[personal profile] omnifarious

I've been puzzling over a minimal and orthogonal set of properties for a session. I at first thought there were 3:

Message boundaries preserved
Whether or not your messages are delivered in discrete units, or whether they are delivered as a stream of bytes in which the original sizes of the send calls bear no relevance to how the bytes are chunked together on the other end.
Ordered
Whether or not data arrives in the order you sent it
Reliable
Well, this has a tricky definition. For TCP it means that failure to deliver is considered a failure of the underlying connection. But after such a failure you can't really be sure about exactly which bytes were delivered and which weren't.

But, as is evidenced by my description of 'reliable', these properties are not as hard-edged as they might seem. I also thought about latency, for example a connection via email is relatively high latency, and a connection between memory and the CPU is generally pretty low latency. But I'm looking for hard-edged, yes/no type properties that are in some sense fundamental. Latency seems like a property that's rather fuzzy. It exists on a continuum, and isn't really a defining feature of a connection, something that would drastically alter how you wrote programs that used the connection. In an object model, it would be an object property, not something you'd make a different class for.

But I find TCP's notion of 'reliability' very curious. It isn't really, in any sense, particularly reliable. I've had ssh connections that died, but when I reconnect to my screen session, I discover that a whole bunch of the stuff I was typing made it through, it just wasn't echoed back.

It also interacts with 'ordered' in an odd way. It might make sense to have an unordered connection that was 'reliable', but what does that really mean then? If it's a TCP notion of reliability, you could just deliver the last message and have the connection drop. Also, what would it mean to have an unreliable, but ordered connection? Would that mean you could send a bunch of messages and have only the first and last ones delivered? And would it make any sense at all to have an unordered, unreliable connection in which message boundaries were not preserved?

So I've come up with a different division...

Message boundaries preserved
Whether or not your messages are delivered in discrete units, or whether they are delivered as a stream of bytes in which the original sizes of the send calls bear no relevance to how the bytes are chunked together on the other end.
Ordered
Whether or not data arrives in the order you sent it
Must not drop
This means that if a message does not make it through, the connection is considered to be in an unrecoverable error state, and no further messages may be sent. Though you may not know which message didn't make it through.
Delivery notification
Whether or not you can know that a message made it to the other side or not.

These are not fully orthogonal. For example, if message boundaries are not preserved, then, in order for a connection to be in the least sensible, it must also have the 'ordered' and 'must not drop' properties. Also, if you must not drop messages, I'm not sure that it would then be sensible to have out-of-order delivery.

One of the rules of the system I'm designing is that any property that is not required may be provided anyway. This makes non-orthogonality much easier to deal with. So the prior cases aren't really a problem.

Can any of you think of a better set of properties, or important properties that I left out?

Some good discussion also happens in this Google Buzz post that mirrors this entry.

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November 2012

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