Introduction to plugins

The software itom obtains most functionality by mainly two concepts. On the one hand there is the python scripting language, which allows you to use almost all available python modules that are available for python 3.2 or higher. On the other hand, the entire measurement system becomes powerful by the possibility to enhance its functionality by several plugins.

These plugins are separated into three main groups:

  • Type actuator: Plugins of this basic type should be used if you want to connect any actuator, like motor stages, piezo actuators, focussing systems, ... to itom (see Plugin class - Basic information and Plugin class - Actuator)

  • Type dataIO: Plugins of this basic type should be used for connecting any input or output device to itom. The main representative of this group are cameras as input device or the serial port as an input/ouput device (see Plugin class - Basic information and Plugin class - DataIO). This group is subdivided into the following sub-types:

    • grabber for cameras (Please consider that the class of the camera-plugin should not directly derive from AddInDataIO but from AddInGrabber, which is derived from the first.
    • ADDA for any analog-digital converters
    • rawIO for further input-output devices, like display windows for SLM or LCoS-sensors, serial ports or plugins which do not fit to any other group, since the type dataIO is the most flexibel plugin type.
  • Type algo: Plugins of this type mainly contain different algorithms and/or advanced user interfaces like dialogs, main windows, widgets, ... (see Plugin class - Basic information and Plugin class - Algo)

Each plugin is a different project in your programming environment and is finally compiled as shared library (DLL on Windows).

Plugin load mechanism of itom

The itom-base directory contains a folder plugins. This folder itself usually consists of different subfolders each having the name of a specific plugin. The folder can then contain a release and/or debug-version of the specific plugin DLL as well as further files which are necessary for running the plugin. If your plugin is dependent on other files, please consider to read the specific information about how to publish dependencies of each plugin.

At the startup of itom, the application recursively scans the plugins folder and looks for any DLL-file on Windows machines or a-file on a Linux operating system. Then each DLL is tried to be loaded using the plugin system provided by the Qt-framework. The DLL can successfully be loaded if the following prerequisites are fulfilled:

  • The plugin is a release version if itom is started in release mode OR
  • The plugin is a debug version (this can for example be seen if the DLL-name ends with ...d.dll) if itom is started in debug mode
  • The plugin is compiled using the same major and minor version of Qt than itom (it is possible to load a plugin compiled with Qt 4.8.3 with itom compiled with 4.8.2)
  • The plugin is compiled with the same compiler than itom
  • If the plugin is dependent on other shared libraries which are not linked using a delay-load mechanism, the plugin can only be loaded if every necessary shared library can be found and successfully be loaded. If the dependency could not be loaded, the plugin-load fails with an error message module could not be loaded.
  • The remarks contained in the plugin with respect to a minimum and maximum version number of itom must correspond to the version number of your itom
  • The plugin must be compiled with the same version string of the class ito::AddInInterface than the version contained in itom (this is not the general version of itom). The version string of AddInInterface can be seen at the end of the file addInInterface.h in the common-folder.

An overview about the load status of all detected library files can be seen by calling the dialog loaded plugins, accessible by itom‘s menu help >> loaded plugins....

Finally, every successfully loaded plugin is included in the dock-widget Plugin of itom.

Basic plugin structure

Every plugin consists at least of two classes, which are both derived from two different base classes. All possible base classes are provided in the file:


which is contained in the folder include/common of itom‘s SDK. This folder contains further header files which can be used in every plugin and contain interfaces and helper libaries with useful functions for successfully and easily program a plugin. For using these files you need to link your plugin agains the libraries itomCommonLib and itomCommonQtLib. Additionally itom provides an application programming interface (API) such that plugins can access important methods of itom. For more information see itom API.

The two classes of the plugin are as follows:

  1. Interface- or factory-class (derived from class AddInInterfaceBase)

    This class must be derived from the class AddInInterfaceBase and is the communication tunnel between itom and the plugin itself using the plugin-framework of Qt. The plugin framework creates one single instance of this class when the plugin DLL is loaded (that means at startup of itom). Therefore this class is considered to be a singleton instance and since it is always loaded by itom even if it is not really needed, this class is kept small and only provides basic information about the plugin itself.

    For further information about the structure of this interface class see Plugin Interface Class.

  2. Individual plugin class (derived from class AddInDataIO, AddInGrabber, AddInActuator or AddInAlgo)

    This class is the main class of the plugin and should contain the main functionality of the plugin. Depending on the plugin type, this class is derived from any of the classes AddInDataIO, AddInGrabber, AddInActuator or AddInAlgo, which are also contained in the files mentioned above. All this classes internally are derived from the base class AddInBase, which is the most general class used for plugin handling and organization in itom. Please do not directly derive from AddInBase.

    In the case of an actuator, a camera or any other IO-device, every opened device is represented by one individual instance of its corresponding plugin class. Hence, it is possible to have multiple instances of every class opened in itom. The creation and deletion of any instance is at first requested by the AddInManager class (an internal class of itom) which itself redirects this request to the singleton instance of the interface class in the corresponding plugin (This is the interface class mentioned in point 1 above).

    In the case of an algorithm-plugin, this class mainly contains a set of static methods, each being one individual algorithm or user interface. At startup of itom the singleton instance of the interface-class is created. Additionally, this individual plugin class also is instantiated once (singleton) at startup of itom and its internal init-method provides an overview (list) of all available algorithm and user-interface functions to itom. Additionally the default parameter sets for all algorithms and widget-methods are requested by itom and startup and are then cached in order to provide faster access in any subsequent function calls.

    Further information about the common parts of the plugin class, independent on the plugin’s type, see Plugin class - Basic information. For detailed information about the implementation of the different plugin types, see Plugin class - DataIO, Plugin class - Actuator or Plugin class - Algo.

Communication between itom, Python and each plugin

The communication to plugins of type actuator and dataIO is only possible by calling the public methods defined in the base classes AddInActuator or AddInDataIO. In Python, there exist two classes dataIO and actuator. Both have an interface that is analog to the corresponding interface AddInActuator or AddInDataIO in C++. Therefore, if a certain method of these classes is called in python, the call is redirected to the corresponding plugin-method. However, this call is executed across a thread-change, since both python and each plugin (besides the algorith-plugins) “live” in their own thread.