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End-to-end event streams

Recent tools for developing stateful clients and user interfaces, such as the Elm language [30] and Facebook’s toolchain of React, Flux, and Redux [44], already manage internal client-side state by subscribing to a stream of events representing user input or responses from a server, structured similarly to event sourcing (see “Event Sourcing” on page 457).

It would be very natural to extend this programming model to also allow a server to push state-change events into this client-side event pipeline. Thus, state changes could flow through an end-to-end write path: from the interaction on one device that triggers a state change, via event logs and through several derived data systems and stream processors, all the way to the user interface of a person observing the state on another device. These state changes could be propagated with fairly low delay—say, under one second end to end.

Some applications, such as instant messaging and online games, already have such a “real-time” architecture (in the sense of interactions with low delay, not in the sense of “Response time guarantees” on page 298). But why don’t we build all applications this way?

The challenge is that the assumption of stateless clients and request/response interactions is very deeply ingrained in our databases, libraries, frameworks, and protocols. Many datastores support read and write operations where a request returns one response, but much fewer provide an ability to subscribe to changes—i.e., a request that returns a stream of responses over time (see “API support for change streams” on page 456).

In order to extend the write path all the way to the end user, we would need to fundamentally rethink the way we build many of these systems: moving away from request/ response interaction and toward publish/subscribe dataflow [27]. I think that the advantages of more responsive user interfaces and better offline support would make it worth the effort. If you are designing data systems, I hope that you will keep in mind the option of subscribing to changes, not just querying the current state.

 
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