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Re: [DESIGN] Proposed structure fol LedgerSMB web services

Hi, Erik,

Nice start. Some quick comments (not a lot of time...):

On 07/27/2015 05:51 AM, Erik Huelsmann wrote:


The user of the api should run an OPTIONS request on the base URL (/api) to discover version, options and features of the API.

This is starting to sound like a WSDL? I think that could be a huge benefit to do, as long as it's not required...


All URLs in the document are assumed to be relative to some base URL. E.g. assuming LedgerSMB to be hosted under the following URL: https://example.com/path/to/ledgersmb/ , the URL /api in this document in fact means https://example.com/path/to/ledgersmb/api .

The proposed URL structure is (as can be found in many existing web service schemas):

 (a) /api/<version>/<resource>/[?query parameters]
 (b) /api/<version>/<resource>/id
 (c) /api/<version>/<resource>/id?perform=<action>

The above is mostly inspired on the PayPal API which - I think - drives a system much like ours in the sense that their system manages workflow producing transactions.

In our case, I think the "id" specifier in the resource may be multiple path segments long; e.g. for currency rates: /api/v1/exchangerate/EUR/1/2015-12-12 where "EUR/1/2015-12-12" is the identifier for the: currency identifier, rate type and (start)date of the rate.

Form (a) will be used for creating (POST) and listing (GET) resources instances. Dojo proposes to use the 'Range:' HTTP header to limit results in the request. I think that makes more sense than to use query parameters for it.

For development/debugging, I really like having an API observe query parameters in addition to Range headers. I would suggest we support both, and pick one to win...

Form (b) will be used for retrieving (GET) an individual resource instances.

Should we add support for PUT here?

Form (c) will be used for (POST) modifying state of individual resource instances by executing <action> on the specified resource.


(Note that the API doesn't attach meaning to the HTTP request types PUT and PATCH (which the PayPal API *does* do)) -- I could see value in supporting a PATCH request for resources which require secondary approval and have not yet been approved (this is where PayPal uses it too).

 Retrieves an object or collection of objects, potentially restricted by query parameters or HTTP headers.

 Creates an object or collectino of objects when executed on a resource URL; when executed on a resource-instance URL, a required ?perform=<action> query string is to be added to the URL to specify which state transition is to be executed.

Each POST request in the API carries a payload where the consuming service should support at least one of the following formats (as indicated by the OPTIONS response)

 (i) application/json
 (ii) application/xml
 (iii) application/form-data
 (iv) application/x-www-form-urlencoded

The API itself should be responsible for doing this conversion -- and should allow the consuming client to send whichever of these it wants. The API can then convert to a Perl data object of some kind to pass off to the internal code.

Is PUT to be added to this list? I would expect PUT to update values of an existing object, and needs to contain all new values for the object. Obviously since we're doing financial transactions, this probably can only modify drafts and not anything posted (in a financial sense). But for drafts, reconciliation, batches, etc. this seems useful.

POST or PATCH can be used for modifying just a field on an object, or handling things like payments on an object?

  In general requests metadata about the endpoint the URL points to. Minimal endpoints that provide metadata are:
 Whether or not metadata can be requested for individual resource instances is to be specified in the return value of the resource collection URL OPTIONS return.
Requirements for return values of the OPTIONS request should be separately documented to make them meaningful and machine processable. Typical items to be included in the OPTIONS response are the DTD for the POST XML payload and response and JSON field specification.

  Most objects can't be removed from the system (although e.g. GL accounts can be marked 'obsolete'), but some (notably sessions) *should* be removed from the system after they have served their purpose. Running DELETE on anything other than an individual resource instance isn't supported. In case the resource supports deletion, the resource instance is deleted.


When an api call affects multiple resources and the API call returns an error *none* of the affected resources are to be affected.

Do we want the API to support a transaction, allow a bunch of operations to get batched with atomicity? e.g. failure after a series of web service calls rolls back the whole batch, if there are no errors entire batch gets committed?

If we can support that, that seems like another big win...


The API user logs in by creating a new session through the /api/<version>/session/ API. Each application login (including API logins) is attached to an application user. the webservice caller thereby identifies itself as an application user/employee. Currently, credentials will be provided through basic auth on the first *and* all following requests. Session replay attacks are prevented by sending cookies back and forth; just as they are now. Each request should provide the cookies created during the session; possibly updated by the response of the last request -- basic cookie management.
At the end of a session, the session is to be removed by issueing a DELETE request on the session resource instance.

Regardless of whether the response generated by the server is a failure or a success, the session cookies should be updated on each request. The client must respect cookie updates regardless of the type of response.

Hmm. What if the same client is running multiple, parallel transactions? How would we handle race conditions here? Is it possible for the same session to have multiple sequences?

Yes it can... the dojo/date functionality works both ways -- I would suggest we deserialize to a _javascript_ object in the store functions themselves, this works pretty well.

I suggest we explicitly state the format for particular fields that the API expects... for date fields, this needs to include timezone handling. ISO 8601 with UTC really seems like the only reasonable standard to use for this. I don't know of any language or toolkit that does not support conversion to/from that.

Otherwise I think we should just pick UTF-8 for character encoding, and use the escaping standards for the transport chosen -- XML, Json, form-data, etc.

Currency might be the other thing to specify -- do we require a currency type as a separate field? Parse out a currency code/symbol? I'm sure there's an obvious standard here, but I don't know what it is ;-)


The purpose of having the server be required to specify metadata and include in that metadata a description of the response objects, is among others, meant to serve a generic response parser on the client which can parse responses into the correct objects on the client (e.g. parse dates into dates, even if dates are transferred as JSON strings) -- without the need to implement knowledge in advance into the client.

+1 this is very nice to have in an API, and makes using the API so much nicer. Although I prefer this to be more documentation than enforcement -- it seems like one of the design goals of SOAP, and I shudder every time I have to use SOAP.

So I'm all in favor of a self-documenting API, as long as it doesn't force you to go through a bunch of extra steps to establish a connection/do anything useful.


When obtaining a resource from the server, the serving webservice may include embedded in its response objects that it refers to; e.g. the server may decide to include address data included in a response to a query for a customer. The server isn't required to include more than just the key by which the resource can be queried out of the resource collection.

Nested resources in the URL space (such as the GitLab example with team members in a project [2]).
*** Nested resources like the GitLab example pollute the namespace, because there's a two way correspondence: users-in-project and projects-in-user. *** How to handle this in the way that creates the least complexity??? *** Presumably, we want things to be layered, building complex resources on simple ones; so it's problematic in the gitlab example to make the user aware of the projects... ***

We should support and default to "obvious" nested resources. e.g. line items on an invoice, payment lines, etc.

I do think we should plan to allow the client to request what data to nest, perhaps either a custom header or a parameter (or both)? This would be one area that needs to be self-documenting, what resources can be excluded/included/expanded in which requests, and what is included by default.

John Locke
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