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Function guide


The mgmt tool has built-in functions which add useful, reactive functionality to the language. This guide describes the different function API's that are available. It is meant to instruct developers on how to write new functions. Since mgmt and the core functions are written in golang, some prior golang knowledge is assumed.


Functions in mgmt are similar to functions in other languages, however they also have a reactive component. Our functions can produce events over time, and there are different ways to write functions. For some background on this design, please read the original article on the subject.

Native Functions

Native functions are functions which are implemented in the mgmt language itself. These are currently not available yet, but are coming soon. Stay tuned!

Simple Function API

Most functions should be implemented using the simple function API. This API allows you to implement simple, static, pure functions that don't require you to write much boilerplate code. They will be automatically re-evaluated as needed when their input values change. These will all be automatically made available as helper functions within mgmt templates, and are also available for use anywhere inside mgmt programs.

You'll need some basic knowledge of using the types library which is included with mgmt. This library lets you interact with the available types and values in the mgmt language. It is very easy to use, and should be fairly intuitive. Most of what you'll need to know can be inferred from looking at example code.

To implement a function, you'll need to create a file in lang/funcs/simple/. The function should be implemented as a FuncValue in our type system. It is then registered with the engine during init(). An example explains it best:


package simple

import (


// you must register your functions in init when the program starts up
func init() {
	// Example function that squares an int and prints out answer as an str.
	Register("talkingsquare", &types.FuncValue{
		T: types.NewType("func(a int) str"), // declare the signature
		V: func(input []types.Value) (types.Value, error) {
			i := input[0].Int() // get first arg as an int64
			// must return the above specified value
			return &types.StrValue{
				V: fmt.Sprintf("%d^2 is %d", i, i * i),
			}, nil // no serious errors occurred

This simple function accepts one int as input, and returns one str. Functions can have zero or more inputs, and must have exactly one output. You must be sure to use the types library correctly, since if you try and access an input which should not exist (eg: input[2], when there are only two that are expected), then you will cause a panic. If you have declared that a particular argument is an int but you try to read it with .Bool() you will also cause a panic. Lastly, make sure that you return a value in the correct type or you will also cause a panic!

If anything goes wrong, you can return an error, however this will cause the mgmt engine to shutdown. It should be seen as the equivalent to calling a panic(), however it is safer because it brings the engine down cleanly. Ideally, your functions should never need to error. You should never cause a real panic(), since this could have negative consequences to the system.

Simple Polymorphic Function API

Most functions should be implemented using the simple function API. If they need to have multiple polymorphic forms under the same name, then you can use this API. This is useful for situations when it would be unhelpful to name the functions differently, or when the number of possible signatures for the function would be infinite.

The canonical example of this is the len function which returns the number of elements in either a list or a map. Since lists and maps are two different types, you can see that polymorphism is more convenient than requiring a listlen and maplen function. Nevertheless, it is also required because a list of int is a different type than a list of str, which is a different type than a list of list of str and so on. As you can see the number of possible input types for such a len function is infinite.

Another downside to implementing your functions with this API is that they will not be made available for use inside templates. This is a limitation of the golang template library. In the future if this limitation proves to be significantly annoying, we might consider writing our own template library.

As with the simple, non-polymorphic API, you can only implement pure functions, without writing too much boilerplate code. They will be automatically re-evaluated as needed when their input values change.

To implement a function, you'll need to create a file in lang/funcs/simplepoly/. The function should be implemented as a list of FuncValue's in our type system. It is then registered with the engine during init(). You may also use the variant type in your type definitions. This special type will never be seen inside a running program, and will get converted to a concrete type if a suitable match to this signature can be found. Be warned that signatures which contain too many variants, or which are very general, might be hard for the compiler to match, and ambiguous type graphs make for user compiler errors.

An example explains it best:


import (


func init() {
	simplepoly.Register("len", []*types.FuncValue{
			T: types.NewType("func([]variant) int"),
			V: Len,
			T: types.NewType("func({variant: variant}) int"),
			V: Len,

// Len returns the number of elements in a list or the number of key pairs in a
// map. It can operate on either of these types.
func Len(input []types.Value) (types.Value, error) {
	var length int
	switch k := input[0].Type().Kind; k {
	case types.KindList:
		length = len(input[0].List())
	case types.KindMap:
		length = len(input[0].Map())

		return nil, fmt.Errorf("unsupported kind: %+v", k)

	return &types.IntValue{
		V: int64(length),
	}, nil

This simple polymorphic function can accept an infinite number of signatures, of which there are two basic forms. Both forms return an int as is seen above. The first form takes a []variant which means a list of variant's, which means that it can be a list of any type, since variant itself is not a concrete type. The second form accepts a {variant: variant}, which means that it accepts any form of map as input.

The implementation for both of these forms is the same: it is handled by the same Len function which is clever enough to be able to deal with any of the type signatures possible from those two patterns.

At compile time, if your mcl code type checks correctly, a concrete type will be known for each and every usage of the len function, and specific values will be passed in for this code to compute the length of. As usual, make sure to only write safe code that will not panic! A panic is a bug. If you really cannot continue, then you must return an error.

Function API

To implement a reactive function in mgmt it must satisfy the Func interface. Using the Simple Function API is preferable if it meets your needs. Most functions will be able to use that API. If you really need something more powerful, then you can use the regular function API. What follows are each of the method signatures and a description of each.


Info() *interfaces.Info

This returns some information about the function. It is necessary so that the compiler can type check the code correctly, and know what optimizations can be performed. This is usually the first method which is called by the engine.


func (obj *FooFunc) Info() *interfaces.Info {
	return &interfaces.Info{
		Pure: true,
		Sig:  types.NewType("func(a int) str"),


Init(init *interfaces.Init) error

This is called to initialize the function. If something goes wrong, it should return an error. It is passed a struct that contains all the important information and pointers that it might need to work with throughout its lifetime. As a result, it will need to save a copy to that pointer for future use in the other methods.


// Init runs some startup code for this function.
func (obj *FooFunc) Init(init *interfaces.Init) error {
	obj.init = init
	obj.closeChan = make(chan struct{}) // shutdown signal
	return nil


Close() error

This is called to cleanup the function. It usually causes the stream to shutdown. Even if Stream() decided to shutdown early, it might still get called. It is usually called by the engine to tell the function to shutdown.


// Close runs some shutdown code for this function and turns off the stream.
func (obj *FooFunc) Close() error {
	close(obj.closeChan) // send a signal to tell the stream to close
	return nil


Stream() error

Stream is where the real work is done. This method is started by the language function engine. It will run this function while simultaneously sending it values on the input channel. It will only send a complete set of input values. You should send a value to the output channel when you have decided that one should be produced. Make sure to only use input values of the expected type as declared in the Info struct, and send values of the similarly declared appropriate return type. Failure to do so will may result in a panic and sadness.


// Stream returns the single value that was generated and then closes.
func (obj *FooFunc) Stream() error {
	defer close(obj.init.Output) // the sender closes
	var result string
	for {
		select {
		case input, ok := <-obj.init.Input:
			if !ok {
				return nil // can't output any more

			ix := input.Struct()["a"].Int()
			if ix < 0 {
				return fmt.Errorf("we can't deal with negatives")

			result = fmt.Sprintf("the input is: %d", ix)

		case <-obj.closeChan:
			return nil

		select {
		case obj.init.Output <- &types.StrValue{
			V: result,

		case <-obj.closeChan:
			return nil

As you can see, we read our inputs from the input channel, and write to the output channel. Our code is careful to never block or deadlock, and can always exit if a close signal is requested. It also cleans up after itself by closing the output channel when it is done using it. This is done easily with defer. If it notices that the input channel closes, then it knows that no more input values are coming and it can consider shutting down early.

Further considerations

There is some additional information that any function author will need to know. Each issue is listed separately below!

Function struct

Each function will implement methods as pointer receivers on a function struct. The naming convention for resources is that they end with a Func suffix.


type FooFunc struct {
	init *interfaces.Init

	// this space can be used if needed

	closeChan chan struct{} // shutdown signal

Function registration

All functions must be registered with the engine so that they can be found. This also ensures they can be encoded and decoded. Make sure to include the following code snippet for this to work.

import ""

func init() { // special golang method that runs once
	funcs.Register("foo", func() interfaces.Func { return &FooFunc{} })

Functions inside of built-in modules will need to use the ModuleRegister method instead.

// moduleName is already set to "math" by the math package. Do this in `init`.
funcs.ModuleRegister(moduleName, "cos", func() interfaces.Func { return &CosFunc{} })

Composite functions

Composite functions are functions which import one or more existing functions. This is useful to prevent code duplication in higher level function scenarios. Unfortunately no further documentation about this subject has been written. To expand this section, please send a patch! Please contact us if you'd like to work on a function that uses this feature, or to add it to an existing one! We don't expect this functionality to be particularly useful or common, as it's probably easier and preferable to simply import common golang library code into multiple different functions instead.

Polymorphic Function API

The polymorphic function API is an API that lets you implement functions which do not necessarily have a single static function signature. After compile time, all functions must have a static function signature. We also know that there might be different ways you would want to call printf, such as: printf("the %s is %d", "answer", 42) or printf("3 * 2 = %d", 3 * 2). Since you couldn't implement the infinite number of possible signatures, this API lets you write code which can be coerced into different forms. This makes implementing what would appear to be generic or polymorphic, instead of something that is actually static and that still has the static type safety properties that were guaranteed by the mgmt language.

Since this is an advanced topic, it is not described in full at this time. For more information please have a look at the source code comments, some of the existing implementations, and ask around in the community.

Frequently asked questions

(Send your questions as a patch to this FAQ! I'll review it, merge it, and respond by commit with the answer.)

Can I use global variables?

Probably not. You must assume that multiple copies of your function may be used at the same time. If they require a global variable, it's likely this won't work. Instead it's probably better to use a struct local variable if you need to store some state.

There might be some rare instances where a global would be acceptable, but if you need one of these, you're probably already an internals expert. If you think they need to lock or synchronize so as to not overwhelm an external resource, then you have to be especially careful not to cause deadlocking the mgmt engine.

Can I write functions in a different language?

Currently golang is the only supported language for built-in functions. We might consider allowing external functions to be imported in the future. This will likely require a language that can expose a C-like API, such as python or ruby. Custom golang functions are already possible when using mgmt as a lib.

What new functions need writing?

There are still many ideas for new functions that haven't been written yet. If you'd like to contribute one, please contact us and tell us about your idea!

Can I generate many different FuncValue implementations from one function?

Yes, you can use a function generator in golang to build multiple different implementations from the same function generator. You just need to implement a function which returns a golang type of func([]types.Value) (types.Value, error) which is what FuncValue expects. The generator function can use any input it wants to build the individual functions, thus helping with code re-use.

How do I determine the signature of my simple, polymorphic function?

The determination of the input portion of the function signature can be determined by inspecting the length of the input, and the specific type each value has. Length is done in the standard golang way, and the type of each element can be ascertained with the Type() method available on every value.

Knowing the output type is trickier. If it can not be inferred in some manner, then the only way is to keep track of this yourself. You can use a function generator to build your FuncValue implementations, and pass in the unique signature to each one as you are building them. Using a generator is a common technique which was mentioned previously.

Where can I find more information about mgmt?

Additional blog posts, videos and other material is available!.


If you have any ideas for API changes or other improvements to function writing, please let us know! We're still pre 1.0 and pre 0.1 and happy to break API in order to get it right!