Apache Authors: Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Christopher Harrold, Janakiram MSV

Related Topics: Microservices Expo, Java IoT, Microsoft Cloud, Agile Computing, @CloudExpo, Apache

Microservices Expo: Article

Toss Your Cookies: Maintaining State on the Client with REST

Feel free to transfer application state to the client and rest assured you’re following REST.

REST quiz of the day: which is more important when following REST: updating the resource state or updating state on the client? Most developers are likely to say that REST focuses on updating resource state on the server. After all, POST, PUT, and DELETE all do so. GET is the only HTTP verb that fetches resource state without changing it.

If you've been reading ZapThink's discussion on REST, you probably realize that those developers are incorrect. Updating resource state is clearly an important part of REST, but updating state on the client is even more important. Why? Because client state is the foundation for distributed hypermedia applications. And after all, such applications are the point of REST.

In fact, the RESTful world distinguishes between resource state and application state, which is the state information the client maintains. And since hypermedia are the engine of application state, it makes sense that application state is more important to REST than resource state. After all, REST is representational state transfer. The representations are what the resources send to the clients, including application state information that belongs on the client.

HATEOAS and the Cloud
The topic of application state came up in an interesting discussion during our recent Cloud Computing for Architects course in San Diego. I was explaining how it's important to maintain a stateless application tier in the Cloud, because we want to put the components on that tier (Web servers, application servers, ESBs, etc.) onto virtual machine (VM) instances. In order to achieve the elasticity and resilience of the Cloud, then, we can't afford to maintain state information on such instances. We always have the option of persisting such state information, making it a part of the resource state, but relying too heavily on our resource state limits our scalability. The clear alternative is to transfer state information to the client, and let hypermedia be the engine of application state (otherwise known as the dreaded HATEOAS REST constraint).

One of the attendees in the class was confused by this discussion. He pointed out that if we use the client (say, a browser) to maintain state in a stateful application like an eCommerce shopping cart, then such state information must either go into hidden form fields or into the URL, so that the server can pass it along to the browser from one request to the next. But if the user is clicking a link rather than submitting a form, then they are executing a GET, and with a GET, the only place to put state information from the client to the server is in the URL. And we all know that URLs have a maximum length. What do we do, he asked, if we have too much state information for the URL? For example, we might have dozens of items in our cart. Was I suggesting passing the entire contents of each cart - product descriptions, prices, etc. - in the URL?

The answer, of course, is no. I say "of course" because such a question would be silly for anyone who truly understands REST. But I must admit, it took me a while to think through my response. The problem was that I have a background as a Web developer, and my student may have also built his share of Web sites back in the day as well. And back in the 1990s, before REST, in the early days of HTML and JavaScript, maintaining state in a browser was problematic. All we had were cookies and the aforementioned hidden form fields and URL query strings. And since people can turn their cookies off, we never wanted to rely on them. So yes, back in the day, if the user is clicking a link (i.e., performing a GET), the URL was all you had to work with.

With REST, however, we're working with an abstracted client. It need not be a browser, and in fact, it need not have a user interface at all. A RESTful client may serve as an intermediary, for example. Even when the client has a UI, it could be any type of application. For example, most mobile apps are written natively to the mobile environment (iPhone or Android, for the most part), and will continue to be at least until HTML5 is fully baked.

Even when the client is a browser, however, we have numerous ways of maintaining application state. Each approach, as you might expect, has its strengths and weaknesses:

  • Cookies - long a part of the HTTP protocol, cookies are universally supported and almost as universally reviled. We love them for enabling the "remember me" feature on Web sites with logins we visit frequently, and we hate them for enabling advertisers to track our browsing habits. Few app developers would rely on them for much else.
  • Hidden form fields - every Web developer's secret sauce. You can put whatever you want into such fields, and as long as the user submits the corresponding form, the contents of hidden fields go along for the ride. The problem is that hidden form fields only work with POST. In REST, POST is only for initializing a subsidiary resource, so if that's not what you're doing, then you don't want to POST. The other downside to hidden form fields is that application state information must always make a round trip to the server and back again, whether the server needs to do anything with it or not.
  • Frames - Frames made their debut in 1996 in Netscape Navigator 2.0, the same browser that introduced JavaScript to the world. Iframes came soon after. Both types of frames allowed new pages in the frame while maintaining state information in JavaScript variables in the enclosing page. In either case, however, updating the content of a frame doesn't change the URL in the browser's location field. As a result, reloading or following a bookmarked page takes you back to square one, deleting all state information.
  • JavaScript-only updates - More recent advances to the Document Object Model (DOM), in particular the innerHTML property, allow JavaScript to update any <div> element after the page is loaded. And since JavaScript can also perform all manner of RESTful calls, it's possible to make it appear that any or all of a page is changing, even though the page itself isn't actually reloading. As with frames, JavaScript variables can store state information, but also similar to frames, the URL the user sees doesn't change when your script interacts with the server.
  • Signed scripts - What about simply writing arbitrary content to the user's hard drive? Browser publishers have been monkeying with this capability since signed scripts debuted in the 1990s. The problem with giving the browser write privileges, of course, is security. One flaw and hackers can easily take over your computer. Needless to say, this capability never took off, although plugins like Adobe Flash can allow the ability to write to the users' hard drive.
  • DOM storage - Today we have DOM storage. Think cookies on steroids. Every modern browser can essentially store a JSON object that persists as the browser loads different pages. You have the option of maintaining such information for a browser session (you lose it when you quit the browser) or persisting it across browser sessions (where the browser writes the data to a file). This capability also enables developers to write browser apps that can function properly when the user is offline. The downside to DOM storage is that it only works in newer browsers - although Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari all support it.
  • URL query string - finally, let's discuss storing state information in the URL. Yes, there's a character limit - the HTTP spec recommends sticking to 255 characters or less, although most browsers and Web servers support much longer URLs. So, how much can you cram into 255 characters? More than you might expect, if you use a tool like RISON for compacting JSON to squeeze more of it into each URL. Don't like RISON? There are alternatives available or you can create your own approach. Even with such techniques, however, there is still a size limit, and all such information must make the round trip to server and back.

The ZapThink Take
Based on the discussion above, you should have no more concerns about storing application state on the client. There are always tradeoffs, but one of the scenarios above should handle virtually every application state issue you're likely to come up with. Feel free to transfer application state to the client and rest assured you're following REST.

That is, of course, if you really are following REST, which means that you're building a hypermedia application. And while POST, PUT, and DELETE update resource state for hypermedia applications, every representation from resource back to client updates client state. Even a GET, which never changes resource state, still changes the application state. In other words, clicking a link or submitting a form loads a new page. Of course REST behaves that way.

While this article focused more on maintaining state on the client, therefore, REST is more concerned with updating state on the client. The real point here is that we have the luxury of choosing to maintain the state information we require while running an application whose state is supposed to change. Either way, hypermedia are the engine of application state.

Image source: bloggyboulga

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is a leading IT industry analyst, Forbes contributor, keynote speaker, and globally recognized expert on multiple disruptive trends in enterprise technology and digital transformation. He is ranked #5 on Onalytica’s list of top Digital Transformation influencers for 2018 and #15 on Jax’s list of top DevOps influencers for 2017, the only person to appear on both lists.

As founder and president of Agile Digital Transformation analyst firm Intellyx, he advises, writes, and speaks on a diverse set of topics, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, devops, big data/analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain/bitcoin/cryptocurrency, no-code/low-code platforms and tools, organizational transformation, internet of things, enterprise architecture, SD-WAN/SDX, mainframes, hybrid IT, and legacy transformation, among other topics.

Mr. Bloomberg’s articles in Forbes are often viewed by more than 100,000 readers. During his career, he has published over 1,200 articles (over 200 for Forbes alone), spoken at over 400 conferences and webinars, and he has been quoted in the press and blogosphere over 2,000 times.

Mr. Bloomberg is the author or coauthor of four books: The Agile Architecture Revolution (Wiley, 2013), Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (Wiley, 2006), XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). His next book, Agile Digital Transformation, is due within the next year.

At SOA-focused industry analyst firm ZapThink from 2001 to 2013, Mr. Bloomberg created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011.

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting), and several software and web development positions.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized digital expert, bestselling book author, frequent keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, and transformation expert based in Washington, DC. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the industry-leading digital strategy and online community solutions firm, 7Summits.
Widespread fragmentation is stalling the growth of the IIoT and making it difficult for partners to work together. The number of software platforms, apps, hardware and connectivity standards is creating paralysis among businesses that are afraid of being locked into a solution. EdgeX Foundry is unifying the community around a common IoT edge framework and an ecosystem of interoperable components.
Digital Transformation and Disruption, Amazon Style - What You Can Learn. Chris Kocher is a co-founder of Grey Heron, a management and strategic marketing consulting firm. He has 25+ years in both strategic and hands-on operating experience helping executives and investors build revenues and shareholder value. He has consulted with over 130 companies on innovating with new business models, product strategies and monetization. Chris has held management positions at HP and Symantec in addition to ...
Cloud-enabled transformation has evolved from cost saving measure to business innovation strategy -- one that combines the cloud with cognitive capabilities to drive market disruption. Learn how you can achieve the insight and agility you need to gain a competitive advantage. Industry-acclaimed CTO and cloud expert, Shankar Kalyana presents. Only the most exceptional IBMers are appointed with the rare distinction of IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the company. Shankar has also receive...
Enterprises have taken advantage of IoT to achieve important revenue and cost advantages. What is less apparent is how incumbent enterprises operating at scale have, following success with IoT, built analytic, operations management and software development capabilities - ranging from autonomous vehicles to manageable robotics installations. They have embraced these capabilities as if they were Silicon Valley startups.
The standardization of container runtimes and images has sparked the creation of an almost overwhelming number of new open source projects that build on and otherwise work with these specifications. Of course, there's Kubernetes, which orchestrates and manages collections of containers. It was one of the first and best-known examples of projects that make containers truly useful for production use. However, more recently, the container ecosystem has truly exploded. A service mesh like Istio addr...
Poor data quality and analytics drive down business value. In fact, Gartner estimated that the average financial impact of poor data quality on organizations is $9.7 million per year. But bad data is much more than a cost center. By eroding trust in information, analytics and the business decisions based on these, it is a serious impediment to digital transformation.
Predicting the future has never been more challenging - not because of the lack of data but because of the flood of ungoverned and risk laden information. Microsoft states that 2.5 exabytes of data are created every day. Expectations and reliance on data are being pushed to the limits, as demands around hybrid options continue to grow.
Business professionals no longer wonder if they'll migrate to the cloud; it's now a matter of when. The cloud environment has proved to be a major force in transitioning to an agile business model that enables quick decisions and fast implementation that solidify customer relationships. And when the cloud is combined with the power of cognitive computing, it drives innovation and transformation that achieves astounding competitive advantage.
As IoT continues to increase momentum, so does the associated risk. Secure Device Lifecycle Management (DLM) is ranked as one of the most important technology areas of IoT. Driving this trend is the realization that secure support for IoT devices provides companies the ability to deliver high-quality, reliable, secure offerings faster, create new revenue streams, and reduce support costs, all while building a competitive advantage in their markets. In this session, we will use customer use cases...
Digital Transformation: Preparing Cloud & IoT Security for the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) power solution development and delivery, many businesses need to build backend cloud capabilities. Well-poised organizations, marketing smart devices with AI and BlockChain capabilities prepare to refine compliance and regulatory capabilities in 2018. Volumes of health, financial, technical and privacy data, along with tightening compliance requirements by...
Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settlement products to hedge funds and investment banks. After, he co-founded a revenue cycle management company where he learned about Bitcoin and eventually Ethereal. Andrew's role at ConsenSys Enterprise is a mul...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
DevOpsSummit New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DXWorldEXPO within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of bus...
With 10 simultaneous tracks, keynotes, general sessions and targeted breakout classes, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO are two of the most important technology events of the year. Since its launch over eight years ago, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO have presented a rock star faculty as well as showcased hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors! In this blog post, we provide 7 tips on how, as part of our world-class faculty, you can deliver one of the most popular sessions at our events. But before reading...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that "Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO" has announced that its Call for Papers is now open. The two-day event will present 20 top Blockchain experts. All speaking inquiries which covers the following information can be submitted by email to [email protected] Financial enterprises in New York City, London, Singapore, and other world financial capitals are embracing a new generation of smart, automated FinTech that eliminates many cumbersome, slow, and expe...
DXWordEXPO New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City and will bring together Cloud Computing, FinTech and Blockchain, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, AI, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location.
DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing was coined and where technology buyers and vendors meet to experience and discuss the big picture of Digital Transformation and all of the strategies, tactics, and tools they need to realize their goals. Sponsors of DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO benefit from unmatched branding, profile building and lead generation opportunities.
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICOHOLDER named "Media Sponsor" of Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO. ICOHOLDER give you detailed information and help the community to invest in the trusty projects. Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO has opened its Call for Papers. The two-day event will present 20 top Blockchain experts. All speaking inquiries which covers the following information can be submitted by email to [email protected] Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO also offers s...
With tough new regulations coming to Europe on data privacy in May 2018, Calligo will explain why in reality the effect is global and transforms how you consider critical data. EU GDPR fundamentally rewrites the rules for cloud, Big Data and IoT. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Adam Ryan, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Calligo, examined the regulations and provided insight on how it affects technology, challenges the established rules and will usher in new levels of diligence arou...