Once you have spent some time integrating different systems you start to see the same problems coming up but being presented in different ways. The question I think I hear most often usually takes a similar form to this

We need to version this interface to avoid breaking an existing consumer, what is the best way to do it?

This is usually followed by some furious Googling and a lack of consensus.

In order to understand why this question keeps reoccurring and why there is no satisfactory resolution, it is useful to really break down the question itself.

What is meant by versioning?

Often the need for “versioning” is driven by the need to evolve the functionality of a service that is already live and is being consumed by at least one client. For whatever reason whether that be a bug fix or an enhancement, the change to the service is such that there is a risk of one or more clients failing to function after the change is made. It follows that “versioning” in its purest sense is the means to add the new behaviour to a Service without impacting existing consumers.

What do you mean by the best way to do it?

We are always looking for the best solution to any problem but the “best” solution is subjective. It depends on context and depends heavily on if we really understand the problem. There is also an assumption that a silver bullet solution exists that will deal with all eventualities but this usually proves to be false, especially in this context. The reality is that there are many approaches each with pros and cons and in this problem space you may need to apply multiple approaches.

Are we asking the right question?

The reason that versioning approaches are often incomplete or not successful is because there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. In fact, versioning is not really the problem. Instead it is a potential solution to the real problem. We are not dealing with the problem of versioning. Instead the problem is

Minimising the cost of change

As you know change is the only constant. Clients and Services are in constant flux. We want to be able to make these changes (and to be able to run the resulting solutions) easily and cheaply without concerning ourselves with the impact. Some versioning approaches I’ve seen in the past are anything but cheap and simple!

Are you trying to solve a problem that already has a solution?

I have to admit whenever the question of versioning comes up I find myself Googling in the hope that someone has come up with a silver bullet since I last looked. I always draw a blank but what I notice is the same articles do come up time and again. Take a look at the index at this link.

https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb969123.aspx

If you start drilling into them you notice a common theme

  • A lot of clever people have done a lot of thinking in this problem space
  • Many of the articles are old (in IT terms)

Whilst things have moved on especially in terms of the cost of executing different instances of the same service side by side we don’t always have the luxury of being able to use all the latest tech and trendy architectural patterns on our project. So, the first step to getting a grip on this problem space is to understand that the problem is really about ensuring change is cheap and easy and reading about how people have tried to do that in the past.

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