With the light at the end of tunnel on the BigCouch merge, I thought it was time to get the conversation going on cleaning up the current HTTP stack duality. We’ve got a good opportunity to do some major cleanup, remove duplication, and really start more clearly separating the various components of CouchDB.

Primary objectives

* Consolidate down to one HTTP layer
* Isolate HTTP functionality
* Separate HTTP server from HTTP resources
* Easy plugin integration
* Build clustered/local API

Consolidate down to one HTTP layer

We currently have two HTTP layers, couch_httpd and chttpd. This was a useful construct when BigCouch was a separate application where isolating the clustered layer from the local layer was necessary, and quite useful.

This is no longer the case, and we can significantly reduce code duplication by consolidating down to one http layer. There are a number of places in the two apps where the code is nearly identical, except one calls out to fabric and the other calls out for couch_*. For instance, compare couch_httpd_db:couch_doc_open/4 [1] with chttpd_db:couch_doc_open/4 [2]. These are completely identical aside from whether it goes through the clustered layer, fabric, or through the local layer couch_db.

There are plenty of other places with similar duplication. This is obviously ripe with opportunity to refactor and introduce some higher level abstractions to make the HTTP layer function independently of the document/database level APIs.

Isolate HTTP functionality

I don’t think couch_doc_open/4 has any business existing in the HTTP layer, we should move all non HTTP logic out. IMO the HTTP layer should only concern itself with:

1. Receiving the HTTP requests
2. Extracting out the request data into a standard data structure
3. Dispatch requests to the appropriate internal APIs
4. Forward the response

Anything that doesn’t fit into those four steps should be ripped out and moved elsewhere. For instance, the primary logic for determining the database redundancy and shard values is done in chttpd_db [3]. I would greatly prefer to see this logic in a database API.

The more we can isolate HTTP logic from database logic the better. Once they are fully decoupled, then the HTTP layer is merely one particular client interface on top of the core database. We also get all the benefits of isolation for testing and what not.

Along these lines, I think we greatly overuse the #http{} record for passing around request data, and instead you extract the body, and then combine all of the user supplied headers and query string params into a standard options list. This we can we completely separate making database requests from the representation of the client request.

Separate HTTP server from HTTP resources.

I think everything I’ve said so far is pretty clear cut in terms of it’s the logical thing to do, but separating the HTTP server from the HTTP endpoints is less clearly defined. However, we do have precedence for this and there are a number of solid benefits.

First, let me explain what I mean here. There are two pieces to an HTTP stack, first there’s the core HTTP engine that handles receiving and responding to requests and other things along those lines, and second there’s the places where you supply your business logic and figure what content to send to the user.

CouchDB has a handful of places using this aproach, where instead of defining all the logic in the HTTP stack directly, we have auxilary modules defined within the appropriate applications that specify how any HTTP requests for that application are handled. A good clean example of this approach is couch_mrview_http [4].

Easy plugin integration

One big advantage of the above separation of HTTP resources is that it provides a standard way of plugins hooking in new HTTP endpoints. The more we can treat the “core” CouchDB applications as plugins, the more easily it is to isolate and replace various parts of the stack.

Build clustered/local API

The above example of couch_doc_open/4 is a clear cut case where we want to abstract the process of loading a document. Not all places are as easily abstractable, but this is a great example of why I think we should have a standard API on top of clustered and local layers, where deciding which to use is based on a local/clustered flag, or some other heuristic.

I’ve been toying around with the idea of making a request object of some sort, is something like couch_req:make(ReqBody, ReqOptions) that you can then pass to couch_doc_api or some such, but I don’t have any strong opinions on this.

Where I’ve gotten so far: chttpd2, a proof of concept

I’ve hacked out an experimental WebMachine [5] based rewrite of the HTTP stack called chttpd2 [6]. This PoC follows the same ideas I’ve outlined above, so I’ll run back through the previous outlined items and explain how chttpd2 handles it.

Consolidate down to one HTTP layer

Right now I’m not doing anything special here, I still think building an API layer that handles deciding whether to make a clustered or local request is the proper approach, so I’ve not included any logic in the HTTP stack for doing so.

Isolate HTTP functionality

I’ve got a solid separation of functionality in chttpd2. If you notice the current codebase in [6], there is zero logic for actually handling any particular CouchDB requests. Rather those are self contained within the appropriate sub applications. I’ve started this for couchdb-couch [7] and couchdb-config [8]. Here’s a simple example of the new welcome resource [9].

As you can see, there is zero database logic in the welcome request module. In fact, I started moving all the random logic in the current HTTP layer to a temporary module I’m calling couch_api [10]. As you can see from that module, it removes all the logic that was previously nested in couch_httpd_misc_handlers [11]. More complicated examples for creating a database and viewing database info are in [12], and an all dbs example is in [13]. Also I’ve done similar things for couchdb-couch as mentioned above in [8].

Easy plugin integration

As I mentioned above, by making it easy to plugin in new HTTP endpoints, we also make it easier for plugins to do the same. On that front I’ve made it so each application can optionally declare a couch_dispatch function describing what endpoints it can handle, and then chttpd2 will go and find all of those to figure out how to dispatch requests [14]. And for example, here’s how the couchdb-couch endpoints are declared [15].

Build clustered/local API

I have not started on this front, and have only built these endpoints for interacting with the clustered layer for simplicity as this is just a proof of concept I hacked together. However, as I mentioned above I’ve started moving all the logic out of the HTTP layer into more appropriate places. I’ve made similar changes to couch-config by moving all of the logic from [16] into the couch-config application itself.

Why WebMachine?

I find WebMachine [5] to be one of the more interesting HTTP stacks for building webapps. In particular I like how they have a specific flow chart [17] and coordinate point corresponds to a particular definition of the webmachine_decision_core:decision/1 function.

That said I think Cowboy [19] has more momentum and might be a better long term project to tie ourselves too.

Also, if we decide to go the WebMachine route, we’ll need to restructure a fair bit of the current HTTP layer, making a number of breaking changes. I’m a strong -1 for coercing WebMachine into the current haphazard CouchDB API. WebMachine is very opinionated on how you structure your API (for good reason!) and I think going against that is a mistake.

So if we wanted to just do a drop in replacement of the current CouchDB API, then Cowboy is the way to go. Although one of these days we should clean up the HTTP API.


I hope this can start a good discussion on a game plan for the HTTP layer. Like I said, this is a proof of concept that I hacked out, so I’m not attached to the code or the use of WebMachine, but I do think it’s a good representation of the ideas outlined above.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and comments!


[1] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-couch/blob/master/src/couch_httpd_db.erl#L805-L823

[2] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-chttpd/blob/master/src/chttpd_db.erl#L886-L904

[3] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-chttpd/blob/master/src/chttpd_db.erl#L203-L205

[4] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-couch-mrview/blob/master/src/couch_mrview_http.erl

[5] https://github.com/basho/webmachine

[6] https://github.com/chewbranca/chttpd2/tree/initial-branch

[7] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-couch/tree/2073-feature-webmachine-http-engine

[8] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-config/tree/2073-feature-webmachine-http-engine

[9] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-couch/blob/2073-feature-webmachine-http-engine/src/couch_httpr_welcome.erl

[10] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-couch/blob/2073-feature-webmachine-http-engine/src/couch_api.erl

[11] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-couch/blob/master/src/couch_httpd_misc_handlers.erl#L32-L45

[12] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-couch/blob/2073-feature-webmachine-http-engine/src/couch_httpr_db.erl

[13] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-couch/blob/2073-feature-webmachine-http-engine/src/couch_httpr_dbs.erl

[14] https://github.com/chewbranca/chttpd2/blob/initial-branch/src/chttpd2_config.erl#L26-L33

[15] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-couch/blob/2073-feature-webmachine-http-engine/src/couch.erl#L68-L73

[16] https://github.com/apache/couchdb-couch/blob/master/src/couch_httpd_misc_handlers.erl#L155-L249

[17] https://raw.githubusercontent.com/basho/webmachine/develop/docs/http-headers-status-v3.png

[18] https://github.com/basho/webmachine/blob/develop/src/webmachine_decision_core.erl#L158-L595

[19] https://github.com/ninenines/cowboy