Avoid Start Order Dependencies

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A "start order dependency" is any requirement to start a bundle (or bundles) before some other bundle(s).

For example, in naïve Services usage, a bundle B may attempt to invoke a service from the start method of its Bundle-Activator, where that service is published by bundle A. The developer of B therefore states "bundle A must be started before bundle B", to ensure the service is available when B starts. This kind of requirement very quickly leads to a fragile and unmaintainable system. It is also common for cycles to appear, i.e. A must start before B and B must start before A (though usually the cycle involves a chain of many bundles rather than just two). As soon as such a cycle appears the system cannot be started, and an alternative approach must be found.

Ideally in OSGi we should be able to start bundles in any order. To achieve this, bundles must be designed correctly. In the above example, bundle B should not assume the service is available immediately; if it is unavailable then B should enter a waiting state until the service becomes available.

Developing bundles in such a manner is challenging when using the lowest level OSGi APIs. However, using a Service Tracker or any of the higher level Component Models make it easy to develop bundles in the proper way.

When Start Order Cannot be Avoided

While avoiding start order dependencies is strongly advised as a best practice, it is not always possible to achieve, perhaps because of legacy code. In these cases, the Start Level API can be used to control the start ordering.

Service Hooks

Service Hooks are used to intercept and filter service lookups, for example to implement service proxies. Unfortunately, a bundle using a service hook may not get a chance to filter out a service if it starts after other bundles.

In this situation the hook provider should stop and restart any bundle that already obtained the service instance it wishes to filter out; by doing this we avoid introducing a start order dependency. However the solution is not optimal in terms of performance, so start levels can be used to ensure the hook provider starts first. Used in this way, start levels can be seen as an optimisation rather than something we rely on in order for our system to work correctly.

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