Introducing Bonsai

TL;DR: Pair your Linux devices, developer APIs to share files, create object graphs with partial sync between devices, transactions, secondary indexes, rebasing, and more built upon GVariant and LMDB. Tooling to build cloudless multi-device services.

A picture of a Bonsai tree and a gnomeI’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about what types of products I’d like to see in GNOME and what is missing to make that happen.

One observation is that I want access to my files and application data on all my computing devices but I don’t want to store that data on other peoples computers. I have computers, they have internet access, I shouldn’t have to use a multi-tenancy cloud if I’m running as much Free Software as I do. But if that is going to be competitive it needs to be easier than the alternatives.

But to build this I need a few fundamental layers to build applications atop. I’ll need access to files using all the GIO file APIs we love (GFile, GFileEnumerator, GIOStream, etc). I’ll also need the ability to read and write application data in a way that can be shared between devices which may not always be connected to my home Wi-Fi. In particular, we need to give developers great tools to make applications that natively support device synchronization.

What I’ve built to experiment with this all is Bonsai. It is very much an experiment at this phase but it is getting interesting enough to collaborate with others who would like to join me.

Bonsai consists of a daemon that you run on your “mostly connected” computer. Although that could easily be a raspberry pi quality computer in your home. That computer hosts the “upstream” storage space for files and application content.

Other devices like laptops, phones, or IoT can be paired with that primary device. They communicate using TLS connections using pinned self-signed certificates with point-to-point D-Bus serialization on top. The D-Bus serialization makes it convenient to use gdbus-codegen to generate proxies and services.

One service available to devices is the storage service. It can be consumed from libbonsai-storage to allow applications to browse, create, move, modify and stream file content.

Applications are much better when they can communicate between devices. So a Data-Access-Object library, aptly named libbonsai-dao, provides serializable object storage built upon GVariant and LMDB. It supports primary and secondary indexes, queries, cursors, transactions, and incremental sync between devices. It has the ability to rebase local changes atop changes pulled from the primary Bonsai device.

That last bit is neat because it means if an application is running on two devices which create new content they don’t clobber each others history.
The primary issue here is dealing with merge conflicts but libbonsai-dao provides some design for data objects to do the right thing.

Bonsai could also could serve as a base to build interesting services like backup, VPN, media sharing and casting, news, notes, calendars, contacts, and more. But honestly, it can only do that if people are actually interested in something like this. If so, let me know and see if you can lend your time or ideas for what you’d want this to become.