To Overcome

Incremental API Takeover with Haskell Servant

Haskell’s servant library is a compelling choice for a web API. By providing a specification of the API as a type, you ensure at compile time that your application correctly implements the specification. You also get automatically generated or derived clients for Haskell, JavaScript, and Ruby. Using servant-swagger, you can automatically generate swagger API specification, with all the goodies that come from that. If you’re not familiar, I’d highly recommend checking out the links – this article in particular is a bit of a mindblower.

“Fine, fine, you’ve convinced me, I’ll start my next project with Servant. But I still have all these old APIs in Ruby and JavaScript and Java that I need to support!”

What if I told you that you could incrementally take over an existing API, and gradually reap the benefits of a servant application? Oh yes. Let’s do this! We’ll put the old API behind a reverse proxy that’s handled in Haskell by Servant, and take over an endpoint at a time.

The code for this blog post is located in this repository. Each section has it’s own git branch. The first section is the master branch.

The Initial API

Here’s the super important business logic legacy API that we need to preserve while we’re replacing it:

# rubby/api.rb
require 'sinatra'
require 'json'

get '/' do
  'You can get either <a href="cat">cat</a> or <a href="dog">dog</a>.'
end

get '/cat' do
  { cat: "meow" }.to_json
end

get '/dog' do
  { dog: "woof" }.to_json
end

Pretty hairy, right? groan Sinatra is a nice Ruby DSL for writing APIs and web apps. When you make a GET request to /, it responds with a bit of text linking you to either cat or dog. Ruby implicitly returns the last line in a block, so this just returns the corresponding hashes converted to JSON.

Ordinarily, we’d run this with ruby api.rb and it’d be on http://localhost:4567. Our first step is creating the reverse proxy in Haskell that is handled by Servant. We’ll use the http-reverse-proxy package to simplify the process.

Here’s the full source code of the initial reverse proxy.

-- src/Api.hs

{-# LANGUAGE DataKinds       #-}
{-# LANGUAGE OverloadedStrings #-}
{-# LANGUAGE TypeOperators   #-}

module Api where

import Network.HTTP.ReverseProxy
import Network.HTTP.Client (Manager, defaultManagerSettings, newManager)
import Network.Wai
import Network.Wai.Handler.Warp
import Servant

As usual, we start with the language extensions and imports.

forwardRequest :: Request -> IO WaiProxyResponse
forwardRequest _ = 
    pure (WPRProxyDest (ProxyDest "127.0.0.1" 4567))

forwardRequest is a function we’ll use to return a WaiProxyResponse. This function inspects the request, and then gets to decide what to do with it. In this case, we just want to forward the request to our Sinatra app running on localhost:4567.

app :: Manager -> Application
app manager =
    waiProxyTo forwardRequest defaultOnExc manager

startApp :: IO ()
startApp = do
    manager <- newManager defaultManagerSettings
    run 8080 (app manager)

app is going to be how we define our application, and startApp is a convenience function we’ll use to run the app in GHCi.

Let’s verify that this is working like we want it to!

$ git clone https://www.github.com/parsonsmatt/incremental-servant
$ cd incremental-servant/rubby
$ bundle install
$ ruby api.rb

This runs our Ruby API. When you go to http://localhost:4567, you should see the text defined in the get '/' do ... end block above. Clicking either of the links will return a JSON object.

Now, if this works, then we should be able to just run the Haskell thing in GHCi and access it through localhost:8080. Let’s give that a shot. Leave the ruby api.rb task running, and in another terminal, do:

$ cd incremental-servant
$ stack init
$ stack ghci
# GHCi loads...
Main Api> startApp
-- silence . . .

Now, when I navigate to localhost:8080 in Chrome, I see the original application we defined. Nice!

Commandeering a Route

Next up, we’ll take over the cat route. The code for this section is in the cat-takeover branch on GitHub. Our first step is to define our API type for Servant:

type API 
    = "cat" :> Get '[JSON] Cat

For the string literal "cat", we’ll return a JSON representation of a Cat. We could alternatively specify other encodings, like HTML or plain text, but for now we’re just returning JSON. What is a Cat exactly? We have to define it!

newtype Cat = Cat { cat :: String }

And how do we convert it to JSON? We’ll use the Aeson library to do the conversion! Here’s a manual instance that mirrors the API we have on the Ruby:

instance ToJSON Cat where
    toJSON (Cat mew) = 
        object [ "cat" .= mew ]

Serialization and deserialization are often some of the more annoying parts of writing a web app. Aeson provides both Template Haskell functions for deriving compile time instances, as well as generic implementations for derived instances. If we enable the DeriveGeneric and DeriveAnyClass extensions and import GHC.Generics, then we can change our newtype declaration above to the following and get the JSON instance without having to write it:

newtype Cat = Cat { cat :: String }
    deriving (Generic, ToJSON)

Nice! Alright, let’s get it hooked up to our application. First, we need a Servant server function:

server :: Server API
server = pure (Cat { cat = "mrowl" })

Now we need to turn our Server API into a WAI Application. We use the serve function and the funny :<|> constructor.

api :: Proxy (API :<|> Raw)
api = Proxy

app :: Manager -> Application
app manager = serve api 
    (server :<|> waiProxyTo forwardRequest defaultOnExc manager)

The api proxy is required to tell Servant what our API type is supposed to look like. Otherwise, it can’t figure out whether or not the function we’re serveing conforms to it!

The second argument of serve is a pair of handlers. The handlers must line up with the types. Note that server in this code has the type Server API, while waiProxyTo ... has the type Application. If we have Servant server types (like "cat" :> Get '[JSON] Cat), then we need to have a Server for them. For the Raw endpoint, we just need any WAI application.

This is all the changes we need! Let’s test this out. You haven’t closed the ruby api.rb process right? That’s been running the whole time, right? Open it up in localhost:4567 and verify that it’s still doing the thing we want it to.

Close out the current startApp call in GHCi, hit :reload to reload the code, and run startApp again. Open localhost:8080 in the browser, and you should see the same text from Sinatra. However, when you click cat, instead of the cat saying meow, you get mrowl!

EXCITING

We just took over a route without any loss of service or touching the underlying application at all!

DOGS

Let’s knock out the dogs route now. The code for that is here. Then the original app will only be serving as an entry point!

It’s actually a really minimal change! We’ll add two language pragmas so we can derive generic instances, import the generic machinery, and that’s almost the whole of it!

{-# LANGUAGE DeriveGeneric, DeriveAnyClass #-}

-- ... 

import GHC.Generics

-- ...

newtype Dog = Dog { dog :: String }
    deriving (Generic, ToJSON)

type API 
    = "cat" :> Get '[JSON] Cat
    :<|> "dog" :> Get '[JSON] Dog

server :: Server API
server = cats :<|> dogs
  where
    cats = pure (Cat { cat = "mrowl" })
    dogs = pure (Dog { dog = "zzzzzz" })

And that’s all! We’ll reload the code in GHCi and see that the dogs route has been successfully captured.

Intro Text

The second to last remaining bit is to grab the index page. Let’s do it!

(this code is in the index branch on GitHub)

We’ll use the excellent lucid library for HTML templating rather than a bare string. This means we’ll need to add lucid and servant-lucid to the cabal file, and add the relevant imports.

import Lucid
import Servant.HTML.Lucid

type API
    = Get '[HTML] (Html ())
    :<|> "cat" :> Get '[JSON] Cat
    :<|> "dog" :> Get '[JSON] Dog

Our API definition adds a first route, returning a content type of HTML and a value of Html ().

server :: Server API
server = pure index :<|> cats :<|> dogs
  where
    cats = pure (Cat { cat = "mrowl" })
    dogs = pure (Dog { dog = "zzzzzzzz" })
    index = p_ $ do
        "You can get either a "
        a_ [href_ "cat"] "cat"
        " or a "
        a_ [href_ "dog"] "dog"
        "."

I really like lucid. It’s a great DSL for HTML.

At this point, all the API endpoints are being routed to Haskell. We still have the reverse proxy setup, though, and a Raw endpoint never fails to match. This means that any missing route will go back to the Sinatra application, and will be handled there. If we remove the proxy and Raw endpoint, then we’ll be able to handle those errors in Servant.

Anyway, that’s all we had to do. If we quit GHCi, restart it, and then rerun startApp, the application will be serving up our index page rather than the Ruby app. We have successfully ousted a Ruby API with one based on Haskell’s Servant, from which we’ll reap tremendous benefits in terms of generated documentation, clients, and improved performance.

Performance

So what is the overhead on this reverse proxy? Let’s run a shady benchmark with httperf. Keep in mind that this is done locally, and the Ruby server is WEBrick, which is notoriously slow.

Here’s the output from httperf on the Ruby server:

$ httperf --port=4567 --num-calls=500

httperf --client=0/1 --server=localhost --port=4567 --uri=/ --send-buffer=4096 --recv-buffer=163
84 --ssl-protocol=auto --num-conns=1 --num-calls=500
Maximum connect burst length: 0

Total: connections 1 requests 500 replies 500 test-duration 19.961 s

Connection rate: 0.1 conn/s (19960.9 ms/conn, <=1 concurrent connections)
Connection time [ms]: min 19960.9 avg 19960.9 max 19960.9 median 19960.5 stddev 0.0
Connection time [ms]: connect 0.1
Connection length [replies/conn]: 500.000

Request rate: 25.0 req/s (39.9 ms/req)
Request size [B]: 62.0

Reply rate [replies/s]: min 25.0 avg 25.0 max 25.0 stddev 0.0 (3 samples)
Reply time [ms]: response 1.4 transfer 38.5
Reply size [B]: header 282.0 content 66.0 footer 0.0 (total 348.0)
Reply status: 1xx=0 2xx=500 3xx=0 4xx=0 5xx=0

CPU time [s]: user 6.18 system 13.78 (user 30.9% system 69.0% total 100.0%)
Net I/O: 10.0 KB/s (0.1*10^6 bps)

Errors: total 0 client-timo 0 socket-timo 0 connrefused 0 connreset 0
Errors: fd-unavail 0 addrunavail 0 ftab-full 0 other 0

We’re getting about 25 requests per second, with a test duration of about 20 seconds. Here’s output from just running the reverse proxy. I built the binary using -O2 to enable optimizations.

$ httperf --port=8080 --num-calls=500
httperf --client=0/1 --server=localhost --port=8080 --uri=/ --send-buffer=4096 --recv-buffer=163
84 --ssl-protocol=auto --num-conns=1 --num-calls=500
Maximum connect burst length: 0

Total: connections 1 requests 500 replies 500 test-duration 19.984 s

Connection rate: 0.1 conn/s (19984.3 ms/conn, <=1 concurrent connections)
Connection time [ms]: min 19984.4 avg 19984.4 max 19984.4 median 19984.5 stddev 0.0
Connection time [ms]: connect 0.1
Connection length [replies/conn]: 500.000

Request rate: 25.0 req/s (40.0 ms/req)
Request size [B]: 62.0

Reply rate [replies/s]: min 25.0 avg 25.0 max 25.0 stddev 0.0 (3 samples)
Reply time [ms]: response 39.9 transfer 0.0
Reply size [B]: header 290.0 content 66.0 footer 2.0 (total 358.0)
Reply status: 1xx=0 2xx=500 3xx=0 4xx=0 5xx=0

CPU time [s]: user 5.76 system 14.20 (user 28.8% system 71.1% total 99.9%)
Net I/O: 10.2 KB/s (0.1*10^6 bps)

Errors: total 0 client-timo 0 socket-timo 0 connrefused 0 connreset 0
Errors: fd-unavail 0 addrunavail 0 ftab-full 0 other 0

This is essentially the exact same. About 20 seconds test duration and 25 requests per second. There doesn’t seem to be any overhead detectable in this test, which makes me want a better test!

For reference, here’s the Haskell index branch, where it’s doing the lucid HTML templating:

λ ~/Projects/incremental-servant/ index* httperf --port=8080 --num-calls=500
httperf --client=0/1 --server=localhost --port=8080 --uri=/ --send-buffer=4096 --recv-buffer=163
84 --ssl-protocol=auto --num-conns=1 --num-calls=500
Maximum connect burst length: 0

Total: connections 1 requests 500 replies 500 test-duration 0.061 s

Connection rate: 16.3 conn/s (61.5 ms/conn, <=1 concurrent connections)
Connection time [ms]: min 61.5 avg 61.5 max 61.5 median 61.5 stddev 0.0
Connection time [ms]: connect 0.1
Connection length [replies/conn]: 500.000

Request rate: 8136.6 req/s (0.1 ms/req)
Request size [B]: 62.0

Reply rate [replies/s]: min 0.0 avg 0.0 max 0.0 stddev 0.0 (0 samples)
Reply time [ms]: response 0.1 transfer 0.0
Reply size [B]: header 143.0 content 77.0 footer 2.0 (total 222.0)
Reply status: 1xx=0 2xx=500 3xx=0 4xx=0 5xx=0

CPU time [s]: user 0.02 system 0.04 (user 32.5% system 65.1% total 97.6%)
Net I/O: 2240.7 KB/s (18.4*10^6 bps)

Errors: total 0 client-timo 0 socket-timo 0 connrefused 0 connreset 0
Errors: fd-unavail 0 addrunavail 0 ftab-full 0 other 0

8000 requests per second, with a test duration of 60 milliseconds.

I like that pretty well!