enterprise-quality security, scalability, availability, and services for managing and monitoring the repository.

1.1 GemStone Overview


GemStone can support thousands of concurrent users, object repositories of hundreds of gigabytes, and sustained object transaction rates of hundreds of transactions per second. Server processes manage the system, while user sessions support individual user activities. Repository and server processes can be distributed among multiple machines, leveraging shared memory and SMP.

Multiple user sessions can be active at the same time, and each user may have multiple sessions open. A flexible naming scheme allows separate or shared namespaces for individual users. Changes that users make to objects are committed in transactions, with concurrency controls and locks ensuring that multi-user changes to objects are coordinated. Security is provided at several levels, from login authorization to method execution privileges and object access privileges.


GemStone provides data definition, data manipulation, and query facilities in a single, computationally complete language — GemStone Smalltalk. The GemStone Smalltalk language offers built-in data types (classes), operators, and control structures comparable in scope and power to those provided by languages such as C or Java, in addition to multi-user concurrency and repository management services. All system-level facilities, such as transaction control, user authorization, and so on, are accessible from GemStone Smalltalk.


Object programming languages such as Smalltalk are highly efficient development tools. Smalltalk exploits inheritance and code reuse and provides the flexibility of modeling real world objects with self-contained software modules. Most Smalltalk implementations, however, are memory based, and objects exist only in a single user’s image.

Like a single-user Smalltalk image, GemStone consists of classes, methods, instances and meta objects. Persistence is established by attaching new objects to other persistent objects. All objects are derived from a named root (AllUsers). Objects that have been attached and committed to the repository are visible to all other authorized users.

However, since the GemStone repository is accessed through disk caches, it is not limited in size by available memory. A GemStone repository can contain billions of objects, each with a unique object identifier (known as an OOP—object-oriented pointer).

Object Database

GemStone lets you model information in structures as simple or complex as application data requires. You can represent data objects in tables, hierarchies, networks, queues, or any other structure or nested combination of structures that is appropriate.

Because you can represent information in forms that mirror the information’s natural structure, the translation of user requests into executable queries can be much easier in GemStone. You do not need to translate users’ keystrokes or menu selections into relational algebra formulas, calculus expressions and procedural statements before the query can be executed. See Chapter 7, “Indexes and Querying”.

Partition Between Client and Server

GemStone applications can access objects and run their methods from a number of languages, including Smalltalk, C, Java, or any language that makes C calls. Objects created from any of these languages are interoperable with objects created from the other languages, and can run their methods within GemStone.

To provide this functionality, GemStone provides interface libraries of Smalltalk classes, Java classes, and C functions. These GemBuilder™ language interfaces allow you to move objects between an application program and the GemStone repository, and to connect client objects to GemStone objects. GemBuilder also provides remote messaging capabilities, client replicates, and synchronization of changes.

GemStone’s interfaces include:

GemBuilder for Smalltalk
GemBuilder for Smalltalk consists of two parts: a set of GemStone programming tools, and a programming interface between the client application code and GemStone. GemBuilder for Smalltalk contains a set of classes installed in a client Smalltalk image that provides access to objects in a GemStone repository. Many of the client Smalltalk kernel classes are mapped to equivalent GemStone classes, and additional class mappings can be created by the application developer.

GemBuilder for Smalltalk is a separate product, and includes documentation describing installation and use.

GemBuilder for Java
GemBuilder for Java also has two parts: a set of GemStone programming tools, and a programming interface between the client application code and GemStone. GemBuilder for Java is a Java runtime package that provides a message-forwarding interface between a Java client and a GemStone server, allowing access to objects in a GemStone repository.

GemBuilder for Java is distributed as a separate product, and includes documentation describing installation and use.

GemBuilder for C
GemBuilder for C is a library of C functions that provide a bridge between an application’s C code and the GemStone repository. This interface allows programmers to work with GemStone objects by importing them into the C program using structural access, or by sending messages to objects in the repository through GemStone Smalltalk.

GemBuilder for C is distributed with the server product. For more information on GemBuilder for C, see the GemBuilder for C Guide.

GsDevKit, the open-source development kit for GemStone/S 64 Bit (formerly referred to as GLASS or Seaside), provides a Pharo-compatible GemStone Smalltalk environment. With the optional Seaside framework, you can create and deploy desktop-like web applications.

GsDevKit and Seaside for GemStone are distributed as open-source products via GitHub. For more information, see gemtalksystems.com/small-business/gsdevkit/.

In addition to these interfaces, GemStone provides a command-line tool that allows you to interact with server objects, execute code, and perform limited scripting:

Topaz is a GemStone programming environment that provides a scriptable command-line interface to GemStone Smalltalk. Topaz is most commonly used for performing repository maintenance operations. Topaz offers access to GemStone without requiring a window manager or additional language interfaces. You can use Topaz in conjunction with other GemStone development tools such as GemBuilder for C to build comprehensive applications.

Topaz is part of the server distribution. For more information on Topaz, see the Topaz Programming Guide.

Connect to Outside Data Sources

The productivity value of GemStone comes from coding in Smalltalk, but you may need or want to call out to logic written elsewhere, as for instance specialized C libraries. GemStone provides several ways to access external code from a GemStone session.

UserActions (C callouts from GemStone Smalltalk)
UserActions are similar to user-defined primitives in other Smalltalks. You can use GemBuilder for C to write these user actions, and invoke these user actions from GemStone Smalltalk. The tools supporting user actions are part of the GemStone kernel, and are documented in the GemBuilder for C manual.

Foreign Function Interface (FFI)
FFI classes with GemStone allow you to invoke functions in existing C libraries. The argument and return data types are defined within GemStone Smalltalk to conform to the C function definition. The FFI interface is part of the GemStone kernel, and is documented in this Programming Guide.

GemConnect (Access to Oracle database)
GemStone uses the User Action mechanism to build the GemConnect™ product, which provides access to relational database information from GemStone objects. GemConnect is fully encapsulated and maintained in the GemStone object server. GemConnect is distributed as a separate product, and includes documentation describing installation and use.

1.2 GemStone Services

Transactions and Concurrency Control

Each GemStone session defines and maintains a consistent working environment for its application program, presenting the user with a consistent view of the object repository. The user works in an environment in which only his or her changes to objects are visible. These changes are private to the user until the transaction is committed. The effects of updates to the object repository by other users are minimized or invisible during the transaction. GemStone then checks for consistency with other users’ changes before committing the transaction, and refuses to commit conflicting changes.

GemStone provides both optimistic and pessimistic approaches to managing concurrent transactions, and supports explicit object locking for read or write. To allow users to modify the same object in ways that do not actually conflict, such as two users adding to a collection, GemStone extends the Collection class hierarchy by providing reduced-conflict (Rc) classes that can be used in place of standard collection classes.

For more on transactions and reduced-conflict classes, See Chapter 8, “Transactions and Concurrency Control”.

Login Security and Account Management

Compared to a single-user Smalltalk system, GemStone requires substantially more security mechanisms and controls. As a tool for server implementation, multi-user Smalltalk must handle requests from many users running a variety of applications, each of which can require different accessibility of objects. Authentication and authorization are the cornerstones of GemStone Smalltalk security.

Login Authentication
Before users can access system resources, they must be authenticated. Logins can be done from any of the interfaces; in each case, GemStone requires a user ID and a password, and a corresponding UserProfile must exist in GemStone. Authentication of the user ID and password can be done using GemStone’s encryption, using UNIX, by Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), or using Kerberos. GemStone uses SRP and SSL/TLS to establish secure logins and certain types of interprocess connections. Authentication and login security features are described in the System Administration Guide.

Object-level Authorization
To control access to individual objects, GemStone provides object-level authorization. Authorization enforcement is implemented at the lowest level of basic object access to prevent users from circumventing the authorization checking. Read and write authorization can be granted to single objects or groups of objects, for single users or groups of users. See Chapter 9, “Object Security and Authorization”.

User Privileges
GemStone defines a set of privileges for controlling the use of certain system services. Privileges determine whether the specific user is allowed to execute certain system functions, usually ones only performed by the system administrator. Privileges are described in the System Administration Guide.

Services To Manage the GemStone Repository

GemStone is capable of managing objects shared by thousands of users, running methods that access billions of objects, and handling queries over large collections of objects by using indexes. It can support large-scale deployments on multiple machines in a variety of network configurations. All of this functionality requires a wide array of services for management of the repository, the system processes, and user sessions. These services are described in the System Administration Guide.

1.3 GemStone Smalltalk

GemStone Smalltalk is tailored to operate in a multi-user environment, with transaction throughput and client communication as chief considerations. GemStone’s class library is designed for multi-user access to objects. At the same time, its common characteristics with other Smalltalks allow you to implement shared business objects with the same language you use to build client applications. Since the same code can execute either on the client or on the object server, you can easily move behavior from the client to the server for application partitioning.

With a limited number of exceptions, GemStone Smalltalk supports the ANSI Smalltalk standard.

No User Interface

Because GemStone is an object server, GemStone Smalltalk does not provide any classes for screen presentation or user interface development. Graphical user interfaces, including those for developing classes and methods as well as runtime user interfaces, are provided by the client application. The client application uses a GemBuilder interface or a web interface such as Seaside to communicate and interact with the GemStone server.

A significant part of programming with GemStone is designing the interactions between various client runtime systems and the GemStone classes, methods, and objects on the server.

GemStone Sessions

The GemStone interfaces provide access to GemStone objects and mechanisms for running GemStone methods in the server. This access is accomplished by establishing a session with the GemStone object server. The process for establishing a session is tailored to the language or user of each interface. In all cases, however, this process requires identification of the GemStone object server to be used, the user ID for the login, and other information required for authenticating the login request.

Once a session is established, all GemStone activity is carried out in the context of that session, be it low-level object access and creation, or invocation of GemStone Smalltalk methods.

Sessions allow multiple users to share objects. In fact, different sessions can access the same repository in different ways, depending on the needs of the applications or users they are supporting. For example, an employee may only be able to access employee names, telephone extensions and department names through the human resources application, while a manager may be able to access and change salary information as well.

Sessions also control transactions, which are the only way changes to the repository can be committed. However, a passive session can run outside a transaction for better performance and lower overhead. For example, a stock portfolio application that reports the current value of a collection of stocks may run in a session outside a transaction until notified that a price has changed in a stock object. The application would then start a transaction, commit the change, and recalculate the portfolio value. It would then return to a passive session state until the next change notification.

A session can be integrated with the application into a single process, called a linked application. Each application can have only one linked session.

Alternatively, the session can run as a separate process and respond to remote procedure calls (RPCs) from the application. These sessions are called RPC applications. An application may have multiple RPC sessions running simultaneously with each other and a linked session.

System Management Classes

GemStone Smalltalk provides a number of classes that offer system management functionality.

  • The class System, which has no instances, provides class protocol to manage the repository and individual session.
  • The class Repository, which has a single instance named SystemRepository, provides protocol for data management functions, such as extent creation and access, backup and restore, and garbage collection.
  • The class UserProfileSet, which has a single instance named AllUsers, provides protocol to create and manage users.

Monitoring your application

GemStone includes statmonitor and Visual Stat Display (VSD) utilities, which allow you to monitor and record, and view statistics about your application performance. This allows precise tuning as well as detecting potential problems before they occur. GemStone also includes profiling classes that allow you to optimize and tune your Smalltalk code for maximum performance.

File In and File Out

GemStone Smalltalk allows you to file out source code for classes and methods, save the resulting text file, and file it in to another repository. The GemStone class PassiveObject also allows you to create a text representations of the binary objects, which can be written to a file and read into another repository.

Interapplication Communications

GemStone Smalltalk provides two ways to send information from one currently logged-in session to another:

  • GemStone can tell an application when an object has changed by sending the application a notifier at the time of commit. Notifiers eliminate the need for the application to repeatedly query the Gem for this information. Notification is optional, and can be enabled for only those objects in which you are interested.
  • Applications can send messages directly to one another by using Gem-to-Gem signals. Sending a signal requires a specific action by the receiving Gem.

1.4 Process Architecture

GemStone provides the technology to build and execute applications that are designed to be partitioned for execution over a distributed network. GemStone’s architecture provides both scalability and maintainability. The following sections describe the main aspects of GemStone architecture.

Gem Process

For each login, a GemStone session is established with a Gem process. The Gem runs GemStone Smalltalk and processes messages from the client session. It provides the user with a consistent view of the repository, and it manages the user’s session, keeping track of the objects the users has accessed, paging objects in and out of memory as needed, and performing dynamic garbage collection of temporary objects. A user application is always connected to at least one Gem, and may have connections to many Gems. Gems can be distributed on multiple, heterogeneous servers.

In addition to Gem Processes for user sessions, a running GemStone system includes a number of maintenance Gem processes. These system Gems include the GcGems, which handle the tasks of collecting objects that are no longer referenced and the SymbolGem, which centralizes the creation of unique, canonical symbols.

Stone Process

The Stone process is the resource coordinator. One Stone process manages one repository. The Stone synchronizes activities and ensures consistency as it processes requests to commit transactions. Individual Gem processes communicate with the Stone through interprocess channels.


Most GemStone configurations will includes a network server process, known as a NetLDI (Network Long Distance Information). The NetLDI is responsible for starting up GemStone processes such as Gems, and coordinates startup when GemStone processes are needed on a node other than the one the Stone is running on.

Shared Page Cache

The shared page cache (SPC) provides efficient retrieval of objects from disk, and the ability for multiple Gems to access the same object. The SPC is a large, contiguous area of shared memory that is shared by the Stone and each Gem process on that host. Memory is managed and allocated on pages within this shared memory. A cache is started on each machine that runs a Stone monitor, Gem session process, or linked application.

The SPC also contains buffers for communications between Gems and the Stone. The Shared Cache Monitor process initializes the shared memory cache, manages allocation to the sessions, and dynamically adjusts this allocation to fit the workload. It also makes sure that frequently accessed objects remain in memory, and that large objects queries do not flush data from the cache. These controls allow complex applications to be run on the same repository by multiple users without performance degradation.

Extents and Repositories

Extents are composed of multiple disk files or raw partitions. A repository, which is the logical storage unit in which GemStone stores objects, is actually an ordered collection of one or more extents.

Transaction Log

GemStone’s transaction log provides complete point-in-time roll-forward recovery. The transaction log contents are composed by the Gem, and the Stone writes the tranlog using asynchronous I/O. Commit performance is improved through I/O reduction, because only log records need to be written, not many object pages. In addition, the object pages stay in memory to be reused. Transaction logs may be on file systems or on raw devices.


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