Friday 1 September 2017


Internal vs External comms in a
microservices architecture

A Microservices architecture advocates the proliferation of many small inter-communicating services. As a result, using such an architecture can result in an increased overhead in the number of network bound, 'internal' inter-service communications.

This is in addition to the 'external' existing network comms of serving the clients accessing our service. I will refer to these two forms of communication as internal and external respectively. These two forms of communication can be observed to possess differing characteristics.

Internal comms are high frequency in nature and completely under our control, that is that we can coordinate upgrade of the client and server as necessary.

External comms are of lower frequency, can come from varied sources and backwards compatibility / versioning is more of a concern as we do not have control over the clients.

REST and RPC are two technologies that can be used for network bound communications. In my experience REST is better suited to use in an external API and RPC to use in internal comms, primarily for these reasons:

REST for external comms
- easy to version using headers
- well understood and ubiquitous, ease of client implementation
- json much easier to parse and debug than a binary format

RPC for internal comms
- low cost, around 20 times less than REST
- less boilerplate required for calls (which will be frequent), it is autogenerated
- provides easy streaming

In RPC changes to models require synchronised client and server releases, thus models often become expand (ie. add fields) only. This can lead to a lot of deprecated fields and lockstep client and server releases when models are altered, making RPC a little brittle for external APIs.

The boon of low latency comms that rpc provides cannot be understated and provides us the freedom to disregard much of the costs of network bound requests and fully subscribe to a microservices architecture.

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