Liquidsoap 0.9.2 : Sources

Using liquidsoap is about writing a script describing how to build what you want. It is about building a stream using elementary streams and stream combinators, etc. Actually, it's a bit more than streams, we call them sources – in liquidsoap's code there is a Source.source type, and in *.liq scripts one of the elementary datatypes is source.

A source is a stream with metadata and track annotations. It is discretized as a stream of fixed-length buffers of raw audio, the frames. Every frame may have metadata inserted at any point, independently of track boundaries. At every instant, a source can be asked to fill a frame of data. Track boundaries are denoted by a single denial of completely filling a frame. More than one denial is taken as a failure, and liquidsoap chooses to crash in that case.

To build sources in liquidsoap scripts, you need to call functions which return type is source. For convenience, we categorize these functions into three classes. The sources (sorry for redundancy, poor historical reasons) are functions which don't need a source argument – we might call them elementary sources. The operators need at least one source argument – they're more about stream combination or manipulation. Finally, some of these are called outputs, because they are active operators (or active sources in a few cases): at every instant they will fill their buffer and do something with it. Other sources just wait to be asked (indirectly or not) by an output to fill some frame.

All sources, operators and outputs are listed in the scripting API reference.

How does it work?

To clarify the picture let's study in more details an example.

radio =
      [ jingle ,
        fallback([ playlist1,playlist2,playlist3 ]) ]))
Grab the code!

At every tick, the output asks the “random” node for data, until it gets a full frame of raw audio. Then it encodes it, and sends it to the Icecast server. Suppose “random” has chosen the “fallback” node, and that only “playlist2” is available, and thus played. At every tick, the buffer is passed from “random” to “fallback” and then to “playlist2”, which fills it, returns it to “fallback”, which returns it to “random”, which returns it to the output. Every step is local.

At some point, “playlist2” ends a track. The “fallback” detects that on the returned buffer, and selects a new child for the next filling, depending on who's available. But it doesn't change the buffer, and returns it to “random”, which also selects a new child, randomly, and return the buffer to the output. On next filling, the route of the frame can be different.

It is possible to have the route changed inside a track, for example using the track_sensitive option of fallback, which is typically done for instant switches to live shows when they start.


By default, liquidsoap outputs are meant to emit a stream without discontinuing. Since this stream is provided by the source passed to the output operator, it is the source responsibility to never fail. Liquidsoap has a mechanism to verify this, which helps you think of all possible failures, and prevent them. Elementary sources are either fallible or infallible, and this liveness type is propagated through operators to finally compute the type of any source. For example, a fallback or random source is infallible if an only if at least one of its children is infallible, and a switch is infallible if and only if it has one infallible child guarded by the trivial predice { true }.

On startup, each output checks the liveness type of its input source, and issues an error if it is fallible. The typical fix for such problems is to add one fallback to play a default file or a checked playlist ( if the normal source fails. One can also use the mksafe operator that will insert silence during failures.

If you do not care about failures, you can pass the parameter fallible=true to most outputs. In that case, the output will accept a fallible source, and stop whenever the source fails, to restart when it is ready to emit a stream again.

Caching mode

In some situations, a source must take care about the consistency of its output. If it is asked twice to fill buffers during the same time tick, it should fill them with the same data. Suppose for example that a playlist is listened by two outputs, and that it gives the first frame to the first output, the second frame to the second output: it would give the third frame to the first output during the second tick, and the output will have missed one frame.

Keeping that in mind is required to understand the behaviour of some complex scripts. The high-level picture is enough for users, more details follow for developers and curious readers.

The sources detect if they need to remember (cache) their previous output in order to replay it. To do that, clients of the source must register in advance. If two clients have registered, then the caching should be enabled. Actually that's a bit more complicated, because of transitions. Obviously the sources which use a transition involving some other source must register to it, because they may eventually use it. But a jingle used in two transitions by the same switching operator doesn't need caching. The solution involves two kinds of registering: dynamic and static activations. Activations are associated with a path in the graph of sources' nesting. The dynamic activation is a pre-registration allowing a real static activation to come later, possibly in the middle of a time tick, from a super-path – i.e. a path of which the first one is a prefix. Two static activations trigger caching. The other reason for enabling caching is when there is one static activation and one dynamic activation which doesn't come from a prefix of the static activation's path. It means that the dynamic activation can yield at any moment to a static activation and that the source will be used by two sources at the same time.

Execution model

In your script you define a bunch of sources interacting together. The output sources hook their output function to the root thread manager. Then the streaming starts. At every tick the root thread calls the output hooks, and the outputs do their jobs. This task is the most important and shouldn't be disturbed. Thus, other tasks are done in auxiliary threads: file download, audio validity checking, http polling, playlist reloading... No blocking or expensive call should be done in the root thread. Remote files are completely downloaded to a local temporary file before use by the root thread. It also means that you shouldn't access NFS or any kind of falsely local files.