Recently I’ve worked with a web API, the Cometdocs API, in order to use their converter of documents, particularly for automating some conversions from PDF documents to Excel spreadsheets for data extraction.
I wanted to use this API from my two favorite development platforms: Java and .Net/C#, so I needed to build what is called a language binding, i.e. a small library that acts as a proxy between the application code and the web API.
The development of these two bindings was really interesting from a technical point of view, and I’ve learned a bunch of things during the process.
I’d like to share the interesting stuff with you, it should be of interest even if you don’t have any plan for interacting with a web API because all the technologies and techniques I’ve used (the HTTP protocol, JSON data binding, SSL/TLS…) are applicable to other types of developments.
It seemed technically feasible because Python has a remarkable tool to interact with native code: the ctypes module.
The only issue is that ctypes only supports C interfaces not C++ classes so in this case it can’t directly use the YahooAPIWrapper class.
In fact it’s a minor issue because this kind of situation is well known and a well documented pattern exists to circumvent it: building a C wrapper around the C++ API.
This looks a little crazy because you now have 2 layers between the Python client code and the C# Yahoo API:
Python -> C wrapper -> C++/CLI wrapper -> C# API
So, while I don’t think this layering could have any usefulness in real-life, this was a challenging and interesting question.
Looks simple no? Well, as you know when you start to pile up heterogeneous layersunexpected issues can appear and this is exactly what happened there, and it has revealed one that is worth talking about.
So keep reading!
Sometimes we need to modify some global state, but when we do that it’s critical to ensure we leave things as we’ve found them; you know like when you lift the toilet seat: forgetting to put it down afterwards could get you in trouble!
It’s similar in programming and you need to use the right tools and practices.
In this article I’ll show you how they can be used to scope global state changes in a fluent manner, a pattern I’ve used for years to enhance reusability and readability of this kind of code.
In the first part I’ll illustrate this pattern with a small and hopefully fun example, and then in the second part I’ll describe how it can be applied to other situations like culture settings and Excel development. Continue reading →