The cost of an extension point

time to read 3 min | 450 words

Rejohnny-automatic-running-home-300pxcently we had a discussion on server side extension points in RavenDB 4.0, currently, outside of the ability to load custom analyzers for Lucene, we have none. That is in stark contrast for the architecture we have in 3.x.

That is primarily because we found out several things about our extensions based architecture, over the years.

Firstly, the extension based approach allowed us to develop a lot of standard extensions (called bundles) in 3.x. In fact, replication, versioning, unique constraints and a lot of other cool features are all implemented as extensions. On the one hand, it is a very convenient manner to add additional functionality, but it is also led to what I can’t help but term an isolationist attitude. In other words, whenever we build a feature, we tended to focus on that particular feature on its own. And a lot of trouble we have seen has been the result of feature intersection. Versioning and replication in a multi master cluster, for example, can have a fairly tricky behavior.

And the only way to resolve such issues is to actually teach the different pieces about each other and how they should interact with one another. That sort of defeated the point of writing independent extensions. Another an issue is that the interface that we have to expose are pretty generic. In many cases, that means that we have to do extra work (such as materializing values) in order for us to send the right values to the extension points. Even if in most cases, that extra work isn’t used.

Another issue is that in RavenDB 4.0, we have been treating all the pieces as a single whole, instead of tacking them on after the fact. Versioning, for example, as a core feature, has implications for maintaining transaction boundaries in a distributed environment, and that requires tight integration with the replication code and other parts on the environment. It is much easier to do so when we are building it as a single coherent piece.

There is another aspect here, not having external extensions also make it much easier to lay down the law with regards to what can and cannot happen in our codebase. We can make assumptions about what things will do, and this can result in much better code and behavior.

Now, there are things that we are going to have to do (allow you to customize your indexes with additional code, for example) and we can allow that by allowing you to upload additional code to be compiled with your indexes, but that is a very narrow use case.