What goes on when loading a file.

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I just had an opportunity to spend some time reading and analyzing what actually takes place when you do a mundane thing like opening a file. If you are a user, you wouldn’t think much when opening a new document. You select the file, click Open, and you expect that file to be open. If you are a coder, however, and especially if you are a coder who has spent some time either looking through or trying to debug this code, I bet that this is one of the most horrifying places to work in even in this code base. It certainly is for me.

Anyway, since I’m a diagram-oriented person, I’ve decided to sketch a very rough diagram of what happens when you open a file, from the moment we receive a dispatch request with the URL of the document, to the point where we pass that call to the appropriate filter code. Here is the result.

file-load-process-diagram

Now, this is a cleaned-up version. The actual code contains lots more branch points and quite a few “temporary” hacks (here the term “temporary” is used very loosely), which undoubtedly will confuse you even more. But I believe this diagram illustrates a very rough overview of how we determine the format type of the document, how the “right” (“right” in 95% of the time) filter gets picked, and where to look in case something doesn’t work as expected…. Hopefully.