Architecture #

This section gives an overall structure of the system.

Penpot has the architecture of a typical SPA. There is a frontend application, written in ClojureScript and using React framework, and served from a static web server. It talks to a backend application, that persists data on a PosgreSQL database.

The backend is written in Clojure, so front and back can share code and data structures without problem. Then, the code is compiled into JVM bytecode and run in a JVM environment.

There are some additional components, explained below.


Frontend app #

The main application, with the user interface and the presentation logic.

To talk with backend, it uses a custom RPC-style API: some functions in the backend are exposed through an HTTP server. When the front wants to execute a query or data mutation, it sends a HTTP request, containing the name of the function to execute, and the ascii-encoded arguments. The resulting data is also encoded and returned. This way we don't need any data type conversion, besides the transport encoding, as there is Clojure at both ends.

When the user opens any file, a persistent websocket is opened with the backend and associated to the file id. It is used to send presence events, such as connection, disconnection and mouse movements. And also to receive changes made by other users that are editing the same file, so it may be updated in real time.

Worker #

Some operations are costly to make in real time, so we leave them to be executed asynchronously in a web worker. This way they don't impact the user experience. Some of these operations are generating file thumbnails for the dashboard and maintaining some geometric indexes to speed up snap points while drawing.

Backend app #

This app is in charge of CRUD of data, integrity validation and persistence into a database and also into a file system for media attachments.

To handle deletions it uses a garbage collector mechanism: no object in the database is deleted instantly. Instead, a field deleted_at is set with the date and time of the deletion, and every query ignores db rows that have this field set. Then, an async task that runs periodically, locates rows whose deletion date is older than a given threshold and permanently deletes them.

For this, and other possibly slow tasks, there is an internal async tasks worker, that may be used to queue tasks to be scheduled and executed when the backend is idle. Other tasks are email sending, collecting data for telemetry and detecting unused media attachment, for removing them from the file storage.

PubSub #

To manage subscriptions to a file, to be notified of changes, we use a redis server as a pub/sub broker. Whenever a user visits a file and opens a websocket, the backend creates a subscription in redis, with a topic that has the id of the file. If the user sends any change to the file, backend sends a notification to this topic, that is received by all subscribers. Then the notification is retrieved and send to the user via the websocket.

Exporter #

When exporting file contents to a file, we want the result to be exactly the same as the user sees in screen. To achieve this, we use a headless browser installed in the backend host, and controled via puppeteer automation. The browser loads the frontend app from the static webserver, and executes it like a normal user browser. It visits a special endpoint that renders one shape inside a file. Then, if takes a screenshot if we are exporting to a bitmap image, or extract the svg from the DOM if we want a vectorial export, and write it to a file that the user can download.