KFM2: the beginning

KFM 1.x has reached the end of its development. It has fulfilled its original purpose; to improve on the default file-manager for FCKeditor, and well-exceeded it.

From my records, I can see that KFM has been installed on over 9000 separate domains. That is quite a lot of sites, and says quite loudly how important it is that KFM2 is at least as good as KFM1 (we all know about the KDE4.0 fiasco…).

KFM2 will blow KFM1 well out of the water. It will do everything that KFM1 does, but much quicker, and with a much less monolithic architecture, allowing it to be hugely flexible. I am planning on creating a download section similar to jQuery UI’s, where you can choose the components that you want in the system, and it will be built up and configured for you, ready for download.

See, KFM 2 will be modular. If you just want a simple upload/download facility, then you will only need the core, and plugins to handle uploads and downloads. If you want the whole shebang, you will find plugins for various ways of selecting files and directories, full-on graphical UIs such as the existing KFM1 forces on the user, plugins for hooking into external file systems using FTP or whatever other method people can imagine, plugins for multi-media, file editing, databases, user authentication, search, RSS, and so on.

Basically everything that KFM1 already does, but with the option to easily remove/add bits that you want. Make it as fast or as “bling” as you want.

KFM2 will have a number of new things which are not available in any other online file-systems, that I know of.

new file-system things

The file system will be modular. You will be able to attach symbolic links to any part of the file system, linking to other external systems.

As an example, let’s look at a URL: http://example.com/kfm/get/images/site1/logo.jpg.

One of the new ideas is that this will not necessarily be located on the server named example.com.

If you are running a very busy website, you might prefer to delegate image management to a different machine deeper in your network, so you add a symbolic link /images/ linking to the image-management machine. This causes the server to issue a redirect to the browser, redirecting it to http://images.example.com/kfm/get/site1/logo.jpg.

Now, imagine that the image management server doesn’t host the logo.jpg file on itself. Maybe it’s one of a number of images.example.com servers in a load-balancing cluster, and the file is actually located on a file-server accessible only by FTP. So, we add a symbolic link in the server’s KFM, telling it how to connect to the FTP server. The image server does this, gets the required file, and sends it to the browser.

This sounds a bit complex, but at least it’s possible with the new system. The old system simply would not be able to handle that at all.

API

At the moment, if you want to select a file or directory, you fire up KFM1, wait 15 seconds for it to finish booting itself up, and select the file or directory. That’s way too long. Really, you should only need to load up a tiny widget that’s designed specifically for picking a file.

The new system will have a simple core with an API that can be connected to by little JavaScript widgets. As an example, let’s say you just want to get the file-listing for the foo directory.

At the moment, you need to go through the whole business of booting up KFM’s GUI, navigating to the right directory, then waiting for the server to connect to the database, generate thumbnails and other unnecessary stuff.

You should just have to do something simple like load up http://example.com/kfm/rpc.php?a=get_file_listing&v=/foo through jQuery’s $.get() function. The RPC script does exactly what was asked, and nothing more.

This should allow us to write some incredibly fast and tiny scripts for all the file manipulation things you could possibly want.

Think of it as the “gnu” way of doing KFM – many small tools, each of which is designed to do one task well.

Of course, you will still be able to use the original GUI with this, after it’s been re-engineered to hook into the new RPC system.

Or, you can write your own – the RPC’s API will be well-documented, and will use simple HTTP parameters, so you can write your widgets in whatever language you want – JavaScript is what I will be writing in, but there’s no reason why you’re confined to that – write a GUI in Python, C, Flash – whatever you’re comfortable with.

plugins

I think the new plugin architecture will make this profoundly extensible. I’m writing the core to be as flexible and stable as possible. You will be able to write a plugin to just about anything:

  • authenticate a user before serving a file.
  • change a user’s root directory based on the server-name or the user’s authentication.
  • the entire system is held on a different machine accessible only by FTP? fine – let’s change how files are accessed.
  • record all files and directories in a database, allowing searches to be done.
  • manipulate files online – edit text files, rotate or crop or resize images, move or rename or delete, etc. standard KFM1 stuff, these.
  • create a log plugin, so all access is recorded.
  • create a quota plugin, for denying uploads or downloads when the quota is exceeded.

It was possible for us (Benjamin and myself) to write all of these into KFM1, but as we are only two people, and very busy people at that, it’s never been the absolute top priority to get all these things done.

But, when KFM2 is released, you won’t have to wait for us anymore. You will be able to write plugins, or download plugins created by other people, which do all of the above and I’m sure there will be plugins that I simply have not imagined yet, that inventive people will come up with (Conor, I’m sure you’ll be one of those!)

languages

Languages have always been one of the cool things about KFM. Version 1.3 was released in about 13 languages in total. Unfortunately, the code got too complex in 1.4 to easily add more, but KFM2 is starting from scratch with the learning-curve of KFM1 well behind me. I’ve already made most of the big mistakes I’m likely to make, so from now on, things should be much easier.

How languages will work is that a website will be created which allows people to help out open-source projects, not just KFM by providing translations of words and sentences.

The programmer will create a screen-shot showing the text in use, and will provide the untranslated text in a format such as .po. Translators will translate the text on-line, and the translation will be available to download by the programmer as soon as it’s done.

To ensure good translation, each line will be presented to a number of different translators. The translations which agree the most with each other, will be considered the “right” one.

Using this, it will be possible for KFM to organically add languages with no interaction from myself or any other programmers. When first loaded, a plugin would try to translate messages into the user’s language. Finding that it doesn’t have the language in its database, it will try downloading it from the language translation website. If it’s not available, a request will be added that it be created. When translators that speak that language come to the website, they will be automatically given the KFM text to translate to that language. The next time the plugin checks, the translation might be done, and it will be added to the KFM instance’s local language database.

Of course, people don’t just do this stuff for the hell of it. It’s more fun if there’s a competition or reward. It would be nice if I could get a few paying customers to add their own translation requests to the website – that way I could offer a reward to the best translators (those that do the most work, or are the most consistent).

The competition aspect comes in, where you give people points for every translation they do that is matched by someone else’s translation of the same text.

Google does a similar thing, for example, where it shows images to people and asks them to come up with keywords describing the image – the commonest keywords are considered to be correct. Same trick, different target.

Anyway! Without further ado, I have a core to design, and tests to create. I was going to talk about testing with PHPUnit, automatic upgrades, and the like, but to hell with ye all – I’ve work to do 😉

  1. There are some great ideas in there but it also sounds like a hell of a lot of work!

    That language translation thing sounds like a brilliant idea but could potentially be an entire project in itself. I would be surprised if there isn’t a website out there already that does the same thing. If not it could be a potential cash machine!

    Doing it in a modular way is a good idea because, for myself anyway, I wouldn’t want to have to add 3megs to my furasta package size for just a few features. It means more independance for the programers, and it should be faster as well!

  2. Hello Kae,

    that’s great news. We like to use your file manager.

    1. will the new version work with the old db?

    2. will the new version work with Safari?

    Thanks,
    M.

  3. Hi Martin,
    by default the new system will not use a database at all, but there will be a plugin which adds database functionality. That plugin will be able to read the original database.
    My plan here is to develop the system on my CMS, which already uses KFM for quite a few different things. In the beginning, KFM2 and KFM1 will both exist on the CMS, until KFM2 is at a stage where I can remove KFM1. They will both connect to the same database.

    Yes, Safari compatibility will be included. The GUI will be completely rewritten, and tests will be created to ensure that everything works well on everything.

    In fact, there will be quite a few different GUIs. Some full-on, like the current KFM application’s main window, and some tiny widgets designed to just to simply things, like select a file, upload a file, select a directory, etc.

  4. Hi Kae,

    Regarding translation – have you seen Pootle? It’s used for crowd sourcing translation.
    For example, Evernote is using it to translate its products.
    Haven’t tried it myself, so I’m afraid I can’t give you more details…

    Also – maybe the Facebook way can give you some ideas:
    http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/09/29/facebook-spreads-its-crowdsourced-translations-across-the-web-and-the-world/

    Regards,
    Mickster

  5. @Mickster – nice catch! I’ll probably use that tool instead of writing my own. saves time, and that tool already does probably everything I need anyway.

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