In an earlier post, I argued for standardization of some basic REST-inspired mechanisms for the narrow goal of supporting control interfaces for different forms of Cloud Computing. As I was doing so, I noticed the first report of something called REST-*, introduced by RedHat’s Mark Little and I ended my post by wondering whether we were talking about the same thing or not.
Now that more information has emerged it seems pretty clear that we are not.
Mark Little understands transactions very well. No argument. He is not happy with some aspects of how they are supported over SOAP. Fine. He thinks it can be done better (at least for 80% of the cases and with lower barriers to entry) directly on top of HTTP (no envelope). Fine. He would like this to be standardized so that middleware stacks can interoperate. Fine. Same applies for pub/sub and p2p messaging, the other initial project out of the REST-* effort. All good.
Where it all goes wrong is the attempt to get on the REST bandwagon. REST is not the only proper way to write distributed applications. It’s a good way to do it for a specific (through arguably very large) set of distributed applications. One that may not include financial trading or RFID-enabled inventory tracking. More specifically, REST might not be the appropriate approach for all parts of all distributed applications. Working on smoothly connecting the REST and non-REST parts is interesting. Working on forcing the non-REST parts under the REST mantle less so.
By REST here I mean REST-the-architectural-style (narrowly defined), not REST-the-brand (much more broadly defined). Even if your work does not fall under the umbrella of REST-the-architectural-style, you may choose to position it under REST-the-brand as a pragmatic calculation (like a police department might pragmatically include a plasma TV in the “terrorism preparation” accounting category). In the “pros” category, positioning it as REST gives you instantaneous press coverage. In the “cons” category, it gives you instantaneous twitter coverage (of the kind that Steve Jones reports). All in all, it seems like a bad bargain to me if you want to get things done. But Bill Burke (who works with Mark on this) has chosen to accept it: “I really don’t care in the end if any of the architectural principles of Roy’s thesis are broken as long these requirements are met”. As a side note, the REST-* announcement puts this comment by Bill on Roy’s blog in context…
In any case, the way the proposed umbrella organization is shaping up is also giving me concerns. Less about some nefarious intent than about a certain tone-deafness regarding how it comes across. I am not talking about details such as the REST-* moniker, the fact that http://rest-star.org is just a facade that redirects to http://www.jboss.org/reststar or the fact that their blog feed uses RSS rather than Atom (way to get the REST crowd on your side). Rather I am thinking of statements like “Red Hat, as the founder of REST-*, gets a permanent seat on the board. All other board members must be elected by the overall membership once a year”. Which suggests (probably incorrectly) more arrogance than even Microsoft and IBM combined were able to muster when setting up WS-I (modulo the Sun snub). Speaking of Sun, if the JCP (and Sun’s position in it) is the model that RedHat has in mind it might be helpful to point out to them that Sun invented the language after all…
All in all, the specifications Mark and team have in mind may make perfect sense, but they way they are going about it leaves me highly skeptical.
[UPDATE 2009/9/17: More REST-* skepticism. But it looks like Mark and Bill are taking it in stride, acknowledging a less-than-optimal execution and trying to fix things. I doubt this specific initiative can be salvaged, but I think a lot of the goals are good and need to be realized. Though my intuition is that it is more likely to get done in a piecemeal fashion, distributed between specialized communities (e.g. the Cloud people, the messaging/AMQP people...) who take on, in a very practical way, the portions most relevant to their needs. Whether all the pieces then get pulled together in one place with a nice bow is not important right now.]