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From James Dixson <>
Subject [PROPOSAL] Etch
Date Thu, 31 Jul 2008 16:16:57 GMT
This a proposal to enter Etch in to the incubator.

See for updates.

In particular, we are looking for an interested Champion.

We welcome any and all comments. :-)

James Dixson

= Abstract

Etch is a cross-platform, language- and transport-independent framework for
building and consuming network services.

= Proposal

Etch is a cross-platform, language- and transport-independent framework for
building and consuming network services. The Etch toolset includes a network
service description language, a compiler, and binding libraries for a
variety of programming languages. Etch is also transport-independent,
allowing for a variety of different transports to used based on need and
circumstance. The goal of Etch is to make it simple to define small, focused
services that can be easily accessed, combined, and deployed in a similar
manner. Ultimately with Etch, service development and consumption becomes no
more difficult than library development and consumption.

= Background

Etch was started because we wanted to have a way to write a concise, formal
description of the message exchange between a client and a server, with that
message exchange supporting a hefty set of requirements. The messaging
technology should support one-way and two-way, real-time communication. It
should have high performance and scalability. I should support clients and
servers written in different languages. It should also support
clients/servers running in a wide range of contexts (such as thin web
client, embedded device, PC application, or server). It must support anyone
adding new language bindings and new transports. It should also be fast and
small, while still being flexible enough to satisfy requirements. Finally,
it must be easy to use for developers both implementing and/or consuming the

= Rationale

Existing systems were either too slow, hard to use, bloated and/or
proprietary. In any case, none fit our matrix of requirements perfectly.

SOAP/Web Services offer an interesting comparison by contrast. While Web
Services are generally accepted as the de facto standard for cross-platform
communication due to strong adoption across many tools and languages, the
unfortunate reality is that Web Services have serious deficiencies which
make them unsuitable for real-time communications. Specifically, Web
Services have no effective way to communicate asynchronously from server to
client due to a reliance on HTTP and have very high parsing overhead due to
XML message bodies. Furthermore, in some deployments, server-to-client
communications are blocked by firewalls. Finally, given any two languages,
it is not likely that they both support every aspect of Web Services
identically, so it is completely possible to create a Web Service that is
not, in fact, cross platform, or language agnostic.

Developers of applications that must leverage the capabilities of
network-hosted services have a daunting challenge. They must cobble together
a heterogeneous collection of services that expose different APIs with
different communications technologies just to integrate with the services,
essentially spending a great deal of energy and effort on just the basics of
inter-service communication rather than core business logic.

So the desired state then is when developing applications that leverage the
capabilities of dispersed and heterogeneous network services, APIs must be
simple, cohesive, and coherent across network services. APIs should be easy
to consume by developers regardless of the implementation technology of the
service used or the domain a service is being built within- from client-side
web applications to complex real-time server systems. Put simply, developers
ideally should feel that they are developing to a platform.

API development is a much better understood and simpler subject if you are
building those APIs to be run _locally_ on a single machine or service.
Microsoft and Linux centric API developers have the luxury of the massive
assumption that a standard OS is available with a certain set of features,
and the API libraries do not have to take into account the complexities of
APIs that cross machine or OS boundaries.

Developers of network-centered services, rather than OS-centered services,
do not have this luxury; we have a significant set of issues facing us today
because of the fundamental fact that "the network" is not a single machine,
or a homogeneous set of machines, but a heterogeneous and widely distributed
set of services.( This is just an observation. 4 paragraphs to make your
point about how difficult it is for developers of network-centered service.
Now, maybe that is appropriate to the audience? You decide.)

The conventional method for developers of network services today is to use
either a technology specific to the language of preference, RMI for Java,
.NET Remoting for .NET for C#, etc., or if trying to be "language neutral"
picking a CORBA ORB or a Web Service technology like SOAP or REST. These
choices are fine until the requirements of the application cannot accept the
limitations of the remoting technology. If the application needs to work on
non-Microsoft platforms, .NET Remoting is out (unless, of course, you can
use the Mono implementation of .NET, but that brings with it other
challenges). If the need is to support access from languages other than
Java, then RMI is out. If the need includes support for real-time,
asynchronous communication, or symmetric two-way communications, the Web
services technologies must also be rejected.

For other classes of applications, there are simply no ³standard² choices
left. The developer is forced to drop down to a network protocol level and
invent a new messaging system for their needs. Building a protocol by hand
is hard; building a messaging system is also hard. This dramatically
increases the barrier to entry for new, useful applications that leverage

An orthogonal problem exists when supporting more than one transport
technology is required of the application, e.g. HTTP/SOAP and HTTP/REST or
HTTP/SOAP and a proprietary service protocol. This is also burdensome to the
developer because now two or more distinct technologies must be used to
expose the same interface. This typically means the development and
maintenance of parallel implementations of the service using the
technologies native to the transport mechanism. Often the result here is
that one interface is the complete interface, while others suffer from
various levels of partial or out-of-sync implementation.

What if this was the reality instead: every interface to a network service
could be had via a single, common API technology that 'just works' in every
major language (C#, Java, Python, Ruby, C or even Javascript in a browser).
What if this technology could produce the native stub code needed to do the
networking and message passing (much like Web Services). Then the developer
could concentrate on the business logic of the application or service rather
than the idiosyncrasies of the network plumbing.

As a language and transport independent network API generator, Etch can
provide programmers with a consistent API model to program against while
giving them the ability to redeploy into a variety of languages or
transports at runtime (per developer/customer choice). So, one may use the
same API implementation to send messages using an XML coding on a stream
protocol in Java, or binary coding wrapped in reliable UDP in C#, or a
shared memory queue on a router backplane in C, or even Python over SOAP.
One could, in fact, support all at the same time, and any others that you
care to implement or find, as long as you support the required semantics of
the API.

It all comes down to this: developers should not have to care about the
implementation language or platform of the service nor what the transport is
to get there, as long as basic semantics are honored, and these should be no
more or less than the semantics of your programming language of choice.
Further, a user requirement about specific protocols should not require
rewriting of application logic to make it fit into some arbitrary framework
scheme or container.

= Current Status

== Meritocracy

Etch was conceived by Scott Comer and Louis Marascio. As Scott finished the
development of the core compiler and first transport implementation, others
have made various contributions to the project: James Dixson and Shawn
Dempsey have worked on the build environment; Manoj Ganesan has worked on a
Ruby binding; James Dixson on the Python binding; and James deCocq on the C
binding; Manoj Ganesan and Gaurav Sandhir did primary work on C# and
maintenance work all around. J.D. Liau has been instrumental in ideas and
maintenance. Hung Nguyen has created the Windows installer using NSIS and
Seth Call is working on a JavaScript binding with JSON transport for thin

== Community

Etch solves problems lots of projects have. Any project that has a need to
define multiple services in a consistent way, or expose services on the
network to a variety of languages or platforms can benefit from Etch as

== Core Developers

The core developers are all listed in the initial committers list later in
this proposal.

== Alignment

The compiler code is in Java, but the technology is language- and
protocol-agnostic and suitable for many different projects, including
non-Java. The compiler makes use of Apache Ant for orchestrating the build,
and Apache Velocity for code generation.

= Known Risks

== Orphaned Products

We are all quite committed to Etch and the development of an Etch community.
Etch is a core component of shipping Cisco products and will only grow over

Our employer is also committed to the success of the technology, allowing us
to continue to invest our time in support of Etch development as well as
committing to Etch technology as a key component in multiple products.

Etch being orphaned is unlikely.

== Inexperience with Open Source

The group of initial committers has had various levels of interaction with
open-source communities. Most of us came into Cisco through the acquisition
of Metreos in 2006. While at Metreos, Louis Marascio and several of us were
active contributor¹s to the OpenH323 project. We worked through several
bugs, submitted patches and even sponsored development. We have also made
contributions to other projects (some accepted, some not) on a much smaller
scale over the years, QDox, Maruku, Capistrano, OpenGatekeeper, and Mono.

== Homogeneous Developers

Etch has been completely developed by Cisco employees, therefore all of the
initial committers to the project are affiliated with Cisco.

Etch has just recently been made publicly available. First in binary form in
May 2008 as part of a Cisco product and in open source form in July 2008.
== Reliance on Salaried Developers

It is expected that Etch development will be done both on salaried time and
volunteer time. Cisco is committed as a corporate contributor to continue to
allow Etch development, particularly in light of Etch's key role as an
enabling technology of Unified Communications products. It is also expected
that non-Cisco developers will become interested in Etch.

== Relationships with Other Apache Products

Etch currently depends upon these other Apache projects: Velocity, Maven and

We expect that as Etch becomes available, it will be seen as a very
compelling technology and others will begin to depend upon it.

== A Excessive Fascination with the Apache Brand

We believe Etch offers much to the Apache brand. We could easily, with the
backing of Cisco, take a more independent route and support Etch directly
without the Apache foundation. But after much consideration, we truly
believe that would be the wrong approach for this technology.

As a technology, we believe Etch is very much a kindred spirit of the other
software infrastructure technologies currently part of the Apache community:
Ant, Velocity, Derby, and others. The technological niche of Etch--platform
and language agnostic service definition and binding-is a technology that
can be appreciated across a broad range software domains.

It is our view that Apache is simply the most appropriate community for the
kind of technology Etch represents.

= Documentation

No public documents are available yet. All documentation will be released
with the publishing of the source.

= Initial Source

Etch has been in development at Cisco since Jan-2007. The system was
designed from the beginning to be open-sourced.  We consider Etch to be at
release 1.0 and ready for production use.

We continue to develop on Etch aggressively and a continually adding tests
and documentation to accompany the code, in particular around Etch's unique
pluggable architecture.

The compiler and language bindings for Java and C# are working and
functional. Etch will be included in shipping Cisco products in Sept-2008 as
a core technology component.

The language bindings for JavaScript, Python and C are in development.
The Etch development home page is currently hosted a Cisco¹s developer
portal: . Full source and binary
distributions are available there including access to our public subversion

= Source and Intellectual Property Submission Plan

Apache would receive all source and documentation under the Apache Corporate
Contributor agreement. Cisco is the only license holder.

= External Dependencies

Java, JavaCC and Velocity are core dependencies of the compiler. The Java
language binding depends only on Java.

Ant and Maven are used by the build system.

For the other language bindings we have the following compile/link

C# - Microsoft .NET v2.0 (Mono compatibility coming soon)

= Cryptography

Etch uses the native capabilities of Java and C# to support TLS as an option
for the default Etch binary transport protocol.

= Required Resources

== Mailing Lists

 * etch-private
 * etch-dev
 * etch-commits
 * etch-user

== Subversion Directory

== Issue Tracking

 JIRA : Etch (ETCH)

== Other Resources


= Initial Committers

Gaurav Sandhir      gsandhir at cisco dot com
J.D. Liau           jliau at cisco dot com
Hung Nguyen       hungng at cisco dot com
James Dixson        jadixson at cisco dot com
James deCocq      jadecocq at cisco dot com
Louis Marascio      lmarasci at cisco dot com
Manoj Ganesan       manogane at cisco dot com
Rene Barazza        rebarraz at cisco dot com
Rick Bolkey         rbolkey at cisco dot com
Scott Comer         sccomer at cisco dot com
Seth Call           secall at cisco dot com
Shawn Dempsay       shawn at dempsay dot com
Shyamali Pease      shpease at cisco dot com
Youngjin Park     youngjpa at cisco dot com

== Affiliations

All the initial committers are Cisco employees.

= Sponsors

== Champion

We need a hero!

== Nominated Mentors

Accepting Applications!

== Sponsoring Entity

Accepting Applications!


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