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Subject: RE: [wsbpel] Sub-functions: some thoughts

Title: Message
I apologize if this post is a bit off topic or if the this subject has been addressed some time before (I cannot follow all the discussion threads on BPEL).
I am traditionally not a big fan of XSLT, specially for UI applications, but I do think it has its place somewhere within the SOA fabric, though neither composition, orchestration, choreography, coordination or collaboration use it.
"Transformations" are often needed as part of an orchestration solution. (I could also argue that they could be done within the fabric istself at the choreography level but this is not the topic here, maybe they are needed in both places).
I designed and implemented a BPEL engine last fall and the first thing we ended up needing was "transformations" so we created the equivalent element of assign for transformations. It looks like XSLT could address pretty well the need for subFunctions that can be invoked. I think pretty much all transformation engine support some level of scripting today. I know that designer tools do it very well.
Transformations are usually good because they provide an extra level of decoupling, promiting consumer oriented data formats as opposed to producer contracts. This is particularly useful to support different consumer types from the same orchestration definition.

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-----Original Message-----
From: Edwin Khodabakchian [mailto:edwink@collaxa.com]
Sent: Friday, November 07, 2003 10:41 AM
To: 'Ron Ten-Hove'
Cc: wsbpel@lists.oasis-open.org
Subject: RE: [wsbpel] Sub-functions: some thoughts

We should be driven by uses cases NOT analogies. In this case case, the use case is about re-use. As pointed out, there are multiple ways to address that need:
(1) Encapsulation of the logic to be re-used in a seperate process
(2) Let the tooling address this need through templates
(3) Create a new construct at the language level (called subfunction)
It seems that the only benefits of (3) over (1), (2) or a combination of (1) and (2) is that the use of subfunction signatures can having to avoid creating a new message type and the assign activities needs to initialize and read data from the message types.
There might be also an argument about (3) offering better support for privacy and packaging and deployment.
But there are also drawbacks/costs with (3) that need to be weighted:
(1) Complexity: to really deliver on the benefit of sub-functions, we need to replicate a very large number of concept and constructs already existing in the process and scope elements.
(2) Lack of communication channel: we need to create a communication mechanism between the subfunction and the calling activity so that the subfunction can report its status. This last need is much better addressed with option (1) because already supported by scope event handlers and receive activities. This is an area where BPEL is very different from traditional flow languages and this is why I am not sure that your "other process language do this" argument is valid.
(3) Lack of consistency:
This is a software point but I find the passing arguments to the subfunction not consistent with the rest of the spec: you need to create a new subfunction interface definition language (not WSDL), you need to learn that sometime you can do assign (when using invoke, receive, pick) for data manipulation and sometime you can plug expressions directly in the signature (this is at least what Yaron is suggesting).
I believe that the single most important success factor for BPEL to succeed is to remain simple (which is not trivial given that we inherit the complexity of XML Schema and some of the exotic variations of WSDL). Given that there is a significant complexity "cost" associated with adding this feature to the language, I would like to recommend following Ugo's advice and finding use cases where the problem can not be addressed using a combination of (1) and (2) and therefore require us to go the extra mile of spec'ing out (3).

From: Ron Ten-Hove [mailto:Ronald.Ten-Hove@Sun.COM]
Sent: Friday, November 07, 2003 9:52 AM
To: wsbpel@lists.oasis-open.org
Subject: [wsbpel] Sub-functions: some thoughts


    At the risk of going off topic, I'll try to apply an analogy[1] to our subfunction discussion. Let us say we are crafting a specification for a new, simple imperative programming language. We have spent a lot of time defining an exec() mechanism for the language that we are all agreed on, and consider an important part of the language. It is noted  that this actually means that subfunctions aren't strictly necessary -- all subfunctions can be treated as a kind of exec(). We now break into two camps over this:
  1. The minimalists, who argue that adding subfunctions is unnecessary, and just clutters the language. The KISS principle rules.
  2. The traditionalists, who argue that virtually every other language of this sort has subfunctions, and programmers will expect to have them in the new language. Doing an exec() to calculate a square-root sounds silly, and slow.
    The minimalists attempt to find the middle ground, by holding that a sufficiently clever IDE could create the illusion of subfunctions, while in fact creating code that used exec() instead. The traditionalists reject this line of reasoning, claiming that the language is being crafted for humans to use, understand, and reason with, not code generators.

    Enough analogizing; back to BPEL: we seem to be revisiting an old issue -- who is the target of this language: tools, or humans? This is a topic we have discussed in the past; I believe our consensus was that human readers (and even writers) were important. In addition, we have seem to have accepted the assertion of the original authors that the language is not merely for execution, but for process modelling as well.

    Also, the principle of minimalism in a language has to kept in check. To quote Satish Thatte (June 20, 2003):
"There is some element of judgment involved in deciding what is minimal enough for BPEL -- emulation is not a conclusive argument."
    So how is our judgement to be informed and guided? Personal taste? Keep the status quo, since that is easiest? Serve crass commercial interests? Examine current practice in industry to adopt the best elements and build an idea of  what expectations have been created over years of practice and innovation? Recall what makes open technical standards viable, valuable, and widely adopted? Use a ouija board? ;-)


[1] In general, I hate analogies, but given the membership of this TC, this might actually be an apt one (YMMV).

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