What to do when a plugin is missing

The mechanism and API described in this document requires GStreamer core and gst-plugins-base versions >= 0.10.12. Further information on some aspects of this document can be found in the libgstbaseutils API reference.

We only discuss playback pipelines for now.

A three step process:

GStreamer level

Elements will use a "missing-plugin" element message to report missing plugins, with the following fields set:

  • type: (string) { "urisource", "urisink", "decoder", "encoder", "element" } (we do not distinguish between demuxer/decoders/parsers etc.)

  • detail: (string) or (caps) depending on the type { ANY } ex: "rtsp, "rtspt", "audio/x-mp3,rate=48000,…"

  • name: (string) { ANY } ex: "RTSP protocol handler",..

missing uri handler

ex. rtsp://some.camera/stream1

When no protocol handler is installed for rtsp://, the application will not be able to instantiate an element for that uri (gst_element_make_from_uri() returns NULL).

Playbin will post a missing-plugin element message with the type set to "urisource", detail set to "rtsp". Optionally the friendly name can be filled in as well.

missing typefind function

We don't recognize the type of the file, this should normally not happen because all the typefinders are in the basic GStreamer installation. There is not much useful information we can give about how to resolve this issue. It is possible to use the first N bytes of the data to determine the type (and needed plugin) on the server. We don't explore this option in this document yet, but the proposal is flexible enough to accommodate this in the future should the need arise.

missing demuxer

Typically after running typefind on the data we determine the type of the file. If there is no plugin found for the type, a missing-plugin element message is posted by decodebin with the following fields: Type set to "decoder", detail set to the caps for witch no plugin was found. Optionally the friendly name can be filled in as well.

missing decoder

The demuxer will dynamically create new pads with specific caps while it figures out the contents of the container format. Decodebin tries to find the decoders for these formats in the registry. If there is no decoder found, a missing-plugin element message is posted by decodebin with the following fields: Type set to "decoder", detail set to the caps for which no plugin was found. Optionally the friendly name can be filled in as well. There is no distinction made between the missing demuxer and decoder at the application level.

missing element

Decodebin and playbin will create a set of helper elements when they set up their decoding pipeline. These elements are typically colorspace, sample rate, audio sinks,... Their presence on the system is required for the functionality of decodebin. It is typically a package dependency error if they are not present but in case of a corrupted system the following missing-plugin element message will be emitted: type set to "element", detail set to the element factory name and the friendly name optionally set to a description of the element's functionality in the decoding pipeline.

Except for reporting the missing plugins, no further policy is enforced at the GStreamer level. It is up to the application to decide whether a missing plugin constitutes a problem or not.

Application level

The application's job is to listen for the missing-plugin element messages and to decide on a policy to handle them. Following cases exist:

partially missing plugins

The application will be able to complete a state change to PAUSED but there will be a missing-plugin element message on the GstBus.

This means that it will be possible to play back part of the media file but not all of it.

For example: suppose we have an .avi file with mp3 audio and divx video. If we have the mp3 audio decoder but not the divx video decoder, it will be possible to play only the audio part but not the video part. For an audio playback application, this is not a problem but a video player might want to decide on:

  • require the use to install the additionally required plugins.
  • inform the user that only the audio will be played back
  • ask the user if it should download the additional codec or only play the audio part.

completely unplayable stream

The application will receive an ERROR message from GStreamer informing it that playback stopped (before it could reach PAUSED). This happens because none of the streams is connected to a decoder. The error code and domain should be one of the following in this case:


The application can then see that there are a set of missing-plugin element messages on the GstBus and can decide to trigger the download procedure. It does that as described in the following section.

missing-plugin element messages can be identified using the function gst_is_missing_plugin_message().

Plugin download stage

At this point the application has

  • collected one or more missing-plugin element messages
  • made a decision that additional plugins should be installed

It will call a GStreamer utility function to convert each missing-plugin message into an identifier string describing the missing capability. This is done using the function gst_missing_plugin_message_get_installer_detail().

The application will then pass these strings to gst_install_plugins_async() or gst_install_plugins_sync() to initiate the download. See the API documentation there (libgstbaseutils, part of gst-plugins-base) for more details.

When new plugins have been installed, the application will have to initiate a re-scan of the GStreamer plugin registry using gst_update_registry().

Format of the (UTF-8) string ID passed to the external installer system

The string is made up of several fields, separated by '|' characters. The fields are:

  • plugin system identifier, ie. "gstreamer" This identifier determines the format of the rest of the detail string. Automatic plugin installers should not process detail strings with unknown identifiers. This allows other plugin-based libraries to use the same mechanism for their automatic plugin installation needs, or for the format to be changed should it turn out to be insufficient.

  • plugin system version, e.g. "1.0" This is required so that when there is a GStreamer-2.0 or GStreamer-3.0 at some point in future, the different major versions can still co-exist and use the same plugin install mechanism in the same way.

  • application identifier, e.g. "totem" This may also be in the form of "pid/12345" if the program name can’t be obtained for some reason.

  • human-readable localised description of the required component, e.g. "Vorbis audio decoder"

  • identifier string for the required component, e.g.

  • urisource-(PROTOCOL_REQUIRED) e.g. urisource-http or urisource-rtsp

  • element-(ELEMENT_REQUIRED), e.g. element-videoconvert

  • decoder-(CAPS_REQUIRED) e.g. decoder-audio/x-vorbis or decoder-application/ogg or decoder-audio/mpeg, mpegversion=(int)4 or decoder-video/mpeg, systemstream=(boolean)true, mpegversion=(int)2

  • encoder-(CAPS_REQUIRED) e.g. encoder-audio/x-vorbis

  • optional further fields not yet specified

  • An entire ID string might then look like this, for example: gstreamer|0.10|totem|Vorbis audio decoder|decoder-audio/x-vorbis

  • Plugin installers parsing this ID string should expect further fields also separated by '|' symbols and either ignore them, warn the user, or error out when encountering them.

  • The human-readable description string is provided by the libgstbaseutils library that can be found in gst-plugins-base versions >= 0.10.12 and can also be used by demuxers to find out the codec names for taglists from given caps in a unified and consistent way.

  • Applications can create these detail strings using the function gst_missing_plugin_message_get_installer_detail() on a given missing-plugin message.

Using missing-plugin messages for error reporting:

Missing-plugin messages are also useful for error reporting purposes, either in the case where the application does not support libgimme-codec, or the external installer is not available or not able to install the required plugins.

When creating error messages, applications may use the function gst_missing_plugin_message_get_description() to obtain a possibly translated description from each missing-plugin message (e.g. "Matroska demuxer" or "Theora video depayloader"). This can be used to report to the user exactly what it is that is missing.

Notes for packagers

An easy way to introspect plugin .so files is:

$ gst-inspect --print-plugin-auto-install-info /path/to/libgstfoo.so

The output will be something like:


BUT could also be like this (from the faad element in this case):

decoder-audio/mpeg, mpegversion=(int){ 2, 4 }

NOTE that this does not exactly match the caps string that the installer will get from the application. The application will always ever ask for one of

decoder-audio/mpeg, mpegversion=(int)2
decoder-audio/mpeg, mpegversion=(int)4

When introspecting, keep in mind that there are GStreamer plugins that in turn load external plugins. Examples of these are pitfdll, ladspa, or the GStreamer libvisual plugin. Those plugins will only announce elements for the currently installed external plugins at the time of introspection! With the exception of pitfdll, this is not really relevant to the playback case, but may become an issue in future when applications like buzztard, jokosher or pitivi start requestion elements by name, for example ladspa effect elements or so.

This case could be handled if those wrapper plugins would also provide a gst-install-xxx-plugins-helper, where xxx={ladspa|visual|...}. Thus if the distro specific gst-install-plugins-helper can't resolve a request for e.g. element-bml-sonicverb it can forward the request to gst-install-bml-plugins-helper (bml is the buzz machine loader).

Further references:


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