I just finished reading or re-reading a half-dozen great short texts about data formats and protocols, in the XML/RDF space.
I started with this “do we need WADL” post by Joe Gregorio (since the previous entry made me go back to WADL which is used by Rackspace). Under the guise of a Q&A about WADL, Joe’s post disposes of the notion that IDL-based code generation is any good (of course the reference on this topic is Steve’s Alpine paper, but Joe very elegantly captures the gist of it a few sentences). He then explains what it really take to specify a protocol (hint: it’s not just a syntax). This is about WSDL and XSD as much as WADL.
When I reached the point in Joe’s Q&A where he discusses whether one should ever create a new protocol, I remembered a post on this very topic from Tim Bray, which I easily Googled back to life. Two of them actually, one about why you shouldn’t do it and the other about how to do it since he knows his advice will be ignored. There are so many lessons in these that I won’t even attempt to summarize.
Tim’s second piece then delivered me to this excellent article about the various facets of RDF. It’s six years old but still true. Though if it was written today I expect it would add “graph query language” and possibly even “constraint language” as facets of RDF.
These are all very well written articles by people who think very clearly about the domain. None of them technically taught me anything I didn’t know before, but they definitely helped me clarify my thoughts (and find the words to explain them to others).
We’re not artists. We’re not scientists. We’re not mathematicians. But there is some beauty in computer protocol design too. These writings are museum pieces, in the “lasting/worthwhile” sense of the term (not the “old/outdated” sense that it often has in the computing world). Don’t rush to read them, they are all several years old and have aged very well. Wait until you have the time to read them carefully.
I didn’t set out to create a best-of compilation of writings about protocols and data formats. I just happened to run into these great entries in a 30 minutes period and I was impressed by how much “above average” they all are. Is it luck? Does the topic of computer protocols naturally attract good thinkers and writers? Am I just in a good mood tonight? Who knows.
There must be others, possibly even better. Elliotte Rusty Harold occasionally surfaces one through his not-so-daily “quote of the day“. Suggestions for more articles of this caliber are welcome. A thousand monkeys may not be able to produce Hamlet, but a thousand bloggers may come close to an equivalent of Feynman’s lectures.
[UPDATED 2010/11/12: Over a year later, here’s an addition to this anthology. Stu’s succinct and beautiful explanation of the underlying issues with partial resource update (and REST in general).]