In the quickstart and in the introduction to liquidsoap sources, we have described a simple world in which sources communicate with each other, creating and transforming data that composes multimedia streams. In this simple view, all sources produce data at the same rate, animated by a single clock: at every cycle of the clock, a fixed amount of data is produced.
While this simple picture is useful to get a fair idea of what’s going on in liquidsoap, the full picture is more complex: in fact, a streaming system might involve multiple clocks, or in other words several time flows.
It is only in very particular cases that liquidsoap scripts need to mention clocks explicitly. Otherwise, you won’t even notice how many clocks are involved in your setup: indeed, liquidsoap can figure out the clocks by itself, much like it infers types. Nevertheless, there will sometimes be cases where your script cannot be assigned clocks in a correct way, in which case liquidsoap will complain. For that reason, every user should eventually get a minimum understanding of clocks.
In the following, we first describe why we need clocks. Then we go through the possible errors that any user might encounter regarding clocks. Finally, we describe how to explicitly use clocks, and show a few striking examples of what can be achieved that way.
The first reason is external to liquidsoap: there is simply not a unique notion of time in the real world. Your computer has an internal clock which indicates a slightly different time than your watch or another computer’s clock. Moreover, when communicating with a remote computer, network latency causes extra time distortions. Even within a single computer there are several clocks: notably, each soundcard has its own clock, which will tick at a slightly different rate than the main clock of the computer. Since liquidsoap communicates with soundcards and remote computers, it has to take those mismatches into account.
There are also some reasons that are purely internal
to liquidsoap: in order to produce a stream at a given speed, a source
might need to obtain data from another source at a different rate. This
is obvious for an operator that speeds up or slows down audio
stretch). But it also holds more subtly for
cross as well as the derived operators:
during the lapse of time where the operator combines data from an end of
track with the beginning of the other other, the crossing operator needs
twice as much stream data. After ten tracks, with a crossing duration of
six seconds, one more minute will have passed for the source compared to
the time of the crossing operator.
In order to avoid inconsistencies caused by time differences, while maintaining a simple and efficient execution model for its sources, liquidsoap works under the restriction that one source belongs to a unique clock, fixed once for all when the source is created.
The graph representation of streaming systems can be adapted into a good representation of what clocks mean. One simply needs to add boxes representing clocks: a source can belong to only one box, and all sources of a box produce streams at the same rate. For example,
yields the following graph:
Here, clock_2 was created specifically for the crossfading operator; the rate of that clock is controlled by that operator, which can hence accelerate it around track changes without any risk of inconsistency. The other clock is simply a CPU-based clock, so that the main stream is produced following the ``real’’ time rate.
Most of the time you won’t have to do anything special about clocks: operators that have special requirements regarding clocks will do what’s necessary themselves, and liquidsoap will check that everything is fine. But if the check fails, you’ll need to understand the error, which is what this section is for.
On the following example, liquidsoap will issue the fatal error
a source cannot belong to two clocks:
s = playlist("~/media/audio")
output.alsa(s) # perhaps for monitoring
Here, the source
s is first assigned the ALSA clock,
because it is tied to an ALSA output. Then, we attempt to build a
s. But this operator requires
its source to belong to a dedicated internal clock (because crossfading
requires control over the flow of the of the source, to accelerate it
around track changes). The error expresses this conflict:
must belong at the same time to the ALSA clock and
On the following example, liquidsoap will issue the fatal error
cannot unify two nested clocks:
jingles = playlist("jingles.lst")
music = rotate([1,10],[jingles,playlist("remote.lst")])
safe = rotate([1,10],[jingles,single("local.ogg")])
q = fallback([crossfade(music),safe])
Let’s see what happened. The
rotate operator, like most
operators, operates within a single clock, which means that
jingles and our two
playlist instances must
belong to the same clock. Similarly,
safe must belong to that same clock. When we applied
created its own internal clock, call it
signify that it needs the ability to accelerate at will the streaming of
music is attached to
cross_clock, and all sources built above come along.
Finally, we build the fallback, which requires that all of its sources
belong to the same clock. In other words,
must belong to
cross_clock just like
error message simply says that this is forbidden: the internal clock of
our crossfade cannot be its external clock – otherwise it would not have
exclusive control over its internal flow of time.
The same error also occurs on
simplest example of conflicting time flows, described above. However,
you won’t find yourself writing this obviously problematic piece of
code. On the other hand, one would sometimes like to write things like
our first example.
The key to the error with our first example is that the same
jingles source is used in combination with
safe. As a result, liquidsoap sees a
potentially nasty situation, which indeed could be turned into a real
mess by adding just a little more complexity. To obtain the desired
effect without requiring illegal clock assignments, it suffices to
create two jingle sources, one for each clock:
music = rotate([1,10],[playlist("jingles.lst"),
safe = rotate([1,10],[playlist("jingles.lst"),
q = fallback([crossfade(music),safe])
There is no problem anymore:
music belongs to
crossfade’s internal clock, and
safe and the
fallback belong to another clock.
There are only a couple of operations dealing explicitly with clocks.
clock.assign_new(l) creates a new clock and
assigns it to all sources from the list
l. For convenience,
we also provide a wrapper,
clock(s) which does the same
with a single source instead of a list, and returns that source. With
both functions, the new clock will follow (the computer’s idea of) real
sync=false is passed, in which case it will
run as fast as possible.
The old (pre-1.0.0) setting
root.sync is superseded by
clock.assign_new(). If you want to run an output as fast as
your CPU allows, just attach it to a new clock without
This will automatically attach the appropriate sources to that clock.
Another important use case of this operator is if your script
involves multiple sources from the same external clock, typically
multiple ALSA input or output from the same sound card or multiple jack
input and output. By default (the so-called
mode), liquidsoap will assign a dedicated clock to each of those
sources, leading either to an error or forcing the use of an unnecessary
buffer (see below). Instead, you can allocate each source
clock_safe=false and assign them a single clock:
s1 = input.jack(clock_safe=false, ...)
s2 = input.jack(clock_safe=false, ...)
However, you may need to do it for other operators if they are totally unrelated to the first one.
buffer() operator can be used to communicate between
any two clocks: it takes a source in one clock and builds a source in
another. The trick is that it uses a buffer: if one clock happens to run
too fast or too slow, the buffer may empty or overflow.
get_clock_status provides information on
existing clocks and track their respective times: it returns a list
containing for each clock a pair
(name,time) indicating the
clock id its current time in clock cycles – a cycle corresponds
to the duration of a frame, which is given in ticks, displayed on
startup in the logs. The helper function
get_clock_status can be used to directly obtain a
simple log file, suitable for graphing with gnuplot. Those functions are
useful to debug latency issues.
The first reason to explicitly assign clocks is to precisely handle the various latencies that might occur in your setup.
Most input/output operators (ALSA, AO, Jack, OSS, etc) require their
own clocks. Indeed, their processing rate is constrained by external
sound APIs or by the hardware itself. Sometimes, it is too much of an
inconvenience, in which case one can set
to allow another clock assignment – use at your own risk, as this might
create bad latency interferences.
output.icecast does not require to belong to
any particular clock. This allows to stream according to the soundcard’s
internal clock, like in most other tools: in
ALSA clock will drive the streaming of the soundcard input via
Sometimes, the external factors tied to Icecast output cannot be
disregarded: the network may lag. If you stream a soundcard input to
Icecast and the network lags, there will be a glitch in the soundcard
input – a long enough lag will cause a disconnection. This might be
undesirable, and is certainly disappointing if you are recording a
backup of your precious soundcard input using
by default it will suffer the same latencies and glitches, while in
theory it could be perfect. To fix this you can explicitly separate
Icecast (high latency, low quality acceptable) from the backup and
soundcard input (low latency, high quality wanted):
input = input.oss()
# Icecast source, with its own clock:
icecast_source = mksafe(buffer(input))
# Output to icecast:
# File output:
Here, the soundcard input and file output end up in the OSS clock.
The icecast output goes to the explicitly created
clock, and a buffer is used to connect it to the soundcard input. Small
network lags will be absorbed by the buffer. Important lags and possible
disconnections will result in an overflow of the buffer. In any case,
the OSS input and file output won’t be affected by those latencies, and
the recording should be perfect. The Icecast quality is also better with
that setup, since small lags are absorbed by the buffer and do not
create a glitch in the OSS capture, so that Icecast listeners won’t
notice the lag at all.
Clocks can also be useful even when external factors are not an issue. Indeed, several clocks run in several threads, which creates an opportunity to exploit multiple CPU cores. The story is a bit complex because OCaml has some limitations on exploiting multiple cores, but in many situations most of the computing is done in C code (typically decoding and encoding) so it parallelizes quite well.
Typically, if you run several outputs that do not share much (any)
code, you can put each of them in a separate clock. For example the
following script takes one file and encodes it as MP3 twice. You should
run it as
liquidsoap EXPR -- FILE and observe that it fully
exploits two cores:
s = single(argv(1))