Building Microservices: Designing Fine-Grained Systems

Author: Sam Newman
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by anonymous   2017-08-20

The Book Building Microservices describes in detail the styles mentioned by @RogerAlsing in his answer.

On page 43 under Orchestration vs Choreography the book says:

As we start to model more and more complex logic, we have to deal with the problem of managing business processes that stretch across the boundary of individual services. And with microservices, we’ll hit this limit sooner than usual. [...] When it comes to actually implementing this flow, there are two styles of architecture we could follow. With orchestration, we rely on a central brain to guide and drive the process, much like the conductor in an orchestra. With choreography, we inform each part of the system of its job, and let it work out the details, like dancers all find‐ ing their way and reacting to others around them in a ballet.

The book then proceeds to explain the two styles. The orchestration style corresponds more to the SOA idea of orchestration/task services, whereas the choreography style corresponds to the dumb pipes and smart endpoints mentioned in Martin Fowler's article.

Orchestration Style

Under this style, the book above mentions:

Let’s think about what an orchestration solution would look like for this flow. Here, probably the simplest thing to do would be to have our customer service act as the central brain. On creation, it talks to the loyalty points bank, email service, and postal service [...], through a series of request/response calls. The customer service itself can then track where a customer is in this process. It can check to see if the customer’s account has been set up, or the email sent, or the post delivered. We get to take the flowchart [...] and model it directly into code. We could even use tooling that implements this for us, perhaps using an appropriate rules engine. Commercial tools exist for this very purpose in the form of business process modeling software. Assuming we use synchronous request/response, we could even know if each stage has worked [...] The downside to this orchestration approach is that the customer service can become too much of a central governing authority. It can become the hub in the middle of a web, and a central point where logic starts to live. I have seen this approach result in a small number of smart “god” services telling anemic CRUD-based services what to do.

Note: I suppose that when the author mentions tooling he's referring to something like BPM (e.g. Activity, Apache ODE). As a matter of fact the Workflow Patterns Website has an awesome set of patterns to do this kind of orchestration and it also offers evaluation details of different vendor tools that help to implement it this way. I don't think the author implies one is required to use one of these tools to implement this style of integration though, other lightweight orchestration frameworks could be used e.g. Spring Integration, Apache Camel or Mule ESB

However, other books I've read on the topic of Microservices and in general the majority of articles I've found in the web seem to disfavor this approach of orchestration and instead suggest using the next one.

Choreography Style

Under choreography style the author says:

With a choreographed approach, we could instead just have the customer service emit an event in an asynchronous manner, saying Customer created. The email service, postal service, and loyalty points bank then just subscribe to these events and react accordingly [...] This approach is significantly more decoupled. If some other service needed to reach to the creation of a customer, it just needs to subscribe to the events and do its job when needed. The downside is that the explicit view of the business process we see in [the workflow] is now only implicitly reflected in our system [...] This means additional work is needed to ensure that you can monitor and track that the right things have happened. For example, would you know if the loyalty points bank had a bug and for some reason didn’t set up the correct account? One approach I like for dealing with this is to build a monitoring system that explicitly matches the view of the business process in [the workflow], but then tracks what each of the services does as independent entities, letting you see odd exceptions mapped onto the more explicit process flow. The [flowchart] [...] isn’t the driving force, but just one lens through which we can see how the system is behaving. In general, I have found that systems that tend more toward the choreographed approach are more loosely coupled, and are more flexible and amenable to change. You do need to do extra work to monitor and track the processes across system boundaries, however. I have found most heavily orchestrated implementations to be extremely brittle, with a higher cost of change. With that in mind, I strongly prefer aiming for a choreographed system, where each service is smart enough to under‐ stand its role in the whole dance.

Note: This sounds a lot like CQRS and EvenSourcing. To this day I'm still not sure if choreography is just another name for event-driven architecture (EDA), but if EDA is just one way to do it, what are the other ways? (Also see What do you mean by "Event-Driven"?)

Now, after this comes the fun. The Microservices book does not assume microservices are going to be implemented with REST. As a matter of fact in the next section in the book they proceed to consider RPC and SOA-based solutions and finally REST. Important point here is that Microservices does not imply REST.

So, What About HATEOAS?

Now, if we want to follow the RESTful approach we cannot ignore HATEOAS or Roy Fielding will be very much pleased to say in his blog that our solution is not truly REST. See his blog post on REST API Must be Hypertext Driven:

I am getting frustrated by the number of people calling any HTTP-based interface a REST API. What needs to be done to make the REST architectural style clear on the notion that hypertext is a constraint? In other words, if the engine of application state (and hence the API) is not being driven by hypertext, then it cannot be RESTful and cannot be a REST API. Period. Is there some broken manual somewhere that needs to be fixed?

So, as you can see, Fielding thinks that without HATEOAS you are not truly building RESTful applications. For fielding HATEOAS is the way to go when it comes to orchestrate services. I am just learning all this, but to me HATEOAS does not clearly define who or what is the driving force behind actually following the links. In a UI that could be the user, but in computer-to-computer interactions, I suppose that needs to be done by a higher level service.

According to HATEOAS, the only link the API consumer truly needs to know is the one that initiates the communication with the server (e.g. POST /order). From this point on, REST is going to conduct the flow, because in the response of this endpoint, the resource returned will contain the links to next possible states. The API consumer then decides what link to follow and move the application to the next state.

Despite how cool that sounds, the client still needs to know if the link must be POSTed, PUTed, GETed, PATCHed, etc. And the client still needs to decide what payload to pass. The client still needs to be aware of what to do if that fails (retry, compensate, cancel, etc.).

I am fairly new to all this, but for me, from HATEOAs perspective, this client, or API consumer is a high order service. If we think it from the perspective of a human, you can imagine an end user in a web page, deciding what links to follow, but still the programmer of the web page had to decide what method to use to invoke the links, and what payload to pass. So, to my point, in a computer-to-computer interaction, the computer takes the role of the end user. Once more this is what we call an orchestrations service.

I suppose we can use HATEOAS with either orchestration or choreography.

The API Gateway Pattern

Another interesting pattern is suggested by Chris Richardson who also proposed what he called an API Gateway Pattern.

In a monolithic architecture, clients of the application, such as web browsers and native applications, make HTTP requests via a load balancer to one of N identical instances of the application. But in a microservice architecture, the monolith has been replaced by a collection of services. Consequently, a key question we need to answer is what do the clients interact with?

An application client, such as a native mobile application, could make RESTful HTTP requests to the individual services [...] On the surface this might seem attractive. However, there is likely to be a significant mismatch in granularity between the APIs of the individual services and data required by the clients. For example, displaying one web page could potentially require calls to large numbers of services. Amazon.com, for example, describes how some pages require calls to 100+ services. Making that many requests, even over a high-speed internet connection, let alone a lower-bandwidth, higher-latency mobile network, would be very inefficient and result in a poor user experience.

A much better approach is for clients to make a small number of requests per-page, perhaps as few as one, over the Internet to a front-end server known as an API gateway.

The API gateway sits between the application’s clients and the microservices. It provides APIs that are tailored to the client. The API gateway provides a coarse-grained API to mobile clients and a finer-grained API to desktop clients that use a high-performance network. In this example, the desktop clients makes multiple requests to retrieve information about a product, where as a mobile client makes a single request.

The API gateway handles incoming requests by making requests to some number of microservices over the high-performance LAN. Netflix, for example, describes how each request fans out to on average six backend services. In this example, fine-grained requests from a desktop client are simply proxied to the corresponding service, whereas each coarse-grained request from a mobile client is handled by aggregating the results of calling multiple services.

Not only does the API gateway optimize communication between clients and the application, but it also encapsulates the details of the microservices. This enables the microservices to evolve without impacting the clients. For examples, two microservices might be merged. Another microservice might be partitioned into two or more services. Only the API gateway needs to be updated to reflect these changes. The clients are unaffected.

Now that we have looked at how the API gateway mediates between the application and its clients, let’s now look at how to implement communication between microservices.

This sounds pretty similar to the orchestration style mentioned above, just with a slightly different intent, in this case it seems to be all about performance and simplification of interactions.

Further Reading

There is a great series of articles recently published in the NGINX Blog that I recommend to delve deeper into all these concepts:

by imauld   2017-08-19
Very good read that gives a pretty high level description of services:

https://www.amazon.com/Building-Microservices-Designing-Fine...

by sundvor   2017-08-19
I somewhat recently worked on a huge monolith where certain parts were "off limits"; I was told to the effect of "noone changes those classes, we don't really understand them". That business is not going too well now.

I searched the article for "domain" and "bounded contexts", found nothing. Article is not without merit, however; Sam Newman in his book [1] cautions about going too aggressive, i.e. splitting down into too many microservices before the domain is fully understood. On the other hand, having systems cross obvious domains is a definite warning sign (of disaster).

So the motto might be, use them, but in moderation (as with a lot of things).

1) https://smile.amazon.com/Building-Microservices-Designing-Fi...