This chapter of the guide introduces the basic concepts of GStreamer. Understanding these concepts will help you grok the issues involved in extending GStreamer. Many of these concepts are explained in greater detail in the GStreamer Application Development Manual; the basic concepts presented here serve mainly to refresh your memory.
Elements are at the core of GStreamer. In the context of plugin
development, an element is an object derived from the
GstElement class. Elements provide some sort of
functionality when linked with other elements: For example, a source
element provides data to a stream, and a filter element acts on the data
in a stream. Without elements, GStreamer is just a bunch of conceptual
pipe fittings with nothing to link. A large number of elements ship
with GStreamer, but extra elements can also be written.
Just writing a new element is not entirely enough, however: You will need to encapsulate your element in a plugin to enable GStreamer to use it. A plugin is essentially a loadable block of code, usually called a shared object file or a dynamically linked library. A single plugin may contain the implementation of several elements, or just a single one. For simplicity, this guide concentrates primarily on plugins containing one element.
A filter is an important type of element that processes a stream of data. Producers and consumers of data are called source and sink elements, respectively. Bin elements contain other elements. One type of bin is responsible for synchronization of the elements that they contain so that data flows smoothly. Another type of bin, called autoplugger elements, automatically add other elements to the bin and links them together so that they act as a filter between two arbitrary stream types.
The plugin mechanism is used everywhere in GStreamer, even if only the standard packages are being used. A few very basic functions reside in the core library, and all others are implemented in plugins. A plugin registry is used to store the details of the plugins in an binary registry file. This way, a program using GStreamer does not have to load all plugins to determine which are needed. Plugins are only loaded when their provided elements are requested.