Sunday, June 11, 2017

Knowing when to put code into your API/microservice vs. outside API (wrapper microservice)

As you are defining the purpose of each one of your microservices, and as you are developing these microservices, it is very important to know if you need to make changes to an existing microservice, or you need to build a wrapper microservice.
What I am talking about here are not rules; I am just giving you some examples so it can trigger you to think about this while you are going through the similar exercise. I just want to make developers aware of the differences.
So the main question is:
  • Put code into an existing microservice/API
  • OR develop a wrapper microservice API?
Let’s assume you have a “Package” microservice/API and this API gives you the list of packages and their details:
  • /api/packages (this gives you all the packages)
  • /api/packages/{id} (this gives you a specific package based on that ID)
  • /api/packages?type=type101 (this gives you all the packages of type=type101)
Let’s assume that behind this microservice you are using a NoSQL table “Package” and that table has the packageId as the hash key of the table and then you have a bunch of other attributes that you are saving as part of the JSON object.
Let’s say that this API has been used in your production system for many months. Then you get a requirement from your product team that they want to introduce the concept of “Package Bundles”. A package bundle would be just a collection of different packages. For example, you can create the Bundle 1 that contains:
  • package 1
  • package 2
  • package 3
Whereas the bundle 2 could contain:
  • package 1
  • package 7
  • package 8
  • package 9
Ultimately the product team instead of presenting individual packages to customers and having them pick one by one, they want to also present some pre-configured bundles of packages to customers to simplify their experience.
Now the big question is: How do you as a software engineer and solutions architect design this, or in other words how do you incorporate this requirement into your existing design of your microservices?
Before I get into the design, one unwritten rule in software development is that you need to keep things backwards compatible regardless of what type of design you come up with.
Let’s get into the design a bit. If you have been working in monolithic applications for many years (as many of us have), you would be naturally inclined to open up the existing “Package” microservice and you could be possibly introducing the list of bundle IDs in the existing data of the package. Or you could be adding another table within the Package microservice to introduce the concept of bundles and that database structure would be leaning towards a relation DB design. I talked about NoSQL and avoidance of relation DB design in my YouTube video:
As you get deeper into this approach, you can realize that you are polluting the purpose of the Package microservice and you are slowly turning it into a macro-service. I have a full post about “micro” in micro-services:
You also can realize that the API routes cannot stay RESTful. How do you actually search to get the bundles using /api/packages API route?
That’s when you conclude that you need to change your design.
The solution that I recommend for this specific requirement or use case is to introduce a new “PackageBundle” microservice. I really classify this as a wrapper microservice. This PackageBundle microservice would have the following type of API routes:
  • /api/packagebundles (this gives you all the package bundles)
  • /api/packagebundles/{id} (this gives a specific package bundle by id)
  • /api/packagebundles?package=packageA (this gives you the list of bundles that contain packageA)
This microservice would have a NoSQL table with the following data structure:
- packageBundleId   (hash key for the table)
- packages [ ]   (list of packages)
   - packageId
   - packageName
   - other package attributes
- Other attributes needed to represent the bundle
In JSON, this would look like this:
  "packageBundleId": "",
  "packages": [
      "packageId": "",
      "packageName": "",
      "packageDescription": ""
      "packageId": "",
      "packageName": "",
      "packageDescription": ""
  "otherPackageBundleInfo": ""
Now let’s visualize how package bundles would be created. Imagine a business-enablement tool that allows you to create a bundle and then let’s assume that you drag packages into a bundle. Behind the scenes, that tool would be calling the Package API to retrieve the details on the package that is dragged into a bundle and then as the final step the tool would be calling the PacakgeBundle API to save all those details into the record for that given bundle. That’s what this business-enablement tool would do. On the other hand, the main website that customers are using would be calling the /api/packagebundles API to get a list of bundles or a specific bundle to display on the screen for customers.
With this approach you kept your existing microservice as micro and you introduced a new microservice that has a sole purpose to manage collection of packages. If I wanted to create some new packages, I am not dependent on the PackageBundle API; I can directly call the Package API to perform the actions. If the product team tomorrow decides that the concept of bundles is not needed any more, then I can just stop using the PackageBundle API and get rid of it in the long term without any impact on the Package API.
I hope this example can help you save some time if you have similar type of requirements and design.
Thank you for reading.
Almir Mustafic.

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