Monthly Archives: February 2003

Bosworth; The Next Inflection Point

Edwin Khodabakchian reports on an Adam Bosworth presention entitled The Next Inflection Point.

Adam’s an extremely bright guy, and I’m fully expecting him to have a “REST epiphany” ahead of most others due to both the depth and bredth of his experiences. But while this is an extremely interesting presentation, there are some claims that just don’t synch up with the current approach taken with Web services. In particular, there’s this quote which Edwin pointed out;

We will look back in wonder and ask how we ever survived in the current anarchy where information did not flow as seamlessly and as metered and managed a manner between programs as electricity flows between devices today.

Whether or not you agree that Web services are the next big thing, I would expect that most people would see the problems in this statement; data flow with Web services is anything but seamless.

“Seamless data flow” derives from a data flow architectural style in which components expose a common (no, not necessarily uniform 8-) interface. The example I’ve used before is pipe-and-filter, ala Unix, with stdout/stdin. Non-common (i.e. component-specific) interfaces are notoriously difficult to compose, and therefore anything but seamless, because new glue code has to be written for each set of components that need to be composed (the old integration-complexity argument, O(N^2) or O(NlogN) for Web services vs. O(N) for the Web).

So I’m all for seamless data flow, but Web services simply don’t have it.

Simon St. Laurent on Civility and Alienation

Simon responds to my comment about ERH’s message;

Does that alienate people? Yes! It should. I’d love to get the Web Services folks to rethink their foundations. Failing that, making clear that there are serious points of friction seems like the best course of action – and being civil has little to contribute to that. Forking is not a risk here – it’s an opportunity.

We’re in complete agreement about that. Where we may differ, is about the timing; I think the time for alienation has passed. I’ve personally been doing it for over three years now, and have alienated my fair share of bright and well respected people (which has come back to haunt me during my search for work, sigh .. but such is the price of grokking this stuff). I believe the time is right – or at least fast approaching – to take advantage of the increasing frustration being felt by some Web services developers who have realized that there may be something to this other way of doing things that they’ve heard about.

But, I could be wrong, which would be fine by me; it’s a lot less work to alienate. 8-)

XML Isn’t Just a Data Format?

Clemens Vasters writes;

I am sorry to say that, but if today you still believe and insist that XML is just another data format, the train may already have left the station for you.

Well, then I guess my train is long gone. Ouch. Sorry Clemens, but XML is just a data format. Now, good data formats like XML are nothing to sneeze at, and I’m glad we have it, just like I’m glad we have/had ASCII. But for heaven’s sake, it’s just syntax, a context free grammar.

He also stated;

One of the core messages of my talk is that the XML InfoSet is the focus of integration.

IMO, this is like saying C structs are the focus of integration. Ok, so you and I agree on what one is, and perhaps even how its represented. Now what? How do we integrate? We can’t, at least with just that shared knowledge. If we also shared a model for how to identify, exchange, and manipulate them, then that could form a focus for integration. Which is, of course, akin to what REST tries to do around a more general abstraction called a resource.

Elliotte Rusty Harold on Web Services

ERH writes (grr, no permalinks);

It’s interesting that the Web Services community has managed to alienate three different communities for three different reasons that all derive from not understanding or accepting the basic principles of the technologies they’re building on. They’re either geniuses or idiots. My money’s on idiots, but time will tell.

He’s certainly right in the first part, that these groups have been alienated; “XML” because of the subsetting and arguably the suitability for the task, “Security” because of tunneling, and “Web/HTTP” because it has nothing to do with how the Web works and generated its value in the first place.

But the “idiots” comment is totally out of line. People have suggested in the past that I’ve suggested they are idiots during my evangelizing of a REST based approach to Web services, which really hurts, though it’s certainly understandable; nobody likes to be told that they don’t understand something. But that’s all that’s going on here; they don’t currently understand. It’s absolutely not a statement about anybody’s capacity, or lack thereof, to learn.

I also wouldn’t call anybody an idiot who was proceeding based on their best current understanding of how distributed systems are built, when that understanding is built from years of hard-learned experience. Unfortunately, practically every Web services proponent I know, gathered their experience in a LAN environment, which is a very different place than the Internet, requiring very different solutions. I’d just call them people who need to broaden their horizons.

So please folks, try to keep it civil. Comments such as this one only serve to alienate, which is the last thing we need.