Technical documentation for ArchivesSpace

View the Project on GitHub archivesspace/tech-docs

ArchivesSpace Plug-ins

Plug-ins are a powerful feature, designed to allow you to change most aspects of how the application behaves.

Plug-ins provide a mechanism to customize ArchivesSpace by overriding or extending functions without changing the core codebase. As they are self-contained, they also permit the ready sharing of packages of customization between ArchivesSpace instances.

The ArchivesSpace distribution comes with the hello_world exemplar plug-in. Please refer to its README file for a detailed description of how it is constructed and implemented.

You can find other examples in the following plugin repositories. The ArchivesSpace plugins that are officially supported and maintained by the ArchivesSpace Program Team are in archivesspace-plugins ( Deprecated code which is no longer supported but has been kept for future reference is in archivesspace-deprecated ( There is an open/unmanaged GitHub repository where community members can share their code called archivesspace-labs ( The community developed Python library for interacting with the ArchivesSpace API, called ArchivesSnake, is managed in the archivesspace-labs repository.

Enabling plugins

Plug-ins are enabled by placing them in the plugins directory, and referencing them in the ArchivesSpace configuration, config/config.rb. For example:

AppConfig[:plugins] = ['local', 'hello_world', 'my_plugin']

This configuration assumes the following directories exist:


Note that the order that the plug-ins are listed in the :plugins configuration option determines the order in which they are loaded by the application.

Plugin structure

The directory structure within a plug-in is similar to the structure of the core application. The following shows the supported plug-in structure. Files contained in these directories can be used to override or extend the behavior of the core application.

  controllers ......... backend endpoints
  model ............... database mapping models
  converters .......... classes for importing data
  job_runners ......... classes for defining background jobs
  plugin_init.rb ...... if present, loaded when the backend first starts
  lib/bulk_import ..... bulk import processor
  assets .............. static assets (such as images, javascript) in the staff interface
  controllers ......... controllers for the staff interface
  locales ............. locale translations for the staff interface
  views ............... templates for the staff interface
  plugin_init.rb ...... if present, loaded when the staff interface first starts
  assets .............. static assets (such as images, javascript) in the public interface
  controllers ......... controllers for the public interface
  locales ............. locale translations for the public interface
  views ............... templates for the public interface
  plugin_init.rb ...... if present, loaded when the public interface first starts
migrations ............ database migrations
schemas ............... JSONModel schema definitions
search_definitions.rb . Advanced search fields

Note that backend/lib/bulk_import is the only directory in backend/lib/ that is loaded by the plugin manager. Other files in backend/lib/ will not be loaded during startup.

Note that, in order to override or extend the behavior of core models and controllers, you cannot simply put your replacement with the same name in the corresponding directory path. Core models and controllers can be overridden by adding an after_initialize block to plugin_init.rb (e.g. aspace-hvd-pui).

Overriding behavior

A general rule is: to override behavior, rather then extend it, match the path to the file that contains the behavior to be overridden.

It is not necessary for a plug-in to have all of these directories. For example, to override some part of a locale file for the staff interface, you can just add the following structure to the local plug-in:


More detailed information about overriding locale files is found in Customizing text in ArchivesSpace

Overriding the visual (web) presentation

You can directly override any view file in the core application by placing an erb file of the same name in the analogous path. For example, if you want to override the appearance of the “Welcome” [home] page of the Public User Interface, you can make your changes to a file show.html.erb and place it at plugins/my_fine_plugin/public/views/welcome/show.html.erb. (Where my_fine_plugin is the name of your plugin)

Implementing a broadly-applied style or javascript change

Unless you want to write inline style or javascript (which may be practiceable for a template or two), best practice is to create plugins/my_fine_plugin/public/views/layout_head.html.erb or plugins/my_fine_plugin/frontend/views/layout_head.html.erb, which contains the HTML statements to incorporate your javascript or css into the <HEAD> element of the template. Here’s an example:

Another example, to override the branding of the staff interface, add your own template at:


Files such as images, stylesheets and PDFs can be made available as static resources by placing them in an assets directory under an enabled plug-in. For example, the following file:


Will be available via the following URL:


For example, to reference this logo from the custom branding file, use markup such as:

 <div class="container branding">
   <img src="<%= #{AppConfig[:frontend_proxy_prefix]} %>assets/my_logo.png" alt="My logo" />

Plugin configuration

Plug-ins can optionally contain a configuration file at plugins/[plugin-name]/config.yml. This configuration file supports the following options:

  The name of a controller that will be accessible via a Plug-ins menu in the System toolbar
  The name of a controller that will be accessible via a Plug-ins menu in the Repository toolbar

system_menu_controller and repository_menu_controller specify the names of frontend controllers that will be accessible via the system and repository toolbars respectively. A Plug-ins dropdown will appear in the toolbars if any enabled plug-ins have declared these configuration options. The controller name follows the standard naming conventions, for example:

repository_menu_controller: hello_world

Points to a controller file at plugins/hello_world/frontend/controllers/hello_world_controller.rb which implements a controller class called HelloWorldController. When the menu item is selected by the user, the index action is called on the controller.

Note that the URLs for plug-in controllers are scoped under plugins, so the URL for the above example is:


Also note that the translation for the plug-in’s name in the Plug-ins dropdown menu is specified in a locale file in the frontend/locales directory in the plug-in. For example, in the hello_world example there is an English locale file at:


The translation for the plug-in name in the Plug-ins dropdown menus is specified by the key label under the plug-in, like this:

      label: Hello World

Note that the example locale file contains other keys that specify translations for text displayed as part of the plug-in’s user interface. Be sure to place your plug-in’s translations as shown, under plugins.[your_plugin_name] in order to avoid accidentally overriding translations for other interface elements. In the example above, the translation for the label key can be referenced directly in an erb view file as follows:

<%= I18n.t("plugins.hello_world.label") %>

Each entry under parents specifies a record type that this plug-in provides a new subrecord for. [record-type] is the name of the existing record type, for example accession. name is the name of the plug-in in its role as a subrecord of this parent, for example hello_worlds. cardinality specifies the cardinality of the plug-in records. Currently supported values are zero-to-many and zero-to-one.

Changing search behavior

A plugin can add additional fields to the advanced search interface by including a search_definitions.rb file at the top-level of the plugin directory. This file can contain definitions such as the following:

AdvancedSearch.define_field(:name => 'payment_fund_code', :type => :enum, :visibility => [:staff], :solr_field => 'payment_fund_code_u_utext')
AdvancedSearch.define_field(:name => 'payment_authorizers', :type => :text, :visibility => [:staff], :solr_field => 'payment_authorizers_u_utext')

Each field defined will appear in the advanced search interface as a searchable field. The :visibility option controls whether the field is presented in the staff or public interface (or both), while the :type parameter determines what sort of search is being performed. Valid values are :text:, :boolean, :date and :enum. Finally, the :solr_field parameter controls which field is used from the underlying index.

Adding Custom Reports

Custom reports may be added to plug-ins by adding a new report model as a subclass of AbstractReport to plugins/[plugin-name]/backend/model/, and the translations for said model to plugins/[plugin-name]/frontend/locales/[language].yml. Look to existing reports in reports subdirectory of the ArchivesSpace base directory for examples of how to structure a report model.

There are several limitations to adding reports to plug-ins, including that reports from plug-ins may only use the generic report template. ArchivesSpace only searches for report templates in the reports subdirectory of the ArchivesSpace base directory, not in plug-in directories. If you would like to implement a custom report with a custom template, consider adding the report to archivesspace/reports/ instead of archivesspace/plugins/[plugin-name]/backend/model/.

Frontend Specific Hooks

To make adding new records fields and sections to record forms a little eaiser via your plugin, the ArchivesSpace frontend provides a series of hooks via the frontend/config/initializers/plugin.rb module. These are as follows:

Further information

Be sure to test your plug-in thoroughly as it may have unanticipated impacts on your ArchivesSpace application.