Rockford Lhotka

 Wednesday, December 15, 2004
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Earlier this week my employer, Magenic worked with the Microsoft office in Atlanta to set up a series of speaking engagements with some Atlanta-based companies. I had a good time, as I got some very good questions and discussion through some of the presentations.

 

In one of the presentations about SOA, an attendee challenged my assertion that “pure” SOA would lead to redundant business logic. He agreed with my example that validation logic would likely be replicated, but asserted that replication of validation logic was immaterial and that it was business logic which shouldn’t be replicated.

 

Now I’m the first to acknowledge that there are different types of business logic. And this isn’t the first time that I’ve had people argue that validation is not business logic. But that’s never rung true for me.

 

Every computer science student (and I assume CIS and MIS students) gets inundated with GIGO early in their career. Garbage-In-Garbage-Out. The mantra that illustrates just how incredibly important data validation really is.

 

You can write the most elegant and wonderful and perfect business logic in the world, and if you mess up the validation all your work will be for naught. Without validation, nothing else matters. Of course without calculation and manipulation and workflow the validation doesn’t matter either.

 

My point here is that validation, calculation, manipulation, workflow and authorization are all just different types of business logic. None are more important than others, and a flaw in any one of them ripples through a system wreaking havoc throughout.

 

Redundant or duplicated validation logic is no less dangerous or costly than duplicated calculation or manipulation logic. Nor is it any easier to manage, control or replicate validation logic than any other type of logic.

 

In fact, you could argue that it is harder to control replicated validation logic in some ways. This is because we often want to do validation in a web browser where the only real options are javascript or flash. But our “real” code is in VB or C# on the web server and/or application server. Due to the difference in technology, we can’t share any code here, but must manually replicate and maintain it.

 

Contrast this with calculation, manipulation or workflow, which is almost always done as part of “back end processing” and thus would be written in VB or C# in a DLL to start with. It is comparatively easy to share a well-designed DLL between a web server and app server. Not trivial I grant you, but it doesn’t require manual porting of code between platforms/languages like most validation logic we replicate.

 

So given the comparable importance of validation logic to the other types of business logic, it is clear to me that it must be done right. And given the relative complexity of reusing validation logic across different “tiers” or services, it is clear that we have a problem if we do decide to replicate it.

 

And yet changing traditional tiered applications into a set of cooperative services almost guarantees that validation logic will be replicated.

 

The user enters data into a web application. It validates the data of course, because the web application’s job is to give the user a good experience. Google’s new search beta is reinforcing the user expectation that even web apps can provide a rich user experience comparable to Windows. Users will demand decent interactivity, and thus validation (and some calculation) will certainly be on the web server and probably also replicated into the browser.

 

The web application calls the business workflow service. This service follows SOA principles and doesn’t trust the web app. After all, it is being used by other front-end apps as well, and can’t assume any of them do a good job. We’re not talking security here either – we’re talking data trust. The service just can’t trust the data coming from unknown front-end apps, as that would result in fragile coupling.

 

So the service must revalidate and recalculate any thing that the web app did. This is clear and obvious replication of code.

 

At this point we’ve probably got three versions of some or all of our validation logic (browser, web server, workflow service). We probably have some calculation/manipulation replication too, as the web server likely did some basic calculations rather than round-trip to the workflow service.

 

Now some code could be centralized into DLLs that are installed on both the web server and app server, so both the web app and workflow service can use the same code base. This is common sense, and works great in a homogenous environment.

 

But it doesn’t extend to the browser, where the replicated validation logic is in javascript. And it doesn’t work all that well if the web server is running on a different platform from the app server.

 

In any case, we have replication of code – all we’re doing is trying to figure out how to manage that replication in some decent way. I think this is an important conversation to have, because in my mind it is one of the two major hurdles SOA must overcome (the other being versioning).