Using Clay

This document is up-to-date as of March 2021.

Reading and Subscribing

When reading from Clay, there are three types of requests. A %sing request asks for data at single revsion. A %next request asks to be notified the next time there's a change to given file. A %many request asks to be notified on every change in a desk for a range of changes.

For %sing and %next, there are generally three things to be queried. A %u request simply checks for the existence of a file at a path. A %x request gets the data in the file at a path. A %y request gets a hash of the data in the file at the path combined with all its children and their data. Thus, %y of a node changes if it or any of its children change.

A %sing request is fulfilled immediately if possible. If the requested revision is in the future, or is on another ship for which we don't have the result cached, we don't respond immediately. If the requested revision is in the future, we wait until the revision happens before we respond to the request. If the request is for data on another ship, we pass on the request to the other ship. In general, Clay subscriptions, like most things in Urbit, aren't guaranteed to return immediately. They'll return when they can, and they'll do so in a referentially transparent manner.

A %next request checks the query at the given revision, and it produces the result of the query the next time it changes, along with the revision number when it changes. Thus, a %next of a %u is triggered when a file is added or deleted, a %next of a %x is triggered when a file is added, deleted, or changed, and a %next of a %y is triggered when a file or any of its children is added, deleted, or changed.

A %many request is triggered every time the given desk has a new revision. Unlike a %next, a %many has both a start and an end revision, after which it stops returning. For %next, a single change is reported, and if the caller wishes to hear of the next change, it must resubscribe. For %many, every revision from the start to the end triggers a response. Since a %many request doesn't ask for any particular data, there aren't %u, %x, and %y versions for it.

For further information, see Local Reads, Local Subscriptions, and Foreign Requests

Unix sync


|mount %/path/to/directory %mount-point
|commit %mount-point
|autocommit %mount-point

One of the primary functions of Clay is as a convenient user interface. While tools exist to use Clay from within Urbit, it's often useful to be able to treat Clay like any other filesystem from the Unix perspective -- to "mount" it, as it were.

From the dojo, you can run |mount %/path/to/directory %mount-point, and this will mount the given Clay directory to the mount-point directory in Unix, with your pier as the root directory. For example |mount %/gen %generators will create a /generators directory in your pier, and mount the /gen folder at that point. If you'd like to use the directory name as the mount point, you can elide the last argument, e.g. |mount %/gen mounts /gen to /gen.

Every file is converted to %mime before it's written to Unix, and converted back when read from Unix. The entire directory is watched (a la Dropbox), and every change is committed once you run |commit %mount-point. Every change can be automatically committed with |autocommit %mount-point.



|merge %target-desk ~source-ship %source-desk
|merge %target-desk ~source-ship %source-desk, =gem %strategy
|merge %target-desk ~source-ship %source-desk, =cas ud+5

Clay supports various merge strategies. A "commit" is a snapshot of the files with a list of parents plus a date. Most commits have one parent; a "merge" commit is a commit with two parents. The %home desk starts with an initial commit with no parents; commits with several parents ("octopus merges") are possible but we don't generate them right now.

Unless otherwise specified, all of the following create a new commit with the source and destination commits as parents.

Several strategies need a "merge-base". They find it by identifying the most recent common ancestor of the two desks. If none, fail with %merge-no-merge-base; if there are two or more, pick one.


%init: the only way to create a desk. Not a true merge, since it simply assigns the source commit to the destination.

%fine: if source or destination are in the ancestry of each other, use the newer one; else abort. If the destination is ahead of the source, succeed but do nothing. If the source is ahead of the destination, assign the next revision number to the source commit. Some call this "fast-forward".

%meet: combine changes, failing if both sides changed the same file. Specifically, take diff(merge-base,source) and diff(merge-base,destination) and combine them as long as those diffs touch different files.

%mate: combine changes, failing if both sides changed the same part of a file. Identical to %meet, except that some marks, like %hoon, allow intelligent merge of changes to different parts of a file.

%meld: combine changes; if both sides changed the same part of a file, use the version of the file in the merge-base.

%only-this: create a merge commit with exactly the contents of the destination desk.

%only-that: create a merge commit with exactly the contents of the source commit.

%take-this: create a merge commit with exactly the contents of the destination desk except take any files from the source commit which are not in the destination desk.

%take-that: create a merge commit with exactly the contents of the source commit except preserve any files from the destination desk which are not in the source commit.

%meet-this: merge as in %meet, except if both sides changed the same file, use the version in the destination desk.

%meet-that: merge as in %meet, except if both sides changed the same file, use the version in the source commit.

Examples and notes:

The most common merge strategy is %mate, which is a normal 3-way merge which aborts on conflict.

%take-that is useful to "force" an OTA. After running %take-that, you're guaranteed to have exactly the files in the source commit plus any files you separately added.

We speak of merging into a destination desk from a source commit because while you can only merge on top of a desk, you can merge from historical commits. For example,

|merge %old our %home, =cas ud+5, =gem %init

will create a new desk called %old with the 5th commit in %home. You can revert the contents of a desk to what they were yesterday with

|merge %home our %home, =cas da+(sub now ~d1), =gem %only-that

Note this is a normal %only-that merge, which means you're creating a new commit with the old contents.

%meld is rarely used on its own, however if you specify %auto or omit the merge strategy, %kiln will run a %meld merge into a scratch desk and then annotate the conflicts there.

If you resolve merge conflicts manually, for example by mounting the desks, copying the files in Unix and then running |commit, you should usually run an %only-this merge. This will not change the newly-fixed contents of your desk, but it will record that the merge happened so that those conflicts don't reappear in later merges.

If you get a %merge-no-merge-base error, this means you're trying to merge two desks which have no common ancestors. You need to give them a common ancestor by choosing a merge strategy which doesn't need a merge-base, like %only-this, %only-that, %take-this, or %take-that.

%take-this could be useful to install 3rd party software, but you couldn't get subsequent updates this way, since the files would already exist in the destination desk. Something like "take only the files which aren't in my OTA source or any other 3rd party app" would be basically correct. This would require a parameter listing the desks to not conflict with.

%meet-this and %meet-that imply the existence of %mate-this and %mate-that, but those don't exist yet.



|sync %target-desk ~source-ship %source-desk

Tracking and staying in sync with another desk is another fundamental operation. We call this "autosync". This doesn't mean simply mirroring a desk, since that wouldn't allow local changes. We simply want to apply changes as they are made upstream, as long as there are no conflicts with local changes.

This is implemented by subscribing to changes to the other desk, with a %many request and, when it has changes, merging these changes into our desk with the usual merge strategies.

Note that it's quite reasonable for two desks to be autosynced to each other. This results in any change on one desk being mirrored to the other and vice versa.

Additionally, it's fine to set up an autosync even if one desk, the other desk, or both desks do not exist. The sync will be activated when the upstream desk comes into existence and will create the downstream desk if needed.