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From da...@cocoon.zones.apache.org
Subject [DAISY] Created: Continuations
Date Tue, 05 Jun 2007 08:00:33 GMT
A new document has been created.

http://cocoon.zones.apache.org/daisy/documentation/1373.html

Document ID: 1373
Branch: main
Language: default
Name: Continuations
Document Type: Cocoon Document
Created: 5/30/07 9:13:05 PM
Creator (owner): Reinhard Pötz
State: publish

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<h1>A different approach</h1>

<p>Web applications are essentially event-driven applications. Such applications
have to react to events generated from the client browser, and they respond to
these perhaps by changing their internal state and generating a response.</p>

<p>The result is that even a simple application that needs to collect some
information from the user using more than one page, has to somehow maintain the
input accumulated so far from the user. This input is a characteristic of the
application state. Another characteristic of the application state is where the
program processing is.</p>

<p>Let's look at an example. Suppose we want to write a very simple calculator,
which collects the numbers to be added, as well as the operator, each in a
separate page. It would be very nice if we could write something like this:</p>

<pre>function calculator()
{
  var a, b, operator;

  cocoon.sendPageAndWait("getA.html");
  a = cocoon.request.get("a");

  cocoon.sendPageAndWait("getB.html");
  b = cocoon.request.get("b");

  cocoon.sendPageAndWait("getOperator.html");
  operator = cocoon.request.get("op");

  try {
    if (operator == "plus")
      cocoon.sendPage("result.html", {result: a + b});
    else if (operator == "minus")
      cocoon.sendPage("result.html", {result: a - b});
    else if (operator == "multiply")
      cocoon.sendPage("result.html", {result: a * b});
    else if (operator == "divide")
      cocoon.sendPage("result.html", {result: a / b});
    else
      cocoon.sendPage("invalidOperator.html", {operator: operator});
  }
  catch (exception) {
    cocoon.sendPage("error.html", {message: "Operation failed: " + exception.toString()});
  }
}
</pre>

<p>In this example, the <tt>calculator</tt> function is called to start
the
calculator application. We'd like the <tt>sendPageAndWait</tt> function to be
a
special function, that takes as arguments an HTML file to be sent as response,
and some optional data that needs to be placed dynamically in it. We would like
<tt>sendPageAndWait</tt> to send the response page and then block the executing
thread, until the user clicks on a link in the response page, which sends a
request back to the server. This request resumes the processing at the point it
was left, right after the call to <tt>sendPageAndWait</tt>.</p>

<p>This approach looks very powerful, since the flow of pages within the
application can be described as a normal program. Using this approach you no
longer have to think of your Web application as a finite state machine, which
transitions from one state to another, and in the process generates response
pages.</p>

<p>A big disadvantage of the approach above is that we need to maintain a thread
alive until the user hits the link on the response page. This is clearly very
expensive!</p>

<p>It would be very nice if we could capture the state of the application, its
stack of function calls, which includes local variables, the global variables
and the program counter, and save them into an object. If this object would give
us the ability to restart the processing from the point stored in it, this would
be what we need!</p>

<h1>What are continuations?</h1>

<p>A continuation is exactly the type of object that we need. Think of a
continuation as an object that, for a given point in your program, contains a
snapshot of the stack trace, including all the local variables, and the program
counter. You can not only store these things in the continuation object, but
also restore the execution of the program from a continuation object. This means
that the stack trace and the program counter of the running program become the
ones stored in a continuation.</p>

<p>Continuations are powerful concepts from the world of functional languages,
like <a href="http://www.schemers.org/">Scheme</a>, but they are becoming
popular in other languages as well.</p>

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