Workspace fundamentals

The workspace service (WSS) provides language independent storage and retrieval of typed objects (TOs) much like those from various object oriented programming languages (except, of course, no behavior is associated with WSS TOs). Before an object is stored in the WSS, it is checked against a type specification that describes the object’s structure and contents. Failing this check will abort the storage operation.

Typed object relationships

TOs can be related to each other in various ways (see Figure 1):


Workspaces are arbitrary (from the perspective of the WSS) disjoint collections of TOs. Any meaning given to the collection is provided by the users creating that collection. For instance, a workspace might collect TOs representing known microbial genomes as a public resource, or, for a single genome, reads, an assembly, a genome, and a metabolic model that represent a single researcher’s work on a microbe.

Each TOs is in one, and only one, workspace.

Workspaces may be shared with other users, allowing read, write, or administration privileges. These privileges apply to all TOs in the workspace.

Workspaces have a user-selected name and an integer ID that is immutable and assigned on creation. See Workspaces for more details.


TOs saved in the WSS are immutable. Saving ‘over’ a TO, rather than replacing it, creates a new version of the object. Most of an object’s properties may differ from version to version, but the object’s user-selected name, immutable integer ID (again assigned at creation) and a few other states are the same for all versions. See Objects for more details.


The WSS supports two types of references: depencency references and provenance references.

A dependency reference is a reference that implies an object is dependent on another object to function - a Genome on a ContigSet, for example. Dependency references are embedded in the object itself and are called out in the type specification (see Workspace typed objects). They can thus be required, if desired, and an object without such a dependency reference will fail to save.

In contrast, a provenance reference implies that an object was produced from another object. These are not called out in the type specification and are not embedded in the object.

Establishing data provenance is required for usable data and repeatable science. Without provenance data for a data object, said object might as well have been made from the whole cloth. Reproducing the data is impossible, and it is impossible to judge the data’s reliability.

An application or user needs the object referred to in a dependency reference to compute on the referencing object; they do not need any provenance references. A dependent object may or may not be part of the referring object’s provenance - for example a Genome and ContigSet could be produced at the same time from a GenBank file and so the ContigSet would not be part of the Genome’s provenance. Rather, they would share the same provenance.

When creating an object version, dependency and provenance references can be specified, thus recording which other objects are required to use that version of the object, and which other objects are required to understand the creation of that object.

Both types of references have another special property - they guarantee access to the referent, regardless of permissions or deletion state, as long as the user has access to the referring object. The philosophy behind this permanent access is that a data object is useless without its provenance and dependencies as described above.

See Objects for more information on storing objects with references, and Traversing object references for information on accessing referents.


Copying a TO from another TO implies that the new TO is effectively identical to the old TO - it possesses the same data and references. It may not have the same name or ID or exist in the same workspace. Unlike references, access to a copied object does not provide any special rights to the copy source.


Figure 1: Types of relationships between workspace service objects

Addressing workspaces and objects

Workspaces may be addressed by either their mutable name or permanent ID.

Objects may be addressed by a combination of the workspace name or ID, the object’s mutable name or permanent ID, and optionally a version in the reference format [workspace name or ID]/[object name or ID]/[version].

As an example, assume that an object with name MyObj, ID 12, and 3 versions exists in a workspace with name MyWS and ID 4. The following are all valid addresses:

Address Targets version
MyWs/MyObj 3
MyWs/12/2 2
4/MyObj 3
4/12/1 1
4/12/3 3
4/12 3

The object graph

The various relationships between objects create a graph structure of nodes (object versions) connected by edges (versions, references, and copies). Specifically, the objects form a directed acylic graph (DAG). As previously described, in the case of references the DAG may be traversed without limit in the forward direction, e.g. from referencing object to referent, starting with an object to which the user has direct access. A user may also traverse the DAG in the reverse direction, but only to objects to which the user already has direct access. See Traversing object references for more details. It is possible to traverse the DAG from copy to copy source, but again only if the copy source is directly accessible by the user.


Figure 2 provides an example of how an object graph might look after a few operations.


Figure 2: An example object graph

Assume that the objects in each workspace are numbered, starting at 1 in the upper left corner and incrementing for each object as one moves along the row. At the end of a row, the object on the next row receives the next number and the process continues.

Workspace #4 has three objects. Object 3 has two versions, neither of which have outgoing references. Object 1 has 3 versions. Version 2 of object 1 has a dependency reference to version 2 of object 3. Object 2 has one version which has a dependency reference to version 2 of object 3.

Workspace #1 has two objects. Object 1 has three versions, none of which have outgoing references. Object 2 has a single version with a reference to the single version of object 2 in workspace 4 - e.g. 4/2/1.

Thus, as described above, a user with access to workspace #1 also has access to the objects addressed by 4/2/1 and 4/3/2 via object 2.

A user with access to workspace #4 has no access to object 1/2/1 unless explicitly granted such by an administrator of workspace #1 (which would allow access to all objects in workspace #1).

Workspace #6 has a single object with a single version with no outgoing references. Although it has four incoming references, they provide no privileges for the referencing objects.

Workspace #5 has two objects with one version each. Object 1 has a provenance reference to the object in workspace #6 and a dependency reference on object 2 in the same workspace. Object 2 has the same provenance reference as object 1.

Workspace #2 has two objects. Object 1 has a single version that was copied from object 1/2/1. Object 2 has two versions, the first of which has dependency references to both objects in workspace #5.

Since object 1 was copied from object 1/2/1, which has a dependency reference to object 4/2/1, object 1 has the same reference and the same access to workspace #4s objects as object 1/2/1.

If the user examining object 1 also has access to workspace #1, the information that object 1 was copied from object 1/2/1 will be available. If not, the user will know the object was copied, but not from where.

Since object 2 has two outgoing dependency references as described, access to object 2 also provides access to objects 5/1/1, 5/2/1, and 6/1/1.

Workspace #3 was cloned from workspace #5 (theoretically this should be impossible since the workspace with the lower ID must have been created first, but for the purposes of this example ignore that). It has the same two objects as workspace 5, and those objects possess the same references as the objects in workspace 5. In particular, object 1 has a dependency reference to object 5/2/1 (just as object 5/1/1 does) and both objects possess provenance references to the object in workspace #6. Both objects also have copy references to their source objects in workspace #5, but again, these references provide no special privileges.