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From Tim Black <...@alwaysreformed.com>
Subject Two names: CouchDB & Couch App Server
Date Sat, 09 May 2015 03:53:38 GMT
Jan asked,

> How can we make it that CouchApps strengthen CouchDB and not weaken it
by adding
confusion?

> How do CouchApps fit into the CouchDB story?

I've been thinking about this discussion a little, and wanted to offer a
few ideas from the perspective of a user.  In essence, I think the
CouchDB community should focus on marketing two concepts named
"CouchDB," and "Couch App Server."  This is a middle ground between the
two extremes of "R.I.P. CouchApps" and "CouchApps are CouchDB's greatest
feature!"  The middle ground is achieved by *distinguishing* CouchDB and
CouchApps, and marketing them as two distinct ideas.  You don't have to
*stop* marketing the idea of CouchApps; just market them as something
*distinct* from CouchDB.  Both can be positively marketed, and succeed
or fail on their own merits.  But by distinguishing the two, if
CouchApps confuse people, they need not turn people away from CouchDB. 
My thoughts and reasons for this are below.

1.  Evaluate the current marketing.  CouchApps are mentioned front and
center in the first two paragraphs about CouchDB at
http://couchdb.apache.org/.  They are mentioned in concept, though not
by name.  They are implied in the slogan, "A Database for the Web" which
is explained by those two paragraphs.  *If CouchDB's marketing should
take a different direction in the future, that marketing ought to deal
with the question of whether the promises made in those two paragraphs
are true*.  Specifically, "CouchDB comes with a suite of features, such
as on-the-fly document transformation and real-time change
notifications, that makes web app development a breeze."  Does CouchDB
"make web app development a breeze," or not?  These two paragraphs are
the first ones to change.

2.  Make CouchApps secure.  If multiuser data within CouchApps cannot be
properly secured presently because CouchDB does not require clients to
send the Host header (due to some bug I'm unable to log in at
http://chatty-379423-frontend1.smileupps.com/ to test whether this is
the case per
http://couchdb.markmail.org/search/?q=How+do+CouchApps+fit+into+the+CouchDB+story%3F+%28Was%3A+CouchDB+Articles+Pills+and+Tutorials+Ideas%29+order%3Adate-backward#query:How%20do%20CouchApps%20fit%20into%20the%20CouchDB%20story%3F%20(Was%3A%20CouchDB%20Articles%20Pills%20and%20Tutorials%20Ideas)%20order%3Adate-backward+page:5+mid:h5dmp7dt7xhhoa7z+state:results),
then *make a config option to make CouchDB require the Host header*.  It
sounds easy to do, and the Host header is required in HTTP 1.1.  Or
create a "default _rewrite path" configuration parameter as Giovanni
described.  I expect this would make SmileUpps' CouchApp architecture
secure for anyone who wants to use that architecture.

3.  Don't promise CouchApps are easy.  SmileUpps' CouchApp architecture
is the only CouchApp architecture I'm aware of which has (almost)
implemented document-level ACLs without some proxy server between the
browser and CouchDB.  Others may exist; I just don't know about or
remember them.  I have 15 years of part-time experience in full-stack
web development, and have written two small CouchApps.  It doesn't
appear to me that SmileUpps' CouchApp architecture is particularly easy
for novices to learn and implement, at least at present.  Perhaps with a
Yeoman generator or the like it could become easy.  But *its current
complexity does not seem to me to "make web app development a breeze,"*
that is, if you want to prevent some users from reading all the data in
one database, which is a normal or at least common requirement in web
development.  The end result is not good--CouchDB's promise of easy
CouchApps will lead novices to build insecure apps.  I wish CouchApps
did make web app development a breeze, and would like to see CouchDB
still be able to use that promise in its marketing.  But for now, it
seems to me that CouchApps shouldn't be marketed to novice developers as
an easy point of entry into web development.  CouchApps are rather a way
for developers who already know (one of the many ways) how to structure
a single-page app to serve that app out of CouchDB, and access CouchDB
as the app's database.  It seems to me a developer should learn Backbone
or Angular before CouchApps (like the Chatty tutorial assumes: 
https://www.smileupps.com/couchapp-tutorial-chatty-read-api).  So,
because they generally require 1) knowledge of a client-side framework,
2)  knowledge of CouchApps' file structure and functionality, and 3) 
implementing a very specific CouchApp configuration to be properly
secured, CouchApps aren't really an entry point into web development. 
Instead, *CouchApps are **a way for non-novice developers to use CouchDB
as both a database and an app server.*

4.  CouchApps could rise again!  CouchApps' prospect of master-master
replication of not only data, but apps, remains attractive to me.  Give
users their data, and give them their code!  It's a powerful thing. 
What if we all owned Facebook running in PouchDB in our browsers,
without a persistent central server?  Diaspora, CouchAppSpora/Monocles,
and a bunch of other software have aimed in this direction.  So *I don't
think it's wise to pull back completely from marketing CouchDB's
CouchApp features.*  Perhaps they could still be the future.

5.  Reprioritize marketing to serve today's web.  "CouchDB is [still] a
database that completely embraces the web."  But *the web has changed
since CouchDB first embraced it.*  Web apps have moved toward
offline-first and syncing data to the server via REST.  Web apps don't
live on the server anymore.  They live in your phone.  So, as an app
developer, I don't need routing or SEF URLs (vhosts/rewrites) on the
server; I need routing in the client.  While I still want to be able to
query a CouchDB view via HTTP, or maybe even a show or list on occasion
to provide an RSS feed, more often I want to query my data locally in
PouchDB or something like it.  So it doesn't make sense to me to
prominently market CouchDB's "on-the-fly document transformation"
anymore.  I still want the feature, but it's not in the core of what I
need.  *What I need is a database that syncs.*  CouchDB's other
application server features are nice when I want them.

6.  Market an accurate Venn diagram.  The relationship between CouchDB's
CouchApp features and CouchDB's non-CouchApp features is not one where
you can divide the features neatly into two mutually-exclusive sets. 
Rather, *CouchApps use nearly all of CouchDB's features* (except maybe
replication), and non-CouchApps use a subset of CouchDB's features. 
CouchApps may or may not use replication depending on whether they use
something like PouchDB, and whether they use replication for
deployment.  To put it in terms of my main proposal, future "CouchDB"
would be a subset of CouchDB's current features, and "Couch App Server"
would be a superset of that future "CouchDB" set.  This makes me think
that it is hard for people to grasp what it means to disable the
features which support CouchApps, because they too easily believe this
means disabling the superset; disabling the whole of CouchDB 1.x's
features.  So I think the best way to explain this to new users is to
say that *CouchDB is a database, and it comes with some extra features
which are useful for an application server.*  The first two paragraphs
at http://couchdb.apache.org/ say as much, but they do not distinguish
these two concepts in a way that is obvious and memorable to a newcomer,
or that would convince the newcomer that they might want to use CouchDB
as a database alone apart from its additional application server
features.  The newcomer is left with the impression that the features
unique to "Couch App Server" are actually part of the database, but
while they are part of CouchDB, yet they are not technically database
features; instead, they are web file server and document transformation
features.

The way I perceive the natural groupings of CouchDB's features is as
follows:

*i)  Database:*  The database that syncs (views (=indexes), HTTP
interface, replication, filters, MVCC, changes feed, authentication)
*ii)  [App Server?]:*  Web file server (vhosts, rewrites, attachments) &
design docs/stored procedures for further document transformation
(views, shows, lists, update handlers)

i) is the core set of features, and i) + ii) = CouchApps.  I think this
distinction should be displayed textually and graphically on CouchDB's
front page.

Interestingly, ii) contains features of the past (server-side apps) and
the (maybe) future (client-side apps, deployed through replication).  It
would be worth noting this distinction on CouchDB's front page to help
newcomers decide to what extent they need Couch's app server features. 
It remains possible that someday the present swing toward client-side
apps will reverse, and even these server-side features could become more
of the future.  So I don't think the marketing should characterize
CouchApps as a dying remnant from the past which will not be relevant in
the future.

Earlier in CouchDB's lifetime we thought CouchApps using all of ii) were
the future.  Now because there is less need for server-side routing and
document transformation, the main parts of ii) which might be the future
are views (for occasional direct queries over HTTP - yes, I included
views in both i & ii), attachments (for serving/replicating your app's
files from the database), and lists (for RSS feeds or data
syndication/federation through filtered replication).  But it would be
good to say on CouchDB's front page that a developer might not need any
of the features in ii) today.

So Couch's app server features should not be marketed as extra features
for advanced users.  They don't add functionality which every developer
will want after they master the basics.  Rather, *they are extra
features which permit you to write limited server-side logic for your
application, if you find you need it.*  This is actually a useful point
for a newcomer, because while single page applications running in the
browser can perform most of the logic we need today, yet (aside from
issues of data security and proprietary code, which are the realm of
server-side node changes listeners) due to reasons of architecture and
efficiency, we are not able to run all our logic in the browser; it's
still wise to keep some logic in the database on the server side.  Often
we're still dependent on server-side logic, and Couch's app server
features can meet that need to a limited extent.

One result of the features in ii) is that your app's server-side and
client-side logic can be synced from one server (CouchDB instance) to
another.  For example, from your local development machine to the
deployment server, or from one deployed application instance to several
other nodes all running the same application, but with different
filtered sets of data.  This warrants the slogan, *"Apps that sync!"* 
However, that slogan might make people think the syncing in view is
between CouchDB and the web browser, which is not what I mean by the
slogan.  The apps' syncing is actually done by the features under i),
but they are apps because of the features under ii).  So *the "Apps that
sync" do so because they are in "The database that syncs."*

7.  My proposal.  So *I propose splitting the features* described in the
first two paragraphs at http://couchdb.apache.org/, features which are
mixed together there under the one name of "CouchDB" without any clear
distinction, *into two sets of features under two separate names and
slogans:*

*1.  "CouchDB" - the database that syncs!**
**2.  "Couch App Server" - apps that sync!*

Since I (as an app developer) only need CouchDB, market CouchDB most
prominently.  But since Couch App Server is nice when I want it, and
might be a good method for deploying app updates, market it as a nice
but limited set of server-side features your app can use (even to serve
your app), which can be secured, and which can be used to deploy app
updates, but which you probably don't need if you are using a modern
client-side application architecture.  If people want server-side
features, this will be a selling point.  If people don't want
server-side features, they will appreciate being told that they don't
need to research CouchApps.

Because I want Couch App Server's features sometimes (RSS feeds), I
think they should be enabled by default.  I don't see why it would be
necessary to provide a configuration option to turn them off, but I
wouldn't mind if they were turned off.

Though a graphic designer could figure out a better way than this, I
envision presenting this distinction between "CouchDB" and "Couch App
Server" in a *graphic* which shows CouchDB as the *fundamental layer* of
Couch's architecture, and Couch App Server as an *optional layer* on top
of CouchDB which includes additional features.  Below the graphic, I
envision *two columns of text*, with CouchDB's description on the left,
and Couch App Server's description on the right, and somehow CouchDB
being portrayed as the most important of the two.  If you want to hide
Couch App Server on the front page, then present only CouchDB on the
front page, and provide a link to a page describing "Additional
features" which presents the two-layer graphic and two-column
descriptions I mentioned above.

If you want to remove the word "Couch" from "Couch App Server," just
call it the *"App Server."*  That was easy.  : )

Tim

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