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William Vambenepe works are architect in the Application and Middleware management group at Oracle. He blogs at http://stage.vambenepe.com/ William has posted 55 posts at DZone. View Full User Profile

Is notification wrapping getting a bum rap?

02.19.2009
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Looks like the question of whether to wrap SOAP-based notifications is back. Like Gil I prefer to stay away from wrapping notifications but my reasons are somewhat different.

I am not convinced by WSDL-centric arguments one way or the other. Proponents of wrapping say that it gives them a WSDL they can use for creating a generic listener, while opponents say that avoiding wrapping gives them a WSDL that generates useful code (payload-aware). I am not a big fan of WSDL-based code generation, but even if you are going to do it nobody says that you have to do it based on the WSDL document that ships with the specification. You’re free to modify the WSDL any way you want before feeding it to your code generation tool, as long as the result correctly describes the messages. One can write an infinity of WSDL documents for a given set of messages, some more precise and others more high-level (in which you quickly hit an xs:any). So, if the spec gives you a WSDL where the payload is xs:any and you know that in your case the payload is going to be sec:intrusionDetected, feel free to insert that element in the WSDL before running wsdl2java or whatever.

At the end, the question is not about what the WSDL in the specification looks like. The question is simply to what extent you know ahead of time the payload of the events you are going to have to handle. And you’d better know enough about the payload to create whatever logic your event consumer has to apply to the notification. Whether that’s through WSDL or some other mean. If you are not going to apply any payload-dependent logic (”generic sink”) then you don’t need to know anything about the payload. And I don’t see why someone needs a wrapper to create a generic sink.

Rather, what I don’t like about wrapping notifications is that you force them to be handled only as notifications, not as regular SOAP messages. You put them in a separate world and you make it hard for someone to create a service that can be invoked either in a subscription-driven way or in a direct way.

Here is a made-up example: consider a message to indicate that a physical intrusion has been detected in a building. There are many possible consumers for this message (local security staff, private security company, police, sound alarm, the cell phone of the owner, audit log, etc…). There are many possible sources for the message. In some cases, the message does not come from a subscription (e.g. a homeowner calls the security company and the operator enters data in a system that produces the message, or the sensor is hard-coded to sound the alarm). In others, there is a subscription (e.g. a home alarm system allows someone to register phone numbers and email addresses to which to send intrusion alerts). Sometimes something that starts as a subscription-based notification gets forwarded to someone who did not register for anything. It’s a good thing if web services that consume this message do not have to know (if they don’t care) whether this message originated because of a subscription or not. All they need to worry about is that there is a message that they have to respond to (e.g. by dispatching a patrol of clowns with orange lights on their car).

Here is a simpler analogy. Imagine that you have a filter in your email client to move all messages from Joe to a given folder. How much would you like to have to write the rule twice, one for messages that Joe sends to you directly and one for messages that Joe sends to a mailing list to which you are subscribed? Not very much I imagine.

At the same time, most notification systems are aware that they are processing notifications and there may be notification-related data that you’d like to have available in a consistent way (e.g. enough information to manage the subscription that resulted in you receiving this message). That’s fine but you don’t need an intrusive wrapper for this. Just use a SOAP header. It’s out of the way if you don’t care about it and it’s right there if you do (if you want to subject yourself to a two-year-old rant about how the SOAP processing model is unfortunately underutilized, be my guest).

One place where you need some kind of wrapping is when delivering several events at a time (either because you use pull-style retrieval or because you find it more efficient to push them in batches). If that’s what you’re after (and you want to handle it within one SOAP message rather than boxcarring a set of SOAP messages) then go ahead define a wrapper but make it a specialized wrapper that serves this purpose: collecting notifications and properly attaching whatever metadata to each. That’s a real purpose, not some WSDL make-believe.

Another use case is if you apply some transformation to the notification before sending it. Say that instead of returning a large notification you filter it by running an XPath on it and returning a serialization of the resulting node set (assuming you first solve the XPath serialization conundrum). You’d need some kind of wrapper to contain the result and put it in context, but again that should be a specialized wrapper for you filter mechanism. Not a generic wrapper.

It’s been a while since I really thought about this. My recollection may be flawed but I think I was already holding this position in the OASIS WS-Notification technical committee (which completed its work by publishing three standards in October 2006). I remember David Hull making a very eloquent case in the same direction (”wrapping” as policy-advertised option, not a part of the base framework), and strong pushback from IBM. I learned a lot about pub/sub systems from my WS-Notification committee co-chair, IBM’s Peter Niblett (a leading expert on the topic) while working on WS-Notification, but this is one area in which he did not convert me.

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Published at DZone with permission of its author, William Vambenepe. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

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