Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Jason Bloomberg, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Anders Wallgren

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Open Source Cloud, Agile Computing, Apache

@CloudExpo: Article

The Power of Opacity in REST

There’s more to the opacity story than opaque URIs

Ever wonder how a sophisticated Web site works? Take Facebook, for example. You can view the source and you can hardly pick out any recognizable HTML, let alone divine how the wizards back at Facebook HQ get the site to work. Now, try viewing the source at a simpler Web site, like ZapThink’s. Sure enough, there’s HTML under the covers, but you still can’t tell from the file the Web server sends to your browser what’s going on behind the scenes (we use WordPress, in case you were wondering).

Put into RESTful terms, there is a separation between resource (e.g., the program running on the server) and the representation (e.g., the Web page it sends to your browser). In fact, this separation is a fundamental REST constraint which allows the resource to be opaque.

When people talk about opacity in the REST context, they are usually referring to Uniform Resource Indicators (URIs). You should be able to construct URIs however you like, the theory goes, and it’s up to the resource to figure out how to respond appropriately. In other words, it’s not up to the client to know how to provide specific instructions to the server, other than by clicking the hyperlinks the resource has previously provided to the client.

But there’s more to the opacity story than opaque URIs. Fundamentally, the client has no way of knowing anything at all about what’s really going on behind the scenes. The resource might be a file, a script, a container, an object, or some complicated combination of these and other kinds of things. There are two important lessons for the techies behind the curtain: first, don’t assume resources come in one flavor, and second, it’s important to understand the full breadth of capabilities and patterns that you can leverage when architecting or building resources. After all, anything you can give a URI to can be a resource.

Exploring the Power of Opacity
Let’s begin our exploration of opacity with HTTP’s POST method. Of the four primary HTTP methods (GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE), POST is the only one that’s not idempotent: in other words, not only does it change the state of the resource, but it does so in a way that calling it twice has a different effect than calling it once. In the RESTful context, you should use POST to initialize a resource. According to the HTTP spec, POST creates a subordinate resource, as the figure below illustrates:

In the interaction above, the client POSTs to the cart resource, which initializes a cart instance, names it “abcde,” and returns a hyperlink to that new subordinate resource to the client. In this context, subordinate means that the abcde comes after cart and a slash in the URI http://example.com/cart/abcde.

Here’s the essential question: just what do cart and abcde represent on the server? cart looks like a directory and abcde looks like a file, given the pathlike structure of the URI. But we know that guess probably isn’t right, because POSTing to the cart resource actually created the abcde resource, which represents the cart instance. So could abcde be an object instance? Perhaps. The bottom line is you can’t tell, because as far as the client is concerned, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the client now has one (or more) hyperlinks to its own cart that it can interact with via a uniform interface.

One way or the other, however, POST changes the state of the abcde cart instance, which requires a relatively onerous level of processing on the server. To lighten the future load on the server, thus improving its scalability, we may want to cache the representation the resource provides. Fortunately, REST explicitly supports cacheability, as the figure below illustrates:

In the pattern above, a gateway intermediary passes along the POST to the server, fetching a static representation it puts in its cache. As long as clients make requests that aren’t intended to change the state of the resource (namely, GETs), then serving up the cached copy is as good as passing along the request to the underlying resource, until the representation expires from the cache.

Opacity plays a critical role in this example as well, since saying the cached copy is just as good as a response directly from the resource is an example of opacity. As a result, the gateway is entirely transparent to the client, serving in the role of server in interactions with the client but in the role of client in interactions with the underlying server.

The limitation of the example above, of course, is the static nature of the cache. If the client wants to change the state of the resource (via PUT or another POST), then such a request would necessarily expire the cache, requiring the intermediary to pass the request along to the underlying server. In situations where the resource state changes frequently, therefore, caching is of limited value.

Opacity and RESTful Clouds
We can extend the pattern above to provide greater capabilities on the intermediary. In the example below, the intermediary is a full-fledged server in its own right, and the underlying server returns executable server scripts for the intermediary to execute on behalf of the underlying server. In other words, the intermediary caches representations that are themselves server programs (e.g., php scripts). Furthermore, these server scripts are prepopulated with any initial state data in response to the original POST from the client.

Increasing the sophistication of our cache would provide little value, however, if we didn’t have a better way of dealing with state information. Fortunately, REST grants our wishes in this case as well, because it enables us to separate resource state (maintained on the underlying server) from application state, which we can transfer to the client.

In the figure above, after the client has initialized the resource, it may wish to, say, update its cart. So, the user clicks a link that executes a PUT that sends the updated information, along with values from one or more hidden form fields to the intermediary. However, instead of updating resource state, the state information remains in the messages (both requests from the client and representations returned from the intermediary) as long as the client only executes idempotent requests. There is no need to update resource state in this situation, because the scripts on the intermediary know to pass along state information in hidden form fields, for example. When the cart process is complete and the user is ready to submit an order, only then does the client execute another POST, which the intermediary knows to pass along to the underlying server.

However, there’s no strict rule that says that the intermediary can only handle idempotent requests; you could easily put a script on it that would handle POSTs, and similarly, it might make sense to send an idempotent request like a DELETE along to the underlying server for execution. But on the other hand, the rule that the intermediary handles only the idempotent requests may be appropriate in your situation, because POST would then be the only method that could ever change state on the underlying server.

As we explained in an earlier ZapFlash, one of the primary benefits to following the pattern in the figure above is to support elasticity when you put the intermediary server in the Cloud. Because it is stateless, it doesn’t matter which virtual machine (VM) instance replies to any client request, and if a VM instance crashes, we can bootstrap its replacement without losing any state information. In other words, opacity is essential to both the elasticity and fault tolerance of the Cloud, and furthermore, following a RESTful approach provides that opacity.

The ZapThink Take
There’s one more RESTful pattern that ZapThink is particularly interested in: RESTful SOA, naturally. For this pattern we need another kind of intermediary: a RESTful SOA intermediary, in addition to the Cloud-based stateless server intermediary, or anything else we want to abstract for that matter. The figure below illustrates the RESTful SOA pattern.

The role of the RESTful SOA intermediary is to provide abstracted (in other words, opaque) RESTful Service endpoints that follow strict URI formatting rules. Furthermore, this intermediary must handle state information appropriately, that is, following a RESTful approach that transfers state information in messages. As a result, the SOA intermediary can support stateless message protocols for interactions with Service consumers while remaining stateless itself. Most ESBs maintain state, and therefore a RESTful SOA intermediary wouldn’t be a typical ESB, although it could certainly route messages to one.

So, which pattern is the best one? As we say in our Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) and Cloud Computing for Architects (CCA) courses, it depends. The architect is looking for the right tool for the job. You must understand the problem before recommending the appropriate solution. We cover REST-based SOA in our LZA course (coming to Johannesburg) and RESTful Clouds in the CCA course (coming to London, DC, and San Diego). See you there!

Image credit: Derek Keats

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise. As president of Intellyx, Mr. Bloomberg brings his years of thought leadership in the areas of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Architecture, and Service-Oriented Architecture to a global clientele of business executives, architects, software vendors, and Cloud service providers looking to achieve technology-enabled business agility across their organizations and for their customers. His latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), sets the stage for Mr. Bloomberg’s groundbreaking Agile Architecture vision.

Mr. Bloomberg is perhaps best known for his twelve years at ZapThink, where he created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) SOA course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, the leading SOA advisory and analysis firm, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011. He now runs the successor to the LZA program, the Bloomberg Agile Architecture Course, around the world.

Mr. Bloomberg is a frequent conference speaker and prolific writer. He has published over 500 articles, spoken at over 300 conferences, Webinars, and other events, and has been quoted in the press over 1,400 times as the leading expert on agile approaches to architecture in the enterprise.

Mr. Bloomberg’s previous book, Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, coauthored with Ron Schmelzer), is recognized as the leading business book on Service Orientation. He also co-authored the books XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996).

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting).

@MicroservicesExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that VAI, a leading ERP software provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. VAI (Vormittag Associates, Inc.) is a leading independent mid-market ERP software developer renowned for its flexible solutions and ability to automate critical business functions for the distribution, manufacturing, specialty retail and service sectors. An IBM Premier Business Part...
In most cases, it is convenient to have some human interaction with a web (micro-)service, no matter how small it is. A traditional approach would be to create an HTTP interface, where user requests will be dispatched and HTML/CSS pages must be served. This approach is indeed very traditional for a web site, but not really convenient for a web service, which is not intended to be good looking, 24x7 up and running and UX-optimized. Instead, talking to a web service in a chat-bot mode would be muc...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Catchpoint Systems, Inc., a provider of innovative web and infrastructure monitoring solutions, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's DevOps Summit at 18th Cloud Expo New York, which will take place June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Catchpoint is a leading Digital Performance Analytics company that provides unparalleled insight into customer-critical services to help consistently deliver an amazing customer experience. Designed...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Alert Logic, Inc., the leading provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Alert Logic, Inc., provides Security-as-a-Service for on-premises, cloud, and hybrid infrastructures, delivering deep security insight and continuous protection for customers at a lower cost than traditional security solutions. Ful...
More and more companies are looking to microservices as an architectural pattern for breaking apart applications into more manageable pieces so that agile teams can deliver new features quicker and more effectively. What this pattern has done more than anything to date is spark organizational transformations, setting the foundation for future application development. In practice, however, there are a number of considerations to make that go beyond simply “build, ship, and run,” which changes ho...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interoute, owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2015 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Interoute is the owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform which encompasses 12 data centers, 14 virtual data centers and 31 colocation centers, with connections to 195 ad...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Commvault, a global leader in enterprise data protection and information management, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Commvault is a leading provider of data protection and information management...
SYS-CON Events announced today that AppNeta, the leader in performance insight for business-critical web applications, will exhibit and present at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. AppNeta is the only application performance monitoring (APM) company to provide solutions for all applications – applications you develop internally, business-critical SaaS applications you use and the networks that deli...
The (re?)emergence of Microservices was especially prominent in this week’s news. What are they good for? do they make sense for your application? should you take the plunge? and what do Microservices mean for your DevOps and Continuous Delivery efforts? Continue reading for more on Microservices, containers, DevOps culture, and more top news from the past week. As always, stay tuned to all the news coming from@ElectricCloud on DevOps and Continuous Delivery throughout the week and retweet/favo...
If we look at slow, traditional IT and jump to the conclusion that just because we found its issues intractable before, that necessarily means we will again, then it’s time for a rethink. As a matter of fact, the world of IT has changed over the last ten years or so. We’ve been experiencing unprecedented innovation across the board – innovation in technology as well as in how people organize and accomplish tasks. Let’s take a look at three differences between today’s modern, digital context...
The battle over bimodal IT is heating up. Now that there’s a reasonably broad consensus that Gartner’s advice about bimodal IT is deeply flawed – consensus everywhere except perhaps at Gartner – various ideas are springing up to fill the void. The bimodal problem, of course, is well understood. ‘Traditional’ or ‘slow’ IT uses hidebound, laborious processes that would only get in the way of ‘fast’ or ‘agile’ digital efforts. The result: incoherent IT strategies and shadow IT struggles that lead ...
As software organizations continue to invest in achieving Continuous Delivery (CD) of their applications, we see increased interest in microservices architectures, which–on the face of it–seem like a natural fit for enabling CD. In microservices (or its predecessor, “SOA”), the business functionality is decomposed into a set of independent, self-contained services that communicate with each other via an API. Each of the services has their own application release cycle, and are developed and depl...
At the heart of the Cloud Native model is a microservices application architecture, and applying this to a telco SDN scenario offers enormous opportunity for product innovation and competitive advantage. For example in the ETSI NFV Ecosystem white paper they describe one of the product markets that SDN might address to be the Home sector. Vendors like Alcatel market SDN-based solutions for the home market, offering Home Gateways – A virtual residential gateway (vRGW) where service provider...
In the Bimodal model we find two areas of IT - the traditional kind where the main concern is keeping the lights on and the IT focusing on agility and speed, where everything needs to be faster. Today companies are investing in new technologies and processes to emulate their most agile competitors. Gone are the days of waterfall development and releases only every few months. Today's IT and the business it powers demands performance akin to a supercar - everything needs to be faster, every sc...
With microservices, SOA and distributed architectures becoming more popular, it is becoming increasingly harder to keep track of where time is spent in a distributed application when trying to diagnose performance problems. Distributed tracing systems attempt to address this problem by following application requests across service boundaries, persisting metadata along the way that provide context for fine-grained performance monitoring.
Web performance issues and advances have been gaining a stronger presence in the headlines as people are becoming more aware of its impact on virtually every business, and 2015 was no exception. We saw a myriad of major outages this year hit some of the biggest corporations, as well as some technology integrations and other news that we IT Ops aficionados find very exciting. This past year has offered several opportunities for growth and evolution in the performance realm — even the worst failu...
Are you someone who knows that the number one rule in DevOps is “Don’t Panic”? Especially when it comes to making Continuous Delivery changes inside your organization? Are you someone that theorizes that if anyone implements real automation changes, the solution will instantly become antiquated and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable?
Welcome to the first top DevOps news roundup of 2016! At the end of last year, we saw some great predictions for 2016. While we’re excited to kick off the new year, this week’s top posts reminded us to take a second to slow down and really understand the current state of affairs. For example, do you actually know what microservices are – or aren’t? What about DevOps? Does the emphasis still fall mostly on the development side? This week’s top news definitely got the wheels turning and just migh...
Test automation is arguably the most important innovation to the process of QA testing in software development. The ability to automate regression testing and other repetitive test cases can significantly reduce the overall production time for even the most complex solutions. As software continues to be developed for new platforms – including mobile devices and the diverse array of endpoints that will be created during the rise of the Internet of Things - automation integration will have a huge ...
Providing a full-duplex communication channel over a single TCP connection, WebSocket is the most efficient protocol for real-time responses over the web. If you’re utilizing WebSocket technology, performance testing will boil down to simulating the bi-directional nature of your application. Introduced with HTML5, the WebSocket protocol allows for more interaction between a browser and website, facilitating real-time applications and live content. WebSocket technology creates a persistent conne...