Good questions about the APP

Joe Gregorio

From the comments, Winter has some good questions and observations about the APP.

I was surprised to see the Media Collection model as the preferred approach in some cases and was wondering if I was missing something.

It's not preferred, but there is a dividing line. An Atom Entry is a good representation of a 'document'; it has things like title, author, id, etc. There are all things you see on every real world document, whether it be a book, a magazine, a form at the DMV, or a dollar bill. There are many things for which a mapping into an Entry will be natural, and also note that while you may edit a document via the APP and the representations are in the form of Entries, you can offer that resource in a multitude of representations. (Think, for example, of a calendar entry and all the formats you have to choose from.) There are, of course, things you can't map into an Entry, and for those we have the media collection. I think there is a continuum between what you would put in an Entry versus put in a media collection, and the 'best' place to draw the dividing line is going to come from some real world experience.

When you say "large Media Collections" I think there are two possibilities, the first of having many members, and the second of having members that are large.

Earlier versions of the APP had a very light listing format - just a URI and a title. It was successfully argued that a richer listing format would be better, allowing clients to construct a view that was appropriate for their particular user. By using Atom as the listing format you can present a sorted list of entries based on title, updated, published, category, etc. If we went with the light format then you would have to download each entry before presenting a list of entries to the user. This is also a way of addressing large collections: by listing the collection you get a fair amount of meta-data about the members of the collection without having to GET each individual entry, i.e. the server gives enough information up front that retrieving each individual entry is not necessary.

If you still need to retrieve all the members of a large collection, for a collection with members that are large, then the cost of setting up and tearing down a socket will be negligble compared to the time to retrieve a single member, so having to do individual requests for members really isn't the performance bottleneck.

Collections with many members that are small could be expensive if you had to retrieve each representation during an initial sync using only the core protocol if you were unable to use keep-alive and pipelining.

I want to highlight some parts of that last sentence:

initial sync
If you want to keep a client up to date with a collection, with the addition of app:edited and the use of atom:ids it is possible, after initially syncing up a client with all the members on a server, to come back later and only retrieve the representations of the members that have changed since your last sync.
Much of the overhead of many small requests comes from setting up and tearing down sockets, and the use of HTTP 1.1 keep-alive can do much to mitigate that overhead.
Current support for pipelining is spotty on the web in general, but if an effort went into improving the situation for APP then that would also help the web in general and web browsers in particular.
core protocol
There is nothing to give special support to this scenario in the core protocol, but there are extension points where this could be added. For example, if a common use case was found to be a large number of small member entries and the performance of that scenario needed addressing, a simple extension could be defined for a collections that allowed a server to indicate to the client that the entries in the collection feed were complete representations.

I hope you take away several things from this, the first being that we did indeed think of these things - and talk about them - at length - for years. The second is that the APP that gets published is the core protocol, a solid base on which extensions can and will be built, and that the extensibility of that core protocol was also discussed at length. The third is that the APP was designed to actually use HTTP, instead of treating it merely as a transport, and that for many of the things you may be used to seeing specified in a protocol we actually rely on the mechanisms of HTTP.

This is great stuff (along with Bill de hÓra's recent posts), but I can't help noticing the mismatch between your level of expertise and that of certain APP detractors. You're having a meeting of the minds about pipelining and syncing and the theory of partial updates, and your opponents are saying, "AHA, so you admit it's JUST A THEORY!"

Posted by Mark on 2007-06-13

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