Yossi Dahan [BizTalk]

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Loosely Coupled….Part II

In a previous post I’ve mentioned our constant attempt to strike the right balance when it comes to loosely coupled services; I’ve mentioned that we were looking at two different scenarios – loosely coupling calls to services outside BizTalk and loosely coupling calls to services inside BizTalk (once implemented within the BizTalk group)

I’ve also mentioned that our solution is composed of a few distinct ‘areas’ (each one generally encapsulated as a BizTalk Application), which we consider, in most cases, to be service boundaries, and – within one ‘flow’ of an incoming request message, we will often have to cross one or more of these boundaries to achieve our end goal.

In most cases, in our solution, the ‘subscriber’ service would use the schema of the ‘publisher’ service for its incoming message; this roughly follows the principle of a service’s proxy, albeit a bit upside down - for practical reasons. Only that - and that’s a much bigger difference - we don’t create a copy of the schema as a service proxy would, but rather reference the schema of the publisher directly (through a shared assembly); this, of course, creates a strong dependency between the two and - over time – this has caused us a lot of headache around deployments as whenever we wanted to update the publisher, we’d have to remove the subscriber too.

Recently we have experimented with following more closely the service proxy approach and instead of using the same referenced schema (using a shared assembly), we’ve created an identical copy of it – same root node and namespace - in the ‘subscriber’ side.

The assumption was that we will be publishing a message using the copy of the schema the publisher holds and be receiving it using the copy of the schema the subscriber holds, but as the message itself will look exactly the same, and will inevitably have exactly the same message type, and so it would be picked up by the subscriber successfully.

Had it worked, we would be have been able to avoid the dependency between the subscriber and the publisher, which would help us gain much needed flexibility in the publisher to support, and change for, multiple subscribers.

Theoretically - if the publisher schema had to change (say – to support functionality required by other subscribers), as long as the change is backwards compatible such as added elements, we could replace the publisher copy of the schema, but leave the subscriber copy as is, until such a point that we need/want to update the subscriber process.

Well - in BizTalk 2006 – this would have worked just fine; unfortunately – from R2 onward, it no longer works – when an orchestration receives a message, it often does so based on a subscription that included the ‘messaging message-type’ (root node and namespace); however – starting with R2 – an additional check has been introduced – to compare the full .net type name of the schema used by the publisher message with the full .net type name of the schema used by the subscriber, assembly, version and all.

This check obviously fails in our scenario, and our fancy loosely coupling solution no longer works (in R2 or 2009).

I think this check is actually a result of code introduced as a hotfix for BizTalk 2004, which – for on reason or another did not make its way into BizTalk 2006 but did into later versions, but I’m not sure, either way – it’s important to note the workaround described at the bottom of the hotfix description, as it appears this behaviour can be turned off, but one would have to check carefully the potential impact.

What else could we do?

Well – one pattern we know that works fairly well is the broker pattern – there’s the publisher, with it’s own schema, there’s the subscriber, with its own – completely different schema, and there’s a broker – a third process that has dependencies on both and contains a map to convert one to the other; on the plus side – this gives us all the flexibility we need – at any one point we only need to deploy two entities – the publisher or the subscriber and the broker, which is good enough; having the process, with a map, allows us to use multi-part messages if we deem them suitable, and all the complexity we need in the mapping; on the down side there are more artifacts to deploy and manage but, more crucially, one extra message box hop which, in a low latency scenario as ours, is not a small price to pay.

Another option is to simply expose the subscriber as a service and call it as such – there are big benefits to doing that – including the fact that we can now have a copy of the schema, in the form of a proxy or without one, and we have also decoupled the services in terms of BizTalk groups –the other service can be anywhere, although this was never a requirements for us; however – we’re paying in more pub/sub again, as well as more IO and quite possibly more complexity.

Theoretically we could have also use XmlDocument (or any other generic wrapper, for that matter) to convey the message, but a) I don’t like typeless intechanges and, b) this does not work well in cases where correlation is required, as the following receive tend to short-cut the subscriber and pick up the request as a response, that is unless you’re willing to introduce two wrappers – one for the request and another one for the response.

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