The evolution of web service protocols pt 2

At San Digital, some of us have been building things for people since the dawn of the web. Our historical perspective helps inform us about technological culture and trends today, almost compensating for the creaking knees.


Microsoft began talking to other technology firms about the promising new standard it had been working on, IBM in particular. They agreed that it was a indeed a good idea, but had some concerns about trusting Microsoft, as their contemporary reputation among their competitors was along the lines of that of Atila The Hun's to the Romans. Eventually, after seeing the potential of "Digital Marketplaces" - directories of paid services accessible over the internet as well as tactical interoperation between each other's products; Microsoft, Oracle, Sun, IBM, HP and others backed the new standard.

By 2000, armed with a metadata format - WSDL, a discovery protocol that enabled "Digital Marketplaces" - UDDI and a viable type system in Xml schema Bill Gates coined the phrase "Web Service" at a conference announcement in 2000. Vendor tooling began to mature - developers could drag and drop a WSDL definition onto your IDE and easily POST to their heart's content. The standard took off like a rocket in enterprise circles, though there were other nascent companies native to the web that were more skeptical.

Planted in this fertile ground SOAP began to accumulate ..features. Additional standards for authentication, encryption, guaranteed delivery and others began to arise and the initial simplicity of the vanished under a pile of vendor specific extensions. Notably, the vast majority of people working on web applications that actually worked in a browser felt that even this:

  POST /Order HTTP/1.1
  Content-Type: text/xml
  Content-Length: nnnn
  SOAPAction: ""
     <SOAP-ENV:Body xsi:type="LandfillBody">

Unfortunately in a browser, this needed to be processed using Javascript - a language originally designed for changing the colour of a box when you hovered over it that was now just beginning to be used to create more complicated user interfaces. Javascript was as slow, memory hungry and bug ridden as any language created during a 2 week crunch by performing a forbidden breeding experiment between Java and Scheme could be expected to be. A small group of brave programmers, immune to the sneering of their peers were beginning to make it almost useful. Unwieldy as the language was the last thing these brave pioneers wanted to do was implement a compliant Xml DOM, XSD schema validator or any of the increasingly more baroque contributions to the standard coming from the Enterprise Elves of Redmond.

Even running such a beast on the computing environment equivalent of a modern electric toothbrush made little sense, particularly after Douglas Crockford came up with a rather more simple and efficient way of serialising javascript objects - JSON. Compared to the even the relatively simple SOAP example above, this is as lean as a weasel on the wire and could be turned into JavaScript objects with a tiny fraction of the computation:

   POST /Order HTTP/1.1
   Content-Type: application/json
   Content-Length: nnnn
      "orderId" : 0,
      "customerNumber" : 999,
      "item" : 89,
      "quantity" : 3000

We may have lost any semblance of type information here, and a simple spelling mistake could blow your server or your clients browser or possibly both, but it was fast and it was simple. The nimble young dotcom companies fuelled by Jolt Cola and share options were mostly using development ecosystems independent of SOAP's vendors went down their own path. SOAP would eventually be relegated to updating a resource application incident request record at decidedly unfashionable corporations, the actual web in webservice went elsewhere.

Jumping into the FHIR - type systems and objects

We have been doing a deep-dive on FHIR implementations and tooling following our initial FHIR investigation. A critical area of investigation for any system, particularly a large distributed system with many clients and peers that need longevity and guided evolution is its type system. Use of a strict type system can have many benefits - interoperability, governance, data quality, security, performance, developer experience, reduced component complexity and the ability to evolve services with confidence

Integrating with Events

The San Digital team has worked with numerous organisations in both the public and private sectors to transform their applications architecture into a flexible and business-focused model. Working with events at scale is key to maintaining individual teams' agility.

The process of building a mobile app

The team at San Digital has extensive experience developing apps for mobile devices, smartwatches, and smart TVs; using native and hybrid technologies (and everything in-between!) including using Rust for complex comms.

Low friction development environments

While setting up a sample project from an unnamed large vendor the other week I was disappointed by having to read large amounts of documentation and run various bits of script to install dependencies and set up infrastructure. We live in a world that has tools old (Make) and new (Docker) that can be combined to make onboarding engineers low or zero friction.

Cloud-native FHIR platforms

Continuing our series of posts on web protocols, we have been investigating more specialist protocols, in this case, "FHIR". We have produced a document based on our research, investigations and experience.

Team Structures

Multiple team structures can work to deliver software projects. There is no real one size fits all, however, there are common components that can be seen across different structures. At San Digital we believe that Engineer-led teams deliver great results for short duration high-impact projects.

Rules of the Road

This is called rules of the road but they aren't rules they're more guidelines, so they're rules until there is a good reason to ignore them.

Estimating and delivering defined outcomes

Recently there has been a shift away from time and materials projects towards defined outcomes, driven by various legislative changes, specifically IR35, but also cost control in the procurement function of larger organisations.

The San Digital Stack

San Digital has been designed as a remote first business from inception, on the assumption that it's easier to add offices later if they are necessary in an agile way. To work in collaborative way completely remotely takes a carefully thought out set of tools. Some of the ones that we use are really standard and some are a little more interesting.

Test driven design, or planning driven development

Design processes in most business software development resemble peer review or crowd-sourcing. A putative design is presented to peers, who will do their best to find problems while the originator of the design defends it against these challenges. Ideally, where they are demonstrated incorrect or incomplete the process will iterate and an updated design produced and defended.

A human view of computer vision at scale

Computers analysing and acting on what they see is not science fiction or even a new concept, it has been a reality of humankind's drive towards hyper-efficiency since around the time I was born.

Building scalable frontends

Scaling frontends is hard, actually scaling all codebases is hard, frontends just happen to be particularly visible and have a tighter feedback loop and a higher rate of change. As with all codebases, it is in principle possible to scale development through standards and integration processes, but these are a poor substitute for communication. Once development moves beyond the scope of a single team, either progress slows to take into account of different processes or implementations drift away from each other over time. Teams need to find a way to operate independently towards a goal.

Cross platform native mobile development with Rust

San Digital have extensive experience of mobile development and the use of Android as an embedded operating system. We treated android as a deployment target target for Rust firmware as well as writing our intricate real time communications component for both iOS and Android. This approach has advantages, you can maintain a single code base for a complicated communications layer, while also taking advantage of the full native capabilities of each platform

The evolution of web service protocols pt 2

At San Digital, some of us have been building things for people since the dawn of the web. Our historical perspective helps inform us about technological culture and trends today, almost compensating for the creaking knees.

The evolution of web service protocols pt 1

At San Digital, some of us have been building things for people since the dawn of the web. Our historical perspective helps inform us about technological culture and trends today, almost compensating for the creaking knees.