Can Horde’s internal API use PSR-7 Messages?

The Horde Inter-App system has been around since Horde 3.

Horde Inter-App messages are addressed by a two part string. The first part, followed by a slash character, is called the API. The second part after the slash is called the method. Registry can delegate complete APIs to an application or a list of complete API/method strings. In the latter format, a certain API/method combination can be assigned to one app even if the API in general is assigned to another app. The API is implemented by a class $application_Api in file Api.php inside each horde application. That application class methods and their signatures are the methods exposed by the Inter-App API. There are some meta arrays controlling further details but let’s ignore them. All but a few APIs only take arrays and primitives (string, number, bool) as parameters and issue them as return types. This is because the RPC layer eventually receives and emits HTTP messages, which are just text. Only those Inter-App API methods which are meant to be strictly internal will consume and emit PHP Objects.

PSR-7 messages and PSR-15 handlers/middlewares are an interop standard. They do not make a lot of assumptions about the underlying implementation. They have been used to implement REST solutions as well as old style server-driven dynamic websites. The request objects contain an URI to a resource and will eventually result in a response object. In between there is usually a broker piece called a router, which analysis URI and other request parameter to assign it to the proper implementation code or chain of code pieces, called middlewares. Anywhere in that chain, an answer is created and sent back to the caller. The request and response bodies are streams of text or binary data, as the request and response are essentially text messages.

At first glance, this is an easy match. The Registry mediates between the message sent by the caller and the code which handles it. We could call it the router. The API class with its methods could be seen as a set of handlers. The PSR-7 ServerRequest object represents a HTTP request, but it also allows arbitrary attributes attached to the actual request data. These attributes may be any PHP value, including objects.

There are some details to keep in mind though.

The inter-app API has little definition on a data contract. It predates PHP method parameter types and return types. In traditional code, users could feed just about anything into the inter-app API and the implementation would need to guard against any value expected or unexpected. Inter-App API just assumes the caller is eligible to call. Authentication is delegated to the existing PHP session or to the RPC setup, authorization control must happen in the called code. That may lead to bloated, repetitive code in the implementation.

As each app has only one API class file, it is not currently possible to implement two different methods on different APIs if the same app handles it. If you have two different APIs clients/get and contracts/get and both are implemented in the same app, they will end up in the same code path. The way around it is with calls like clients/getClients and contracts/getContracts, but this is just ugly.

The rampage/routes/http_server stack can easily discern a GET /clients/ call and a GET /contracts call, but it only works inside a specific app. Setting up a separate API set of routes, we can easily have calls abstracted from the implementing app. The system of handlers and middlewares allows to delegate authentication and authorization checks outside of the actual implementation of an endpoint. This reduces repetitive boilerplate. One big issue remains. As of now, Inter-App can return native PHP objects to the caller. PSR-7 messages allow Attributes on the ServerRequestInterface but there is no equivalent in the ResponseInterface. Inter-App can carry objects (for internal calls) or serialisation-friendly nested arrays until it hits the RPC layer. This layer will turn it into a text structure, say XML or JSON. How would we do that in ResponseInterface implementations? How would that make the implementation reusable for a REST interface, app-internal AJAX or other code?

A vision of convergence

Bringing together new capabilities and existing system participants is tricky. A new RPC and Inter-App system should integrate with the old interface, it should not just stand beside it. Having two different Inter-App layers would be confusing, abandoning the old one right now would be unnecessary stress on developers’ time budgets.

As an inter-app user, I want to use $registry->call(‘method’, [params1, param2]) or $registry->api->method($param1, $param2…) as I did before.

As an RPC user, I want to call \Horde_Rpc::request('api/method', $params, $options) as I did before. I do not care what happens in the background.

As an application developer exposing an API, I do not want to give up Api.php right now, it has to work with the new stack as good or bad as it did before.

As a developer of new apps and features, I want to leverage extended capabilities. I want to be able to implement two distinct APIs using the same method names. I want to be able to return native objects, even serialisation-unfriendly ones with php resources, along with a serialisation-friendly message to use in RPC, Rest or other HTTP use cases. I do not want to be restricted to two levels of API/method. I want to re-use middleware I already built for the frontend AJAY.

As a distributed app developer, I want to define API resources and have them served either internally or by external microservices transparantly over http requests.

For the future, I would like some degree of introspection and possibly some guidance on allowed or required request parameters.

As an integrator, I want to securely communicate with only partially set up horde instances to finish or upgrade setups by firing HTTP requests.

Implementation approach

The horde-deployment project includes a route from webroot/api/ to a global API router managed by the horde base app. This API router is first populated by the Registry and then supplemented by a config/routes.api.php file in each registry app.

Regardless of the calling context, a cascade of middlewares sets attributes for the called API/route, the parameters, the resolved implementation and the outcome of already happened authentication checks. The implementation is either an adapter middleware calling an app’s Api class or an actual implementation middleware/stack. It will write the return values and other state into an attribute digested by the bottom of stack. In case of Inter-App, a token response is returned and the actual data structures are taken from the handler and returned to the caller. Real RPC backends generate appropriate headers and stream body for response. The response can possibly be processed further as it returns back to top of stack, for example gzip compressed or logged or trigger metrics updates.

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