Archive for December, 2011

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Resurgence of MVC in XQuery

There’s been an increasing amount of talk about MVC in XQuery, notably David Cassel’s great discussion and to an extent Kurt Cagle’s platform discussion that touched on forms interfaces. Lots of Smart People are thinking in this area, and that’s a good thing.

A while back I recorded my thoughts on what I called MET, or the Model Endpoint Template organizational pattern, as used in MarkLogic Application Builder. One difference between 2009 and now, though, is that browsers have distanced themselves even farther from XML, which tends to undercut the eliminate-the-impedance-mismatch argument. In particular, the forms model in HTML5 continues to prefer flat data, which to me indicates that models still play an important role in XQuery web apps.

So I envision the app lifecycle like this:

  1. The browser requests a particular page, say the one that lets you configure sorting options in the app you’re building
  2. An HTML page loads.
  3. Client-side script requests the project state from a designated endpoint, the server transforms the XML into a flat list, and delivers it as JSON (as an optimization, the server can package the initial data into the page delivered in the prior step)
  4. Standard form interaction and client-side scripting happens, including manipulation of repeating structures mediated by JavaScript
  5. A standard form submit happens (possibly via script), sending a flat list back to the client, which performs an update to the stored XML.
It’s pretty easy to envision data-mapping tools and libraries that help automate the construction of the transforms mentioned in steps 3 and 5.

Another thing that’s changed is the emergence of XQuery plugin technology in MarkLogic. There’s a rapidly-growing library of reusable components, initially centered around Information Studio but soon to cover more ground. This is going to have a major impact on XQuery app designs as components of the app (think visualization widgets) can be seamlessly added to apps.

Endpoints still make a ton of sense for XQuery apps, and provide the additional advantage that you now have a testable, concern-separated data layer for your app. Other apps have a clean way to interop, and even command-line operaton is possible with off-the-shelf-tools like wget.

Lastly, Templates. Even if you use plugins for the functional core of your app, there’s still a lot of boilerplate stuff you’d not want to repeat. Something like Mustache.xq is a good fit for this.

Which is all good–but is it MVC? This organizational pattern (let’s call it MET 2.0) is a lot closer to it. Does MET need a controller? Probably. (MarkLogic now ships a pretty good one called rest:rewrite) Like MVC, MET separates the important essences of your application. XQuery will never be Ruby or Java, and its frameworks will never be Rails or Spring, but rather something uniquely poised to capture the expressive power of the language to build apps on top of unstructured and big data. -m