IBM Visualization Data Explorer Programmer's Reference

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Chapter 4. What you need to know about Data Explorer to write a Module

Partial Table-of-Contents

  • 4.1 Data Explorer Data Model
  • 4.2 Memory Management
  • Allocating and Freeing Memory
  • Reference Counts
  • 4.3 Data Explorer Execution Model

  • This chapter contains the basic information about the underlying data model, execution model and memory management model for Data Explorer. It is strongly recommended that you read and understand this short chapter before writing a module.

    4.1 Data Explorer Data Model

    Fields are the fundamental informational entities in Data Explorer. A Field contains the components that carry the actual numbers. The "positions" component, for instance, contains the positions of a data set, while the "data" component contains the data values (e.g., temperatures). Groups are higher-level structures and may consist of Fields or other Groups (see Table 1).

    Generally, a component consists of an Array of data, information describing the data (i.e., its type, dimensionality, or both), and a name associated with the component. Standard components include "positions," "data," and "colors." The name of a component does not usually imply anything about its characteristics (e.g., its data type or dimensionality). In addition, components typically carry attributes which indicate other characteristics of the component.

    For example, a "data" component should always have a "dep" attribute with a value of either "positions" or "connections". This attribute tells modules operating on the field whether the data are position-dependent or connection-dependent. Position-dependent data are associated one-to-one with the "positions" of a field, and data values can be interpolated at other positions in the field using the "connections" component if present. Connection-dependent data are associated one-to-one with the "connections" of a field, and data values are assumed constant within each connection.

    Another example of a required attribute is that the "connections" component have a "ref" attribute of "positions". This indicates to Data Explorer that the items in the connections component are to be interpreted as indices into the "positions" component. In addition, the "connections" component must have an "element type" attribute indicated the type of the connection (e.g. "triangles", "quads", etc.). For more information on component attributes, see Table 2 in IBM Visualization Data Explorer User's Guide.

    Module operations typically take place at the Field level and involve changing or creating components. For example:

    Modules in Data Explorer are generally required to be pure functions and they must not modify their inputs. Instead, to modify the "data" component of an input Object, a module must first make a copy of the Object. Note that the data model allows the module to copy the structure without copying the data. Some modules (e.g., Isosurface) create a completely new Object for the output (as will be illustrated in later chapters).

    Because a module typically works by manipulating the components of a Field, and because its input may be a more complicated Object consisting of Groups, it must often operate recursively. In particular, the efficient use of multiple processors requires that a parallel module must be able to traverse Groups, since partitioning creates a special type of Group called a Composite Field.

    For example, a module designed to add a number to every data value in each data component of an input Object first makes a copy of the input Object on which it is to operate. This copy duplicates the structure of the input Object (the hierarchy of Groups and Fields) but not the Arrays containing the values in the components of the Fields. In the worker part of the routine, a new "data" component is created to hold the modified data values (the other components can be shared with the input Object, since they will not be modified).

    The worker part of the routine first queries the Object to determine whether it is a Field or a Group:

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