卷2:第12章 MediaWiki之二

12.4. Requests, Caching and Delivery Execution Workflow of a Web Request index.php is the main entry point for MediaWiki, and handles most requests processed by the application servers (i.e., requests that were not served by the caching infrastructure; see below). The code executed from index.php performs security checks, loads default configuration settings from includes/DefaultSettings.php, guesses configuration with includes/Setup.php and then applies site settings contained in LocalSettings.php. Next it instantiates a MediaWiki object ($mediawiki), and creates a Title object ($wgTitle) depending on the title and action parameters from the request.

index.php can take a variety of action parameters in the URL request; the default action is view, which shows the regular view of an article's content. For example, the request https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Apple&action=view displays the content of the article "Apple" on the English Wikipedia. (View requests are usually prettified with URL rewriting, in this example to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple.) Other frequent actions include edit (to open an article for editing), submit (to preview or save an article), history (to show an article's history) and watch (to add an article to the user's watchlist). Administrative actions include delete (to delete an article) and protect (to prevent edits to an article).

MediaWiki::performRequest() is then called to handle most of the URL request. It checks for bad titles, read restrictions, local interwiki redirects, and redirect loops, and determines whether the request is for a normal or a special page.

Normal page requests are handed over to MediaWiki::initializeArticle(), to create an Article object for the page ($wgArticle), and then to MediaWiki::performAction(), which handles "standard" actions. Once the action has been completed, MediaWiki::finalCleanup() finalizes the request by committing database transactions, outputting the HTML and launching deferred updates through the job queue. MediaWiki::restInPeace() commits the deferred updates and closes the task gracefully.

If the page requested is a Special page (i.e., not a regular wiki content page, but a special software-related page such as Statistics), SpecialPageFactory::executePath is called instead of initializeArticle(); the corresponding PHP script is then called. Special pages can do all sorts of magical things, and each has a specific purpose, usually independent of any one article or its content. Special pages include various kinds of reports (recent changes, logs, uncategorized pages) and wiki administration tools (user blocks, user rights changes), among others. Their execution workflow depends on their function.

Many functions contain profiling code, which makes it possible to follow the execution workflow for debugging if profiling is enabled. Profiling is done by calling the wfProfileIn and wfProfileOut functions to respectively start and stop profiling a function; both functions take the function's name as a parameter. On Wikimedia sites, profiling is done for a percentage of all requests, to preserve performance. MediaWiki sends UDP packets to a central server that collects them and produces profiling data.

Caching MediaWiki itself is improved for performance because it plays a central role on Wikimedia sites, but it is also part of a larger operational ecosystem that has influenced its architecture. Wikimedia's caching infrastructure (structured in layers) has imposed limitations in MediaWiki; developers worked around the issues, not by trying to shape Wikimedia's extensively optimized caching infrastructure around MediaWiki, but rather by making MediaWiki more flexible, so it could work within that infrastructure without compromising on performance and caching needs. For example, by default MediaWiki displays the user's IP in the top-right corner of the interface (for left-to-right languages) as a reminder that that's how they're known to the software when they're not logged in. The $wgShowIPinHeader configuration variable allows the system administrator to disable this feature, thus making the page content independent of the user: all anonymous visitors can then be served the exact same version of each page.

The first level of caching (used on Wikimedia sites) consists of reverse caching proxies (Squids) that intercept and serve most requests before they make it to the MediaWiki application servers. Squids contain static versions of entire rendered pages, served for simple reads to users who aren't logged in to the site. MediaWiki natively supports Squid and Varnish, and integrates with this caching layer by, for example, notifying them to purge a page from the cache when it has been changed. For logged-in users, and other requests that can't be served by Squids, Squid forwards the requests to the web server (Apache).

The second level of caching happens when MediaWiki renders and assembles the page from multiple objects, many of which can be cached to minimize future calls. Such objects include the page's interface (sidebar, menus, UI text) and the content proper, parsed from wikitext. The in-memory object cache has been available in MediaWiki since the early 1.1 version (2003), and is particularly important to avoid re-parsing long and complex pages.

Login session data can also be stored in memcached, which lets sessions work transparently on multiple front-end web servers in a load-balancing setup (Wikimedia heavily relies on load balancing, using LVS with PyBal).

Since version 1.16, MediaWiki uses a dedicated object cache for localized UI text; this was added after noticing that a large part of the objects cached in memcached consisted of UI messages localized into the user's language. The system is based on fast fetches of individual messages from constant databases (CDB), e.g., files with key-value pairs. CDBs minimize memory overhead and start-up time in the typical case; they're also used for the interwiki cache.

The last caching layer consists of the PHP opcode cache, commonly enabled to speed up PHP applications. Compilation can be a lengthy process; to avoid compiling PHP scripts into opcode every time they're invoked, a PHP accelerator can be used to store the compiled opcode and execute it directly without compilation. MediaWiki will "just work" with many accelerators such as APC, PHP accelerator and eAccelerator.

Because of its Wikimedia bias, MediaWiki is optimized for this complete, multi-layer, distributed caching infrastructure. Nonetheless, it also natively supports alternate setups for smaller sites. For example, it offers an optional simplistic file caching system that stores the output of fully rendered pages, like Squid does. Also, MediaWiki's abstract object caching layer lets it store the cached objects in several places, including the file system, the database, or the opcode cache.

ResourceLoader As in many web applications, MediaWiki's interface has become more interactive and responsive over the years, mostly through the use of JavaScript. Usability efforts initiated in 2008, as well as advanced media handling (e.g., online editing of video files), called for dedicated front-end performance improvements.

To optimize the delivery of JavaScript and CSS assets, the ResourceLoader module was developed to optimize delivery of JS and CSS. Started in 2009, it was completed in 2011 and has been a core feature of MediaWiki since version 1.17. ResourceLoader works by loading JS and CSS assets on demand, thus reducing loading and parsing time when features are unused, for example by older browsers. It also minifies the code, groups resources to save requests, and can embed images as data URIs. (For more on ResourceLoader, see the official documentation, and the talk Low Hanging Fruit vs. Micro-optimization: Creative Techniques for Loading Web Pages Faster given by Trevor Parscal and Roan Kattouw at OSCON 2011.)

12.5. Languages Context and Rationale A central part of effectively contributing and disseminating free knowledge to all is to provide it in as many languages as possible. Wikipedia is available in more than 280 languages, and encyclopedia articles in English represent less than 20% of all articles. Because Wikipedia and its sister sites exist in so many languages, it is important not only to provide the content in the readers' native language, but also to provide a localized interface, and effective input and conversion tools, so that participants can contribute content.

For this reason, localization and internationalization (l10n and i18n) are central components of MediaWiki. The i18n system is pervasive, and impacts many parts of the software; it's also one of the most flexible and feature-rich. (There is an exhaustive guide to internationalization and localization in MediaWiki.) Translator convenience is usually preferred to developer convenience, but this is believed to be an acceptable cost.

MediaWiki is currently localized in more than 350 languages, including non-Latin and right-to-left (RTL) languages, with varying levels of completion. The interface and content can be in different languages, and have mixed directionality.

Content Language MediaWiki originally used per-language encoding, which led to a lot of issues; for example, foreign scripts could not be used in page titles. UTF-8 was adopted instead. Support for character sets other than UTF-8 was dropped in 2005, along with the major database schema change in MediaWiki 1.5; content must now be encoded in UTF-8.

Characters not available on the editor's keyboard can be customized and inserted via MediaWiki's Edittools, an interface message that appears below the edit window; its JavaScript version automatically inserts the character clicked into the edit window. The WikiEditor extension for MediaWiki, developed as part of a usability effort, merges special characters with the edit toolbar. Another extension, called Narayam, provides additional input methods and key mapping features for non-ASCII characters.

Interface Language Interface messages have been stored in PHP arrays of key-values pairs since the Phase III software was created. Each message is identified by a unique key, which is assigned different values across languages. Keys are determined by developers, who are encouraged to use prefixes for extensions; for example, message keys for the UploadWizard extension will start with mwe-upwiz-, where mwe stands for MediaWiki extension.

MediaWiki messages can embed parameters provided by the software, which will often influence the grammar of the message. In order to support virtually any possible language, MediaWiki's localization system has been improved and complexified over time to accommodate languages' specific traits and exceptions, often considered oddities by English speakers.

For example, adjectives are invariable words in English, but languages like French require adjective agreement with nouns. If the user specified their gender in their preferences, the {{GENDER:}} switch can be used in interface messages to appropriately address them. Other switches include {{PLURAL:}}, for "simple" plurals and languages like Arabic with dual, trial or paucal numbers, and {{GRAMMAR:}}, providing grammatical transformation functions for languages like Finnish whose grammatical cases cause alterations or inflections.

Localizing Messages Localized interface messages for MediaWiki reside in MessagesXx.php files, where Xx is the ISO-639 code of the language (e.g. MessagesFr.php for French); default messages are in English and stored in MessagesEn.php. MediaWiki extensions use a similar system, or host all localized messages in an .i18n.php file. Along with translations, Message files also include language-dependent information such as date formats.

Contributing translations used to be done by submitting PHP patches for the MessagesXx.php files. In December 2003, MediaWiki 1.1 introduced "database messages", a subset of wiki pages in the MediaWiki namespace containing interface messages. The content of the wiki page MediaWiki: is the message's text, and overrides its value in the PHP file. Localized versions of the message are at MediaWiki:/; for example, MediaWiki:Rollbacklink/de.

This feature has allowed power users to translate (and customize) interface messages locally on their wiki, but the process doesn't update i18n files shipping with MediaWiki. In 2006, Niklas Laxström created a special, heavily hacked MediaWiki website (now hosted at http://translatewiki.net) where translators can easily localize interface messages in all languages simply by editing a wiki page. The MessagesXx.php files are then updated in the MediaWiki code repository, where they can be automatically fetched by any wiki, and updated using the LocalisationUpdate extension. On Wikimedia sites, database messages are now only used for customization, and not for localization any more. MediaWiki extensions and some related programs, such as bots, are also localized at translatewiki.net.

To help translators understand the context and meaning of an interface message, it is considered a good practice in MediaWiki to provide documentation for every message. This documentation is stored in a special Message file, with the qqq language code which doesn't correspond to a real language. The documentation for each message is then displayed in the translation interface on translatewiki.net. Another helpful tool is the qqx language code; when used with the &uselang parameter to display a wiki page (e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:RecentChanges?uselang=qqx), MediaWiki will display the message keys instead of their values in the user interface; this is very useful to identify which message to translate or change.

Registered users can set their own interface language in their preferences, to override the site's default interface language. MediaWiki also supports fallback languages: if a message isn't available in the chosen language, it will be displayed in the closest possible language, and not necessarily in English. For example, the fallback language for Breton is French.

12.6. Users Users are represented in the code using instances of the User class, which encapsulates all of the user-specific settings (user id, name, rights, password, email address, etc.). Client classes use accessors to access these fields; they do all the work of determining whether the user is logged in, and whether the requested option can be satisfied from cookies or whether a database query is needed. Most of the settings needed for rendering normal pages are set in the cookie to minimize use of the database.

MediaWiki provides a very granular permissions system, with a user permission for, basically, every possible action. For example, to perform the "Rollback" action (i.e., to "quickly rollback the edits of the last user who edited a particular page"), a user needs the rollback permission, included by default in MediaWiki's sysop user group. But it can also be added to other user groups, or have a dedicated user group only providing this permission (this is the case on the English Wikipedia, with the Rollbackers group). Customization of user rights is done by editing the $wgGroupPermissions array in LocalSettings.php; for instance, $wgGroupPermissions['user']['movefile'] = true; allows all registered users to rename files. A user can belong to several groups, and inherits the highest rights associated with each of them.

However, MediaWiki's user permissions system was really designed with Wikipedia in mind: a site whose content is accessible to all, and where only certain actions are restricted to some users. MediaWiki lacks a unified, pervasive permissions concept; it doesn't provide traditional CMS features like restricting read or write access by topic or type of content. A few MediaWiki extensions provide such features to some extent.

12.7. Content Content Structure The concept of namespaces was used in the UseModWiki era of Wikipedia, where talk pages were at the title "/Talk". Namespaces were formally introduced in Magnus Manske's first "PHP script". They were reimplemented a few times over the years, but have kept the same function: to separate different kinds of content. They consist of a prefix separated from the page title by a colon (e.g. Talk: or File: and Template:); the main content namespace has no prefix. Wikipedia users quickly adopted them, and they provided the community with different spaces to evolve. Namespaces have proven to be an important feature of MediaWiki, as they create the necessary preconditions for a wiki's community and set up meta-level discussions, community processes, portals, user profiles, etc.

The default configuration for MediaWiki's main content namespace is to be flat (no subpages), because it's how Wikipedia works, but it is trivial to enable subpages. They are enabled in other namespaces (e.g., User:, where people can, for instance, work on draft articles) and display breadcrumbs.

Namespaces separate content by type; within the same namespace, pages can be organized by topic using categories, a pseudo-hierarchical organization scheme introduced in MediaWiki 1.3.

Content Processing: MediaWiki Markup Language and Parser The user-generated content stored by MediaWiki isn't in HTML, but in a markup language specific to MediaWiki, sometimes called "wikitext". It allows users to make formatting changes (e.g. bold, italic using quotes), add links (using square brackets), include templates, insert context-dependent content (like a date or signature), and make an incredible number of other magical things happen. (Detailed documentation is available.)

To display a page, this content needs to be parsed, assembled from all the external or dynamic pieces it calls, and converted to proper HTML. The parser is one of the most essential parts of MediaWiki, which makes it difficult to change or improve. Because hundreds of millions of wiki pages worldwide depend on the parser to continue outputting HTML the way it always has, it has to remain extremely stable.

The markup language wasn't formally specced from the beginning; it started based on UseModWiki's markup, then morphed and evolved as needs demanded. In the absence of a formal specification, the MediaWiki markup language has become a complex and idiosyncratic language, basically only compatible with MediaWiki's parser; it can't be represented as a formal grammar. The current parser's specification is jokingly referred to as "whatever the parser spits out from wikitext, plus a few hundred test cases".

There have been many attempts at alternative parsers, but none has succeeded so far. In 2004 an experimental tokenizer was written by Jens Frank to parse wikitext, and enabled on Wikipedia; it had to be disabled three days later because of the poor performance of PHP array memory allocations. Since then, most of the parsing has been done with a huge pile of regular expressions, and a ton of helper functions. The wiki markup, and all the special cases the parser needs to support, have also become considerably more complex, making future attempts even more difficult.

A notable improvement was Tim Starling's preprocessor rewrite in MediaWiki 1.12, whose main motivation was to improve the parsing performance on pages with complex templates. The preprocessor converts wikitext to an XML DOM tree representing parts of the document (template invocations, parser functions, tag hooks, section headings, and a few other structures), but can skip "dead branches", such as unfollowed #switch cases and unused defaults for template arguments, in template expansion. The parser then iterates through the DOM structure and converts its content to HTML.

Recent work on a visual editor for MediaWiki has made it necessary to improve the parsing process (and make it faster), so work has resumed on the parser and intermediate layers between MediaWiki markup and final HTML (see Future, below).

Magic Words and Templates MediaWiki offers "magic words" that modify the general behavior of the page or include dynamic content into it. They consist of: behavior switches like NOTOC (to hide the automatic table of content) or NOINDEX (to tell search engines not to index the page); variables like {{CURRENTTIME}} or {{SITENAME}}; and parser functions, i.e., magic words that can take parameters, like {{lc:}} (to output in lowercase). Constructs like {{GENDER:}}, {{PLURAL:}} and {{GRAMMAR:}}, used to localize the UI, are parser functions.

The most common way to include content from other pages in a MediaWiki page is to use templates. Templates were really intended to be used to include the same content on different pages, e.g., navigation panels or maintenance banners on Wikipedia articles; having the ability to create partial page layouts and reuse them in thousands of articles with central maintenance made a huge impact on sites like Wikipedia.

However, templates have also been used (and abused) by users for a completely different purpose. MediaWiki 1.3 made it possible for templates to take parameters that change their output; the ability to add a default parameter (introduced in MediaWiki 1.6) enabled the construction of a functional programming language implemented on top of PHP, which was ultimately one of the most costly features in terms of performance.

Tim Starling then developed additional parser functions (the ParserFunctions extension), as a stopgap measure against insane constructs created by Wikipedia users with templates. This set of functions included logical structures like #if and #switch, and other functions like #expr (to evaluate mathematical expressions) and #time (for time formatting).

Soon enough, Wikipedia users started to create even more complex templates using the new functions, which considerably degraded the parsing performance on template-heavy pages. The new preprocessor introduced in MediaWiki 1.12 (a major architectural change) was implemented to partly remedy this issue. Recently, MediaWiki developers have discussed the possibility of using an actual scripting language, perhaps Lua, to improve performance.

Media Files Users upload files through the Special:Upload page; administrators can configure the allowed file types through an extension whitelist. Once uploaded, files are stored in a folder on the file system, and thumbnails in a dedicated thumb directory.

Because of Wikimedia's educational mission, MediaWiki supports file types that may be uncommon in other web applications or CMSes, like SVG vector images, and multipage PDFs and DjVus. They are rendered as PNG files, and can be thumbnailed and displayed inline, as are more common image files like GIFs, JPGs and PNGs.

When a file is uploaded, it is assigned a File: page containing information entered by the uploader; this is free text and usually includes copyright information (author, license) and items describing or classifying the content of the file (description, location, date, categories, etc.). While private wikis may not care much about this information, on media libraries like Wikimedia Commons it are critical to organise the collection and ensure the legality of sharing these files. It has been argued that most of these metadata should, in fact, be stored in a queryable structure like a database table. This would considerably facilitate search, but also attribution and reuse by third parties—for example, through the API.

Most Wikimedia sites also allow "local" uploads to each wiki, but the community tries to store freely licensed media files in Wikimedia's free media library, Wikimedia Commons. Any Wikimedia site can display a file hosted on Commons as if it were hosted locally. This custom avoids having to upload a file to every wiki to use it there.

As a consequence, MediaWiki natively supports foreign media repositories, i.e., the ability to access media files hosted on another wiki through its API and the ForeignAPIRepo system. Since version 1.16, any MediaWiki website can easily use files from Wikimedia Commons through the InstantCommons feature. When using a foreign repository, thumbnails are stored locally to save bandwidth. However, it is not (yet) possible to upload to a foreign media repository from another wiki.

12.8. Customizing and Extending MediaWiki Levels MediaWiki's architecture provides different ways to customize and extend the software. This can be done at different levels of access:

System administrators can install extensions and skins, and configure the wiki's separate helper programs (e.g., for image thumbnailing and TeX rendering) and global settings (see Configuration above). Wiki sysops (sometimes called "administrators" too) can edit site-wide gadgets, JavaScript and CSS settings. Any registered user can customize their own experience and interface using their preferences (for existing settings, skins and gadgets) or make their own modifications (using their personal JS and CSS pages). External programs can also communicate with MediaWiki through its machine API, if it's enabled, basically making any feature and data accessible to the user.

JavaScript and CSS MediaWiki can read and apply site-wide or skin-wide JavaScript and CSS using custom wiki pages; these pages are in the MediaWiki: namespace, and thus can only be edited by sysops; for example, JavaScript modifications from MediaWiki:Common.js apply to all skins, CSS from MediaWiki:Common.css applies to all skins, but MediaWiki:Vector.css only applies to users with the Vector skin.

Users can do the same types of changes, which will only apply to their own interface, by editing subpages of their user page (e.g. User:/common.js for JavaScript on all skins, User:/common.css for CSS on all skins, or User:/vector.css for CSS modifications that only apply to the Vector skin).

If the Gadgets extension is installed, sysops can also edit gadgets, i.e., snippets of JavaScript code, providing features that can be turned on and off by users in their preferences. Upcoming developments on gadgets will make it possible to share gadgets across wikis, thus avoiding duplication.

This set of tools has had a huge impact and greatly increased the democratization of MediaWiki's software development. Individual users are empowered to add features for themselves; power users can share them with others, both informally and through globally configurable sysop-controlled systems. This framework is ideal for small, self-contained modifications, and presents a lower barrier to entry than heavier code modifications done through hooks and extensions.

Extensions and Skins When JavaScript and CSS modifications are not enough, MediaWiki provides a system of hooks that let third-party developers run custom PHP code before, after, or instead of MediaWiki code for particular events. (MediaWiki hooks are referenced at https://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Manual:Hooks.) MediaWiki extensions use hooks to plug into the code.

Before hooks existed in MediaWiki, adding custom PHP code meant modifying the core code, which was neither easy nor recommended. The first hooks were proposed and added in 2004 by Evan Prodromou; many more have been added over the years when needed. Using hooks, it is even possible to extend MediaWiki's wiki markup with additional capabilities using tag extensions.

The extension system isn't perfect; extension registration is based on code execution at startup, rather than cacheable data, which limits abstraction and optimization and hurts MediaWiki's performance. But overall, the extension architecture is now a fairly flexible infrastructure that has helped make specialized code more modular, keeping the core software from expanding (too) much, and making it easier for third-party users to build custom functionality on top of MediaWiki.

Conversely, it's very difficult to write a new skin for MediaWiki without reinventing the wheel. In MediaWiki, skins are PHP classes each extending the parent Skin class; they contain functions that gather the information needed to generate the HTML. The long-lived "MonoBook" skin was difficult to customize because it contained a lot of browser-specific CSS to support old browsers; editing the template or CSS required many subsequent changes to reflect the change for all browsers and platforms.

API The other main entry point for MediaWiki, besides index.php, is api.php, used to access its machine-readable web query API (Application Programming Interface).

Wikipedia users originally created "bots" that worked by screen scraping the HTML content served by MediaWiki; this method was very unreliable and broke many times. To improve this situation, developers introduced a read-only interface (located at query.php), which then evolved into a full-fledged read and write machine API providing direct, high-level access to the data contained in the MediaWiki database. (Exhaustive documentation of the API is available.)

Client programs can use the API to login, get data, and post changes. The API supports thin web-based JavaScript clients and end-user applications. Almost anything that can be done via the web interface can basically be done through the API. Client libraries implementing the MediaWiki API are available in many languages, including Python and .NET.

12.9. Future What started as a summer project done by a single volunteer PHP developer has grown into MediaWiki, a mature, stable wiki engine powering a top-ten website with a ridiculously small operational infrastructure. This has been made possible by constant optimization for performance, iterative architectural changes and a team of awesome developers.

The evolution of web technologies, and the growth of Wikipedia, call for ongoing improvements and new features, some of which require major changes to MediaWiki's architecture. This is, for example, the case for the ongoing visual editor project, which has prompted renewed work on the parser and on the wiki markup language, the DOM and final HTML conversion.

MediaWiki is a tool used for very different purposes. Within Wikimedia projects, for instance, it's used to create and curate an encyclopedia (Wikipedia), to power a huge media library (Wikimedia Commons), to transcribe scanned reference texts (Wikisource), and so on. In other contexts, MediaWiki is used as a corporate CMS, or as a data repository, sometimes combined with a semantic framework. These specialized uses that weren't planned for will probably continue to drive constant adjustments to the software's internal structure. As such, MediaWiki's architecture is very much alive, just like the immense community of users it supports.

12.10. Further Reading MediaWiki documentation and support Automatically generated MediaWiki documentation Domas Mituzas, Wikipedia: site internals, configuration, code examples and management issues, MySQL Users conference, 2007. Full text available at http://dom.as/talks/. 12.11. Acknowledgments This chapter was created collaboratively. Guillaume Paumier wrote most of the content by organizing the input provided by MediaWiki users and core developers. Sumana Harihareswara coordinated the interviews and input-gathering phases. Many thanks to Antoine Musso, Brion Vibber, Chad Horohoe, Tim Starling, Roan Kattouw, Sam Reed, Siebrand Mazeland, Erik Möller, Magnus Manske, Rob Lanphier, Amir Aharoni, Federico Leva, Graham Pearce and others for providing input and/or reviewing the content.