The Meta Proposal

"Meta" is a proposed system which is intended to meet a set of Design Goals for integrating System Documentation and System Metadata. Instead of specifying all possible tools, Meta defines a common interface (i.e., access mechanism, data structure, database, document definition, exchange format, language, view, ...) to support them.

Thus, Meta is simply a unified interface for system information, where both "system" and "information" are interpreted very broadly. Less formally, Meta is a convenient and consistent way for programs (and thereby, humans) to access a wide range of "system" information.

The interface is defined as a spanning set of "metadata" files, rather than any particular programs or libraries. Just as any program can read /etc/passwd, any properly-constructed program will be able to make use of the metadata files.

The metadata files are abstract and declarative, rather then imperative. Unlike the package- and OS-specific "make" files of the Ports Collection, Meta has description files for packages, hardware and software environments, administrative preferences, etc.

Although this places complex burdens on the supporting software, the result is extremely worthwhile: only one description file needs to be created and maintained for each package. Further, by use of multiple inheritance, many types and levels of "preferences" can be specified.

Meta's file formats are defined by XML (Extensible Markup Language) Schemas, allowing them to be carefully structured and defined, yet extensible. XML is an increasingly popular standard, supported by a large body of documentation, programming language interfaces, development tools, and expert practitioners.

Note: Meta is being defined and prototyped for Eclectic Systems, whose extremely modular nature both invites assistance and helps to make the Meta approach feasible. In addition, the large subset of Open Source technologies in Eclectic Systems eases acquisition of System Metadata. These points aside, there is nothing that would keep the Meta approach from being adaptable to other environments.

-- Main.RichMorin - 16 Jun 2003
Topic revision: r5 - 08 Jun 2003, WikiGuest
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