Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kids and asynchronous messaging

We've heard a lot recently about asynchronous frameworks. Typically what these really do is prevent or discourage blocking (synchronous) calls; such calls may be made, e.g., making an RPC to a remote service, but the sender thread/process either doesn't block (so doesn't actually make the call directly), or gets back some kind of token/promise that it can later present (locally or back to the receiver) in order to get the response when it needs it. Of course there's a lot more to this which I'm deliberately glossing over, but the point I'm trying to make it that most of these frameworks don't use the term "asynchronous" in the way we might understand it elsewhere. The FLP problem is a reality yet not one with which they tend to be concerned.

It's strange how the mind wanders when you're doing other things because this was precisely the problem I started to think about whilst cooking dinner the other day. With a lot of people believing that "asynchronous" is the way to go (and in many cases they're not necessarily wrong) I'm more often than not unsure as to whether they really understand the full implications. And whilst cooking I was getting frustrated with my kids, both of whom I'd tried contacting by SMS and neither of whom had responded.

So my mind wandered and I made the not-so-huge leap: I'm trying to communicate with them asynchronously. I sent each of them an SMS and I had no idea of it had arrived. Of course I could have added the SMS-delivery ack request to the messages but that can be disabled by the receiver. Therefore, until and unless they responded, I had absolutely no way to know if they'd got the message and were ignoring me, or if it had gone missing en route (SMS isn't reliable, after all). I sent more SMS messaged but with no responses I was left in the same quandary from before.

Now of course I could ring them but if they don't answer then all that does is mean I've deposited a message (voice) into some semi-persistent queue that they may or may not look at later. Another option would be to find someone who knows them and talk with them, asking for messages to be forwarded. By increasing the number of people I ask I increase the chances that one of them will eventually get through and I may receive a response (gossip protocols). However, ultimately until and unless they or a proxy (friend) for them responded (or came home) I couldn't really know directly whether or not they'd received my messages and acted upon them. Asynchronous is a bitch!

To conclude the story - they came home, had received the messages and didn't believe a response had been needed. Dinner was very tasty though!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A little more on transactions and microservices

I had some interesting discussions this week which made me want to write something more on transactions (really XA) and microservices.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Monoliths and a bit of a history lesson

Just another cross-post for those interested.

Update: one thing I forgot to make explicit but hopefully comes through in the above post and the earlier one on web-scale is that to suggest is that to suggest application servers (Java or something else) aren't sufficient for web-scale is difficult to justify since many high profile sites do run today quite well on them.

Web-scale: I do not think it means what you think it means!

When I blogged about transactions recently one of the comments referenced "web-scale" and how application servers aren't well suited for web-scale distributed applications. I'm going to write something specific about this later but it got me to thinking: what does that actually mean? To paraphrase Inigo Montoya "You keep using that term, I do not think it means what you think it means." Many people and groups use the term but there really isn't a common (agreed) definition. It's a cop out to claim that we don't need such a definition because everyone who is sufficiently "in the know" will "know it when they see it".

The web has been around now for a long time. Over the years it has grown considerably and yet many sites back in the late 1990's would not be considered "web-scale" today. But back then they almost certainly were. Despite what many people may suggest today, sites then and now got by well using "traditional" (or dated?) technologies such as relational databases, CORBA, probably even COBOL! Coping will millions of requests, terabytes of data etc.

It's only fair that our definition of "web-scale" should change over time in much the same way as our definition of things like "personal transport" change from "horse" to "car", or even "jet pack". But we don't even have a definition of "web-scale" that we can all get behind and then evolve. It's subjective and therefore fairly useless as a way of signifying whether anything is or is not suitable for the kinds of applications or services people develop for the web. Ideally we'd fix this before anyone (person, group, company) used the term again, but I doubt that'll happen.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Slightly frustrating article ...

I came across an article the other day from last year which tried to poke holes in transactions. I kept putting off writing about it but eventually decided I had to say something. So ... here it is.