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NDK Architecture

SR Linux provides a Software Development Kit (SDK) to assist operators with developing agents that run alongside SR Linux applications. This SDK is named NetOps Development Kit, or NDK for short.

NDK allows operators to write applications (a.k.a agents) that deeply integrate1 with other native SR Linux applications. The deep integration is the courtesy of the NDK gRPC service that enables custom applications to interact with other SR Linux applications via Impart Database (IDB).

Fig. 1 shows how custom NDK applications app-1 and app-2 interact with other SR Linux subsystems via gRPC-based NDK service that offers access to IDB. SR Linux native apps, like bgp, lldp, and others also interface with IDB to read and write configuration and state data.

Fig 1. NDK applications integration

In addition to the traditional tasks of reading and writing configuration, NDK-based applications gain low-level access to the SR Linux system. For example, these apps can install FIB routes or listen to LLDP events.

gRPC & Protocol buffers#

NDK leverages gRPC - a high-performance, open-source framework for remote procedure calls - to enable communication between custom applications and SR Linux system.

gRPC framework by default uses Protocol buffers as its Interface Definition Language as well as the underlying message exchange format.


Protocol buffers are Google's language-neutral, platform-neutral, extensible mechanism for serializing structured data – think XML, but smaller, faster, and simpler. You define how you want your data to be structured once, then you can use special generated source code to easily write and read your structured data to and from a variety of data streams and using a variety of languages.

In gRPC, a client application can directly call a method on a server application on a different machine as if it were a local object. As in many RPC systems, gRPC is based around the idea of defining a service, specifying the methods that can be called remotely with their parameters and return types.

On the server side, the server implements this interface and runs a gRPC server to handle client calls. On the client side, the client provides the same methods as the server.

Fig 2. gRPC client-server interactions

Leveraging gRPC and protobufs provides some substantial benefits for NDK users:

  1. Language neutrality: NDK apps can be written in any language for which protobuf compiler exists. Go, Python, C, Java, Ruby, and more languages are supported by Protocol buffers enabling SR Linux users to write apps in the language of their choice.
  2. High-performance: protobuf-encoded messaging is an efficient way to exchange data in a client-server environment. Applications that consume high-volume streams of data (for example, route updates) benefit from an efficient and fast message delivery enabled by protobuf.
  3. Backwards API compatibility: a protobuf design property of using IDs for data fields makes it possible to evolve API over time without ever breaking backward compatibility. Old clients will still be able to consume data stored in the original fields, whereas new clients will benefit from accessing data stored in the new fields.

NDK Service#

NDK is composed of a collection of gRPC services, each of which enables custom applications to interact with a particular subsystem on an SR Linux NOS, delivering a high level of integration and extensibility.

With this architecture, NDK applications act as gRPC clients that execute remote procedure calls (RPC) on a system that runs a gRPC server.

On SR Linux, ndk_mgr is the application that runs the NDK gRPC server. Fig 3. shows how custom agents interact via gRPC with NDK, and NDK facilitates communication between custom apps and the rest of the system via IDB's pub/sub interface.

Fig 3. gRPC as an Inter Process Communication (IPC) protocol

As a result, custom applications are able to communicate with the native SR Linux apps as if they were shipped with SR Linux OS.

Proto files#

NDK services, underlying RPCs, and messages are defined in .proto files. These files are used to generate language bindings essential for the NDK apps development process and serve as the data modeling language for the NDK itself.

The source .proto files for NDK are available at nokia/srlinux-ndk-protobufs GitHub repository. Anyone can clone this repository and explore the NDK gRPC services or build language bindings for the programming language of their choice.

Additionally, users can find the NDK proto files on the SR Linux file system by the /opt/srlinux/protos/ndk path2.


Although the proto files are human-readable, it is easier to browse the NDK services using the generated documentation that we keep in the same nokia/srlinux-ndk-protobufs repo. The HTML document is linked in the repository structure section of the readme3.

The generated documentation provides the developers with a human-readable reference of all the services, messages, and types that comprise the NDK service.

  1. See NDK Introduction for more details on what level do NDK apps integrate with the rest of SR Linux NOS. 

  2. starting from 23.7.1 release. 

  3. For example, here you will find the auto-generated documentation for the latest NDK version at the moment of this writing.