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README.md

Chain API

News

I presented ChainAPI at the Mobiquitous 2014 conference in London. You can download the paper published in the proceedings here.

Slides from my recent workshop at the MIT Media Lab are available here: http://ssfrr.github.io/ChainDinnerSpring2014/workshop_slides.html

Introduction

Chain API is a hypermedia HTTP API for working with sensor data. It includes an HTTP interface supporting request/response interactions, as well as a Websockets streaming API for realtime "push" updates.

This project is led by Spencer Russell, in the Responsive Environments group at the MIT Media Lab. It is still relatively early stage and in development, and certainly not yet intended for real production use. It is currently in use for the Tidmarsh Living Observatory project.

The Chain API is built on top of the Hypertext Application Language, or HAL. Currently it only implements the application/hal+json MIME type. hal+json is relatively simple, and clients are free to ignore HAL and treat the responses as regular JSON data. There are also various libraries that can take advantage of the hal+json conventions to abstract some of the details away. For a more thorough spec of hal+json see this IETF draft.

We'll start by describing the basic JSON payloads you should expect, but also be sure to check out the API Concept Overview for more information on the common themes and design principles driving the API.

Entry Point

The API entry point is at http://chain-api.media.mit.edu. A GET request will give you a link to the available sites.

{
  "_links": {
    "curies": [
      {
        "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/rels/{rel}",
        "name": "ch",
        "templated": true
      }
    ],
    "self": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/"
    },
    "ch:sites": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sites/",
      "title": "Sites"
    }
  }
}

Currently the only top-level resource available is the collection of Sites. The client first selects which site they are interested in and can navigate from there to explore that site. Clients should not assume hard-coded URIs, but should instead get the proper URI from the API entry point.

Base Resource Types

NOTE: At some point this information should be moved into the docstrings of the resources themselves, so we can generate the documentation as well as the information at the rel URLs from the same info.

Site

An installation of Chain API, usually on the scale of several or many buildings.

Resource Fields

  • name (string) - Name of this site
  • geoLocation (elevation, latitude, longitude) - The geographic location of the site. All measurements are in meters.
  • ch:devices (related resource) - A collection of all the devices in this site. New devices can be POSTed to this collection to add them to this site.

Example

{
  "geoLocation": {
    "latitude": 42.360624,
    "elevation": null,
    "longitude": -71.087577
  },
  "_links": {
    "ch:siteSummary": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sites/5/summary",
      "title": "Summary"
    },
    "rawZMQStream": {
      "href": "tcp://tidmarsh.media.mit.edu:1305",
      "title": "Raw ZMQ Stream"
    },
    "ch:devices": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/devices/?site_id=5",
      "title": "Devices"
    },
    "curies": [
      {
        "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/rels/{rel}",
        "name": "ch",
        "templated": true
      }
    ],
    "self": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sites/5"
    },
    "ch:websocketStream": {
      "href": "ws://chain-api.media.mit.edu/ws/site-5",
      "title": "Websocket Stream"
    },
    "editForm": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sites/5/edit",
      "title": "Edit Site"
    }
  },
  "name": "MIT Media Lab"
}

Device

A device that may contain several sensor channels.

Resource Fields

  • name (string) - Name of this device
  • ch:site (related resource) - The site this device is a part of
  • description (string) - A longer description of this device
  • building (string) - The building the device is in
  • floor (string) - The floor of the building
  • room (string) - The room containing the device
  • ch:sensors (related resource) - A collection of all the sensors in this device. New sensors can be POSTed to this collection to add them to this device.

Example

{
  "building": "E14",
  "room": "Cafe",
  "floor": "5",
  "description": "CityFarm Greenhouse (North)",
  "_links": {
    "ch:site": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sites/5",
      "title": "MIT Media Lab"
    },
    "curies": [
      {
        "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/rels/{rel}",
        "name": "ch",
        "templated": true
      }
    ],
    "self": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/devices/32"
    },
    "ch:websocketStream": {
      "href": "ws://chain-api.media.mit.edu/ws/device-32",
      "title": "Websocket Stream"
    },
    "ch:sensors": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sensors/?device_id=32",
      "title": "Sensors"
    },
    "editForm": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/devices/32/edit",
      "title": "Edit Device"
    }
  },
  "name": "0x8123"
}

Sensor

A sensor captures a single channel of data. There may be multiple sensors on a single device. Issuing a GET request for a Sensor resource also includes the current value for that sensor. The value could be a scalar value or some other TBD data types.

Resource Fields

  • ch:device (related resource) - The device this sensor is part of
  • ch:dataHistory (related resource) - Collection of data from this sensor
  • metric (string) - What the sensor is measuring (e.g. "temperature")
  • unit (string) - The unit the data is in, e.g. "kW-hr". This should be an abbreviation from the QUDT unit list.
  • dataType (string) - Data type of this sensor. Currently there's only float
  • updated (ISO8601 timestamp) - Timestamp of the most recent update
  • value (various) - The most recent reading from this sensor. Currently only floating point sensors are supported, but in the future this could be an xyz position, GPS coordinate, image, etc.

Example

{
  "updated": "2014-04-12T20:47:15.291305+00:00",
  "dataType": "float",
  "metric": "temperature",
  "value": 22.32,
  "_links": {
    "ch:dataHistory": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sensordata/?sensor_id=263",
      "title": "Data"
    },
    "curies": [
      {
        "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/rels/{rel}",
        "name": "ch",
        "templated": true
      }
    ],
    "self": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sensors/263"
    },
    "ch:device": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/devices/32",
      "title": "0x8123"
    },
    "ch:websocketStream": {
      "href": "ws://chain-api.media.mit.edu/ws/sensor-263",
      "title": "Websocket Stream"
    },
    "editForm": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sensors/263/edit",
      "title": "Edit Sensor"
    }
  },
  "unit": "celsius"
}

Sensor Data

Sensor Data is the raw data captured by the sensors. The data field is a list containing the actual data points. If necessary there are pagination links just like collection resources. There is also a createForm link which gives the URL to post data to this data set.

Resource Fields

  • dataType (string) - The type of the data, currently always "float"
  • data (list) - List of data, each of which is a JSON object with at least a value key and a timestamp key. The type of the value key is determined by the datatype attribute
  • totalCount (int) - The total number of data points in the collection. If the total count is too large a single response may only have one page of data

Example

{
  "dataType": "float",
  "totalCount": 69148,
  "_links": {
    "curies": [
      {
        "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/rels/{rel}",
        "name": "ch",
        "templated": true
      }
    ],
    "self": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sensordata/?sensor_id=263"
    },
    "first": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sensordata/?sensor_id=263&limit=500&offset=0",
      "title": "0 through 499"
    },
    "createForm": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sensordata/create?sensor_id=263",
      "title": "Add Data"
    },
    "previous": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sensordata/?sensor_id=263&limit=500&offset=68148",
      "title": "68148 through 68647"
    }
  },
  "data": [
    {
      "timestamp": "2014-04-12T15:00:04.202361+00:00",
      "value": 29.81
    },
    {
      "timestamp": "2014-04-12T15:00:25.232755+00:00",
      "value": 29.82
    }
  ]
}

Metadata

A metadata contains extra information about other resources. Currently metadata can be attached to sites, devices, and sensors. The data field is a list of key/value pairs containing the most recent value for each key associated with that resource. The createForm link from the collection resource gives the URL to post data to this data set. Creating a new metadata with an existing key will shadow the old metadata with that key. Metadata is immutable, and does not contain the editForm link.

Resource Fields

  • data (list) - List of data, each of which is a JSON object with a value key and a key key. The type of the value key is string
  • totalCount (int) - The total number of unique metadata keys in the collection. If the total count is too large a single response may only have one page of data

Example

{
  "totalCount": 2,
  "_links": {
    "curies": [
      {
        "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/rels/{rel}",
        "name": "ch",
        "templated": true
      }
    ],
    "self": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/metadata/?content_type_id=11&object_id=1"
    },
    "createForm": {
      "href": "http://chain-api.media.mit.edu/sensordata/create?content_type_id=11&object_id=1",
      "title": "Add Metadata"
    }
  },
  "data": [
    {
      "key": "depth_cm",
      "value": "20"
    },
    {
      "key": "reference_v",
      "value": "3.3"
    }
  ]
}

General API Concept Overview

Link Relations

Given a link from one resource to another, clients generally need to know what sort of relationship that link is modeling. Is it a link from a child to a parent? From a device to a list of contained sensors? These relations (often shortened to "rels") are central to the architecture of the Chain API, and hypermedia in general.

Note that the href field in links will be a URL, which should be parsed as per RFC1808. Basically this means that URLs might be absolute (http://example.com/things/392) or relative to the domain (/things/392). RFC1808 also allows URLs to be expressed relative to the current resource (../things/392), but the Chain API does not use these.

Following along with standard hal+json, most rels are self-documenting, and the rel itself actually serve as a link(URI) to the human-readable documentation that describes what that relationship actually means. This rel URI should also be used by clients as a unique, persistant identifier. This gives flexibility to server implementers as they can add new relation types, or even new versions of existing relation types, to existing resources without breaking older clients. As long as the new rels have unique URIs, old clients will simply ignore them.

Some relations are specific to the Chain API, in which case they are documented on the Chain API site (currently chain-api.media.mit.edu). Where possible, the API uses standard link rel names in which case the rel names are not qualified with a URI. See RFC5988 for more info on link relations.

In the Chain API attributes can also be considered relations, except the related object is simple data, instead of a linked or embedded resource. As such, attributes use the same self-documenting mechanism as resource relations.

CURIES

Using URIs as relation names has the benefit of providing a stable and unique identifier for relation names, but using a full URI as a json dictionary key is cumbersome and duplicates lots of data in a typicaly payload. To alleviate this issue hal+json supports Compact URIs or "CURIEs". The wikipedia page shows an example of a CURIE used as an XML namespace, and the w3c spec has a much more detailed description. In the context of hal+json CURIEs are simply a URI template that can be used for each rel that references it.

Embedded Relations

While links are the primary way to describe relationships between resources, it is sometimes cumbersome and inefficient to always request them separately. As an optimization, Chain API will sometimes embed the full related resource in addition to the link. In this case you will find the embedded resource in the _embedded section of the response, which is a hal+json standard. Note that in this case the resource will still be linked in the _links section with the same rel name, so clients can ignore the _embedded objects if they choose.

Collection Resources

Sending an HTTP GET request to a Collection Resource will return a response with the requested resources as well as metadata about the response, such as the total number of resources represented by this collection. If there are more resources than will fit into a single response, there may also be links to the first, last, previous, and next pages.

Related Collections

When a resource has a related collection (e.g. a parent resource has a "children" relation), it will be represented with a collection resource. The resource might have "next", "previous", or "last" links to handle pagination. If the application can add items to the collection, it can have a createForm link. See the section on forms for details.

For instance, the following parent resource has a children collection:

{
  "_links": {
    "self": {"href": "/parents/392"},
    "children": {"href": "/parents/392/children/"}
  }
}

which when followed gives you a full collection resource:

{
  "_links": {
    "self": {"href": "/parents/392/children/"},
    "next": { "href": "/parents/392/children?page=2", "title": "Page 2" },
    "last": { "href": "/parents/392/children?page=5", "title": "Page 5" },
    "createForm": { "href": "/parents/392/children/", "title": "Create Order"},
    "items": [
      {"href": "/children/382", "title": "Child 1"},
      {"href": "/children/8371", "title": "Child 2"},
      {"href": "/children/716", "title": "Child 3"}
    ]
  }
}

Rather than the collection only containing links to the items, it may include the items themselves embedded within the response. If you are using a HAL client (or chainclient), then it should handle both cases (linked or embedded) transparently and your application code shouldn't need to care. An example with embedded items would look like:

{
  "_links": {
    "self": {"href": "/parents/392/children/"},
    "next": { "href": "/parents/392/children?page=2", "title": "Page 2" },
    "last": { "href": "/parents/392/children?page=5", "title": "Page 5" },
    "createForm": { "href": "/parents/392/children/", "title": "Create Order"},
    "items": [
      {"href": "/children/382", "title": "Child 1"},
      {"href": "/children/8371", "title": "Child 2"},
      {"href": "/children/716", "title": "Child 3"}
    ]
  },
  "_embedded": {
    "items": [
      {
        "_links": {
          "self": {"href": "/children/382"}
        },
        "name": "Child 1",
        "age": 13
      },
      {
        "_links": {
          "self": {"href": "/children/8371"}
        },
        "name": "Child 2",
        "age": 16
      },
      {
        "_links": {
          "self": {"href": "/children/716"}
        },
        "name": "Child 3",
        "age": 31
      }
    ]
  }
}

hal+json Example

Issuing a GET to /orders might illicit the response:

{
  "_links": {
    "self": { "href": "/orders/" },
    "next": { "href": "/orders?page=2", "title": "Page 2" },
    "last": { "href": "/orders?page=5", "title": "Page 5" },
    "createForm": { "href": "/orders/", "title": "Create Order"},
    "curies": [{
        "name": "rel",
        "href": "http://docs.example.com/rels/{rel}",
        "templated": true
    }],
    "items": [
        {"href": "/orders/123", "title": "Christmas Order"},
        {"href": "/orders/124", "title": "Birthday Order"},
    ]
  },
  "_embedded": {
    "items": [
    {
      "_links": {
        "self": { "href": "/orders/123" },
        "rel:basket": { "href": "/baskets/98712" },
        "rel:customer": { "href": "/customers/7809" }
      },
      "name": "Christmas Order",
      "total": 30.00,
      "currency": "USD",
      "status": "shipped",
    },
    {
      "_links": {
        "self": { "href": "/orders/124" },
        "rel:basket": { "href": "/baskets/97213" },
        "rel:customer": { "href": "/customers/12369" }
      },
      "name": "Birthday Order",
      "total": 20.00,
      "currency": "USD",
      "status": "processing"
    }]
  },
  "currentlyProcessing": 14,
  "shippedToday": 20
}

Sending a GET to the URI for a specific resource will return only that resource, e.g. GET /orders/123 might return:

{
  "_links": {
    "self": { "href": "/orders/123" },
    "rel:basket": { "href": "/baskets/98712" },
    "rel:customer": { "href": "/customers/7809" },
    "curies": [{
        "name": "rel",
        "href": "http://docs.example.org/rels/{rel}",
        "templated": true
    }]
  },
  "rel:total": 30.00,
  "rel:currency": "USD",
  "rel:status": "shipped",
}

Posting Data

You'll see in the above collection payload a createForm rel, which is a link that you can use to add new elements to the collection. Issuing a GET request to the createForm link will return a document in JSON-schema format that tells the client what format the resource should take. POSTing to the link in the proper format will create a new resource and will return it with an HTTP 201 Created status.

Editing Data

When the client is able to edit a resource, there will be an editForm rel. As with createForm, sending a GET request to this URL will return a JSON-schema document. The default values given in the schema are the current vaues for the resource being edited. POSTing to the URL with the updated JSON data will update the resource.

Details on the createForm and editForm rels can be found in RFC6861. Note that, following JSON conventions and to make things easier on clients, we have modified the standard hyphonated rel names to camelCase.

Websockets Streaming API

Many applications are interested in the latest data as it comes in. For these applications constantly polling is a drain on both the client and server, so this API implements a streaming interface via Websockets. For many resources you will find a ch:websocketStream link that you can follow with any websocket-capable browser or client application. Once the websocket connection is established the server will send HAL+JSON-formatted updates that typically are the same as what you would receive in a GET response. Streams for some resources will also include "contained" resources. For instance, subscribing to the stream for a Site resource might also include all the devices in that site, and even all the sensors in those devices.

Typically clients will start by synching their current state using the HTTP API, and maintain a hash that maps resource URLs to the client's internal representation. After subscribing to a stream, clients can match incoming resource descriptions by using the self link as the key into the hash.

Dev Environment Initial Setup

Note that these instructions are not super well-maintained, please file issues or PRs if things don't work and we'll try to fix the instructions

People working on Chain-API work both in Vagrant and Docker. In both cases you'll start by cloning the repository to your development machine:

git clone https://github.com/ResEnv/chain-api.git

Git will create a folder called chain-api and check out the code into it.

Vagrant-Based Development

To develop for Chain API the best way is with a virtual machine. The following instructions should guide you through setting up a development environment that should match the production machine.

First you'll want to make sure that both Virtualbox and Vagrant are installed, as well as git. Then from within the repository root folder run "vagrant up" and it should instantiate the virtual machine.

after the machine is up you can run "vagrant ssh" to ssh into the new VM. From there you can follow the below instructions on setting up a Chain API server.

Docker-Based Development

These instructions were run with docker version 17.10.0-ce

Make sure you have the Docker daemon and client installed and that the daemon is running (on systemd systems this will be systemctl start docker). Then run ./build-all.sh from the docker directory. You might also need to add your user to the docker group with sudo usermod -aG docker <username>

The build script will create 3 docker images:

  • chain/base - the base image with all the things the chain service needs. It checks out its own copy of the chain repo in /opt/chain-api
  • chain/dev - similar to the base image except that it uses the checked-out repository on the host machine, which can make development more convenient because you don't have to rebuild the docker image when you make changes. Rememeber you'll need a valid localsettings.py in your chain directory.
  • chain/data_img - this can serve as a persistent datastore (by hosting the postgres database) so you can keep your data even when you kill and restart the docker box running the actual chain process.

If you want to run a shell on the box for testing (e.g. trying out new versions of packages), you can run docker run -it chain/base /bin/bash. This will launch the container and drop you into a shell.

The docker configuration creates an .htpassword file with username yoda and password 123 that you can use to POST data to the API.

Chain API Production Server Setup Instructions

Currently Chain API is supported on Ubuntu Precise (12.04 LTS) Install dependencies with manifest.sh

cd chain-api/
sudo chmod +x ./manifest.sh
sudo ./manifest.sh

NOTE FOR ARCH:

The puppet manifest doesn't work well on Arch, so just install the python packages with pip system packages with pacman that are listed in the manifest, and comment those stanzas out. I also had to set the ownership of /var/lib/postgres with:

sudo chown -R postgres:users /var/lib/postgres

END OF ARCH-SPECIFIC NOTE

Setup Postgres

sudo su - postgres
createuser --pwprompt <POSTGRES USERNAME>

after creating a new user, you can create the postgres db like so:

createdb chain

Copy localsettings_template.py into a new file called localsettings.py, setting the username and password, as well as the SECRET_KEY. You can generate an appropriate secret key in python with:

import random
''.join([random.SystemRandom().
    choice('abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789!@#$%^&*(-_=+)')
    for i in range(50)])

Before continuing, ensure that the build-essential package for Ubuntu is installed. If not (or if you are unsure), install it by running:

sudo apt-get install build-essential

Check to make sure libzmq-dev is not installed. The version of ZMQ found in the apt repository is below the minimum required version for ChainAPI. ChainAPI will install the correct version, but only if ZMQ is not already installed on the system. If it is installed, you can uninstall it with

sudo apt-get remove libzmq-dev

Then install python dependencies like so:

./setup.py develop

Now you can initialise your django environment

./manage.py syncdb
./manage.py migrate

Now you should be able to run the server with:

./manage.py runserver 0.0.0.0:8000

and access it from your host machine's browser at

http://localhost:8000/admin

Dev Server Vagrant Box Setup

An alternative method to quickly start developing with chain-api on Ubuntu 12.04 Wheezy64 Vagrant Box

curl -o package.box http://phive-yogurt.mit.edu/chain-ubuntu1404.box
vagrant box add chain-box package.box
vagrant init chain-box
vagrant up
vagrant ssh

default postgres username/password:

username: yoda
password: 123

default http username/password:

username: yoda
password: 123

NOTE: After initially provisioning the box, sometimes supervisor fails to start. To fix, after running vagrant up for the first time, run:

vagrant halt
vagrant up

to restart the box. Supervisor and Nginx will start on boot, and ChainAPI will be accessible at http://localhost:8080

Setting up for Production

While the above steps should be fine for development, there are a few more things you need to do for a production machine.

First make sure whatever user will be deploying is in the "staff" group. This will allow us to autodeploy without needing root permissions.

sudo usermod -aG staff USERNAME
sudo chown -R root:staff /usr/local /srv
sudo chmod -R g+wx-s /usr/local /srv
sudo chmod -R a+r /usr/local

Before continuing, ensure that the build-essential package for Ubuntu is installed. If not (or if you are unsure), install it by running:

sudo apt-get install build-essential

Check to make sure libzmq-dev is not installed. The version of ZMQ found in the apt repository is below the minimum required version for ChainAPI. ChainAPI will install the correct version, but only if ZMQ is not already installed on the system. If it is installed, you can uninstall it with

sudo apt-get remove libzmq-dev

First install the django app to your system python install by running

./setup.py develop

This will install the app as a system package, so you don't need to hard-code paths.

NOTE - the package is installed WITHOUT root permissions. This is important because if we install with root permissions the first time then we'll need root permission on every subsequent time.

Then copy the system config files

sudo cp -R system/* /

and remove default Nginx configuration files:

sudo rm /etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf /etc/nginx/conf.d/example_ssl.conf

And enable the HTTP interface to supervisor by adding the following code to the configuration at /etc/supervisor/supervisord.conf (setting the username and password to whatever you want them to be)

[inet_http_server]
port=*:9001
user=username
password=password

We also need to change the permissions so that anyone in the "staff" group can manage supervisor tasks.

[unix_http_server]
file=/var/run/supervisor.sock
chmod=0770
chown=nobody:staff

Now create the htpasswd file that will determine the usernames and passwords that will be allowed to POST to your ChainAPI Instance:

sudo htpasswd -c /var/www/mywebsite.com/.htpasswd exampleuser

and edit /etc/nginx/sites-available/chain.conf to add the path to your .htpasswd file where it says PATH/TO/HTPASSWD.

Next, copy the static files (CSS, JS, static HTML, etc.) to the webserver's static folder by running

./manage.py collectstatic

Now you can restart supervisord and nginx to pick up the config changes. Note that supervisor restart doesn't work, so it must be stopped and started.

sudo /etc/init.d/supervisor stop
sudo /etc/init.d/supervisor start
sudo /etc/init.d/nginx restart

Deploy Hooks

In the "hooks" directory you'll find a post-receive hook that should be copied (or symlinked) into the .git/hooks directory of your deployed server. You'll also need to run

git config receive.denyCurrentBranch ignore

To allow pushes to the checked-out branch.

On your development machine you should now be able to set up the deployment server as a git remote

git remote add production ssh://deployuser@yourserver.com/deployed/repo/dir

then whenever you have a version to push to production just:

git push production

Troubleshooting

If you get permissions problems (your database user can't access/modify tables it's supposed to), you may see errors like "permission denied for relation type ...". In that case log into the database with the root user, connect to the database, and grant the permissions explicitly:

> sudo su - postgres
> psql
psql> \c chain
psql> GRANT ALL ON ALL TABLES IN SCHEMA public to chain;