Saturday, November 10, 2007

Case for Web services with JSON RPC

I have recently been working on developing JSON RPC based web services (over https) and using Java client. The server side JSONRPC services were developed using the JSON-RPC-Java and later also using the JSON-RPC C libraries.

The only client side JSON RPC stack in Java that is available at the time of this writing is It supports JSON RPC over http (using apache commons httpclient library). It was easily extensible to support JSON RPC over https. In this post, i am going to put down my experiences of using JSON RPC.

  1. JSON is a fat-free XML. (
  2. JSON RPC is an alternative RPC mechanism over http (or https).
  3. JSON RPC is simpler to learn and implement than SOAP. The stacks are much less lines of code compared to SOAP stacks.
  4. JSON RPC is simple as it does not include an Interface Definition Language like WSDL for SOAP based web services. So there is no contract definition between client and server in a IDL rather contract is defined on paper and then implememted in respective languages of server-side and client-side.
  5. JSON RPC spec is very loosly written and hence leaves alot of room for vendors to come up with their own solutions. Like metaparadig folks have their proprietary way of implementing class hinting (viz the way to identify the class type to the other end so that JSON message can be mapped to a class type and an instance of the class can be created with the passed in values in the JSON stream).
  6. The interoperability between JSON RPC C/C++ service and Java client is limited in following aspects:
    1. No Java collections can be used. This is same for even SOAP web services. The root cause for this limitation is that the pre JDK 1.5 Java had no generics and hence all collection classes (like ArrayList) could have held more than one Object types so it was hard to tell the type of the element held in the collection. This is solved by proprietary class hinting ismplementations when both client and server are in Java but across languages this becomes an issue. So the solution is to use arrays instead.
    2. Enum types are not supported by the metaparadigm JSON-RPC-Java stack at present as its a newer JDK 1.5 feature. So use int instead.
  7. Security: Though several approaches may be possible but the simplest solution is to implement JSON RPC over https with basic authentication for client. You may have a self-signed certificate for the web service to keep the deployments simple. But if you really want the most security possible then go for a trusted CA signed certificate for the web service but then you will require a certificate signing infrastructure in place to be able to create a certificate for each instance of web service installed.
  8. JSON RPC spec does not have anything to say about intermediary message handlers but it is easy to think of creating JSON RPC intermediary nodes although the spec does not have provisions for extensible message control headers like SOAP spec has. So JSON RPC is pretty much limited to being used between two nodes (the client and the server) - the message source and the message destination or end point. Its not really meant for "document" style messaging for which SOAP is used in B2B applications.
So if you want to build a robust, fat-free (read faster) distributed RPC infrastructure then you can base it on JSON RPC.

JSON RPC makes most sense in web applications where the client is in Javascript language as JSON maps directly to Javascript objects and hence you dont need to parse the message and extract the data, its done automatically. But other than AJAXing your web pages, you can also use it for straight forward RPC architectures where SOAP may be an overkill. You will have a working JSON RPC solution much sooner and it is of course much easier to comprehend and implement than SOAP. So when you are using SOAP web services with RPC style then think twice as you have an more able alternative approach in JSON RPC.

Let me know your thoughts by leaving your comments.


Anonymous said...

A pure C++ implementation of JSON-RPC is available at

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