João Freitas

The following is a retrospective on type-safe API calls, a protocol which both client and server fully understand the data and requests schema. One of the most recognized type-safe API protocols is gRPC, an RPC protocol which uses the protobuf schema language to generate both client and server code, and thus guaranteeing type-safety. However, there is a new player in town that is disrupting the way we see these protocols: tRPC. Having these kind of protocols shine belong developers is a major advancement in building error-free software, as they become more interested and knowledgeable about type-safety and functional programming.

Type-safe API calls are those in which a client application can specify the exact API protocol and data types used for communicating with a server. Type-safe API calls reduce the probability of mismatched errors between clients and servers – unexpected fields, missing but expected fields, and fields of the wrong type or shape. I call this Schema-driven development.

How do you make type-safe API calls? You must type-check the request and response on both the client and server. You can’t really do this in the wire protocol for two reasons. First, it’s expensive to send schema information along with every request – JSON and protobuf don’t send this information for that reason. Second, there’s no guarantee that the client and server agree on the particular schema – i.e., it might be the right type and suitable shape for the client. Still, the server has been upgraded and is no longer backward compatible.

First, let’s look at how gRPC implements this feature. First, gRPC uses protobuf, a compact wire protocol with a schema defined in a proto file. Next, those proto files are used to generate clients/servers in various languages (C++, Java, Go, Python). gRPC solves many other problems, but let’s dig into the issues with this process.

tRPC is a new library with a different approach. It’s not as optimized over the wire as gRPC (it uses HTTP), but it’s much easier to use. Unfortunately, it’s only a TypeScript library, so you can’t share code across different languages.

tRPC is interesting because it makes some (seemingly reasonable) tradeoffs for developer productivity and maintainability. Moreover, it’s an interesting example of solving the simple case.

#reads #matt rickard #type-safety #typescript #trpc #grpc