Thursday, June 9, 2016

Removing a Buildfarm client/server perl dependency

With one very small exception, there is nothing in the buildfarm server that requires the client to be running perl, even though both the server and the standard client are written in perl.

Andreas Scherbaum has written a new specialized client in python, and he asked me about removing that dependency. Essentially what this requires is that an alternative mechanism be allowed for transmitting the serialized configuration in the client's web transaction. Currently the client uses perl's Storable module to serialize the data, and the server uses the same module to de-serialize it. The obvious alternative candidate is to serialize it as JSON.

The first problem was to determine if we can sanely distinguish between data serialized by the two mechanisms. And we can. JSON is not allowed to contain any control characters, and a structure serialized using Storable's nfreeze() method is pretty much guaranteed to contain such characters. So I've added a test to the receiving program that looks for such characters and if it doesn't find them assumes that the data is JSON and decodes it accordingly. This has been tested using the client nightjar.

There are a few wrinkles, though. The main one is that we can't assume that every client has a module available to encode the data as JSON. In fact, nightjar didn't until I installed one. So in order to build this into the client I'll need to find a way to determine at runtime if it's available and fall back to using Storable otherwise.

We should also look at actually storing the data as JSON rather than as a serialized blob. When the buildfarm was created we didn't have any database support for JSON, but now the sensible thing to do would be to store the data as jsonb, and make it searchable.

But that's a project for another day.

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