Monday, 2 January 2012

In which documentation leads to rearchitecture

All year—well, mainly just the second half of 2011—I’ve been intending to write some XML Schema documents to formalise the input and output of an XML API I wrote a year and change ago. Is it really Important to do this? Yes and no. Mostly no (which explains why it hasn’t been done yet), since there are only three applications that use the API so far and I wrote all of them (and the PHP and JS libraries that handle it). From the functional perspective, it’s not critical that these schemata get written. However, I’m also trying to finish off some formal documentation of the tool that the API serves, which includes these schemata. Why would it need to include the schemata? Hopefully, we’re going to get some more developers working on this project, so having a formal document that describes the input and output would be good; it would give these developers something to refer to, that could be used for validation, and improve the testability of the whole system.

I’ve been trying finally finish these schemata, and I’ve found two things about how I implemented it:

  • The output has a small logic flaw, I think—I use a <message/> element both inside and outside the element that indicates what objects have been affected, depending (primarily) on the context of the action being performed.
  • In order to be able to validate against these schemata, I’d have to make some obnoxiously redundant changes to the libraries that generate the input. The XML is somewhat polymorphic—depending on the value of the command attribute on an <action/> element, the legal child elements change. I’d love to be able to handle that without having to use the xsi:type attribute to indicate that the delete action is an instance of type ActionDelete, but it’s becoming apparent that XML parsers just don’t work that way.

So, the decision to make the XML polymorphic based on an <action/> element may have been shortsighted. Probably was, in fact. The question is, though, do I rewrite the API entirely to allow this business logic to be expressed in the schema, or do I write a more generalised pair of schemata now, then clean up the API in a v2.0 so that it can be more rigourously and specifically validated against the business? The output definitely needs to be revisited (especially since it's currently sending both XML and JSON, depending on the action), but what to do about the input? Probably simpler to do the minimal amount of redesign now, then when the applications get refactored later this year, look into the more comprehensive enhancements.

We shall see, we shall see…

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