Crichton is a library to simplify generating and consuming Hypermedia API responses.
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README.md

Crichton

Build Status

Crichton is a library to simplify implementing Hypermedia APIs. It has the knowledge of Hypermedia from the Ancients.

Checkout the documentation for more info and/or try the demo service.

Overview

Crichton is opinionated in that Hypermedia APIs and their associated resources should be designed and implemented as state-machines. As such, the library leverages a state-machine centric, declarative {file:doc/api_descriptor_documents.md API descriptor document} which it uses to dynamically decorate data as Hypermedia representations for different media-types.

Assuming one has designed a resource as a state-machine and drafted an API descriptor document as a canonical definition of that resource, Crichton can be implemented in a service to return representations for supported media-types.

Resource Design

Crichton's opinion (along with others) is that a well-defined Hypermedia API exposes a state-machine interface that maximizes "shared understanding" of the elements in the underlying resources. Assuming one has done this design, there are a number of artifacts that one can develop to simplify implementing hypermedia. The following outlines the process and artifacts of an (overly simplified) eBook API example that illustrates underlying concepts used to create an {file:doc/api_descriptor_documents.md API descriptor document} for the related resources.

Analyze Resource Semantics

Assuming one has analysed a business problem and isolated a resource or simple set of related resources including determining desired properties and actions necessary to accomplish the associated work, the next step is to groom the resource(s). This analysis is part of "Contract First" development and lays the groundwork for Hypermedia Contracts and State-machine analysis and definition.

Resource definition is about the best names and related meaning (semantics, or vocabulary) of the data properties and link relations of a resource vs. a schema per se. Ideally, groomed resources and associated profiles that result from this analysis would represent the generally understandable, reusable and optimum interface for the work associated with the resource, such that it could be published in public profile registries with that confidence.

The {file:doc/sample_ebooks_hypermedia_contract.md Sample eBooks Hypermedia Contract} summarizes a proposed format.

Determine Resource State-machines

Hypermedia APIs implement the Hypermedia constraint of the REST architecture style known as "hypermedia as the engine of application state", or HATEOAS. Implicit in this statement is the fact that Hypermedia APIs expose state-machine resources, that is data and available state transitions at runtime.

The {file:doc/sample_ebooks_state_machine_analysis.md Sample eBooks State-machine Analysis} gives an overview of this process and the artifacts it generates.

Putting it all together

Given a solid semantic understanding of a resource, or closely related set of resources, one can use a Hypermedia Contract and the related State-machine Analysis, an {file:doc/api_descriptor_documents.md API descriptor document} can be drafted.

The {file:doc/sample_ebooks_api_descriptor.md Sample eBooks API Descriptor Document} aggregates the information for use in decorating data as resources in Crichton.

Usage

  • Checkout {file:doc/getting_started.md Getting Started}
  • Design an {file:doc/api_descriptor_documents.md API descriptor document} and {file:doc/lint.md Lint} it
  • {file:doc/know_your_options.md Know your options}
  • Implement Models and Controllers (and maybe some Service Objects)

Models

Any class can be represented as a resource by simply including the Crichton::Representor module and specifying the corresponding resource that represents it defined in an API descriptor document.

class DRD
  include Crichton::Representor
  represents :drd
  
  # Other methods ...
end

This basic implementation is useful for a resource that has only one state and has no context related conditions (e.g. user role or permission constraints) limiting the presence of transitions (links and forms) in the representation. Thus, in the previous example, all available transitions will be returned in the response.

A more general use case will likely be one of the following:

  • a single state with context related conditions on the transitions
  • a resource with multiple states (and possibly varying context related conditions on the transitions)

There are a couple of options for defining the implementing state-machine functionality in Crichton:

  • A class has a state instance method:

    class DRD
      include Crichton::Representor::State 
      represents :drd
      
      def state
       # Do something to determine the state of the resource.
      end
    
      # Other methods ...
    end
  • A class incorporates a gem with a state method (e.g. state_machine Gem):

    require 'state_machine'
    
    class DRD
      include Crichton::Representor::State 
      represents :drd
      
      state_machine # ...
    
      # Other methods ...
    end
  • The class implements a state accessor or method that is not the state of the resource:

    class Address
      include Crichton::Representor::State 
      represents :address
      state_method :my_state_method # Overrides the default state method name
      
      attr_accessor :street, :city, :state, :zip
      
      def my_state_method
       # Do something to determine the state of the resource.
      end
      
      # Other methods ...
    end

If a class does not implement a `state` instance method, but includes `Crichton::Representor` 
or `Crichton::Representor::State` module, Crichton assumes that resource has only one `default` state. 
See {file:doc/resource_descriptors.md#states Resource States} for more information.

## Controllers<a name="controllers"></a>
The simplicity of Crichton is that it implements a single interface `to_media_type` on an object which accepts a 
number of options that support dynamic decoration of the object as hypermedia. See [\#to_media_type] method for 
examples of supported options.

### Rails
Crichton automatically registers mime types and responders for [supported media-types] and hooks into the rendering
framework of Rails.

```ruby
class DRDsController < ApplicationController
  respond_to(:hale, :hal, :html, :xhtml)
  
  def show
    drd = Drd.find(params[:id])
    respond_with(drd, conditions: context_based_conditions)
  end
  
  private
  def context_based_conditions
    # Returns condition strings in API Descriptor to dynamically filter available 
    # transitions based on the context of request.
  end
end

Known Rails Issues

  • Crichton does not currently support ActiveModel::Naming and thus representor instances will not set location headers unless ActiveModel::Naming is implemented in the related class(es).
  • Using a default format in routes.rb will prevent proper content-negotiation using headers. This appears to be a Rails issue. E.g. defaults: { format: :json } would prevent content negotiation with an Accept header `application/hal+json'.

Other Frameworks

Crichton can be used to generate raw responses that can be returned in other application frameworks using the #to_media_type method on objects that implement Crichton::Representor or Crichton::Representor::State.

# some_controller.rb
require 'crichton'

class SomeController
  def media_type_symbol
    # Convert Accept type to Crichton symbol associated with media-type
  end
    
  def show
    drd = DRD.find(params[:id])
    options = # set any context related options
    drd.to_media_type(media_type_symbol, options)
  end
end

Service Objects

Service Objects are a useful concept to keep models separated from logic and access controller methods in generating a response. For example, a resource descriptor may define a uri_source on some protocol implementation of a transition that it expects on an object. Alternately, one may want to apply some logic to determine conditions from the request context to pass into a response.

class ServiceObject
  include Crichton::Representor::State
  represents :drds
  
  attr_reader :target, :controller

  def initialize(target, controller)
    super(target)
    @target = target
    @controller = controller
  end
  
  def total_count
    @total_count ||= target.count
  end
  
  def items
    target
  end
  
  def some_uri_source
    controller.url_for(:some_resource)
  end
  
  alias :original_to_media_type :to_media_type
  def to_media_type(options = {})
    original_to_media_type(options.merge(state: state).merge(other_options))
  end
  
  def state
    # Some logic to determine the state since target will be an array in this example.
  end
  
  private
  def other_options
    # Some logic to get a list of conditions or other options
  end  
end

And then, in a controller:

class DRDsController
  respond_to(:hale_json, :hal_json, :html)
  
  def index
    drds = ServiceObject.new(DRD.all, self)
    respond_with(drds)
  end
end

Collections

Crichton's opinion is there is no such thing as a "Collection Resource". There are just resources that include data and transitions. Some resources may actually contain lists of other resources or exist as a series of resources, but they are just a resource like any other.

Thus, what some, using certain "conventions" or ORMs might consider a "Collection Resource", e.g. an application/json (non-hypermedia aware media-type) array response are not supported, such as:

[ 
  { "id": 1 },
  { "id": 2 }
]

This type of JSON response does not allow setting any attributes or metadata for a resource. Rather, such a resource would be returned in a Hypermedia API, for example using application/hal+json, as:

{
  "_links": {
    "self": { "href": "..." },
    "items": [ { "href": "..." }, { "href": "..." } ]
  },
  "_embedded": {
    "items": [
      { 
        "_links": {
          "self": { "href": "..." }
        },
        "id": 1
      },
      { 
        "_links": {
          "self": { "href": "..." }
        },
        "id": 2
      }
    ]
  },
  "total_count": 2
}

or, as application/json:

{
  "total_count": 2,
  "items": [ 
    { "id": 1 },
    { "id": 2 }
  ]
}

Crichton understands and recursively builds representations of embedded resources as long as each of the associated objects implements Crichton::Representor or Crichton::Representor::State.

Examples

  • Using Service Objects to wrap an ORM collection, as in the prior example.

  • Creating a model

    class DRDs
      include Crichton::Representor
        
      represents :drds
      
      attr_reader :items
      
      def self.all
        new(DRD.all)
      end
      
      def initialize(items)
        @items = items
      end
        
      def total_count
        items.count
      end
    end
    
    class DRDsController
      respond_to(:hale, :hal, :html, :xhtml)
      
      def index
        drds = DRDs.all
        respond_with(drds)
      end
    end
  • Wrapping a Hash object with a representor interface using the #build_representor or the #build_state_representor factory methods.

    class DRDsController 
      include Crichton::Representor::Factory
      
      def index
        drds = DRD.all
        drds_hash = {
          total_count: drds.count,
          items: drds
        }
        respond_with(build_state_representor(drds_hash, :drds, { state: :collection }))
      end
    end

Surfing your API in a browser

Crichton supports the media-type text/html out of the box so that an API can be surfed in a browser to allow fast prototyping of APIs.

Rails

If a template is defined for a request in Rails, the template is rendered. However, if no template exists and a controller is configured to respond to HTML, Crichton will render an HTML version of the resource based on the API descriptor document for the resource.

Supported Media-types

The following are currently supported media-types:

Contributing

See {file:CONTRIBUTING.md} for details.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Mike Amundsen and Jon Moore for patient explanations and the whole Hypermedia community that helped crystallize ideas underlying Crichton. And, of course, thanks to all the contributors.

Copyright

Copyright (c) 2013 Medidata Solutions Worldwide. See {file:LICENSE.md} for details.