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Current directions for RPC

Despite all these problems, RPC isn’t going away. Various RPC frameworks have been built on top of all the encodings mentioned in this chapter: for example, Thrift and Avro come with RPC support included, gRPC is an RPC implementation using Protocol Buffers, Finagle also uses Thrift, and uses JSON over HTTP.

This new generation of RPC frameworks is more explicit about the fact that a remote request is different from a local function call. For example, Finagle and use futures (promises) to encapsulate asynchronous actions that may fail. Futures also simplify situations where you need to make requests to multiple services in parallel, and combine their results [45]. gRPC supports streams, where a call consists of not just one request and one response, but a series of requests and responses over time [46].

Some of these frameworks also provide service discovery—that is, allowing a client to find out at which IP address and port number it can find a particular service. We will return to this topic in “Request Routing” on page 214.

Custom RPC protocols with a binary encoding format can achieve better performance than something generic like JSON over REST. However, a RESTful API has other significant advantages: it is good for experimentation and debugging (you can simply make requests to it using a web browser or the command-line tool curl, without any code generation or software installation), it is supported by all mainstream programming languages and platforms, and there is a vast ecosystem of tools available (servers, caches, load balancers, proxies, firewalls, monitoring, debugging tools, testing tools, etc.).

For these reasons, REST seems to be the predominant style for public APIs. The main focus of RPC frameworks is on requests between services owned by the same organization, typically within the same datacenter.

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