Welcome!

Web 2.0 Authors: Elizabeth White, David Williamson, Dan Blacharski, Srinivasan Sundara Rajan, Yeshim Deniz

Related Topics: SOA & WOA, Java, .NET, Web 2.0, Cloud Expo, Apache

SOA & WOA: 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
“In the past year we've seen a lot of stabilization of WebRTC. You can now use it in production with a far greater degree of certainty. A lot of the real developments in the past year have been in things like the data channel, which will enable a whole new type of application," explained Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The BPM world is going through some evolution or changes where traditional business process management solutions really have nowhere to go in terms of development of the road map. In this demo at 15th Cloud Expo, Kyle Hansen, Director of Professional Services at AgilePoint, shows AgilePoint’s unique approach to dealing with this market circumstance by developing a rapid application composition or development framework.
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), moderated by Ashar Baig, Research Director, Cloud, at Gigaom Research, Nate Gordon, Director of T...
"BSQUARE is in the business of selling software solutions for smart connected devices. It's obvious that IoT has moved from being a technology to being a fundamental part of business, and in the last 18 months people have said let's figure out how to do it and let's put some focus on it, " explained Dave Wagstaff, VP & Chief Architect, at BSQUARE Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

SYS-CON Events announced today that IDenticard will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IDenticard™ is the security division of Brady Corp (NYSE: BRC), a $1.5 billion manufacturer of identification products. We have small-company values with the strength and stability of a major corporation. IDenticard offers local sales, support and service to our customers across the United States and Canada. Our partner network encompasses some 300 of the world's leading systems integrators and security s...
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, at more than US$500 billion, and ranks 23rd in the world. A recent re-evaluation of Nigeria's true economic size doubled the previous estimate, and brought it well ahead of South Africa, which is a member (unlike Nigeria) of the G20 club for political as well as economic reasons. Nigeria's economy can be said to be quite diverse from one point of view, but heavily dependent on oil and gas at the same time. Oil and natural gas account for about 15% of Nigera's overall economy, but traditionally represent more than 90% of the country's exports and as...
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...
"At our booth we are showing how to provide trust in the Internet of Things. Trust is where everything starts to become secure and trustworthy. Now with the scaling of the Internet of Things it becomes an interesting question – I've heard numbers from 200 billion devices next year up to a trillion in the next 10 to 15 years," explained Johannes Lintzen, Vice President of Sales at Utimaco, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"For over 25 years we have been working with a lot of enterprise customers and we have seen how companies create applications. And now that we have moved to cloud computing, mobile, social and the Internet of Things, we see that the market needs a new way of creating applications," stated Jesse Shiah, CEO, President and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your organization should be taking to position itself for the next platform of digital competition.
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group, discussed how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, sensors, social, and ...