Archive for September, 2008

Mimeparse in Erlang

September 23rd, 2008  |  Published in code, erlang, HTTP, python, REST, Ruby, services  |  Bookmark on

If you’re writing RESTful web services, you need to be able to parse HTTP Accept and Content-type headers. The Accept header tells you what media types the client can handle, and Content-type tells you what the client is sending when it invokes PUT or POST.

Several years ago Joe Gregorio wrote a really nice article explaining how to properly handle such parsing, and he implemented his ideas in the form of the mimeparse Python module. Later, others added Ruby and PHP versions.

In my Erlang web services work I’ve been doing just enough to parse my Accept headers, knowing full well my approach had holes in it and would eventually need to be done right. When I recently stumbled on Joe’s article and code, I decided to port it to Erlang and use it. Joe’s code is very clean and has accompanying unit tests, so the port was pretty easy. However, in the process of plugging it into my system I found a reasonably common case where the best_match function would return a wildcard match in preference to an exact match, so I added unit tests for that case and repaired the problem for all four languages.

I also found that Java’s URLConnection class, or maybe it’s HttpURLConnection, sends a plain “*” as a wildcard MIME type, which I don’t believe is legal (please correct me if I’m wrong), but since I figure there’s probably more than a few clients out there based on that code, I modified the four mimeparse implementations to handle that as well, treating it as “*/*”.

All four implementations are available from the mimeparse project home page.

The Technology Adoption Side of RPC and REST

September 3rd, 2008  |  Published in column, enterprise, innovation, REST, RPC, technology adoption  |  Bookmark on

My latest Internet Computing column has been available since last Friday. It’s entitled “RPC and REST: Dilemma, Disruption, and Displacement” (PDF, HTML) and like my previous 2008 columns, it explores another angle of the “RPC vs. REST” debate.

Since previous columns have covered many of the technical angles, this time I present the debate from the technology adoption angle. As the abstract for the column says, many technologists tend to treat such debates as if they’re purely technical, but of course they’re never that black-and-white. What’s often behind some of the raging “technical” debates we’ve all seen or experienced is simply the difference between the arguing parties in their relative positions along the Technology Adoption Lifecycle curve. Nobody would be surprised at a disagreement over technology between someone classified as an early adopter or visionary (from the far left of the curve) and someone classified as a technology skeptic (from the far right), yet we always seem surprised when two people whose preferences aren’t too far apart on the curve — from the opposite edges of the mainstream band in the middle of the bell curve, for example — don’t see eye to eye, despite the fact that this sort of scenario is quite common. Even small differences in goals for adopted technologies and desired risk/reward trade-offs, along with the inevitable hidden and unstated assumptions resulting from such factors, can cause vigorous debate about what technology or approach is best for a given situation.

When it comes to published explanations of how innovation works and how technologies move along the adoption curve, my favorite author by far is Clayton Christensen. IMO all developers should study and learn from his books, specifically The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution, and Seeing What’s Next. All are amazingly insightful works that will open your eyes to how real-life markets react to technological change and advancement.

In this column I try to view and classify the “RPC vs. REST” debate based on Christensen’s theories about innovation and technology adoption. I hope you find it interesting, and as always, I welcome all constructive comments.