Don’t Stream JSON Data

I recently published a post about how to stream large JSON payloads from a webservice using a chunked response, before reading this post it’s probably best to read that post here. Streaming is a fantastic method of sending large amounts of data with only a small memory overhead on the server, but for JSON data there could well be a better way. First of all, let’s think about the strategy for generating the JSON stream which was discussed in the earlier post:

  1. Query the ID’s of all records that should be included in the response.
  2. Loop through the ID’s and use the code which backs the ‘get by ID’ endpoint to generate each JSON payload for the stream.
  3. Return each JSON payload one at a time by yielding from an enumerator.

Seems straight forward enough, and I’ve seen a service sit there for nearly two hours ticking away returning objects. But is that really a good thing?

Let’s list some of the things which might go wrong.

  1. Network interruption.
  2. In these days of Dev Ops, someone re-deploying the service while it’s ‘mid stream’.
  3. A crash caused by a different endpoint, triggering a service restart.
  4. An exception in the consuming app killing the instance of whatever client is processing the stream.

These things might not seem too likely but the longer it takes to send the full stream, the greater the chance that something like this will happen.

Given a failure in a 2 hour response, how does the client recover? It isn’t going to be a quick recovery, that’s for sure. Even if the client keeps a track of each payload in the stream, in order to get back to where the problem occurred and continue processing, the client has to sit through the entire response all over again!

Another Way

Remember that nifty bit of processing our streaming service is doing in order to loop through all the records it needs to send? If we move that to the consumer, then it can request each record in whatever order it likes, as many times as it needs to.

  1. The consumer requests the collection of ID’s for all records it needs in a single request.
  2. The consumer saves this collection, so even if it gets turned off, re-deployed, or if anything else happens, it still knows what it needs to do.
  3. The consumer requests each record from the service by ID, keeping track of which records it has already processed.

This strategy actually doesn’t require any more code than streaming, in fact given that you don’t have to setup a handler to set the chunked encoding property on the response, it’s actually less code. Not only that, but because there will now be many discrete requests made via the HTTP protocol, these can be load balanced and shared between as many instances of our service as is necessary. The consumer could even spin up multiple processes and make parallel requests, it could get through the data transfer quicker than if it had to sit there and accept each record one at a time from a single instance.

We can even go one step further. Our client is going to have to retrieve a stack of ID’s which it will use to request each record in turn. Well it’s not that difficult to give it not just a collection of ID’s but a collection of URL’s. It’s not a step that everyone wants to take, but it has a certain cleanliness to it.

And So

If you’re faced with a requirement for a large JSON response, unless you’re running your applications on the most stable tech stack in the world and you’re writing the most reliable, bug free code in the world, then you could probably build something much better by throwing out the idea of returning a single huge response, even if streamed, in favour of multiple single requests for each record individually.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Stream JSON Data

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