HAppS-state mistake

I’m grappling with HAppS-State at the moment, and thought it useful to capture some work-in-progress notes. My toy webapp allows you to view and edit information about people, places and things. The webapp state just consists of several identifier->entity maps.

HAppS-state requires that you write your state query/update functions as normal MonadState or MonadReader computations. But you also must process each of these functions using the mkMethods template haskell function. This generates some “behind the scenes” machinery to turn your vanilla state-updating monads into something which additionally maintains a write-ahead disk log to make the change durable. If your update function was called “modifyPersonName”, the call to mkMethod generates a datatype/constructor called ModifyPersonName which, when used like “update ModifyPersonName newName” has the richer durable behaviour.

I have lots of different entities, and they all have lots of different attributes. It quickly gets boring writing seperate “modifyEntityX” functions for each attribute. Haskell’s rather lousy record syntax doesn’t help out much either.

Fortunately, there’s a nice library called data-accessor which provides a more pleasant way to handle haskell record types. The idea is that you build up a getter/setter pair for each record member. These are first class values, and are consequently much more flexible than the builtin haskell record update syntax.

This seemed to be the answer to my problem – I can make a generic “modifyPersonAttribute” function which takes one of these accessors as an argument in order to select the field to update.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. I get a type error effectively stating that happs-state requires that all of the arguments to update/query function must themselves be Serializable.

This confused me. I can see that the application state type (and all of its constituent subparts) need to be serializable. But I was surprised that all the arguments for state-updating functions needed to be Serializable.

Then I realized what my false assumption was. I had assumed that happs was persisting the result of running the update operation to the logfile, similar to what mysql does for redo logs. In other words, I thought the logfile consisted of things like “the new value for row 42 is ‘foo'”.

However, a quick look at the contents of the _local directory (where happs stores its state) shows that this isn’t the case. Happs stores a description of the computation itself – ie. the name of the update operation and the (serialized) arguments it took.

This has got me somewhat stuck. Firstly, my generic ‘modifyPersonAttribute’ doesn’t work because the “accessor” values are not serializable. I’m now wondering if perhaps I can bypass data-accessors and instead write some template haskell to generate the happs machinery for all my entity types and all their attribute values.

But more importantly, this means that you need to be super-careful not to change the behavior of your state-modifying functions if there are any uncheckpointed changes in the logfile. Let’s say you have a createPerson function which takes a name and stores the name straight into the application state. But some days later, you decide that you want to make names have an initial capital letter before storing them. You change the code and restart the application – but unless you were careful to checkpoint the application state, the log will be replayed and you’ll end up with a different application state from before (some existing people will have the initial-caps logic applied to their name, not just new people).

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