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README.markdown

Dave's Session Example

Developed by Dave Gurnell.

Example session storage for the Racket HTTP Server. Run test-app.ss for a demo.

Copyright 2006 to 2010 Untyped.

See LICENCE and COPYING for licence information.

Overview

A "session" is a key/value store that is specific to a particular browser.

Sessions are mapped to browsers using cookies. The name of the cookie is something specific to the application, e.g. "DavesApplication", and the value of the cookie is a unique identifier for a session.

Cookies are installed and removed with the procedures in session-control.ss. There are also procedures for adjusting session lifetime:

session-control.ss:

  • begin-session - store a session cookie that will be deleted when the browser is closed;
  • end-session - delete the session cookie from the browser;
  • adjust-session-lifetime - make the session cookie last for a certain number of seconds;
  • adjust-session-expiry - make the session cookie last until a certain time;

Once a cookie as been stored, a session can be retrieved and manipulated using procedures from session.ss:

session.ss:

  • session-cookie-name - parameter - the name of the session cookie - default is a random string of the form "PLTxxxx";
  • request-session-cookie-value - retrieves the value of said cookie (the session name) form a request;
  • request-session - retrieves the current session from a request;
  • session? - predicate that recognises session objects;
  • session-cookie-value - retrieves the cookie value of a session;
  • dict-ref,dict-set!,etc - sessions are dicts with eq? key comparison, support for mutation, and no support for functional update.

"Session cells" are a convenient abstraction on top of sessions. Each cell contains a unique key into the session store. This makes session-cells behave a bit like web-cells:

session-cell.ss:

  • make-session-cell - create a session cell with a default value;
  • session-cell-ref - retrieves the cell's current value from the session, or returns the cell's default value;
  • session-cell-set! - determines whether there is a value for the session in the key/value store (returns #f if session-cell-ref would fall back to the default value);
  • session-cell-set! - stores a value for the cell in the session;
  • session-cell-unset! - removes any value for the cell from the session.

See the source code for more detail.

Outstanding issues

Test coverage

Test coverage is not complete, particularly tests of the procedures in session-control.ss. I haven't used this adaptation of the code in production so I expect there will still be bugs there.

Global hash table

Currently, all session information is stored in a single global hash table called "all-sessions". Over time, this hash table will increase in size, theoretically ending in an out-of-memory errors.

Untyped have been using this global hash table approach to store usernames for authenticated users for years and to our knowledge it has never caused a problem. Usernames are small so there's no reason we should ever have seen a crash, but it would be inadvisable to use this code to store large amounts of data in its current implementation.

Jay has proposed an alternative implementation using md5-stuffers to store session data on-disk. I'll implement this as soon as I get a chance.

Netscape cookie implementation

The code uses a version of collects/net/cookie-unit.ss that implements the old Netscape cookie spec, rather than the more recent RFC standard implemented in core Racket. Untyped had issues getting cookies to work on IE6 a few years ago, which caused us to fork this code.

I have tested the Untyped library on Firefox 2+, Safari 3+ and IE 6+ and found it to work okay. However, I don't know for sure whether the core Racket library will perform better or worse in terms of browser compatibility.

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