5 Tips When Managing Multiple Service Versions

Many teams that build service capabilities have to manage multiple versions – this is a problem for any shared asset really – be it a library, component, or service. Using extensible schema contracts (also referred to as Consumer Driven Contracts) you can design service contracts that allow both provider to evolve and consumer to integrate in a flexible manner. In this post, I want to suggest five additional tips when managing web services:

1. Figure out how many versions your team will support concurrently. Too little will force all your consumers to be on a single version and too many will become a maintenance nightmare for you (the provider). In past implementations, I have maintained upto 3 versions while actively moving all service consumers towards one target version. A related approach is to have multiple flavors for your service capability one that returns data that most consumers want, the second that provides the minimal set of attributes, and a third flavor that returns the full list of data items. This may or may not be possible in your case, but something to consider when designing contracts.

2. Figure out how you are going to support multiple versions as a service provider. You can use xml schema namespaces to indicate versions: http://some-company.com/services/CustomService_ver1_0.xsd, ver1_1.xsd and so on. Consider creating a service adapter that can translate back and forth between a new service implementation and the existing one. This can potentially help you with one server side implementation of the functional logic and still service your current and new consumers. This adapter component can perform necessary data transformations, error code & error message translations, and massage response with data attributes as appropriate.

3. Communicate the change in the service capability and gauge the appetite with existing consumers for their ability to absorb the changes in the same release time frame that you are targeting to drop your new version. If you co-ordinate the release, you can get them to new version when you go live. However, for mission critical applications you will want to support both your current and new version concurrently for a small time period before switching the old one off.

4. When you design forward-compatible schemas, you can test the data-binding against multiple platforms. For example, use WSDL2Java if you are using Apache Axis in Java or wsdl.exe if you are in .NET and generate appropriate web service proxy classes and data binding classes. What i have done is to implement JUnit and NUnit automated test cases that run everytime there is a new WSDL or service contract (XSD) change. This will not only validate the service functional logic, but also the forward-compatibility of existing clients. Make sure your when you generate bindings that you generate with both the new schema/wsdl (your updated version) and the existing schema/wsdl files (the version currently used by production clients).

5.  Establish lightweight service governance – it is critical to plan how many service flavors and versions you will support, when will they get upgraded, deprecated, decommissioned, etc. and communicate those with your consumers. Identify checkpoints in your development process where contracts can be reviewed and service behavior can be discussed openly. The well thought out service orientation strategy is a benefit for both the provider and the consumers in your organization.

What other tips/techniques have you used?

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