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Some one help me with my design paralysis!

Assume a microservice (probably going to be implemented in Spring Boot) that has implemented an run of the mill REST API, and after receiving an initial request, it then talks to maybe 2-3 other external services(as a REST client to those services) to look up data to do whatever work it needs to do. Assume that the response from these services is pretty fast.

The HTTP response to the initial request is dependent on the responses (or availability) from the other external services. For instance, the response to the initial request may be 200OK if all the back end services are available, or it might be a 500 if one of the services is missing/down or if data is unavailable.

The question then, is there any established design pattern that is used to handle this (what seems to me, typical) scenario?

I can see how it would be implemented synchronously with a few 'if' statements or maybe by propagating any results/exceptions received from the back end services, but would it be better practice/faster to use an internal event bus, reactive Java, whatever?

What are the best practices?

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There's a lot loaded in this question. But let's address the first cry for help.

Some one help me with my design paralysis!

  • Step 1: stop worrying about "Best practices" and "perfect"
  • Step 2: identify 1-3 things that works
  • Step 3: figure out which of them is going to fit your problem best

Ok. With that out of the way let's unpack this a bit. You have a service that depends on multiple other services. And you are thinking about the fail state, that's good.

When communicating failure states back to a service's client:

  • Identify the appropriate status code
    • 424, Failed dependency seems most appropriate for your example
    • 503, Service unavailable, also appropriate
  • Identify what the message body should include
    • Do you include downstream error state? (may or may not be appropriate)
    • How about a JSON response with any additional information?
    • Or is just the code OK?
  • Use logging and log shipping for the rest

Not industry standard, but a personal gripe is that the 500 internal server error is the default error code when your application fails to catch an exception. As a result you may leak information about your code outside of the service that can be used by bad people to exploit it later. When I see a 500 error, the first thing I think is that someone can't handle errors appropriately. Sometimes it is legitimately the most correct response, but most of the time there is something better.

Architectural Alternatives

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous programming has their trade-offs. The biggest trade-off is complexity vs. handling more requests with fewer resources.

My personal recommendation is to get something working first. After that, you can see precisely where the design flaws really are. Sometimes it's just not what you assumed it was up front.

I think it's more common to focus on orchestrating multiple instances of microservices before looking at how to rearchitect them. Orchestration is the process of spinning up new instances of services or tearing down instances you no longer need in an automated fashion. Once you have the orchestration problem solved, it becomes easier to look at how to re-architect things.

Any time you have one service depend on another service, you need to look at how you intend to take advantage of multiple instances of that service. Tools that help in that arena are:

  • Service Discovery (like Consul and Eureka)
  • The circuit breaker pattern (like Hystrix)
  • Automatic retry in a load balanced way

Since you have a complicated set up, with services that depend on other services, you also should look into request tracing. In the Spring world the project would be Zipkin, but there are many implementations of the open tracing pattern. There are also multiple server side pieces that can consume the output of the tracing pattern. For example the Elastic Stack has tooling for that built in.

Final Thoughts

Narrow your focus on the specific problem you are trying to solve, and then solve it. As you expand your view, you will see other needs to support and maintain your software. Add those needs to the backlog and work them off as you can.

When it comes to microservices, I think there are a lot of architectural patterns to pull from but no settled "right way" to do things. There is tooling that helps address a common set of problems. You can start small and simply and grow in to the complete solution over time.

  • Thanks for the input : ) You are right, our team will focus on getting things working first. Orchestration we have in hand since we will be deploying services to a K8s platform with service discovery etc taken care of. Hystrix or related circuitbreaker solutions look like it may be the way to go in the end...but like you said remembering to "make it work" before "making it right" is the way to go. – Englishbob May 3 at 17:20
  • 424 is intended for multi-action requests such as PROPPATCH. The WebDAV spec makes it pretty clear that "424 is also a new status code but it appears only in the body of a Multistatus response". 4xx errors are for invalid client requests and 5xx errors are for server failures. – Eric Stein Jun 5 at 19:04

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