Skip to content

Diffing and Hashing: guide for developers

This page gives a more in-depth technical explanation about some diffing methods, and also serves as a guide for developers to build functionality on top of existing diffing code.
See the Diffing and the Hash wiki pages for a more quick-start guide.


Developing Toolkit-specific diffing methods

The IDiffing() method is designed to be a "universal" entry point for users wanting to diff their objects; for this reason, it has an automated mechanism to call any Toolkit-specific diffing method that can is compatible with the input objects. This work similarly to the Extension Method discovery pattern that is often leveraged in many BHoM methods.

A Toolkit-specific Diffing method is defined as a method: - that is public; - whose name ends with Diffing; - that has the following inputs: - a first IEnumerable<object> for the past objects; - a second IEnumerable<object> for the following objects; - any number of optional parameters; - a final DiffingConfig parameter (that should default to null, and be auto initialised if null within the implementation).

Any method that respect these criteria is discovered and stored during the assembly loading through this method. It gets invoked by the IDiffing() as explained here.

IDiffing() method: internal workings

The IDiffing method does a series of automated steps to ensure that the most appropriate diffing method gets invoked for the input objects.

Invoking of the Toolkit-specific diffing methods

The IDiffing first looks for any Toolkit-specific diffing method that is compatible with the input objects (relevant code here). This is done by checking if there is a IPersistentAdapterId stored on the objects; if there is, the namespace to which that IPersistentAdapterId object belongs is taken as the source namespace to get a compatible Toolkit-specific diffing method. For example, if the input objects own a RevitIdentifier fragment (which implements IPersistentAdapterId), then the namespace BH.oM.Adapters.Revit.Parameters is taken. This namespace, which is an .oM one, is "modified" to an .Engine one, so the related Toolkit Engine is searched for a diffing method.

If a Toolkit-specific diffing method match is found, that is then invoked. For example, this is how RevitDiffing() gets called by the IDiffing.
Note that only the first matching method gets invoked. This is because we only allow to have 1 Toolkit-specific diffing method. If you have method overloading over your Toolkit-specific Diffing method (for example, because you want to provide the users with multiple choices when they choose to invoke directly your Toolkit-specific diffing method), you must ensure that all overloads are equally valid and can any can be picked by the IDiffing with the same results (like it happens for RevitDiffing(): all methods end up calling a single, private Diffing method, and additional inputs are optional, so they all behave the same if called by the IDiffing).

What happens for objects that do not have a Toolkit-specific diffing method

If the previous step does not find any Toolkit-specific diffing method compatible with the input objects, then a variety of steps are taken to try possible diffing methods. In a nutshell, a series of checks are done on the input objects to see what diffing method is most suitable. This is better described in the following diagram. For more details on each individual diffing method, see here.


Other Diffing methods inner workings

In addition to the main Diffing method IDiffing(), there are several other methods that can be used to perform Diffing. These are a bit more advanced and should be used only for specific cases. All diffing methods can be found in the Compute folder of Diffing_Engine.

Most diffing methods are simply relying on an ID that is associated to the input objects, or a similar way to determine which object should be compared to which. Once a match is found, the two matched objects (one from the pastObjects set and one from the followingObjects set) are sent to the ObjectDifferences() method, as illustrated by the following diagram.

This diagram also illustrates that only the DiffWithHash() method does not rely on the ObjectDifferences() method. The DiffWithHash() is a rather simple and limited method, in that it cannot identify Modified objects but only new/old ones, and it is described here.

Diffing methods-simplified

ObjectDifferences() method inner workings

As shown above, the method that does most of the work in diffing is the BH.Engine.Diffing.Query.ObjectDifferences() method.

This is the method that has the task of finding all the differences between two input objects. This method currently leverages an open-source, free library called CompareNETObjects by Kellerman software. It maps our ComparisonConfig options to the equivalent class in the CompareNETObjects library, and then executes the comparison using it.

Mapping our ComparisonConfig to Kellerman library

Because not all of the options available in the ComparisonConfig are mappable to Kellerman's, ObjectDifferences() has to adopt a workaround. For example, our numerical approximation options are not directly compatible.
The general compatibility strategy is: - if an option is mappable/convertible, map/convert it from our ComparisonConfig to Kellerman's CompareLogic object. This is true for most of them. - if an option is not compatible with Kellerman (like our numerical approximation options), set Kellerman CompareLogic so it finds all possible differences with regards to that option (like we do for numerical differences), then iterate the differences found and cull out those that are non relevant (example for the numerical differences).

The loop to iterate over the differences found by Kellerman is also useful to further customise the output, as shown by the following section.

Customising the Diffing output: ComparisonInclusion() extension method

In order to customise our diffing output, we want to customise how the ObjectDifferences() method determines the differences between objects. This is done through a specific ComparisonInclusion() extension method that is invoked when we loop through the differences found by the Kellerman library. This is essentially an application of the Extension Method discovery pattern that is often leveraged in many BHoM methods.

You can implement a ObjectDifferences() method in your Toolkit to customise how the difference between two specific objects is to be considered by the diffing. This method must have the following inputs, in this order: - a fist object input (which will be the object coming from the pastObjs set); - a second object input, of the same type as the first object (which will be the object coming from the followingObjs set); - a string input, which will contain the Full Name of the property difference found by the ObjectDifferences() method; - a BaseComparisonConfig input, which will be passed in by the ObjectDifferences() method.

The method must return a ComparisonInclusion object, which will contain information on whether the difference should be included or not, and how to display it.

Here is an example of ComparisonInclusion() for RevitParameters:

public static ComparisonInclusion ComparisonInclusion(this RevitParameter parameter1, RevitParameter parameter2, string propertyFullName, BaseComparisonConfig comparisonConfig)
    // Initialise the result.   
    ComparisonInclusion result = new ComparisonInclusion();

    // Differences in any property of RevitParameters will be displayed like this.
    result.DisplayName = parameter1.Name + " (RevitParameter)"; 

    // Check if we have a RevitComparisonConfig input.
    RevitComparisonConfig rcc = comparisonConfig as RevitComparisonConfig;

    // Other logic

Note that this method supports Toolkit-specific ComparisonConfig objects, like e.g. RevitComparisonConfig. See the section below for more details.

Customising the Hash: HashString() extension method

If you want a specific object to be Hashed in a particular way, you can implement a HashString() extension method for that object in your Toolkit. The HashString() method will get invoked when computing the Hash(). This is essentially an application of the Extension Method discovery pattern that is often leveraged in many BHoM methods.

This method must have the following inputs, in this order: - An object input, which will be the object for which we are calculating the Hash. - A string input, which will indicated the FullName of the property being analysed by the Hash() method (for example when the input object is a property of another object; this can be useful in certain cases, and if not useful can simply be ignored). - A BaseComparisonConfig input, which can be used to will be passed in by the Hash() method.

Here is an example of HashString() for RevitParameters:

public static string HashString(this RevitParameter revitParameter, string propertyFullName = null, BaseComparisonConfig comparisonConfig = null)
    // Null check.
    if (revitParameter == null) return null;

    string hashString = revitParameter.Name + revitParameter.Value;

    // Check if we have a RevitComparisonConfig input.
    RevitComparisonConfig rcc = comparisonConfig as RevitComparisonConfig;

    // Other logic

Note that this method supports Toolkit-specific ComparisonConfig objects, like e.g. RevitComparisonConfig. See the section below for more details.

Toolkit-specific ComparisonConfig options

There are cases where you may need more options to further customise the Hash or Diffing process, to refine how they work with your Toolkit's objects.

The "default" comparisonConfig object gives all the default options, and it inherits from the BaseComparisonConfig abstract class. This abstract class can be extended by the "Toolkit-specific" comparisonConfigs, so you can include additional options to deal with certain objects in your Toolkit.
See an example with Revit's RevitComparisonConfig.

If you implement your own Toolkit-specific ComparisonConfig object, you will need to implement the functions that deal with it too, which should include at least one of: - A toolkit-specific Diffing() method (example in Revit), which your users can call independently, or that may be automatically called by the IDiffing method, as shown here. - A toolkit-specific HashString() method (example in Revit), which will get invoked when computing the Hash(). - Any number of ComparisonInclusion() methods that you might need to customise the diffing output per each object (example in Revit for RevitParameters), as explained here.

Testing and profiling

We have a DiffingTests repo which contains Unit Tests and profiling functions. These are required given the amount of options and use cases that both offer.