ACF how to write

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How to Write an ACF

For some examples please see the Web Configuration Framework projects in the Alpine Linux git repository

  • acf-unbound - a simple ACF to control a service
  • acf-awall - a slightly more complicated ACF for a firewall
  • acf-provisioning - a complicated database application based on ACF
  • ...

From <nil> to a running ACF example application

Step 1 - The Programming Language

  • ACF uses lua as its programming language. Have a look at before starting.

Step 2 - The Application Environment

  • Setup the ACF web application by running setup-acf

Step 3 - Create A Development Directory

  • In your user home create a directory for your application (e.g. mkdir ~/myapp)
  • And cd into it (e.g. cd ~/myapp)

Step 4 - MVC, How Does It Affect My Coding?

ACF is an MVC based framework. What does this mean to you? Your application is separated into three layers: Model, View, Controller - each of which may have one or more files.

  • Controller: The event dispatcher. Most of the controller functionality is handled by the ACF mvc.lua code and some standard controllers (such as acf_www-controller.lua or acf_cli-controller.lua). For the controller layer of your new ACF package, you must export one lua function per action in a lua module named 'myapp-controller.lua'. The ACF controller code will interpret the user interaction to load your new controller and fire the appropriate action - the same-named function in your controller will be called.
  • View: The view layer defines what your application will look like. For most actions, such as forms, your application can use the built-in automatic view generation. For others, you can link to standard views which are included in the acf-core package. For other actions, such as lists of data, you may create view files, each presenting a dynamic HTML page with only as much code as necessary to display the data you receive from the controller.
  • Model: The 'real work' is done in the Model (e.g. modifying config files, starting/stopping services etc.). Each action exported by your controller will call into model functions to retrieve data and carry out actions.

Step 5 - The Example Files To Start With

Now let us have a look at the files we need to place into our application directory:

  • Makefile
  • myapp-controller.lua
  • myapp-model.lua
  • myapp.roles
  • For use with the Makefile. Just copy/paste it. We will look at it later.



The Makefile is called to install our ACF application so that we can see it working.


APP_DIST=        \
        myapp*        \





	rm -rf $(tarball) $(P)

dist: $(tarball)

	mkdir -p "$(install_dir)"
	cp -a $(APP_DIST) "$(install_dir)"

$(tarball):     $(DISTFILES)
	rm -rf $(P)
	mkdir -p $(P)
	cp $(DISTFILES) $(P)
	$(TAR) -jcf $@ $(P)
	rm -rf $(P)

# target that creates a tar package, unpacks is and install from package
dist-install: $(tarball)
	$(TAR) -jxf $(tarball)
	$(MAKE) -C $(P) install DESTDIR=$(DESTDIR)
	rm -rf $(P)


.PHONY: all clean dist install dist-install


-- the myapp controller
local mymodule = {}

mymodule.default_action = "myaction"

mymodule.myaction = function(self)
   -- self.clientdata contains the user data
   -- self.model points to our model
   -- use the helper function to implement our form
   return self.handle_form(self, self.model.getdata, self.model.setdata, self.clientdata, "Submit", "Edit data", "Data Submitted")

return mymodule


-- acf model for myapp
local mymodule = {}

local cfgfile = "/tmp/myfile"

-- This function returns a cfe (table of values) containing the file's
-- value as a string. If the file does not exist, we'll
-- simply return "" (an empty string, but NOT nil)
mymodule.getdata = function(self, clientdata)
   local retval = cfe({ type="group", value={}, label="Data" }) = cfe({ type="longtext", label="Data" })

   local fileptr =, "r")
   if fileptr ~= nil then = fileptr:read("*a") or ""

   return retval

-- This function will write new contents into our file
-- The newdata parameter receives the same cfe as returned by getdata, now with the user data filled in
mymodule.setdata = function(self, newdata, action)
   fileptr = cfgfile, "w+" )
   if fileptr ~= nil then
      newdata.errtxt = "Failed to save data"
   return newdata

return mymodule



# Cat   Group   Tab     Action
Test    MyApp   MyAction  myaction

Step 6 - What Does It Do?

This program just displays a <textarea> box and a "Submit" button. The user can enter text that is saved into a file once he presses "Submit".

In Depth

Now let us have a closer look at the different files' contents:


The controller is an event dispatcher. So, here you define all the actions that the user can call or that are defined in the menu. Each action is a separate function that will receive self as the only parameter.

In our case the action is myaction - a simple form.

This function can call the model's functions to update and/or retrieve data (e.g. self.model.getdata()).

Anything that this function returns will be passed on to the view


The functions defined in here can be accessed by the controller to update/set/retrieve data, start/stop services, basically do any 'real work'.

In our case, we have implemented the getdata/setdata functions required for a form.

The getdata function receives a copy of 'self', a clientdata table, and a string containing the submit action. It will generate a 'CFE' table defining the form and including the current data.

The setdata function is only called when the form is submitted, and it receives a copy of 'self' and the updated form 'CFE' now containing the submitted data. The setdata function will attempt to perform the action, returning the same form 'CFE'. If there is an error, it will fill in the errtxt field of the 'CFE'.


This file determines which users have access to which controllers and views. A separate roles file is generally defined for each ACF. The format of the file is as follows:


Each line defines controller:action combinations that are permitted for a particular group. GUEST is a special group to which all users, including anonymous users, are members.

In this file you define:

  • The Category in which a menu entry for your program will appear
  • The Group menu name under Category for this controller
  • The Tab name on the controller page
  • The Action with-in your controller that will be called once the user clicks on the menu entry or tab defined by Category, Group, and Tab.

Step 7 - How To Get It Going?

Once you have completed all the above mentioned steps, go on with:

More Info

Where is the View?

The above example does not contain any code for a view. So, how is the action getting displayed?

For every action that you define in myapp-controller.lua, you can define a separate view file named: myapp-action-html.lsp

If there is no view file for a specific action, the application will look for a generic view file for the controller named: myapp-html.lsp

If that file does not exist, the ACF controller will attempt to display the 'CFE' using the built-in library functions. This works well for forms, and is what allows us to display our view here.

Here is a view file that displays our action using the built-in library functions. It looks exactly the same as when no view exists.


local form, viewlibrary, page_info, session = ...
htmlviewfunctions = require("htmlviewfunctions")

htmlviewfunctions.displayitem(form, page_info)

The view receives the data to be displayed from the controller. The view has access to the table returned by the controller action along with a helper library, a table of page information, and the session data (see the second line). The view can also load other libraries, but it should not directly access the controller, model, or any global variables.

How to exchange data between model-view-controller?

To exchange data between model, view, and controller ACF uses Configuration Framework Entities (CFEs).

Please see ACF_core_principles for further details on CFEs.

See Also