External plugins are standalone, executable programs, that can be written in any language. When ikiwiki starts up, it runs the program, and communicates with it using XML RPC. If you want to write an external plugin, read on..

ikiwiki contains one sample external plugin, named externaldemo. This is written in perl, but is intended to be an example of how to write an external plugin in your favorite programming language. Wow us at how much easier you can do the same thing in your favorite language. ;-)

There's now a second external plugin, the rst plugin, written in python. It uses a proxy.py, a helper library for ikiwiki python plugins.

How external plugins use XML RPC

While XML RPC is typically used over http, ikiwiki doesn't do that. Instead, the external plugin reads XML RPC data from stdin, and writes it to stdout. To ease parsing, each separate XML RPC request or response must start at the beginning of a line, and end with a newline. When outputting XML RPC to stdout, be sure to flush stdout. Failure to do so will result in deadlock!

An external plugin should operate in a loop. First, read a command from stdin, using XML RPC. Dispatch the command, and return its result to stdout, also using XML RPC. After reading a command, and before returning the result, the plugin can output XML RPC requests of its own, calling functions in ikiwiki. Note: Never make an XML RPC request at any other time. IkiWiki won't be listening for it, and you will deadlock.

When ikiwiki starts up an external plugin, the first RPC it will make is to call the plugin's import() function. That function typically makes an RPC to ikiwiki's hook() function, registering a callback.

An external plugin can use XML RPC to call any of the exported functions documented in the plugin interface documentation. It can also actually call any non-exported IkiWiki function, but doing so is a good way to break your plugin when ikiwiki changes. There is currently no versioned interface like there is for perl plugins, but external plugins were first supported in ikiwiki version 2.6.

Accessing data structures

IkiWiki has a few global data structures such as %config, which holds its configuration. External plugins can use the getvar and setvar RPCs to access any such global hash. To get the "url" configuration value, call getvar("config", "url"). To set it, call setvar("config", "url", "http://example.com/).

The %pagestate is a special hash with a more complex format. To access it, external plugins can use the getstate and setstate RPCs. To access stored state, call getstate("page", "id", "key"), and to store state, call setstate("page", "id", "key", "value").

To access ikiwiki's ARGV array, call getargv(). To change its ARGV, call setargv(array).

Notes on function parameters

The plugin interface documentation talks about functions that take "named parameters". When such a function is called over XML RPC, such named parameters look like a list of keys and values:

page, foo, destpage, bar, magnify, 1

If a name is repeated in the list, the later value overrides the earlier one:

name, Bob, age, 20, name, Sally, gender, female

In perl, boiling this down to an associative array of named parameters is very easy:

sub foo {
    my %params=@list;

Other languages might not find it so easy. If not, it might be a good idea to convert these named parameters into something more natural for the language as part of their XML RPC interface.


XML RPC has a limitation that it does not have a way to pass undef/NULL/None. There is an extension to the protocol that supports this, but it is not yet available in all versions of the XML::RPC library used by ikiwiki.

Until the extension is available, ikiwiki allows undef to be communicated over XML RPC by passing a sentinal value, a hash with a single key "null" with a value of an empty string. External plugins that need to communicate null values to or from ikiwiki will have to translate between undef and the sentinal.

Function injection

Some parts of ikiwiki are extensible by adding or overriding functions. It's actually possible to do this from an external plugin too.

To make your external plugin override the IkiWiki::formattime function, for example, make an RPC call to inject. Pass it named parameters "name" and "call", where "name" is the name of the function to inject into perl (here "Ikiwiki::formattime" and "call" is the RPC call ikiwiki will make whenever that function is run.

If the RPC call is memoizable, you can also pass a "memoize" parameter, set to 1.

Limitations of XML RPC

Since XML RPC can't pass around references to objects, it can't be used with functions that take or return such references. That means you can't 100% use XML RPC for cgi or formbuilder hooks (which are passed CGI and FormBuilder perl objects), or use it to call template() (which returns a perl HTML::Template object).

Performance issues

Since each external plugin is a separate process, when ikiwiki is configured to use lots of external plugins, it will start up slower, and use more resources. One or two should not be a problem though.

There is some overhead in using XML RPC for function calls. Most plugins should find it to be pretty minimal though. In one benchmark, ikiwiki was able to perform 10000 simple XML RPC calls in 11 seconds -- 900 per second.

Using external plugins for hooks such as sanitize and format, which pass around entire pages, and are run for each page rendered, will cause more XML RPC overhead than usual, due to the larger number of calls, and the large quantity of data conversion going on. In contrast, preprocess hooks are called generally rarely, and pass around minimal data.

External plugins should avoid making RPC calls unnecessarily (ie, in a loop). Memoizing the results of appropriate RPC calls is one good way to minimize the number of calls.

Injecting a replacement for a commonly called ikiwiki function could result in a lot more RPC calls than expected and slow everything down. pagetitle, for instance, is called about 100 times per page build. Whenever possible, you should tell ikiwiki to memoize injected functions.

In general, use common sense, and your external plugin will probably perform ok.