The TANGO device server model

Intended audience: developers, Programming language: all

This chapter will present the TANGO device server object model hereafter referred as TDSOM. First, it will introduce CORBA. Then, it will describe each of the basic features of the TDSOM and their function. The TDSOM can be divided into the following basic elements - the device, the server, the database and the application programmers interface. This chapter will treat each of the above elements separately.

Introduction to CORBA

CORBA is a definition of how to write object request brokers (ORB). The definition is managed by the Object Management Group (OMG home page). Various commercial and non-commercial implementations exist for CORBA for all the mainstream operating systems. CORBA uses a programming language independent definition language (called IDL) to defined network object interfaces. Language mappings are defined from IDL to the main programming languages e.g. C++, Java, C, COBOL, Smalltalk and ADA. Within an interface, CORBA defines two kinds of actions available to the outside world. These actions are called attributes and operations.

Operations are all the actions offered by an interface. For instance, within an interface for a Thermostat class, operations could be the action to read the temperature or to set the nominal temperature. An attribute defines a pair of operations a client can call to send or receive a value. For instance, the position of a motor can be defined as an attribute because it is a data that you only set or get. A read only attribute defines a single operation the client can call to receives a value. In case of error, an operation is able to throw an exception to the client, attributes cannot raises exception except system exception (du to network fault for instance).

Intuitively, IDL interface correspond to C++ classes and IDL operations correspond to C++ member functions and attributes as a way to read/write public member variable. Nevertheless, IDL defines only the interface to an object and say nothing about the object implementation. IDL is only a descriptive language. Once the interface is fully described in the IDL language, a compiler (from IDL to C++, from IDL to Java…) generates code to implement this interface. Obviously, you still have to write how operations are implemented.

The act of invoking an operation on an interface causes the ORB to send a message to the corresponding object implementation. If the target object is in another address space, the ORB run time sends a remote procedure call to the implementation. If the target object is in the same address space as the caller, the invocation is accomplished as an ordinary function call to avoid the overhead of using a networking protocol.

For an excellent reference on CORBA with C++ refer to [Henning]. The complete TANGO IDL file can be found in the TANGO home page or at the end of this document in the appendix 2 chapter.

The model

The basic idea of the TDSOM is to treat each device as an object. Each device is a separate entity which has its own data and behavior. Each device has a unique name which identifies it in network name space. Devices are organized according to classes, each device belonging to a class. All classes are derived from one root class thus allowing some common behavior for all devices. Four kind of requests can be sent to a device (locally i.e. in the same process, or remotely i.e. across the network) :

  • Execute actions via commands

  • Read/Set data specific to each device belonging to a class via TANGO attributes

  • Read/Set data specific to each device belonging to a class via TANGO pipes

  • Read some basic device data available for all devices via CORBA attributes.

  • Execute a predefined set of actions available for every devices via CORBA operations

Each device is stored in a process called a device server. Devices are configured at runtime via properties which are stored in a database.

The device

The device is the heart of the TDSOM. A device is an abstract concept defined by the TDSOM. In reality, it can be a piece of hardware (an interlock bit) a collection of hardware (a screen attached to a stepper motor) a logical device (a taper) or a combination of all these (an accelerator). Each device has a unique name in the control system and eventually one alias. Within Tango, a four field name space has been adopted consisting of


Facility refers to the control system instance, domain refers to the sub-system, class the class and member the instance of the device. Device name alias(es) must also be unique within a control system. There is no predefined syntax for device name alias.

Each device belongs to a class. The device class contains a complete description and implementation of the behavior of all members of that class. New device classes can be constructed out of existing device classes. This way a new hierarchy of classes can be built up in a short time. Device classes can use existing devices as sub-classes or as sub-objects. The practice of reusing existing classes is classical for Object Oriented Programming and is one of its main advantages.

All device classes are derived from the same class (the device root class) and implement the same CORBA interface. All devices implementing the same CORBA interface ensures all control object support the same set of CORBA operations and attributes. The device root class contains part of the common device code. By inheriting from this class, all devices shared a common behavior. This also makes maintenance and improvements to the TDSOM easy to carry out.

All devices also support a black box where client requests for attributes or operations are recorded. This feature allows easier debugging session for device already installed in a running control system.

The commands

Each device class implements a list of commands. Commands are very important because they are the client’s major dials and knobs for controlling a device. Commands have a fixed calling syntax - consisting of one input argument and one output argument. Arguments type must be chosen in a fixed set of data types: All simple types (boolean, short, long (32 bits), long (64 bits), float, double, unsigned short, unsigned long (32 bits), unsigned long (64 bits) and string) and arrays of simple types plus array of strings and longs and array of strings and doubles). Commands can execute any sequence of actions. Commands can be executed synchronously (the requester is blocked until the command ended) or asynchronously (the requester send the request and is called back when the command ended).

Commands are executed using two CORBA operations named command_inout for synchronous commands and command_inout_async for asynchronous commands. These two operations called a special method implemented in the device root class - the command_handler method. The command_handler calls an is_allowed method implemented in the device class before calling the command itself. The is_allowed method is specific to each command 1. It checks to see whether the command to be executed is compatible with the present device state. The command function is executed only if the is_allowed method allows it. Otherwise, an exception is sent to the client.

The TANGO attributes

In addition to commands, TANGO devices also support normalized data types called attributes 2. Commands are device specific and the data they transport are not normalized i.e. they can be any one of the TANGO data types with no restriction on what each byte means. This means that it is difficult to interpret the output of a command in terms of what kind of value(s) it represents. Generic display programs need to know what the data returned represents, in what units it is, plus additional information like minimum, maximum, quality etc. Tango attributes solve this problem.

TANGO attributes are zero, one or two dimensional data which have a fix set of properties e.g. quality, minimum and maximum, alarm low and high. They are transferred in a specialized TANGO type and can be read, write or read-write. A device can support a list of attributes. Clients can read one or more attributes from one or more devices. To read TANGO attributes, the client uses the read_attributes operation. To write TANGO attributes, a client uses the write_attributes operation. To write then read TANGO attributes within the same network request, the client uses the write_read_attributes operation. To query a device for all the attributes it supports, a client uses the get_attribute_config operation. A client is also able to modify some of parameters defining an attribute with the set_attribute_config operation. These five operations are defined in the device CORBA interface.

TANGO support thirteen data types for attributes (and arrays of for one or two dimensional data) which are: boolean, short, long (32 bits), long (64 bits), float, double, unsigned char, unsigned short, unsigned long (32 bits), unsigned long (64 bits), string, a specific data type for Tango device state and finally another specific data type to transfer data as an array of unsigned char with a string describing the coding of these data.

The TANGO pipes

Since release 9, in addition to commands and attributes, TANGO devices also support pipes.

In some cases, it is required to exchange data between client and device of varrying data type. This is for instance the case of data gathered during a scan on one experiment. Because the number of actuators and sensors involved in the scan may change from one scan to another, it is not possible to use a well defined data type. TANGO pipes have been designed for such cases. A TANGO pipe is basically a pipe dedicated to transfer data between client and device. A pipe has a set of two properties which are the pipe label and its description. A pipe can be read or read-write. A device can support a list of pipes. Clients can read one or more pipes from one or more devices. To read a TANGO pipe, the client uses the read_pipe operation. To write a TANGO pipe, a client uses the write_pipe operation. To write then read a TANGO pipe within the same network request, the client uses the write_read_pipe operation. To query a device for all the pipes it supports, a client uses the get_pipe_config operation. A client is also able to modify some of parameters defining a pipe with the set_pipe_config operation. These five operations are defined in the device CORBA interface.

In contrary of commands or attributes, a TANGO pipe does not have a pre-defined data type. Data transferred through pipes may be of any basic Tango data type (or array of) and this may change every time a pipe is read or written.

Command, attributes or pipes ?

There are no strict rules concerning what should be returned as command result and what should be implemented as an attribute or as a pipe. Nevertheless, attributes are more adapted to return physical value which have a kind of time consistency. Attribute also have more properties which help the client to precisely know what it represents. For instance, the state and the status of a power supply are not physical values and are returned as command result. The current generated by the power supply is a physical value and is implemented as an attribute. The attribute properties allow a client to know its unit, its label and some other informations which are related to a physical value. Command are well adapted to send order to a device like switching from one mode of operation to another mode of operation. For a power supply, the switch from a STANDBY mode to a ON mode is typically done via a command. Finally pipe is well adapted when the kind and number of data exchanged between the client and the device change with time.

The CORBA attributes

Some key data implemented for each device can be read without the need to call a command or read an attribute. These data are :

  • The device state

  • The device status

  • The device name

  • The administration device name called adm_name

  • The device description

The device state is a number representing its state. A set of predefined states are defined in the TDSOM. The device status is a string describing in plain text the device state and any additional useful information of the device as a formatted ascii string. The device name is its name as defined in [sec:dev]. For each set of devices grouped within the same server, an administration device is automatically added. This adm_name is the name of the administration device. The device description is also an ascii string describing the device rule.

These five CORBA attributes are implemented in the device root class and therefore do not need any coding from the device class programmer. As explained in [sec:corba], the CORBA attributes are not allowed to raise exceptions whereas command (which are implemented using CORBA operations) can.

The remaining CORBA operations

The TDSOM also supports a list of actions defined as CORBA operations in the device interface and implemented in the device root class. Therefore, these actions are implemented automatically for every TANGO device. These operations are :


to ping a device to check if the device is alive. Obviously, it checks only the connection from a client to the device and not all the device functionalities


request a list of all the commands supported by a device with their input and output types and description


request information about a specific command which are its input and output type and description


request general information on the device like its name, the host where the device server hosting the device is running…


read the device black-box as an array of strings

The special case of the device state and status

Device state and status are the most important key device informations. Nearly all client software dealing with Tango device needs device(s) state and/or status. In order to simplify client software developper work, it is possible to get these two piece of information in three different manners :

  1. Using the appropriate CORBA attribute (state or status)

  2. Using command on the device. The command are called State or Status

  3. Using attribute. Even if the state and status are not real attribute, it is possible to get their value using the read_attributes operation. Nevertheless, it is not possible to set the attribute configuration for state and status. An error is reported by the server if a client try to do so.

The device polling

Within the Tango framework, it is also possible to force executing command(s) or reading attribute(s) at a fixed frequency. It is called device polling. This is automatically handled by Tango core software with a polling threads pool. The command result or attribute value are stored in circular buffers. When a client want to read attribute value (or command result) for a polled attribute (or a polled command), he has the choice to get the attribute value (or command result) with a real access to the device of from the last value stored in the device ring buffer. This is a great advantage for “slow” devices. Getting data from the buffer is much faster than accessing the device itself. The technical disadvantage is the time shift between the data returned from the polling buffer and the time of the request. Polling a command is only possible for command without input arguments. It is not possible to poll a device pipe.

Two other CORBA operations called command_inout_history_X and read_attribute _history_X allow a client to retrieve the history of polled command or attribute stored in the polling buffers. Obviously, this history is limited to the depth of the polling buffer.

The whole polling system is available only since Tango release 2.x and above in CPP and since TangORB release 3.7.x and above in Java.

The server

Another integral part of the TDSOM is the server concept. The server (also referred as device server) is a process whose main task is to offer one or more services to one or more clients. To do this, the server has to spend most of its time in a wait loop waiting for clients to connect to it. The devices are hosted in the server process. A server is able to host several classes of devices. In the TDSOM, a device of the DServer class is automatically hosted by each device server. This class of device supports commands which enable remote device server process administration.

TANGO supports device server process on two families of operating system : Linux and Windows.

The Tango Logging Service

During software life, it is always convenient to print miscellaneous informations which help to:

  • Debug the software

  • Report on error

  • Give regular information to user

This is classically done using cout (or C printf) in C++ or println method in Java language. In a highly distributed control system, it is difficult to get all these informations coming from a high number of different processes running on a large number of computers. Since its release 3, Tango has incorporated a Logging Service called the Tango Logging Service (TLS) which allows print messages to be:

  • Displayed on a console (the classical way)

  • Sent to a file

  • Sent to specific Tango device called log consumer. Tango package has an implementation of log consumer where every consumer device is associated to a graphical interface. This graphical interface display messages but could also be used to sort messages, to filter messages… Using this feature, it is possible to centralise display of these messages coming from different devices embedded within different processes. These log consumers can be:

    • Statically configured meaning that it memorizes the list of Tango devices for which it will get and display messages.

    • Dynamically configured. The user, with the help of the graphical interface, chooses devices from which he want to see messages.

The database

To achieve complete device independence, it is necessary however to supplement device classes with a possibility for configuring device dependencies at runtime. The utility which does this in the TDSOM is the property database. Properties 3 are identified by an ascii string and the device name. TANGO attributes are also configured using properties. This database is also used to store device network addresses (CORBA IOR’s), list of classes hosted by a device server process and list of devices for each class in a device server process. The database ensure the uniqueness of device name and of alias. It also links device name and it list of aliases.

TANGO uses MySQL (MySQL home page) as its database. MySQL is a relational database which implements the SQL language. However, this is largely enough to implement all the functionalities needed by the TDSOM. The database is accessed via a classical TANGO device hosted in a device server. Therefore, client access the database via TANGO commands requested on the database device. For a good reference on MySQL refer to [MySQLbook].

The controlled access

Tango also provides a controlled access system. It’s a simple controlled access system. It does not provide encrypted communication or sophisticated authentification. It simply defines which user (based on computer loggin authentification) is allowed to do which command (or write attribute) on which device and from which host. The information used to configure this controlled access feature are stored in the Tango database and accessed by a specific Tango device server which is not the classsical Tango database device server described in the previous section. Two access levels are defined:

  • Everything is allowed for this user from this host

  • The write-like calls on the device are forbidden and according to configuration, a command subset is also forbidden for this user from this host

This feature is precisely described in the chapter Advanced features

The Application Programmers Interfaces

Rules of the API

While it is true TANGO clients can be programmed using only the CORBA API, CORBA knows nothing about TANGO. This means client have to know all the details of retrieving IORs from the TANGO database, additional information to send on the wire, TANGO version control etc. These details can and should be wrapped in TANGO Application Programmer Interface (API). The API is implemented as a library in C++ and as a package in Java. The API is what makes TANGO clients easy to write. The API’s consists the following basic classes :

  • DeviceProxy which is a proxy to the real device

  • DeviceData to encapsulate data send/receive from/to device via commands

  • DeviceAttribute to encapsulate data send/receive from/to device via attributes

  • Group which is a proxy to a group of devices

In addition to these main classes, many other classes allows a full interface to TANGO features. The following figure is a drawing of a typical client/server application using TANGO.


The database is used during server and client startup phase to establish connection between client and server.

Communication between client and server using the API

With the API, it is possible to request command to be executed on a device or to read/write device attribute(s) using one of the two communication models implemented. These two models are:

  1. The synchronous model where client waits (and is blocked) for the server to send the answer or until the timeout is reached

  2. The asynchronous model. In this model, the clients send the request and immediately returns. It is not blocked. It is free to do whatever it has to do like updating a graphical user interface. The client has the choice to retrieve the server answer by checking if the reply is arrived by calling an API specific call or by requesting that a call-back method is executed when the client receives the server answer.

The asynchronous model is available with Tango release 3 and above.

Tango events

On top of the two communication model previously described, TANGO offers an event system. The standard TANGO communication paradigm is a synchronou/asynchronous two-way call. In this paradigm the call is initiated by the client who contacts the server. The server handles the client’s request and sends the answer to the client or throws an exception which the client catches. This paradigm involves two calls to receive a single answer and requires the client to be active in initiating the request. If the client has a permanent interest in a value he is obliged to poll the server for an update in a value every time. This is not efficient in terms of network bandwidth nor in terms of client programming.

For clients who are permanently interested in values the event-driven communication paradigm is a more efficient and natural way of programming. In this paradigm the client registers his interest once in an event (value). After that the server informs the client every time the event has occurred. This paradigm avoids the client polling, frees it for doing other things, is fast and makes efficient use of the network.

Before TANGO release 8, TANGO used the CORBA OMG COS Notification Service to generates events. TANGO uses the omniNotify implementation of the Notification service. omniNotify was developed in conjunction with the omniORB CORBA implementation also used by TANGO. The heart of the Notification Service is the notification daemon. The omniNotify daemons are the processes which receive events from device servers and distribute them to all clients which are subscribed. In order to distribute the load of the events there is one notification daemon per host. Servers send their events to the daemon on the local host. Clients and servers get the IOR for the host from the TANGO database.

The following figure is a schematic of the Tango event system for Tango releases before Tango 8.


Starting with Tango 8, a new design of the event system has been implemented. This new design is based on the ZMQ library. ZMQ is a library allowing users to create communicating system. It implements several well known communication pattern including the Publish/Subscribe pattern which is the basic of the new Tango event system. Using this library, a separate notification service is not needed anymore and event communiction is available with only client and server processes which simplifies the overall design. Starting with Tango 8.1, the event propagation between devices and clients could be done using a multicasting protocol. The aim of this is to reduce both the network bandwidth use and the CPU consumption on the device server side. See chapter on Advanced Features to get all the details on this feature.

The following figure is a schematic of the Tango event system for Tango releases starting with Tango release 8.



In contrary to the state_handler method of the TACO device server model which is not specific to each command.


TANGO attributes were known as signals in the TACO device server model


Properties were known as resources in the TACO device server model