From OPeNDAP Documentation

1 The OPeNDAP Client

There are many different data analysis packages in use. Some packages, such as MATLAB and IDL, are commercially available, but many more are written for a specialized need or application. Many of these use one of the widely available sets of scientific data access functions (called an {\em

Application Program Interface}, or API)\indc{Application Program

Interface|see{API}} such as NetCDF, JGOFS, or HDF. There is great variety among all these programs, but one feature they share is that they all access data through files containing that data\footnote{This is not true of some

APIs, such as JGOFS. That API, however, uses a data dictionary to allow

the user to think that the data access is through files.}. That is to say that each program begins by identifying a file containing the data the user wishes to examine or analyze.

An OPeNDAP client is simply a data analysis application linked with the OPeNDAP libraries instead of the standard data access API. Using this program, a user can look at files containing data in the same way as was possible without the OPeNDAP libraries. However, by using these libraries, a user can also use a URL (URL), instead of a simple file name, to specify data located anywhere on the Internet. \Figureref{intro,fig,unlinked} and File:Intro,fig,linked illustrate the operation of an application program linked with a standard data access API, and the same program linked with the OPeNDAP version of that API.

An OPeNDAP client is then a data analysis application program modified to become a web browser, somewhat like any other \ind{web

browser} (NCSA Mosaic) with which you may be familiar. A web browser can only display the data it receives, however. What makes an OPeNDAP client different from another web browser is that, unlike Netscape, once the data has been received from an OPeNDAP server, the OPeNDAP client application can compute with it.

Like a web browser, an OPeNDAP client accepts a URL from a user, and parses it to come up with a protocol, an address, and a message. (See ( opd-client,url) for more information about URLs.) The browser then sends a message to the address, directed to the server who can service the desired protocol, asking for the information specified in the remainder of the URL. Unlike a typical web browser, an OPeNDAP client will not know what to do with data returned for a web page containing text and pictures, but an OPeNDAP server will return scientific data that an OPeNDAP client can understand and process.

Here is a simple example, using the ncview program. This program simply prints out the contents of a netCDF formatted data file, specified on the command line, like this:

> ncview

Using OPeNDAP, this same function may be executed from any computer connected to the Internet by substituting a URL for the filename above:

> dncview

(See File:Opd-client,fig,url-parts Aside from the fact that the data is remote, and must be specified with a URL, the program will seem to function in the same way it had with the simple netCDF library (albeit somewhat more slowly due to having to make network connections instead of local file operations). You can find dncview (the ncview program linked with the OPeNDAP library) in the


directory. Running the above command will produce the following output:

netcdf fnocl {

time_a = 16

lat = 17 ;

lon = 21 ;

time = 16 ;


long u(time_a, lat, ion) ;

u:units = "meter per second" ;

u:long_name = "Vector wind eastward component" ;

u:missing_value = "-32767" ;

u:scale_factor = "0.005" ;

long v(time_a, lat, ion) ;

v:units = "meter per second" ;

v:long_name = "Vector wind northward component" ;

v:missing_value = "-32767" ;

v:scale_factor = "0.005" ;

double lat(lat) ;

lat:units = "degree North" ;

double lon(lon) ;

lon:units = "degree East" ;

double time(time) ;

time:units = "hours from base_time" ;

// global attributes:

:base_time = "88- 10-00:00:00" ;

:title = "FNOC UV wind components

from 1988- 10 to 1988- 13." ;

u =

-1728, -2449, -3099, -3585, -3254, -2406, -1252,

662, 2483, 2910, 2819, 2946, 2745, 2734,

2931, 2601, 2139, 1845, 1754, 1897, 1854, -1686,

Although there are packaged OPeNDAP browsing programs that a user can use to look at data, the user can also construct his or her own. Linking an OPeNDAP API with an already existing program allows a user to create a customized web browser that can access data available from any OPeNDAP server connected to the Internet.

The OPeNDAP APIs are designed to accurately mimic the behavior of several different commonly used scientific data APIs. As of this writing (\today), the OPeNDAP API set includes:

Supported APIs
API Description Components
netCDF Support for gridded data, such as satellite data,

interpolated ship station data, or current meter data.

Server and client.
JGOFS Support for relational data, such as \class{Sequences}.

Created by the Joint Globar Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS) project for use with oceanographic station data.

Server and client.
HDF Support for gridded data. Commonly used for astronomical

data and model data.

Server only.
DSP Oceanographic and geophysical satellite data. Provides

support for image processing. Developed at the University of Miami/RSMAS. Primarily used for AVHRR and CZCS data.

Server only.
GRIB Support for gridded binary data. GRIB is the World

Meteorological Organization (WMO) format for the storage of weather information and the exchange of weather product messages.

Server only, due in early 1999.
BUFR The WMO's standard set of codes for the transmission and

storage of meteorological data, using a compressed format with each data value occupying the least number of bits necessary to contain its range of values. Suitable for meteorological observations made from a single point or set of points.

Server only, due in early 1999.
Free\-Form On-the-fly conversion of arbitrarily formatted data, including

relational data and gridded data. May be used for sequence data, satellite data, model data, or any other data format that can be described in the flexible FreeForm format definition language. This server can be used to serve data stored in almost all home-grown data formats.

Server only; no client required.
native OPeNDAP The OPeNDAP class library may be used directly by a client program. It

supports relational data, array data, gridded data, and a flexible assortment of data types that can be combined to c accommodate most data models.


The API set is extensible, meaning that developers can use the OPeNDAP software toolkit to write OPeNDAP-compliant versions of new APIs. See The OPeNDAP Programmer's Guide for more information.

The most important result of this architecture is that, just as the use of the dncview program above is identical to the original ncview, a user can use remote OPeNDAP data "and" continue to use the same data analysis and display programs with which he or she is familiar. Any program that uses one of the OPeNDAP-supported APIs may be re-linked to use the OPeNDAP version of that API. This creates an OPeNDAP client. That and a connection to the Internet, are all that a researcher requires to gain access to the available OPeNDAP data.

1.1 Configuring Programs to Use OPeNDAP

Relinking an existing program with the OPeNDAP implementation of some data API is a simple procedure. Find the directory that contains the source/object code of the program you want to re-link and modify the makefile (typically called Makefile) for the program so that the OPeNDAP-compliant API library is used in place of the standard API library. (If you can't find the libraries on your system, see \appref{install}, or ask the system administrator.) These libraries are:

Software common to all of the OPeNDAP-supported


OPeNDAP also uses facilities from some standard libraries, and these must also be included in the link to resolve all the symbols.

The World Wide Web library. \indc{World Wide

Web!library} This contains the functions used to communicate between the OPeNDAP client and server.

Functions from the expect

library are used to communicate between OPeNDAP client processes.

Contains definitions necessary for the

expect library. The use of this library in the link is not related to the use of Tcl by OPeNDAP clients.


The GNU C++ class library (This is not necessary if using g++ to re-link.)

You will also need to include the library containing the OPeNDAP-compliant version of the API. The name of this library of course depends on the API, but it is generally in the form

<font color='green'>lib"API</font>-dods.a"

Where "API" is an abbreviation indicating the API emulated by the specified library. For example, the OPeNDAP-compliant netCDF library is called libnc-dods.a and the JGOFS version is libjg-dods.a.

1.1.1 An Example Using netCDF

The ncview program is a simple utility that prints the contents of a netCDF-format file to standard output. This section outlines the process used to modify the ncview makefile to link that program with the OPeNDAP netCDF API, thereby turning ncview into a network-ready OPeNDAP client. The process of linking any other program with the corresponding OPeNDAP library is entirely analogous to this one and only requires the substitution of the program name and the appropriate library.

First the link flags were modified so that the library search path would include the likely places to find the OPeNDAP libraries:


DODS_ROOT is an environment variable that indicates the root directory of the OPeNDAP installation, and in this manual is used as shorthand for this directory. It is typically called something like /usr/local/DODS. If you cannot find these directories on your system, consult your system administrator, or refer to \appref{install} for information about acquiring and installing the OPeNDAP software.

After the link flags were modified, the OPeNDAP libraries were added to the list of libraries used. The order in which the libraries are listed is important.

LIBS = -lnc-dods -ldap++ -lnc-dods -ldap++ -lwww -ltcl

-lexpect -lz -lrx

Because OPeNDAP is implemented as a core set of classes contained in one

library (libdap++.a) and a set of specializations of those classes in a second library (libnc-dods.a), and because there is a circular dependence between those two libraries, they must be included twice in the

linker command.

Finally, g++ was substituted for the link command.\footnote{It is possible to use gcc} instead of \lit{g++, but in that case, -lg++ must be added to the end of the library list.}

1.1.2 Potential Problems

When a user links an existing a program to the OPeNDAP libraries, there are several possible conditions that may cause problems.

  • Some programs use more than one API.
  • Some programs access data using both API and UNIX system calls.
  • Some programs use undocumented features of the APIs.

If this is the case for a given program, there is generally no good solution beside rewriting the software to conform to a strict usage of the data reading parts of the given API. Of course if the problem is that the program uses more than one API, you can try linking the program with an OPeNDAP-compliant version of the second API as well.

  • Re-linked programs can be very large.


of executable} The OPeNDAP libraries are large, and the g++, www, expect, and tcl libraries on which they are built are even larger. This means that the executable version of a re-linked OPeNDAP client can seem unreasonably obese. Much of the disk space is occupied by symbol tables, which can be removed from the executable file with the strip utility. In many cases, a user can recover a substantial amount of disk space this way.

[CAUTION]{Without familiarity with the OPeNDAP software, it is best

only to strip the executable files. Stripping object files or libraries might leave them in a useless condition for the linker. Furthermore, stripping an executable file removes symbol names,

which may make diagnosing problems more difficult.

The OPeNDAP libraries only affect the data reading functionality of the specified API. There are no OPeNDAP replacements for functions like netCDF's ncputrec(), that write data to a disk file. These functions are included in the OPeNDAP-compliant API library, but they operate in a manner identical to the original (non-OPeNDAP) versions, that is, they work on local files only, attempting to write "over the network" will result in an error. \indc{API!data output


1.2 Writing New OPeNDAP Programs

The OPeNDAP software may also be used to write new programs. This may be done either through one of the OPeNDAP-supported API libraries, such as netCDF or JGOFS, or by using the OPeNDAP data access protocol directly. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach.

The biggest advantage of writing new code using an OPeNDAP-supported API such as netCDF or JGOFS is that the programmer in question is probably already familiar with the use of that API. Writing an OPeNDAP program using an adapted API is not significantly different than writing the same program with the original API. While writing this new program, it will be useful to remember that the data the program uses will often be remote, implying that data retrieval may not be instantaneous, and that implementation of local caching to store requested data might be a good idea, but other than that, the process is the same as writing a program using the regular API.

It is also possible to use the OPeNDAP data access protocol directly. This is somewhat more involved than using one of the OPeNDAP-compliant API libraries, and C++ is the only language supported for this. However, this approach can provide substantially more efficient programs. For further information about this approach, refer to the technical information about the DAP in The OPeNDAP Programmer's Guide .