Kamaelia CrossTalk

Kamaelia Crosstalk is an open internet communication protocol for transmitting HTTP information between computers.  Of course, the obvious question here is why not use HTTP to transmit HTTP data?  I'm glad you asked.  :) 


If you just want to get to the details of CrossTalk, feel free to skip this section.

When I first proposed Kamaelia Publish, I had intended upon making separate "peer" and "intermediary" programs.  The idea being that a person who wanted to pull up a webpage that a peer is hosting can send an HTTP request to the intermediary (which is essentially an HTTP proxy) and the intermediary will then forward the request to the peer.  The peer will then send the response to the intermediary.  I then came across a protocol known as XMPP, a protocol typically used for instant messenging.  Here's an example of how XMPP works from wikipedia:

Suppose juliet@capulet.com wants to chat with romeo@montague.net. Juliet and Romeo each respectively have accounts on the capulet.com and montague.net servers. When Juliet types in and sends her message, a sequence of events is set in motion:

  1. Juliet's client sends her message to the capulet.com server
    • If montague.net is blocked on capulet.com, the message is dropped.
  2. The capulet.com server opens a connection to the montague.net server.
    • If capulet.com is blocked on montague.net, the message is dropped.
    • If Romeo is not currently connected, the message is stored for later delivery.
  3. The montague.net server delivers the message to Romeo.
The idea of XMPP servers sounds an awful lot like my "intermediary" doesn't it?  So I took this idea a step further.  XMPP has a concept of "gateways" that are intended to convert other protocols into XMPP.  That way, if you want to talk to a friend who uses AIM or Yahoo, you can do it.  What if it were possible to transmit HTTP via XMPP using a gateway?

The next step was to try sending the text of the HTTP request to the peer, and then the peer would send the response back to the gateway.  This turned out to be more complicated than it seems.  The problem being that the HTTP request would have to be parsed at the gateway level as well as at the peer level.  So why not just send the parsed data from the gateway to the peer?  That led to what I am now terming CrossTalk (the name may change later).

Why the name CrossTalk?

Because I got tired of referring to Kamaelia's means of transmitting HTTP data as "HTTP over XMPP."  That's too much of a mouthful, has too much alphabet soup for laymen, and isn't really accurate anyway.

How does it work?

First of all, I should note that CrossTalk is currently purely experimental, and is likely to change.

CrossTalk uses JSON to serialize data to be transmitted from Peer to Gateway (and possibly from Peer to Peer at a later point in time).  An operation that starts with an HTTP request from a user and ends with an HTTP response back to that same user is referred to as a transaction.  Each transaction begins with a request object.  This object contains all of the data that is present in the HTTP request line and headers, formatted in a CGI environment-like dictionary.  In addition to the data that is present in the HTTP request dictionary, there are two other keys that may be present.

  • The 'data' key is where the body of the HTTP request will be transmitted.  It may appear in the request object or it may be sent seperately or even split out across several messages (although this is probably to be avoided for performance reasons). 
  • The 'signal' key is currently used to signal that the gateway is through transmitting the HTTP request and its body, but keep in mind that there may be other data present here in the future.  The signal key may be present in any message described above or it may be sent by itself as the final message, although the current peer script will not function properly if it is included in the request object (the current implementation of the gateway will always send it by itself after the other data has been transmitted)
  • The 'batch' key identifies which transaction the message belongs to.
Once the Peer has formulated its response, it will transmit a response object.  The type of data it contains will be roughly the same as the request object.  The format is a little bit different though.

  • The 'data', 'signal', and 'batch' keys currently have the same meaning as in the response object.
  • 'headers' will contain a list of the response headers.  Here is a sample of what that would look like:

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