JSON, XML, and REST

Posted by amy on May 02, 2007

Last time I paid attention, XML-based web services were the next big thing. My informatics department was very cutting-edge, implementing web services for our apps to talk to one another and to our company’s intranet portal. XML was the big thing you had to know. It seemed enormously complex and confusing, and yet at the same time, simple. At the bottom, XML was data. People piled more and more stuff on top of the data, and made more and more tools to parse the XML that surrounded the data, and insulate us all from the XML, even though the whole point of XML was that it was supposed to be human-readable data.

It got to be that every single job posting you ever saw demanded that you be an expert in XML. This was ridiculous, since to the extent that XML is simply data it means nothing to be an expert in it, and to the extent that it was all the crap you threw on top of the data, it was impossible to be an expert, because even the experts weren’t experts.

Anyway, now all the cool kids are throwing XML out the window, and using JSON to send data back and forth to each other. JSON sounds incredibly dubious since it’s based on Javascript, and you all know what I think of *that*. But even javascript can’t quite manage to screw up the basic data structures, so maybe it’s fine. In addition to throwing XML out the window for data transfer and remote procedure calls between apps, the cool kids now hate it for configuration files (Rails people use YAML, for example.) And also, everyone’s web apps must be RESTful, a thing I don’t totally understand yet but which definitely means *hyperlinks should never, ever have side effects*.

The moral of this story is that by ignoring the world of software for a couple of years while being on the mommy-track, I have avoided, I hope, ever having to figure out what all those fifteen thousand XML standards meant, and jumping in now, I am no further behind on technology than all those other people who are still trying to grok what it means that Rails Edge now supports fully RESTful URL routing.

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