RESTful is hardly harmful.

A provocative essay came up on Hacker News today, entitled RESTful considered harmful.

The summary of the essay:

  • JSON is bloated in comparison to protobufs and similar binary protocols
  • There are no interface contracts or data schema
  • HATEOAS doesn’t work
  • No direct support for batching, paging, sorting, etc – eg no SQL semantics
  • CRUD is too limited
  • No, really, CRUD is too limited
  • HTTP Status codes don’t naturally map to business semantics
  • there’s no queueing, or asynchrony
  • There are no standards
  • Backward compatibility is hard

Let’s have a look at the validity of these concerns.

1. JSON is bloated in comparison to protobufs

The essay cites “one tremendous advantage of JSON”: human readability, and then completely discounts this advantage by saying that it’s bloated. It really is a tremendous advantage, which is why XML won over MQ’s binary protocol and the XDR from Sun RPC, and the NDR from DCE RPC, and every other frigging binary protocol. And readability is why JSON displaced XML.

Ask yourself this: what is the value of readability versus the performance advantages of the alternatives, like Thrift or protobufs? Is readability worth 1x as much as the improved efficiency you might get with protobufs? 2x? I believe that for many people, its worth 100x. It trumps all other. For uber-experts, it’s deceptively attractive to wave away the advantage of human-readability. For the rest of the world, for 97% of developers, it’s a huge, Huge, HUGE advantage. For high speed financial trades, JSON is wrong. For Google’s internal interfaces, wrong. For most of the world, RIGHT.

AND as the essay notes, REST doesn’t prescribe JSON. Or XML. Or anything. There’s a content-type header, and clients and servers can negotiate it. If the client says Accept: application/x-protobuf, and the server can send it, bliss for you. So this point – “JSON is bloated” – is not only not valid (false) in the first place, it’s also not an argument against REST.

2. There are no interface contracts or data schema

This is a feature. OMG, have we not tried this enough times? Did this guy skip his “History of IDL compilers” course in the Computer History department at school? Sun RPC IDL. DCE RPC IDL. Corba IDL. WSDL, ferpeetsake! XML Schema!!

It’s pretty straightforward to deliver plain-old-XML over HTTP, which is quite RESTful. More popular is JSON-over-HTTP. Either of those have schema languages. Few people embrace them, though. Why? Because IDLs and Schema languages are too much structure, and they handcuff people more than help them. We have fortunately learned from the past. There are more tools coming in this area, for those who wish to embrace them. See .

3. HATEOAS doesn’t work

Mmmmm, yep. No argument here. In my experience, nobody really uses this, in practice. Pragmatic REST is what people do, and it generally does not use HATEOAS.

4. no SQL semantics

Uhhuh, true. This has been addressed with things like OData. If you want SQL Semantics, seek solutions, don’t just complain.

5. CRUD is too limited

Really? This is a problem? That you might need a switch statement in your code to handle different types of events? Really?

6. CRUD is really too limited


Mmmmm, sorry. I have to stop now. I’m completely bored of responding to this essay by now. Except for one more:

10. Backward compatibility is hard

This has NOTHING to do with REST. This is just true. Back compat in any interface is tricky.

In summary, I don’t find any of the arguments compelling.

Let me draw an analogy. The position in this essay is like saying “Oil is no good as a transportation fuel.” Now, Oil has it’s drawbacks! Oil is dirty. We can imagine alternatives that are better in theory. Even today, in specific local situations (daily use, short trips, urban travel) electric cars are better, MUCH better, than fossil-fuel based cars. (An bicycles are even better than electric cars) But gasoline-powered cars deliver massive utility to billions of people. Gasoline refueling stations are everywhere. The delivery system for gasoline is mature and redundant. The World RUNS, very effectively, on gasoline-powered transport, by and large. Objectively, Oil is VERY GOOD as a transportation fuel.

Sure, we’ll evolve better approaches in the future. That’s great. And sure, we can imagine a world with electric-powered vehicles. But today, in the world of reality, Oil wins.

And likewise Pragmatic REST, HTTP, JSON, and schema-less interfaces are winning. We’ll evolve better approaches. But today, This platform wins.

HTTP, HTML, Javascript, and JSON are ubiquitous, are the foundation of the web, and are not going anywhere. Any architect is free to choose other options, and they might have good reasons for doing so. On the other hand the vast majority of installations won’t benefit from using protobufs or thrift, or some non-HTTP protocol. Pragmatic REST, JSON and HTTP are very very safe choices in the vast majority of scenarios.


Chrysler is Internet-enabling your car as a way to accelerate death

From the holy-shit-how-did-they-not-test-this department, Fox News tells us that it is possible for hackers to seize control of a moving Chrysler automobile, fiddle with the radio, turning on the windshield wipers, or more ominously, controlling the transmission and the brakes. Considering the source (Fox Newsertainment), I am unsure whether to believe this. But there is also a piece on Wired. If true, seriously, Holy Shit.

Yes, APIs are everywhere.

Here’s an idea for the API team at Chrysler that has made the driveline remotely programmable – you guys should talk to the security team at Chrysler.

Update:Chrysler is recalling 1.4 million cars over this.

Sane names for screenshots on Mac OSX

Back when I was a Windows user and a .NET developer, I used a tool called Cropper to grab screen shots. That tool is great alone, and there are plugins for various photo destinations. I wrote and maintained a few plugins.

The basic capability to grab a portion of the screen into an image file is built-in to OSX, which is nice. I learned about it here.

I use the Command + Option + 4 sequence daily to grab interesting bits of the screen, for bug reports, demonstrations, illustrations, sharing information with friends, posting to Twitter, and so on.

But I miss the flexibility of Cropper. In particular, WTF is with the filenames, OSX?

OS X saves each screenshot with the name Screen shot [date] at [time]. As an example, a screenshot taken on July 9th, at 7:21 AM will be saved as Screen shot 2015–07–09 at 7:21 AM.png

Ugly! Lots of people ask how to change the filenames, and the standard answer isn’t quite satisfactory for most people. I use the terminal often, in addition to dired mode in emacs; because I fiddle around with files and directories outside of Finder, I’d like filenames that:

  • allow lexicographic sort order to also deliver a time-based sort
  • do not include spaces in the name

Not so much to ask, eh?

But the basic options to configure the names of the files are really poor. Basically I can move around the date and time portions of the file name, but I cannot change their formats to something more like ISO-8601, which is sortable. I don’t need strict ISO-8601, I just want something sortable.

The way I did it: I created a script that runs periodically, via launchd, checks for screenshot files with the ugly names in the Desktop folder, and then renames them appropriately.

You need 2 files to make this happen. One is the plist for the LaunchAgent. Create a file in /Users/YOURSELF/Library/LaunchAgents, I called mine local.screenshot.fixup.plist. The contents should look like this:

The second is the bash script that renames the files. Put this file anywhere (but you must reference that location as the Program string in the plist file above), and chmod it to be executable. The contents are like this:

After creating these files, you can either:

  • logout and log back in…
  • OR, run this command from the terminal:
    launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgents/local.screenshot.fixup.plist

… in order to get the new launchd to start renaming files.

When the screenshot is initially saved, it will have the original ugly name. But in one or two seconds, the watcher will run, find your screenshot file, and rename it.


More info:

Naïve Data analysis leads to incorrect conclusions – WWII Bomber Plane edition

Raid by the 8th Air Force

Here’s a good story showing us how focusing on the data we have in front of us may lead us to incorrect conclusions.

The summary is this: In World War II, Allied bomber command undertook an analysis effort to determine how to optimally reinforce bomber planes to protect them from German anti-aircraft guns. They studied the bullet hole patterns in planes after they returned from missions, and the first impression was to re-inforce the planes where the bullet holes appeared most commonly.

But a smart guy named Abraham Wald pointed out that if the planes were returning with those bullet holes, then the bullets that caused those holes were not critical to avoid. The planes that didn’t return had likely sustained the bullet holes that demanded mitigation.

Are we talking about Bomber Planes or Software here?

Focusing on the data we have is a common approach that supports iterative improvement efforts. The Lesson from the Bomber Plane story is: there may be “invisible data” that needs consideration.

Clayton Christensen World Economic Forum 2013

Mr Christensen looking stern and wise.

This is the central problem explored by Clayton Christensen, in his classic book, The_Innovator’s Dilemma. What Christensen found was that companies can tend to focus on feedback they get from existing customers, while ignoring the needs of prospective customers. And this is dangerous.

We have a project going on right now in which we’re looking at the UI usage data for a particular tool in a web app. The web app tool has for some time now been stable. It was never very complete, and it hasn’t been extended actively. You could say it was stagnant. We know the reasons for that – we had other priorities and this web tool just needed to stay in the backlog for a while. Also, there were, and there still are, other ways to accomplish what was exposed by this web app tool; there are public APIs that expose the underlying function and people have the option to build tactical apps on those APIs. Now we want to enhance the web tool, and the web tool has recently been enhanced to at least collect data on how people are currently using it. How much should we rely on this usage data?

With the bomber planes, the data they had were the patterns of bullet holes in the returned planes. The data they didn’t have were the patterns of bullet holes in bomber planes that didn’t return.

With the web tool, the data we have will be the UI usage patterns of current users. The data we don’t have will be the usage patterns of people who abandoned the stagnant tool some time ago, and are relying on the underlying APIs and independent tools to accomplish their goals. The former set of users will have a relatively higher proportion of novice users, while the latter will have a higher proportion of experts.

So what’s the right path forward? Should we invest in improvements in the tool, solely based on the data we have? Should we guess at the data we don’t have? In the bomber plane example, the data we don’t have was clear by deduction – those planes were most likely shot down. In the web tool example, the data we don’t have are truly unknown. We cannot deduce what, exactly, people are doing outside the tool.

I think the only way to resolve this is to combine three factors: analysis of the API usage, analysis of the UI usage, and finally, perspective on the behavior of the expert users who have abandoned the tool, perhaps formed by direct observation or by intelligent inference. API analytics, UI analytics, and some intelligence.

Then we’ll need to apply some sort of priority to the different scenarios – do we need to help the experts more with their expert problems? or do we need to invest more in making the simple things even easier for the more novice users? Which is the more important audience, the novices or the experts? Which one is more important to serve, at this time in the product’s lifecycle?

Interesting questions! There’s no one right answer for every situation. I know which option I favor in our current situation.

Upgrade your nodejs on Mac OS X to v0.12.6

Per, there are critical vulnerabilities in nodejs and iojs. People running nodejs should upgrade to v0.12.6.

On Mac OSX, this takes just a few moments. Thanks to Stackoverflow for the tip.

~/ $ node -v
~/ $ sudo npm cache clean -f
npm WARN using --force I sure hope you know what you are doing.
~/ $ sudo npm install -g n
npm http GET
npm http 200
npm http GET
npm http 200
/usr/local/bin/n -> /usr/local/lib/node_modules/n/bin/n
n@1.3.0 /usr/local/lib/node_modules/n
~/ $ sudo n stable

install : node-v0.12.6
mkdir : /usr/local/n/versions/node/0.12.6
fetch :
installed : v0.12.6

~/ $ node -v
~/ $