Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Mano Marks, Harry Trott

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

Microservices Expo: Article

Toss Your Cookies: Maintaining State on the Client with REST

Feel free to transfer application state to the client and rest assured you’re following REST.

REST quiz of the day: which is more important when following REST: updating the resource state or updating state on the client? Most developers are likely to say that REST focuses on updating resource state on the server. After all, POST, PUT, and DELETE all do so. GET is the only HTTP verb that fetches resource state without changing it.

If you've been reading ZapThink's discussion on REST, you probably realize that those developers are incorrect. Updating resource state is clearly an important part of REST, but updating state on the client is even more important. Why? Because client state is the foundation for distributed hypermedia applications. And after all, such applications are the point of REST.

In fact, the RESTful world distinguishes between resource state and application state, which is the state information the client maintains. And since hypermedia are the engine of application state, it makes sense that application state is more important to REST than resource state. After all, REST is representational state transfer. The representations are what the resources send to the clients, including application state information that belongs on the client.

HATEOAS and the Cloud
The topic of application state came up in an interesting discussion during our recent Cloud Computing for Architects course in San Diego. I was explaining how it's important to maintain a stateless application tier in the Cloud, because we want to put the components on that tier (Web servers, application servers, ESBs, etc.) onto virtual machine (VM) instances. In order to achieve the elasticity and resilience of the Cloud, then, we can't afford to maintain state information on such instances. We always have the option of persisting such state information, making it a part of the resource state, but relying too heavily on our resource state limits our scalability. The clear alternative is to transfer state information to the client, and let hypermedia be the engine of application state (otherwise known as the dreaded HATEOAS REST constraint).

One of the attendees in the class was confused by this discussion. He pointed out that if we use the client (say, a browser) to maintain state in a stateful application like an eCommerce shopping cart, then such state information must either go into hidden form fields or into the URL, so that the server can pass it along to the browser from one request to the next. But if the user is clicking a link rather than submitting a form, then they are executing a GET, and with a GET, the only place to put state information from the client to the server is in the URL. And we all know that URLs have a maximum length. What do we do, he asked, if we have too much state information for the URL? For example, we might have dozens of items in our cart. Was I suggesting passing the entire contents of each cart - product descriptions, prices, etc. - in the URL?

The answer, of course, is no. I say "of course" because such a question would be silly for anyone who truly understands REST. But I must admit, it took me a while to think through my response. The problem was that I have a background as a Web developer, and my student may have also built his share of Web sites back in the day as well. And back in the 1990s, before REST, in the early days of HTML and JavaScript, maintaining state in a browser was problematic. All we had were cookies and the aforementioned hidden form fields and URL query strings. And since people can turn their cookies off, we never wanted to rely on them. So yes, back in the day, if the user is clicking a link (i.e., performing a GET), the URL was all you had to work with.

With REST, however, we're working with an abstracted client. It need not be a browser, and in fact, it need not have a user interface at all. A RESTful client may serve as an intermediary, for example. Even when the client has a UI, it could be any type of application. For example, most mobile apps are written natively to the mobile environment (iPhone or Android, for the most part), and will continue to be at least until HTML5 is fully baked.

Even when the client is a browser, however, we have numerous ways of maintaining application state. Each approach, as you might expect, has its strengths and weaknesses:

  • Cookies - long a part of the HTTP protocol, cookies are universally supported and almost as universally reviled. We love them for enabling the "remember me" feature on Web sites with logins we visit frequently, and we hate them for enabling advertisers to track our browsing habits. Few app developers would rely on them for much else.
  • Hidden form fields - every Web developer's secret sauce. You can put whatever you want into such fields, and as long as the user submits the corresponding form, the contents of hidden fields go along for the ride. The problem is that hidden form fields only work with POST. In REST, POST is only for initializing a subsidiary resource, so if that's not what you're doing, then you don't want to POST. The other downside to hidden form fields is that application state information must always make a round trip to the server and back again, whether the server needs to do anything with it or not.
  • Frames - Frames made their debut in 1996 in Netscape Navigator 2.0, the same browser that introduced JavaScript to the world. Iframes came soon after. Both types of frames allowed new pages in the frame while maintaining state information in JavaScript variables in the enclosing page. In either case, however, updating the content of a frame doesn't change the URL in the browser's location field. As a result, reloading or following a bookmarked page takes you back to square one, deleting all state information.
  • JavaScript-only updates - More recent advances to the Document Object Model (DOM), in particular the innerHTML property, allow JavaScript to update any <div> element after the page is loaded. And since JavaScript can also perform all manner of RESTful calls, it's possible to make it appear that any or all of a page is changing, even though the page itself isn't actually reloading. As with frames, JavaScript variables can store state information, but also similar to frames, the URL the user sees doesn't change when your script interacts with the server.
  • Signed scripts - What about simply writing arbitrary content to the user's hard drive? Browser publishers have been monkeying with this capability since signed scripts debuted in the 1990s. The problem with giving the browser write privileges, of course, is security. One flaw and hackers can easily take over your computer. Needless to say, this capability never took off, although plugins like Adobe Flash can allow the ability to write to the users' hard drive.
  • DOM storage - Today we have DOM storage. Think cookies on steroids. Every modern browser can essentially store a JSON object that persists as the browser loads different pages. You have the option of maintaining such information for a browser session (you lose it when you quit the browser) or persisting it across browser sessions (where the browser writes the data to a file). This capability also enables developers to write browser apps that can function properly when the user is offline. The downside to DOM storage is that it only works in newer browsers - although Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari all support it.
  • URL query string - finally, let's discuss storing state information in the URL. Yes, there's a character limit - the HTTP spec recommends sticking to 255 characters or less, although most browsers and Web servers support much longer URLs. So, how much can you cram into 255 characters? More than you might expect, if you use a tool like RISON for compacting JSON to squeeze more of it into each URL. Don't like RISON? There are alternatives available or you can create your own approach. Even with such techniques, however, there is still a size limit, and all such information must make the round trip to server and back.

The ZapThink Take
Based on the discussion above, you should have no more concerns about storing application state on the client. There are always tradeoffs, but one of the scenarios above should handle virtually every application state issue you're likely to come up with. Feel free to transfer application state to the client and rest assured you're following REST.

That is, of course, if you really are following REST, which means that you're building a hypermedia application. And while POST, PUT, and DELETE update resource state for hypermedia applications, every representation from resource back to client updates client state. Even a GET, which never changes resource state, still changes the application state. In other words, clicking a link or submitting a form loads a new page. Of course REST behaves that way.

While this article focused more on maintaining state on the client, therefore, REST is more concerned with updating state on the client. The real point here is that we have the luxury of choosing to maintain the state information we require while running an application whose state is supposed to change. Either way, hypermedia are the engine of application state.

Image source: bloggyboulga

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).

@ThingsExpo Stories
Things are changing so quickly in IoT that it would take a wizard to predict which ecosystem will gain the most traction. In order for IoT to reach its potential, smart devices must be able to work together. Today, there are a slew of interoperability standards being promoted by big names to make this happen: HomeKit, Brillo and Alljoyn. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Adam Justice, vice president and general manager of Grid Connect, will review what happens when smart devices don’t work togethe...
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
"There's a growing demand from users for things to be faster. When you think about all the transactions or interactions users will have with your product and everything that is between those transactions and interactions - what drives us at Catchpoint Systems is the idea to measure that and to analyze it," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York Ci...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
Discover top technologies and tools all under one roof at April 24–28, 2017, at the Westin San Diego in San Diego, CA. Explore the Mobile Dev + Test and IoT Dev + Test Expo and enjoy all of these unique opportunities: The latest solutions, technologies, and tools in mobile or IoT software development and testing. Meet one-on-one with representatives from some of today's most innovative organizations
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in Embedded and IoT solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and E...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.
WebRTC sits at the intersection between VoIP and the Web. As such, it poses some interesting challenges for those developing services on top of it, but also for those who need to test and monitor these services. In his session at WebRTC Summit, Tsahi Levent-Levi, co-founder of testRTC, reviewed the various challenges posed by WebRTC when it comes to testing and monitoring and on ways to overcome them.
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
WebRTC services have already permeated corporate communications in the form of videoconferencing solutions. However, WebRTC has the potential of going beyond and catalyzing a new class of services providing more than calls with capabilities such as mass-scale real-time media broadcasting, enriched and augmented video, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Luis Lopez, CEO of Kurento, introduced the technologies required for implementing these idea...
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists peeled away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud enviro...
"A lot of times people will come to us and have a very diverse set of requirements or very customized need and we'll help them to implement it in a fashion that you can't just buy off of the shelf," explained Nick Rose, CTO of Enzu, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The WebRTC Summit New York, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 20th International Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo. WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web co...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
For basic one-to-one voice or video calling solutions, WebRTC has proven to be a very powerful technology. Although WebRTC’s core functionality is to provide secure, real-time p2p media streaming, leveraging native platform features and server-side components brings up new communication capabilities for web and native mobile applications, allowing for advanced multi-user use cases such as video broadcasting, conferencing, and media recording.
Web Real-Time Communication APIs have quickly revolutionized what browsers are capable of. In addition to video and audio streams, we can now bi-directionally send arbitrary data over WebRTC's PeerConnection Data Channels. With the advent of Progressive Web Apps and new hardware APIs such as WebBluetooh and WebUSB, we can finally enable users to stitch together the Internet of Things directly from their browsers while communicating privately and securely in a decentralized way.
WebRTC is about the data channel as much as about video and audio conferencing. However, basically all commercial WebRTC applications have been built with a focus on audio and video. The handling of “data” has been limited to text chat and file download – all other data sharing seems to end with screensharing. What is holding back a more intensive use of peer-to-peer data? In her session at @ThingsExpo, Dr Silvia Pfeiffer, WebRTC Applications Team Lead at National ICT Australia, looked at differ...
The security needs of IoT environments require a strong, proven approach to maintain security, trust and privacy in their ecosystem. Assurance and protection of device identity, secure data encryption and authentication are the key security challenges organizations are trying to address when integrating IoT devices. This holds true for IoT applications in a wide range of industries, for example, healthcare, consumer devices, and manufacturing. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lancen LaChance, vic...
With all the incredible momentum behind the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, it is easy to forget that not a single CEO wakes up and wonders if “my IoT is broken.” What they wonder is if they are making the right decisions to do all they can to increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer experience – effectively the same challenges they have always had in growing their business. The exciting thing about the IoT industry is now these decisions can be better, faster, and smarter. Now ...