This is a follow-up of sorts to Part 6 of this series of posts. I felt that the topic of inventory management is so important for most servers that it is worth taking a look at a few more ways players get access to items that they shouldn’t have in the first place. These are logical oversights that developers tend to forget about which players exploit in order to get access to those items.

There Are Many Ways To Get Items You Shouldn’t Have

Of course, as I’ve stated before, any exceptions or logical errors will often lead to “duplication”-style bugs where players get more of the item than they are supposed to. However, the lack of logic or logical oversight where you forget to check something or forget to prevent access to inventory items are just as serious. As I will also again reiterate, inventories and item management in Bukkit is a death trap. There are so many different things that can go wrong and so many different creative ways to exploit flawed logic that most developers will need to break a server’s economy multiple times before becoming proficient in being able to spot some of these bugs while they are writing their code. I’ve made a list of some of the common ones I’ve made myself.

Item Stacking

One important way that servers reduce lag is through stacking items, or using a single item entity to represent many items of exactly the same type. For example, if you kill a zombie and it drops 3 rotten flesh items, then a stacked item automatically prevents 2 of the rotten flesh items from spawning, instead marking the one item that does spawn as a “stack of 3.” If the entire server consists of killing zombies, then you cut the number of entities globally by 66%, which is a massive performance boost.

Regardless, developers often forget about this functionality when dropping items. Items that are supposed to be behind walls or otherwise not supposed to despawn can be collected by players if they drop an item of the same type. Oftentimes, developers try to fix this by causing the oldest item to become the “stacked” item, but this doesn’t actually fix it either because then players who accidentally drop their items will lose them instead.

In my personal opinion, it should be the burden of the item stacking plugin to not mess up and stack up items it shouldn’t. The scope of these plugins should be limited to high-impact actions such as mass mob drops rather than items dropped by players. However, this cannot account for every possible scenario. There are times where there simply isn’t a way around items being automatically stacked. In this case, there must be a way provided to flag items your plugin drops as “do not stack me.” This usually comes in the form of a persistent data container or some metadata added to an item entity. It can also be some collection provided by the item stacking plugin which other plugins can use to blacklist items entities from being stacked. There are no easy catchall solutions for this, and it just comes with familiarity and anticipating how the actions of other plugins need to coexist.

As a minor aside, the same sort of concept exists for item cleanup plugins as well, which remove item entities over a sufficient age to prevent item entities spawned an eternity ago and never being picked up from taking up server memory and CPU. You need to anticipate that the item you are dropping might need to be persistent, so you need to both cancel anything that picks up the item entity, destroys the item entity, or item cleaning plugins from deleting the item using any of the 3 different options I discussed above (persistent data container, metadata or blacklist collection).

Custom Inventory Holders

I’ve made a fair few plugins where I’ve needed to make my own “inventory holder.” Things such as blocks that can store items such as a mineral generator or custom backpacks that are held by items.

This is again another place where you need to be careful of people getting items or losing their items. First of all, it is imperative that once you remove the inventory holder, the you must also close the inventory to all viewers as well. Otherwise, players with access to the inventory after you finish managing it effectively extend the lifetime of the inventory. Things such as automated mineral generators will continue filling their inventory and players may continue to place items into the defunct inventory. One notorious example of this in the real world is the inventory for managing NPC entities or minion entities. If you do not close the inventory when the holder is removed, then you can remove the holder an unlimited number of times, thus “giving back” to the player whatever item they used to spawn the holder.

As far as closing the inventories for each viewer goes, I’ve written yet another blog post about this in the 2nd edition of this series. Make sure you don’t hit any CMEs in the closing of inventories, or you may still end up with a duplication bug!

Hoppers

Also note that players don’t actually need to have inventories open to take items away from them! The stock containers in Minecraft such as chests are can have their items hoppered out if checks on such exploits are not implemented by developers. Private chests and sign shops are especially vulnerable to this kind of exploit.

Again, the only real way to mitigate this kind of bug is to realize the fact that most inventory handling code is almost always flawed the first iteration. You can test all you want, but if you don’t specifically think about how players take advantage of gaps in your logic, then you’ll never be able to test out this bug. Typically, when writing inventory management code, I get a sense that I haven’t implemented a sufficient number of protection checks (e.g. InventoryMoveItemEvent, BlockBreakEvent for blocks, checks for where an inventory holder might be located in case someone uses pistons, etc).

People are coming up with new concepts and new ideas every single day, and there again is no catchall solution to ensuring that your plugins are exploit free except for cold hard experience.

Conclusion

It’s disheartening to have to be so vague about many of the issues I see with my own code and how to fix them. In all honesty, I myself have not come up with perfect solutions for them all either. One of my own flaws is that I don’t actually play Minecraft all that often myself. I do try my best to be up-to-date with the communities on the servers I work for, but ultimately, I care a lot more about the code on its own than the game. I definitely need to work on that.

While less relevant to this post since I don’t set any rules (at least any hard and fast rules), this has been the typical end note for the past 9 posts, so why not give The Power of Ten another go:

If the rules seem Draconian at first, bear in mind that they are meant to make it possible to check code where very literally your life may depend on its correctness: code that is used to control the airplane that you fly on, the nuclear power plant a few miles from where you live, or the spacecraft that carries astronauts into orbit. The rules act like the seat-belt in your car: initially they are perhaps a little uncomfortable, but after a while their use becomes second-nature and not using them becomes unimaginable.