13 September 2010

I've been thinking about DripDrop's design goals lately. One of the core goals of DripDrop is to make writing highly concurrent apps that run on both single and multiple machines as easy as possible. The idea is that anywhere there's a ZeroMQ socket, you can just break that part of the app off and run it over your network (so long as latency won't be prohibitive). This composability isn't something that DripDrop provides, that fully comes from the magic of ZeroMQ and BERT. The role of DripDrop is simply to make using those sockets so easy that you'll use them before you even need them (at the cost of low level control and performance in some situations).

As it currently stands, DripDrop is a framework for making message based apps easier to build in a reactor pattern by leveraging ZeroMQ. Since DripDrop is built on top of ZMQMachine and EventMachine, DripDrop apps inherit all the strengths and weaknesses of the reactor pattern. Really, DripDrop is just a thin wrapper around these libraries, normalizing and simplifying the API to deal exclusively with its message format. This lets us semi-seamlessly stich together HTTP, WebSockets, and ZeroMQ sockets in very few lines of code. However, Reactors are not the be-all end-all of concurrency design.

While reactors are useful for expressing some problems, often times a thread pool fits the problem better. EventMachine actually handles this reasonably well with EM.defer, which simply hands over a block of code to be executed in a thread pool. I'd like to add a worker pool to DripDrop than can be broken out to run over any number of machines on your network, and I'd like to make this as easy to use as EM.defer.

This should be dead simple, but foresee some possible pitfalls. ZeroMQ sockets do apply backpressure, which is useful in a situation like this, but I'll have to see for myself how well it works for this scenario (as they say, trust but verify). My initial plan is to build a new version of the ZeroMQ HTTP Load Tester with this extension to DripDrop, to give it some basis in reality.

Additionally, I've had thoughts of monitoring the state of all the sockets in a DripDrop app. I'm probably going to add a control backchannel to DripDrop sockets that'll give application writers a high level view of traffic on their DripDrop apps, perhaps reporting back to a Sub socket that keeps counters in Redis.

Additionally, it'd be nice to know when distributed processes go down, so a long term goal would be to implement a set of deployment scripts that only start up certain services based on role, and establishing a central control server that monitors this backchannel for problems.

If anyone finds these goals useful (or not) let me know. Sadly, I only have so much free time, so they may be a while in coming... If anyone out there thinks these would be interesting things to work on, shoot me a line, I'll be glad to offer as much help as possible.

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