Softserv Serves Requests

Anyone that knows me knows that I have a lot of projects, most of which are in some sort of unfinished but partially functional state. Then there are others that have a solid 0.1 release, maybe lacking documentation, but usable. There are yet others that never make it to 0.1, and despite my happy thoughts about how this piece of code will change the world, or be the future, it’s as good as deadpooled.

One project that will certainly not be deadpooled is being developed in my 10% time at work, though on hiatus whilst I resolve some other issues that I inadvertently committed and finish up some other tasks that have higher priority.

But, I don’t wanna discuss that project right now, it is in a sort of discovery phase where I’m attempting to iron out the network protocol, and what functionality it actually provides for its initial run[1].

It does, however, do what many servers do–listen to and accept requests via a socket.

Clojure comes with many ways, of course, to do just that. It is certainly possible to use one of the many frameworks for Java for writing servers, but clojure.contrib/server-socket, looked to be exactly what I needed, and I decided to have a look.

When evaluating any sort of library, the first thing I always do is create something simple that makes use of it. This is not uncommon of course, and the “Hello World” of network programming is the trusted echo server, in which, everything you say will be parroted back to you. That’s pretty simple using server-socket:

(ns echo

  (:require [clojure.contrib.server-socket :as ss]

            [clojure.contrib.duck-streams :as ds]))


(defn echo-server [in out]

  (binding [*in* (ds/reader in)] [[2]][2]

     (ds/with-out-writer out

        (println (read-line)))))


(ss/create-server 1025 echo-server)


(comment

$ echo "HELLO WORLD" | nc 127.0.0.1 1025

HELLO WORLD

$

)

Simple enough, but it is unfortunately too simple. For one, it creates a thread per connection, which is just asking for trouble with a public server. Secondly, since it only gives you an InputStream (in) and an OutputStream (out), there isn’t a way to log who connected, or anything about the user who connected other than time. Hell, there’s nothing guaranteeing that you’re even connecting via a network for this!

Now, I understand that server-socket was not really meant for production use –it is meant for quick toying around, and testing out ideas as quickly as possible, something it does extremely well, but with a little bit of modification, I think it can be almost just as simple and still be suitable for production use.

Enter softserv, a still simple, but slightly more complicated replacement for server-socket.

So what is more complicated about it? Let’s look at “Hello World” and find out:

(ns echo

  (:use [softserv.core :only (create-server

                              defservice

                              defhandler

                              with-shutdown)])

  (:require [clojure.contrib.duck-streams :as ds]))


(defn echo-parser [s]

  (binding [*in* (ds/reader s)]

    {:data (read-line) :type :echo}))


(defservice echo-server :type echo-parser)


(defhandler echo-server :echo

  [s req]

  (with-shutdown s

    (ds/with-out-writer s

      (println (:data req)))))


(create-server 1025 echo-server 10)


(comment

$ echo "HELLO WORLD" | nc 127.0.0.1 1025

HELLO WORLD

)

Phew! That was a mess of code to write to get a simple echo server, surely softserv isn’t so, well, soft? Just look at what we’ve gained, though!

First and foremost, we’ve gained the ability to specify a maximum number of threads to create. That’s what the 10 is for in create-server. Softserv executes request handlers in a thread pool. This of course has some limitations over the thread-per-connection model (like making it harder to allow for long running session based servers), but for resource constrained single request services, it’s probably a plus. Maybe relaxing this requirement and figuring out an appropriate way to handle long running connections is a good next step.

Secondly, and without any hit in the number of symbols or parentheses, we’re passing an actual socket object to the function that does the handling. You’d think that we’d have to call (.getInputStream s), but duck-streams knows how to get an InputStream for a Socket. This is almost identical to the original example.

Third, and most importantly, we’ve made it possible to dispatch based on the type of request. Softserv enforces what you’d have done anyway. The handler function that server-socket/create-server takes in almost all cases will end up being a cond statement dispatching to other functions. Softserv just makes that explicit and up front.

Enough chatter, how can I make use of it? Well, our echo server would be much more interesting if in fact we echoed back more interesting things. For instance, we could translate the input, or rot-13 the input, or for ease of illustrative purposes echo back the actual date, a more useful echo, when someone sends the string “DATE”.

(ns echo

   (:use [softserv.core :only (create-server

                               defservice

                               defhandler

                               with-shutdown)])

-  (:require [clojure.contrib.duck-streams :as ds]))

+  (:require [clojure.contrib.duck-streams :as ds])

+  (:import [java.util Date]))


(defn echo-parser [s]

  (binding [*in* (ds/reader s)]

-    {:data (read-line) :type :echo}))

+    (let [l (read-line)]

+      (assoc {:data l} :type (if (= l "DATE") :date :echo)))))


(defservice echo-server :type echo-parser)


+(defhandler echo-server :date

+  [s req]

+  (with-shutdown s

+    (ds/with-out-writer s

+      (println (str (Date.))))))


(create-server 1025 echo-server 10)


(comment

$ echo "HELLO WORLD" | nc 127.0.0.1 1025

HELLO WORLD

$ echo "DATE" | nc 127.0.0.1 1025

Wed Jan 05 08:29:38 EST 2011

)

Using a single request parsing function of course has its limitations, but in general, network services are not the type of thing that really have diverse request types. The protocol normally allows you to tell within a few bytes what kind of request it is. In the case of softserv servers the handlers can then finish reading the request and taking the appropriate actions.

I’d really appreciate any feedback on this.

  1. There’s also the question of non-blocking vs. blocking, but the first pass will be blocking until there are real numbers to look at.

  2. I’m not sure of the reasoning, but (with-in-reader s ...) throws an exception saying java.io.PushbackReader cannot be cast to java.io.BufferedReader. This doesn’t seem right to me, since it’d work if it were a LineNumberingPushbackReader, but PushbackReader’s don’t have a .readLine method, and don’t derive from BufferedReader. Nevertheless, I feel as though read-line should know how to handle it, or wrap the PushbackReader in a LineNumberingPushbackReader temporarily, if that’s possible.

— 2011-01-07