Operation support

Besides the operations themselves, SMTK provides applications with support for determining which operations are apropos, scheduling operations, and responding to their results.

Sideband information

Applications may need to pass information to or retrieve information from operations. While technically applications could always modify their operations’ input parameters and output results, this is often inconvenient or aesthetically displeasing – especially if an operation may be used in different ways by different applications. Thus, SMTK provides a way to pass “side-band” or “out-of-band (OOB)” information to and from operations.

For example, an operation may be used inside a script where user interaction is not possible as well as inside an interactive client. When run interactively, the operation may wish to indicate to the application how to adjust camera parameters to focus on a modified component. While the operation’s definition could be modified to include camera information in its result data, this is undesirable because it clutters the output with information that is specific to the application’s behavior rather than the operation’s behavior. Also, there may be many operations that all need to provide this information keeping all of their result definitions consistent with one another is not easy to maintain.

In these cases, you may place application-specific information into an smtk::common::Managers object that you provide to the operation manager via a shared pointer. Any operation constructed by the operation manager will have access to the Managers object and can fetch arbitrary data from it in a type-safe manner. Be aware that when using asynchronous operation launchers, multiple operations may simultaneously access data in the Managers object; methods that may be accessed in this way must be re-entrant.


Operations specific to a modeling session often implement functionality present in many different sessions using a consistent set of parameters. SMTK provides a grouping mechanism so that applications can find sets of operations that provide “like” functionality.

For example, a CAD modeling session and a discrete modeling session will generally provide operations to import, export, read, and write data. Each of these tasks has its own group of operations that constrain their member operations in different ways. Consider the task of importing data; import operations all require the location of the data to be imported. The smtk::operation::ImporterGroup holds a list of operations that can import files. It constrains operations added to the group to have a filename item.


Operators are registered with an operation manager via a Registrar class that implements registerTo() and unregisterFrom() methods. Besides informing the operation manager of classes implementing operations, your registerTo() method should also add operations to groups as needed.

Finally, each operation class may have an icon. To register an icon for your operation, your Registrar class should provide a second registerTo() method that accepts a view manager. The view manager provides an operationIcons() method that you can use to register an icon to your operation. Icons are functors that take in a secondary (background) color and return a string holding SVG for an icon that contrasts well with the background.

Launching operations

You can always call the operate() method of an operation instance to run it immediately and synchronously. However, operations may take a long time to complete and should not interfere with applications tending to user input in the meantime. Because of this, operations may also run in a separate thread from user interface components.

The job of running operations asynchronously is delegate to operation launchers. SMTK provides a default launcher and one specific to the Qt library (which is discussed in the Qt section). If you use a launcher to run an operation, instead of getting an operation result object, you will receive a std::shared_future<Operation::Result>. Shared futures provide a way for applications to check whether an operation is complete as well as block until an operation completes (if needed).

In order to avoid multiple operations from making simultaneous changes to the same objects at once, the input parameters are scanned and each involved resource is read-locked or write-locked (depending on how the operation’s parameters are marked) as needed before the operation runs. Thus, operations that run on separate resources may run simultaneously, as may operations that only require read access to the same resource. However, operations that require write access to the same resource will be run sequentially.

Observing operations

Regardless of whether an operation is run synchronously or asynchronously, if it was created by an operation manager, the manager will invoke any observers that have been registered with it at two points:

  • When an operation is about to run, observers are invoked that may inspect the operation and its parameters. Any of the observers may cancel the operation at this point, so there is no guarantee that observing an operation before it is run will generate a second event.

  • When an operation has run, observers are invoked that may inspect the operation, its parameters, and its result (which indicates success or failure and which may also contain additional information).

While in general these observations may occur on any thread, most applications will force the observations to occur on the main thread because user-interface toolkits are rarely re-entrant.

Operation Hints

Generally, operations should avoid side effects (Sideband information) and aim to be purely functional (modifying or deleting only their inputs and possibly creating new output). However, for applications to behave intuitively, side effects are often desirable. For example, if an operation lofts two input curves to create a surface, the user might expect the application selection to hold the surface after the operation rather than the input curves (allowing them to run an extrusion operation directly).

To address this apparent paradox, SMTK provides operation results with hints that the application (rather than the operation) can use to update its state. Each hint is an attribute that held in a smtk::attribute::ReferenceItem named “hints” in the operation’s result.

Operation result hints



render focus hint

The camera will have its aim point adjusted to the center of the bounds of all the objects associated to the hint.

selection hint

The selection will be modified according to the hint’s “action” item (replace, add, subtract) using the “value” from the hint as the integer value in the map from the associated objects to selection values.

If the “ephemeral” item is enabled, then the application should attempt to delete the associated objects when they are removed from the selection.

browser scroll hint

Scroll the resource browser tree to the first appearance of the first object associated to this hint.

browser expand hint

Expand the resource browser tree items to show all occurrences of each of the objects associated to the hint.

There are several free functions in smtk/operation/Hints.h that you can use to add hints to your operation and inspect hints in your application’s operation-observers.