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Check out RemObjects Remoting SDK

RemObjects Remoting SDK is one of those component packages that have become more than the sum of it’s part. Just like project Jedi has become standard equipment almost, Remoting SDK is a system that all Delphi and Freepascal developers should have in their toolbox.

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In this article I’m going to present the SDK in broad strokes; from a viewpoint of someone who haven’t used the SDK before. There are still a large number of Delphi developers that don’t know it even exists – hopefully this post will shed some light on why the system is worth every penny and what it can do for you.

I should also add, that this is a personal blog. This is not an official RemObjects presentation, but a piece written by me based on my subjective experience and notions. We have a lot of running dialog at Delphi Developer on Facebook, so if I read overly harsh on a subject, that is my personal view as a Delphi Developer.

Stop re-inventing the wheel

Delphi has always been a great tool for writing system services. It has accumulated a vast ecosystem of non-visual components over the years, both commercial and non-commercial, and this allows developers to quickly aggregate and expose complex behavior — everything from graphics processing to databases, file processing to networking.

The challenge for Delphi is that writing large composite systems, where you have more than a single service doing work in concert, is not factored into the RTL or project type. Delphi provides a bare-bone project type for system services, and that’s it. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a blessing or a curse. You essentially start on C level.

So fundamental things like IPC (inter process communication) is something you have to deal with yourself. If you want multi-tenancy that is likewise not supported out of the box. And all of this is before we venture into protocol standards, message formats and async vs synchronous execution.

The idea behind Remoting SDK is to get away from this style of low-level hacking. Without sounding negative, it provides the missing pieces that Delphi lacks, including the stuff that C# developers enjoy under .net (and then some). So if you are a Delphi developer who look over at C# with smudge of envy, then you are going to love Remoting SDK.

Say goodbye to boilerplate mistakes

Writing distributed servers and services is boring work. For each function you expose, you have to define the parameters and data-types in a portable way, then you have to implement the code that represents the exposed function and finally the interface itself that can be consumed by clients. The latter must be defined in a way that works with other languages too, not just Delphi. So while server tech in it’s essential form is quite simple, it’s the infrastructure that sets the stage of how quickly you can apply improvements and adapt to change.

For example, let’s say you have implemented a wonderful new service. It exposes 60 awesome functions that your customers can consume in their own work. The amount of boilerplate code for 60 distributed functions, especially if you operate with composite data types, is horrendous. It is a nightmare to manage and opens up for sloppy, unnecessary mistakes.

ide_int

After you install Remoting SDK, the service designer becomes a part of the IDE

This is where Remoting SDK truly shines. When you install the software, it integrates it’s editors and wizards closely with the Delphi IDE. It adds a ton of new project types, components and whatnot – but the most important feature is without a doubt the service designer.

bonjour

Start the service-designer in any server or service project and you can edit the methods, data types and interfaces your system expose to the world

As the name implies, the service designer allows you to visually define your services. Adding a new function is a simple click, the same goes for datatypes and structures (record types). These datatypes are exposed too and can be consumed from any modern language. So a service you make in Delphi can be used from C#, C/C++, Java, Oxygene, Swift (and visa-versa).

Auto generated code

A service designer is all good and well I hear you say, but what about that boilerplate code? Well Remoting SDK takes care of that too (kinda the point). Whenever you edit your services, the designer will auto-generate a new interface unit for you. This contains the classes and definitions that describe your service. It will also generate an implementation unit, with empty functions; you just need to fill in the blanks.

The designer is also smart enough not to remove code. So if you go in and change something, it won’t just delete the older implementation procedure. Only the params and names will be changed if you have already written some code.

bonjour_source

Having changed a service, hitting F9 re-generates the interface code automatically. Your only job is to fill in the code for each method in the implementation units. The SDK takes care of everything else for you

The service information, including the type information, is stored in a special file format called “rodl”. This format is very close to Microsoft WSDL format, but it holds more information. It’s important to underline that you can import the service directly from your servers (optional naturally) as WSDL. So if you want to consume a Remoting SDK service using Delphi’s ordinary RIO components, that is not a problem. Visual Studio likewise imports and consumes services – so Remoting SDK behaves identical regardless of platform or language used.

Remoting SDK is not just for Delphi, just to be clear on that. If you are presently using both Delphi and C# (which is a common situation), you can buy a license for both C# and Delphi and use whatever language you feel is best for a particular task or service. You can even get Remoting SDK for Javascript and call your service-stack directly from your website if you like. So there are a lot of options for leveraging the technology.

Transport is not content

OK so Remoting SDK makes it easy to define distributed services and servers. But what about communication? Are we boxed into RemObjects way of doing things?

The remoting framework comes with a ton of components, divided into 3 primary groups:

  • Servers
  • Channels (clients)
  • Messages

The reason for this distinction is simple: the ability to transport data, is never the same as the ability to describe data. For example, a message is always connected to a standard. It’s job is ultimately to serialize (represent) and de-serialize data according to a format. The server’s job is to receive a request and send a response. So these concepts are neatly decoupled for maximum agility.

As of writing the SDK offers the following message formats:

  • Binary
  • Post
  • SOAP
  • JSON

If you are exposing a service that will be consumed from JavaScript, throwing in a TROJSONMessage component is the way to go. If you expect messages to be posted from your website using ordinary web forms, then TROPostMessage is a perfect match. If you want XML then TROSOAPMessage rocks, and if you want fast, binary messages – well then there is TROBinaryMessage.

What you must understand is that you don’t have to pick just one! You can drop all 4 of these message formats and hook them up to your server or channel. The SDK is smart enough to recognize the format and use the correct component for serialization. So creating a distributed service that can be consumed from all major platforms is a matter of dropping components and setting a property.

channels

If you double-click on a server or channel, you can link message components with a simple click. No messy code snippets in sight.

Multi-tenancy out of the box

With the release of Rad-Server as a part of Delphi, people have started to ask what exactly multi-tenancy is and why it matters. I have to be honest and say that yes, it does matter if you are creating a service stack where you want to isolate the logic for each customer in compartments – but the idea that this is somehow new or unique is not the case. Remoting SDK have given users multi-tenancy support for 15+ years, which is also why I haven’t been too enthusiastic with Rad-Server.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an axe to grind with Rad-Server. The only reason I mention it is because people have asked how i feel about it. The tech itself is absolutely welcome, but it’s the licensing and throwing Interbase in there that rubs me the wrong way. If it could run on SQLite3 and was free with Enterprise I would have felt different about it.

mt-models

There are various models for multi-tenancy, but they revolve around the same principles

To get back on topic: multi-tenancy means that you can dynamically load services and expose them on demand. You can look at it as a form of plugin functionality. The idea in Rad-Server is that you can isolate a customer’s service in a separate package – and then load the package into your server whenever you need it.

ro_comps

Some of the components that ship with the system

The reason I dislike Rad-Server in this respect, is because they force you to compile with packages. So if you want to write a Rad-Server system, you have to compile your entire project as package-based, and ship a ton of .dpk files with your system. Packages is not wrong or bad per-se, but they open your system up on a fundamental level. There is nothing stopping a customer from rolling his own spoof package and potentially bypass your security.

There is also an issue with un-loading a package, where right now the package remains in memory. This means that hot-swapping packages without killing the server wont work.

Rad-Server is also hardcoded to use Interbase, which suddenly bring in licensing issues that rubs people the wrong way. Considering the price of Delphi in 2019, Rad-Server stands out as a bit of an oddity. And hardcoding a database into it, with the licensing issues that brings -just rendered the whole system mute for me. Why should I pay more to get less? Especially when I have been using multi-tenancy with RemObjects for some 15 years?

With Remoting SDK you have something called DLL servers, which does the exact same thing – but using ordinary DLL files (not packages!). You don’t have to compile your system with packages, and it takes just one line of code to make your main dispatcher aware of the loaded service.

This actually works so well that I use Remoting SDK as my primary “plugin” system. Even when I write ordinary desktop applications that has nothing to do with servers or services – I always try to compartmentalize features that could be replaced in the future.

For example, I’m a huge fan of ElevateDB, which is a native Delphi database engine that compiles directly into your executable. By isolating that inside a DLL as a service, my application is now engine agnostic – and I get a break from buying a truck load of components every time Delphi is updated.

Saving money

The thing about DLL services, is that you can save a lot of money. I’m actually using an ElevateDB license that was for Delphi 2007. I compiled the engine using D2007 into a DLL service — and then I consume that DLL from my more modern Delphi editions. I have no problem supporting or paying for components, that is right and fair, but having to buy new licenses for every single component each time Delphi is updated? This is unheard of in other languages, and I would rather ditch the platform all together than forking out $10k ever time I update.

dll_project

A DLL server can be used for many things if you are creative about it

While we are on the subject – Hydra is another great money saver. It allows you to use .net and Java libraries (both visual and non-visual) with Delphi. With Hydra you can design something in .net, compile it into a DLL file, and then use that from Delphi.

But — you can also compile things from Delphi, and use it in newer versions of Delphi. Im not forking out for a Developer Express update just to use what I have already paid for in the latest Delphi. I have one license, I compile the forms and components into a Hydra Module — and then use it from newer Delphi editions.

hydra

Hydra, which is a separate product, allows you to stuff visual components and forms inside a vanilla DLL. It allows cross  language use, so you can finally use Java and .net components inside your Delphi application

Bonjour support

Another feature I love is the zero configuration support. This is one of those things that you often forget, but that suddenly becomes important once you deploy a service stack on cluster level.

apple_bonjour_medium-e1485166557218Remoting SDK comes with support for Apple Bonjour, so if you want to use that functionality you have to install the Bonjour library from Apple. Once installed on your host machines, your RemObjects services can find each other.

ZeroConfig is not that hard to code manually. You can roll your own using UDP or vanilla messages. But getting service discovery right can be fiddly. One thing is broadcasting an UDP message saying “here I am”, it’s something else entirely to allow service discovery on cluster level.

If Bonjour is not your cup of tea, the SDK provides a second option, which is RemObjects own zero-config hub. You can dig into the documentation to find out more about this.

What about that IPC stuff you mentioned?

I mentioned IPC (inter process communication) at the beginning here, which is a must have if you are making a service stack where each member is expected to talk to the others. In a large server-system the services might not exist on the same, physical hardware either, so you want to take height for that.

With the SDK this is just another service. It takes 10 minutes to create a DLL server with the functionality to send and receive messages – and then you just load and plug that into all your services. Done. Finished.

Interestingly, Remoting SDK supports named-pipes. So if you are running on a Windows network it’s even easier. Personally I prefer to use a vanilla TCP/IP based server and channel, that way I can make use of my Linux blades too.

Building on the system

There is nothing stopping you from expanding the system that RemObjects have established. You are not forced to only use their server types, message types and class framework. You can mix and match as you see fit – and also inherit out your own variation if you need something special.

firm_foundation-720x340For example, WebSocket is an emerging standard that has become wildly popular. Remoting SDK does not support that out of the box, the reason is that the standard is practically identical to the RemObjects super-server, and partly because there must be room for third party vendors.

Andre Mussche took the time to implement a WebSocket server for Remoting SDK a few years back. Demonstrating in the process just how easy it is to build on the existing infrastructure. If you are already using Remoting SDK or want WebSocket support, head over to his github repository and grab the code there: https://github.com/andremussche/DelphiWebsockets

I could probably write a whole book covering this framework. For the past 15 years, RemObjects Remoting SDK is the first product I install after Delphi. It has become standard for me and remains an integral part of my toolkit. Other packages have come and gone, but this one remains.

Hopefully this post has tickled your interest in the product. No matter if you are maintaining a legacy service stack, or thinking about re implementing your existing system in something future-proof, this framework will make your life much, much easier. And it wont break the bank either.

You can visit the product page here: https://www.remotingsdk.com/ro/default.aspx

And you can check out the documentation here: https://docs.remotingsdk.com/

  1. July 23, 2019 at 12:04 am

    This article would be stronger without the comparison to RAD Server. The Delphi SOAP stuff is probably weak why not compare it to that? RemObjects Remoting SDK doesn’t appear to be a REST server? If it is it is not made clear in this article. Multi-tenancy is just an integer in a database. Not that I think InterBase is amazing but it works fine as a Key Value store. It could have been SQLite and probably ran the same.

    • July 23, 2019 at 4:19 pm

      Im not bashing RAD-Server, im just saying that I was underwhelmed by the offer. There are many good aspects in RadServer, but considering the price I felt it was “too little, too late”. I only mentioned it due to the multi-tenancy feature, which people seem to think is new.
      Its great that we have so many options out there. All I can do is write about what I use and enjoy. Its a personal blog after all.

      As for REST, you can pick a normal HTTP based server + POST message envelope, and then you are more or less in the same ballpark.
      You can even set the entrypoint and name-spacing if you like.
      REST is not really that interesting for enterprise services, it depends greatly on your target audience.
      Besides, for REST I would use node.js, full machine and process clustering – and just delegate back into the LAN to do the work.
      Delphi’s biggest benefit is muscle and raw data processing, it’s no longer the king of versatility im afraid (and I have been a Delphi fundamentalist for 20+ years).

    • Anton Kasyanov
      October 23, 2019 at 10:38 am

      Guess, this answer is a bit too late one, but still…

      Remoting SDK allows to create REST servers. Different HTTP methods (not limited to POST only), JSON-encoded requests and responses,sending method parameters via URL, OpenAPI (aka Swagger) interface description and so on. This feature is called HttpAPI

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