How to turn a hooks-based charm into an ops charm

See also:

Suppose you have a hooks-based charm and you decide to rewrite it using the Ops framework in Python.

The core concept tying hooks to the Ops framework is that hooks are no longer scripts stored in files that are named like the event they are meant to respond to; hooks are, instead, blocks of Python code that are best written as methods of a class. The class represents the charm; the methods, the operator logic to be executed as specific events occur.

Here we’ll look at just how to do that. You will learn how to:

  • look at a simple hooks-based charm to understand its relationship with the Juju state machine;
  • map that forward to the Ops framework;
  • translate some shell commands to their Ops counterparts;
  • translate some more shell commands by using some handy charm libraries.

This guide will refer to a local LXD cloud and a machine charm, but you can easily generalize the approach to Kubernetes.


Analyse the charm

We start by looking at the charm we intend to translate; as an example, we will take microsample, an educational charm, because it is simple and includes a number of hooks, while implementing little-to-no business logic (the charm does very little).

From the charm root directory we see:

$ tree .
├── charmcraft.yaml
├── config.yaml
├── copyright
├── hooks
│   ├── config-changed
│   ├── install
│   ├── start
│   ├── stop
│   ├── update-status
│   ├── upgrade-charm
│   ├── website-relation-broken
│   ├── website-relation-changed
│   ├── website-relation-departed
│   └── website-relation-joined
├── icon.svg
├── metadata.yaml
├── microsample-ha.png
└── revision

By looking at the hooks folder, we can already tell that there are two categories of hooks we’ll need to port;

  • core lifecycle hooks:
    • config-changed
    • install
    • start
    • stop
    • update-status
    • upgrade-charm
  • hooks related to a website relation:
    • website-relation-*

If we look at metadata.yaml in fact we’ll see:

    interface: http

Setting up the stage

If we look at charmcraft.yaml, we’ll see a section:

    plugin: dump
    source: .
      - LICENSE
      - config.yaml
      - copyright
      - hooks
      - icon.svg
      - metadata.yaml

This is a spec required to make charmcraft work in ‘legacy mode’ and support older charm frameworks, such as the hooks charm we are working with. As such, if we take a look at the packed .charm file, we’ll see that the files and folders listed in ‘prime’ are copied over one-to-one in the archive.

If we remove that section, run charmcraft pack, and then attempt to deploy the charm, the command will fail with a

Processing error: Failed to copy '/root/stage/src': no such file or directory.

The plan

Detour: exploration of a bad idea.

Detour: Lazy approach

The minimal-effort solution in this case could be to create a file /src/ and translate the built-in self.on event hooks to subprocess calls to the Bash event hooks as-they-are. Roughly:

#!/usr/bin/env python3
import os
import ops

class Microsample(ops.CharmBase):
  def __init__(self, *args):
    self.framework.observe(self.on.config_changed, lambda _: os.popen('../hooks/config-changed'))
    self.framework.observe(self.on.install, lambda _: os.popen('../hooks/install'))
    self.framework.observe(self.on.start, lambda _: os.popen('../hooks/start'))
    self.framework.observe(self.on.stop, lambda _: os.popen('../hooks/stop'))
    # etc...

if __name__ == "__main__":

This is obviously horrible, but we can verify that it actually works and it is a useful exercise to verify that the only difference between the hooks-based charm and this Ops charm is the syntax by which the developer has to map hook names to handler scripts.

We need a few preparatory steps:
• Add a requirements.txt file to ensure that the charm’s Python environment will install for us the ops package.
• Modify the install hook to install snap for us, which is used in the script.
• In practice we cannot bind lambdas to observe, we need to write dedicated methods for that.
• We need to figure out the required environment variables for the commands to work, which is not trivial.

A more detailed explanation of this process is worthy of its own how-to guide, so we’ll skip to the punchline here: it works. Check out this branch and see for yourself.

It is in our interest to move the handler logic for each /hooks/<hook_name> to Microsample._on_<hook_name>, for several reasons:

  • We can avoid code duplication by accessing shared data via the CharmBase interface provided through self.
  • The code is all in one place, easier to maintain.
  • We automatically have one Python object we can test, instead of going back and forth between Bash scripts and Python wrappers.
  • We can use the awesome testing Harness.

So let’s do that.

The idea is to turn those bash scripts into Python code we can call from aptly-named Microsample methods; but does it always make sense to do so? We’ll see in a minute.

Step 1: move script contents as-they-are into dedicated charm methods

class Microsample(ops.CharmBase):
    def __init__(self, framework):
        framework.observe(self.on.install, self._on_install)
        framework.observe(self.on.config_changed, self._on_config_changed)
        framework.observe(self.on.start, self._on_start)
        # etc ...

Let’s begin with install. The /hooks/install script checks if a snap package is installed; if not, it installs it. We need to still reach out to a shell to grab the snap package info and install the package, but we can have the logic and the status management in Python, which is nice. We use subprocessing.check_call to reach out to the OS. And yes, there is a better way to do this, we’ll get to that later.

    def _on_install(self, _event):
        snapinfo_cmd = Popen("snap info microsample".split(" "),
        output = check_output("grep -c 'installed'".split(" "),
        is_microsample_installed = bool(output.decode("ascii").strip())

        if not is_microsample_installed:
            self.unit.status = ops.MaintenanceStatus("installing microsample")
            out = check_call("snap install microsample --edge")

        self.unit.status = ops.ActiveStatus()

For on-start and on-stop, which are simple instructions to systemctl to start/stop the microsample service, we can copy over the commands as they are:

    def _on_start(self, _event):  # noqa
        check_call("systemctl start snap.microsample.microsample.service".split(' '))

    def _on_stop(self, _event):  # noqa
        check_call("systemctl stop snap.microsample.microsample.service".split(' '))

In a couple of places in the scripts, sleep 3 calls ensure that the service has some time to come up; however, this might get the charm stuck in the waiting loop if for whatever reason the service does NOT come up, so it is quite risky and we are not going to do that. Instead, we are going to rely on the fact that if other event handlers were to fail because of the service not being up, they would handle that case appropriately (e.g., defer the event if necessary).

The rest of the translation is pretty straightforward. However, it is still useful to note a few things about relations, logging, and environment variables, which we do below.

Wrapping the website relation

ops.model.Relation provides a neat wrapper for the juju relation object. We are going to add a helper method:

    def _get_website_relation(self) -> ops.model.Relation:
        # WARNING: would return None if called too early, e.g. during install
        return self.model.get_relation("website")

That allows us to fetch the Relation wherever we need it and access its contents or mutate them in a natural way:

    def _on_website_relation_joined(self, _event):
        relation = self._get_website_relation()[self.unit].update(
            {"hostname": self.private_address,
             "port": self.port}

Note how provides an interface to the relation databag (more on that here) and we need to select which part of that bag to access by passing an ops.model.Unit instance.


Every maintainable charm will have some form of logging integrated; in a few places in the Bash scripts we see calls to a juju-log command; we can replace them with simple logger.log calls; such as in

    def _on_website_relation_departed(self, _event):  # noqa
        logger.debug("%s departed website relation",

Where logger = logging.getLogger(__name__).

Environment variables

Some of the Bash scripts read environment variables such as $JUJU_REMOTE_UNIT, $JUJU_UNIT_NAME ; of course we could do


but CharmBase exposes a .unit attribute we can read this information from, instead of grabbing it off the environment; this makes for more readable code. So, wherever we need the juju unit name, we can write (that will get you microsample/0 for example) or if you are actually after the application name, you can write (and get microsample back, without the unit index suffix).

The resulting code at this stage can be inspected at this branch.

Step 2: clean up snap & systemd code

In the _on_install method we had translated one-to-one the calls to snap info to check whether the snap was installed or not; we can however use one more Linux lib for that:

charmcraft fetch-lib charms.operator_libs_linux.v1.snap

Then we can replace all that Popen piping with simpler calls into the lib’s API; _on_install becomes:

    def _on_install(self, _event):
        microsample_snap = snap.SnapCache()["microsample"]
        if not microsample_snap.present:
            self.unit.status = ops.MaintenanceStatus("installing microsample")
            microsample_snap.ensure(snap.SnapState.Latest, channel="edge")

        self.unit.status = ops.ActiveStatus()

Similarly all that string parsing we were doing to get a hold of the snap version, can be simplified by grabbing the (not quite the same, but for the purposes of this charm, it is close enough).

    def _get_microsample_version(self):
        microsample_snap = snap.SnapCache()["microsample"]

Also, we can interact with the microsample service via the operator_libs_linux.v0 charm library, which wraps systemd and allows us to write simply:

    def _on_start(self, _event):  # noqa

    def _on_stop(self, _event):  # noqa

To install:
charmcraft fetch-lib charms.operator_libs_linux.v0.systemd
charmcraft fetch-lib charms.operator_libs_linux.v1.snap\

To use, add line to imports:
from charms.operator_libs_linux.v0 import systemd
from charms.operator_libs_linux.v1 import snap

By inspecting more closely the flow of the events, we realize that not all of the event handlers that we currently subscribe to are necessary. For example, the relation data is going to be set once the relation is joined, but nothing needs to be done when the relation changes or is broken/departed. Since it depends on configurable values, however, we will need to make sure that the config-changed handler also keeps the relation data up to date.

Furthermore we can get rid of the start handler, since the snap.ensure() call will also start the service for us on install. Similarly we can strip away most of the calls in _on_upgrade_charm (originally invoking multiple other hooks) and only call snap.ensure(...).

The final result can be inspected at this branch.

Closing notes

We have seen how to turn a hooks-based charm to one using the state-of-the-art Ops framework—this basically boils down to moving code from files in a folder to methods in a CharmBase subclass. That is, this is what it amounts to to a developer. But what about the system?

The fact is, hooks charms can be written in Assembly, or any other language, so long as the shebang references something (a command / an interpreter) known to the script runner. The starting charm was as a result very lightweight, since it is written in Bash and that is included in the base Linux image.

Ops charms, on the other hand, are Python charms. As such, even though Ops is not especially large in and of itself, Ops charms bring a virtual environment with them. That makes the resulting charm package somewhat heavier. That might be a consideration when the charm target is a resource-constrained system.

Todo’s / disclaimers

I did not test the website relation; implementing the Requires part of it is also left as an exercise to the reader.

Last updated 8 months ago. Help improve this document in the forum.