This morning, I have been reading about Web Linking. This is in short a specification standardizing a common practice of making links "fat" with semantic goodness by adding attributes. There is a set of defined attributes and depending on those attributes, more attributes can be added. It's based on xml and comes in very handy for extending Atom and HTML.
Here is an example of how I can reference a related blog post:
The rel attribute is very important as it defines the relation to the current element. There is in fact a registry which takes care of keeping track of all the types of relations. Examples are: me, related, alternate, via, etc. The specification also talks about how to serialize those links on the header but we are going to focus on serializing the links in JSON.
So what happens when we consider rendering feeds in JSON and have to deal with web linking ? While Xml has attributes and child elements, JSON objects only have properties. Therefore attributes and child elements in xml both map to properties in JSON. Structures with properties in JSON are objects. I bet you I am not the first one thinking how should we model an object that has a url to a human readable page in JSON? You may be tempted to simply copy xml verbatim and have an array of links. We actually did this in our Activity Streams JSON specification. It did not look very readable and clashed with our modeling of social objects. It was not clear when to model something as a fat link in a links array or as a native object.
Its a mismatch. This "links" is just a bag which can have a large variety of items, so why not just use the links' parent element ? Links are just objects.
Furthermore social objects are fat links with type 'text/html' because they are publicly accessible and human interactive. This is an example of why should not model social objects one way and links independently. They are the same thing. We should represent links in JSON directly as properties where the property name maps to the relationship and type.
For example to list all link rel="related" type="text/html"
Keeping it simple.
Since joining Facebook I have been enlightened by the team's simplicity-first approach to pretty much everything: user interface, APIs and specifications. This vision has had substantial influence shaping external efforts as well: OAuth 2.0 and now we are seeing beginning efforts for OpenID Connect.
The OpenID Connect idea is good and simple: once you know who the user is you will have access to get details about the user in JSON. It's not surprising that JSON is the format of choice for transmitting data. It's compact, takes no effort to deserialize and reads logically.
Another the key ingredient for OpenID Connect is discovery. How do you go from a user's email address or OpenID url to knowing what endpoints to query to get the information ? Eran Hammer-Lahav has been working for several years in Discovery. His work is amazing and inspiring and is becoming the foundation of many of the specifications we use today. In short it's a set of protocols describing how machines can discover and use apis. The one gotcha was that this used to be specified all using xml based on the Web Linking specification so Eran has started drafting a proposal for doing discovery and resource description in JSON called JRD
This is what caught my attention.
Here is what this proposal would look like for JRD using simple web linking in JSON
I hope this recommendation for modeling links in JSON as objects using the relation is simple and useful and thanks to John Panzer and Martin Atkins for helping shed light on this issue.