Friday, June 24, 2016

Data Science in a Nutshell

Data Science in a Nutshell

Generating Type I errors by using second hand data to model third order effects.

The problem with language

The Problem with Language

We only know how to share language with entities that are capable of pattern recognition.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Session Data

A recent question on stack exchange asked about storing session data as a resource, rather than as part of a cookie.  In the past, I had wondered if the transience of the session data is the problem, but that's really only distraction from the real issue

Fielding, in his thesis, wrote
Cookie interaction fails to match REST's model of application state, often resulting in confusion for the typical browser application.
 What kind of confusion is he talking about here?

The first architectural constraint of REST is Client Server (3.4.1).  The client here sends messages to the server there, and gets a message in return.

Riddle - how does the server interpret the messages that it receives?  In a stateless client server architecture, interpreting the client message is trivial, because the message itself is derived from the state of the client application.  Which is to say that the client and server are in agreement, because the client created the message from its local local application state, and the message is immutable in transit, and the server has no application context to add to the mix.

When you drop the stateless architectural constraint, and introduce session data, the client and server no longer necessarily understand the message the same way: the client creates the message from its local application state, the message transits unchanged, but the server applies the application context stored in the session when interpreting the message.

In the happy path, there's no real problem: the session data applied by the server is the same data that would otherwise have been included by the client in the message, and the resulting interpretation of the message is equivalent using either architectural style.

Outside the happy path, sessions introduce the possibility that the actual state of the client and that state assumed by the server drift.  The client sends a message, expecting it to achieve desired end A, but because the server's copy of the session data is not in sync, the message is understood to prefer outcome A-prime.  Furthermore, with the session data "hidden" on the server, you may end up with quite a few mismatched messages going back and forth before the client begins to realize that a disaster is in the making.

The fundamental breakdown is here: the server does not know what the state of the application on the client is.  It can know what messages have been received, it can know what messages have been sent in response, but it doesn't know (without specific correlation identifiers being built into the messages) that the dispatched messages have arrived.

The application state is controlled and stored by the user agent and can be composed of representations from multiple servers. In addition to freeing the server from the scalability problems of storing state, this allows the user to directly manipulate the state (e.g., a Web browser's history), anticipate changes to that state (e.g., link maps and prefetching of representations), and jump from one application to another (e.g., bookmarks and URI-entry dialogs).
Which is to say, the client is explicitly allowed to rewind to any previously available state, cached or reconstructed from its own history, without consulting the server.

The server defines allowed application states, and the hypermedia controls that lead to new application states, but it doesn't control which state in the sea of revealed application states is the current one.

The client, not the server, is the book of record for application state.

Why is it OK to PUT an order for a cup of coffee ?  Because in that case, all of the ambiguity is in the state of the resource, not the state of the message.  The client and the server both share the same precise understanding of what the message means, because all of the required context appears within the message itself.  The client rewinds to some previous state, and fires off an obsolete message, and the server is able to respond "I know precisely what you mean, but you aren't allowed to do that any more".  There's no confusion here; the state of the resource has simply evolved since the hypermedia control was described.

So long as everybody agrees what the message means, there is no confusion.  That's why the happy path looks OK -- if the client and the server are still sharing the same assumptions about message context, the confusion doesn't arise; the client and the server happen to mean the same thing by fortuitous accident, and it all "just works".  Until it doesn't.