A base design decision is the inter-module protocol. The design of the 3D server is for multiple content sources to talk to the one renderer so the wire protocol definition is foundational. To complicate any selecion, wire protocols have been exercised and libraried many times and it would be foolish to start from scratch. But there are so many to choose from.

So, what are my requirements?

  • High performance (going to move a lot of very small datas)
  • Both RPC and streaming messages (non-blocking messages)
  • Binary data (meshes and textures will be involved)
  • Have a definition language (can define and possibly verify API and protocols)
  • Adaptable to many languages (at least JavaScript and C# at the beginning)
  • Have stub/interface API generation (for defined mapping from application to protocol)
  • Allow versioning (the protocol definition on the first day will need changes)
  • Multiple and extensible transports (will need networked, inter-process, and inner-process)

There seem to be two classes of interface definitions on the Internets at the moment: the pure REST interfaces (defined with something like RAML or Swagger) and the more API oriented ones (like Thrift or Protocol Buffers).

There is always roll-your-own which has some advantages in that one can customize the protocol specifically for the application and use case:

  • balance the use of TCP and UDP depending on latency and interaction;
  • specialize the formatting and compression of the line protocol for the application’s data; and
  • specialize the message type queuing and throttling depending on the user experience. This is the approach taken by High Fidelity and many gaming systems. This is a trade-off of development work vs on-going support of an external package.

I don’t want applications building JSON strings and interpreting the HTTP error responses. Wrappers and libraries are necessary.

As described in Igor Anishchenko’s presentation PB vs Thrift vs Avro, ProtoBuffers and Thrift are pretty neck-and-neck as far as features and speed but Thrift has a slightly wider distribution of supported languages. They both support binary data, have protocol definition languages, and support protocol versioning.

Avro is a newer protocol but, rather than pre-compiling the code stubs, it evaluates the schemas and messages at runtime. The feature of schema evolution is considered the winning feature in a post by Jon Zuanich entitled Three Reasons Why Apache Avro Data Serialization is a Good Choice for OpenRTB. The three reasons are schema evolution, untagged (smaller) data, and dynamic typing.

A case against using Protobuf for transport in REST Services makes the argument that the lack of inheritance and polymorphism in Protobuf is a show stopper for game protocols. The article concludes that JSON with the Jackson library is the proper choice.

So, what to decide.

It feels to me like the REST protocols are best for “arms length” relationships between the server and the client while the more API/streaming systems (like Thrift or Protocol Buffers) are for more intimately related clients and servers. This leads me to think the decision also depends on the publicness of the interface.

Therefore, I am going to start by using both. Between the modules that hook together and communicate to share state and information (between the 3D renderer itself and the object modules, for instance) I will start with Thrift. For the asset service, I will use RAML.

I will learn and report how well that works.