Reloading Plugins

The reload plugin mechanism allows new versions of plugin code to be loaded and executed and old versions to be unloaded without restarting the Traffic Server process.

Plugins are Dynamic Shared Objects (DSO). New versions of the plugins are currently loaded by using a Traffic Server configuration reload, i.e.:

traffic_ctl config reload

This feature is enabled by default. It can be turned off by setting the configuration variable proxy.config.plugin.dynamic_reload_mode to 0 in records.config. When the feature is turned off, once ATS is started one will be able load only one version of a plugin, and re-loading the same plugin would do nothing.

Although plugin reloading should be transparent to plugin developers, the following are some design considerations and implementation details for this feature.

Design Considerations

  1. The mechanism of the plugin reload should be transparent to the plugin developers. Plugin developers should be concerned only with properly initializing and cleaning up after the plugin and its instances.

  2. With the current Traffic Server implementation, new version plugin (re)load is only triggered by a configuration (re)load. Hence the configuration should always be coupled with the set of plugins it loaded.

  3. Due to its asynchronous nature, Traffic Server should allow running different newer and older versions of the same plugin at the same time.

  4. Old plugin versions should be unloaded after the Traffic Server process no longer needs them after reload.

  5. Running different versions of the configuration and plugin versions at the same time requires maintaining a “current active set” to be used by new transactions, new continuations, etc. and also multiple “previous inactive” sets as well.

  6. The result of the plugin reloading should be consistent across operating systems, file systems, and dynamic loader implementations.

Currently only loading of “remap” plugins (remap.config) is supported but (re)loading of “global” plugins (plugin.config) could use same ideas and reuse some of the classes below.

Consistent (re)loading behavior

The following are some of the problems noticed during initial experimentation:

  1. There is an internal reference counting of the DSOs implemented inside the dynamic loader. If an older version of the plugin DSO is still loaded, then loading of a newer version of the DSO by using the same filename does not load the new version.

  2. If the filename used by the dynamic loader reference counting contains symbolic links the results are not consistent across different operating/file systems and dynamic loader implementations.

The following possible solutions were considered:

  1. maintaining different plugin filenames for each version - this would put unnecessary burden on the configuration management tools

  2. experiments with Linux specific dlmopen yielded good results but it was not available on all supported platforms

A less efficient but more reliable solution was chosen: DSO files are temporarily copied to and consequently loaded from a runtime location and each copy is kept until the corresponding plugin is unloaded.

Each configuration / plugin reload would use a different runtime location with ATSUuid being used to create unique runtime directories.

Reference counting against DSOs

During the initial analysis a common sense solution was considered: add instrumentation around handling of registered hooks in order to unload plugins safely. This would be more involved and not sufficient since hooks are not the only mechanism that relies on the plugin DSO being loaded. This design / implementation proposes a different approach.

Plugin code can be called from the HTTP state machine (1) while handling HTTP transactions or (2) while calling event handling functions of continuations created by the plugin code. The plugin reload mechanism should guarantee that all necessary plugin DSOs are still loaded when those calls are performed.

Those continuations are created by TSContCreate() and TSVConnCreate() and could be used for registering hooks (i.e. registered by TSHttpHookAdd()) or for scheduling events in the future (i.e. TSContScheduleOnPool()).

Registering hooks always requires creating continuations from inside the plugin code and a separate instrumentation around handling of hooks is not necessary.

There is an existing reference counting around UrlRewrite which makes sure it stays loaded until the HTTP state machine (the last HTTP transaction) stops using it. By making all plugins loaded by a single configuration reload a part of UrlRewrite (see PluginFactory below), we could guarantee the plugins are always loaded while in use by the HTTP transactions.

Plugin context

Reference counting and managing different configuration and plugin sets require the continuation creation and destruction logic to know in which plugin context they are running.

A Traffic Server API change was considered for TSCreateCont, TSVConnCreate, and TSDestroyCont, but it was decided to keep things hidden from the plugin developer by using thread local plugin context which would be set/switched accordingly before executing the plugin code.

The continuations created by the plugin will have a context member added to them which will be used for reference counting, when continuations are destroyed, and to handle events.


Traffic Server sessions, transactions, virtual connections and globally provide a fixed array of void pointers that can be used by plugins to store information. To avoid collisions between plugins a plugin should first reserve an index in the array.

Since TSUserArgIndexReserve() is meant to be called during plugin initialization we could end up “leaking” indices during plugin reload. Hence it is necessary to make sure only one index is allocated per “plugin identifying name”, current TSUserArgIndexNameLookup() and TSUserArgIndexLookup() implementation assumes 1-1 index-to-name relationship as well.


PluginFactory creates and holds all plugin instances corresponding to a single configuration (re)load.

  1. Instantiates and initializes ‘remap’ plugins, eventually signals plugin unload/destruction, and makes sure each plugin version is loaded only once per configuration (re)load by maintaining a list of DSOs already loaded.

  2. Initializes and keeps track of all resulting plugin instances and eventually signals each instance destruction.

  3. Handles multiple plugin search paths.

  4. Sets a common runtime path for all plugins loaded in a single configuration (re)load to guarantee consistent (re)loading behavior.


RemapPluginInfo is a class representing a ‘remap’ plugin. It is derived from PluginDso. It is responsible for handling ‘remap’ plugin specific initialization and destruction and also sets up the right plugin context when its methods are called.


PluginDso is a class performing the actual DSO loading and unloading and all related initialization and cleanup plus related error handling. Its functionality is modularized into a separate class in hopes to be reused by ‘global’ plugins in the future.

To make sure plugins are still loaded while their code is still in use there is reference counting done around PluginDso which inherits RefCountObj and implements acquire() and release() methods which are called by TSCreateCont, TSVConnCreate and TSDestroyCont.

Other notes

When this feature for dynamic plugin reload is turned on (proxy.config.plugin.dynamic_reload_mode is set to 1), there is one pitfall users should be aware of. Since “global” plugins do not support this feature while the “remap” plugins do, if a plugin is used as a global plugin as well as a remap plugin, there will be two different copies of the plugin loaded in memory with no state shared between them.