Smart Extensions

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Smart Extensions

Table of Contents

1 Overview

Smart Extensions are a feature of the Nitrogen Dynamic Route Handler, which gives the ability to use different entry points into a page module based on the extension provided to the request. Using this feature, through your application's configuration, you can add, for example. a .json extension to a request, and have Nitrogen call the json_main() function, which returns a simple Erlang Proplist. The routing system would then convert that proplist to a properly formatted JSON string.


To use a smart extension, you would add the following to your nitrogen application configuration:

{smart_extensions, [
is the string extension of the file ("json", "csv", etc).
is the function in our page module that is called. For Nitrogen's built-in JSON smart extension, you might call it json_main). This is expected to be an atom.
identifies the module and function of a pre and post- processing function. It can either be the atom undefined, in which case no pre or post processing will be done. If, however it's a two-tuple consisting of {Module, Function}, it will call Module:Function(EntryFun) passing ENTRY_FUNCTION above as the only argument.


To use Nitrogen's built-in JSON smart extension the following would be used:

{smart_extensions, [
  {"json", json_main, {nitrogen_smart_extensions, json}}

Then add a json_main() function to your page module, which returns an Erlang proplist. The proplist will automatically be converted to a JSON string and the MIME-type will be set to "application/json".

Here's an example of a json_main() function in action.

json_main() ->
    {favorite_fruit, <<"This is a string">>},
    {a_list_of_numbers, [45, 100, 50000, 60]},
    {some_value, "This would also render as a list of numbers"}

The Smart Extensions feature knows that with the JSON to convert the proplist into a JSON-encoded string that looks like this:

 "favorite_fruit":"This is a string",

As you can see, "This would also render as a list of numbers" rendered as a list of numbers. This is due to the JSON encoding which treats string-lists as literal lists of integers. If you need a string to be encoded and sent to the client, make sure to use a binary instead of a string list.

A Simple Smart Extension

You can add your own smart extension as well. The simplest smart extension would be to simply provide an entry point for an extension. First adding {"my_ext", my_entry} to to the list of smart extensions in your config:

{smart_extensions, [
  {"my_ext", my_entry}

Then add the following to a page you wish to use the my_ext smart extension with:

my_entry() ->
   "This is my the my_ext smart handler".

This is the simplest kind of smart extension. Simply put, if it sees a .my_ext as the extension, it would use my_entry() as the entry point in your module, and be done with it. There would be no pre- or post-processing performed with it - whatever is returned by the function would be sent to the browser.

An Advanced Smart Extension

Adding a more advanced smart extension allows you to do pre- and post-processing. Expanding on the above, let's say we have some weird legacy system that expects a series of words in all upper-case, each one its own line, and to automatically download as a file called "legacy.txt", and we wanted the extension of the request to be "textlist".

So the specs would be something like this:

  • Request: /download/mydata.textlist
  • Which downloads a file to the filesystem called "legacy.txt"
  • And which looks like this:

First, let's add smart extenion to our app.config:

{smart_extensions, [
  {"textlist", textlist, {textlist_handler, handle}}

Simply stated, this means: "If the request ends with .textlist, and our page module has a textlist/0 function, we're going to call textlist_handler:handle, which will pre-process and call Page:textlist(), then post-process the result.

So let's edit our page module (by the request above, it should be download_mydata - remember slashes become underscores in modules):


textlist() ->
  %% more likely, these words would be read from a database or something, but
  %% for the sake of our demo, we're just hardcoding a list of words
  ["word", "apple", "banana", "linux", "ninja"].

Now we need to create our textlist_handler module to do the pre and postprocessing.


handle(EntryFun) ->
  %% Force it to download as the filename legacy.txt

  %% Force the content type to text/plain

  %% Let's call the entry function, which is passed to us as a function.
  List = EntryFun(),

  %% Let's ensure all values are strings, and convert them to uppercase:
  UpperList = [string:to_upper(wf:to_list(X)) || X <- List],

  %% Finally, let's make sure each ends up on its own line and return that
  wf:join(UpperList, "\n").

And that's it.

Date: 2014-11-12 19:51:21 CST

Author: Jesse Gumm (@jessegumm)

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