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Use the Ballerina language to ease into cloud microservices

With native integration features, Ballerina promises to take care of lower-level technological considerations, while developers focus on building features.

Organizations that move away from monolithic applications discover the diverse mix of deployment options that microservices entail, such as a combination of cloud-centric builds and serverless architectures. The move to new application deployment models might also prompt programming in a new language: Ballerina.

The Ballerina language offers capabilities that simplify the build process and ensure support for microservices. It is an open source, cloud-native language specifically optimized for those structured interactions.

By incorporating fundamental concepts of distributed systems integration into its language, Ballerina provides a type-safe, concurrent environment to introduce microservices while emphasizing distributed transactions, reliable messaging, stream processing and workflows. Ballerina ensures that programmers can focus on high-level business logic, confident that the language's features take care of configuration complexity.

The importance of integration

In general, the high-profile programming languages -- such as Java, Python and others -- date back prior to the introduction of containers, and even cloud services, for microservices deployment. As a consequence, these environments require external APIs that handle different languages to connect programs. Developers regularly write drivers or plugins from scratch, and they must wrestle with detailed programming constructs, such as callback functions in JavaScript.

These projects burden programmers with configuring those message flows. This requirement also piles on top of their core tasks to discover build dependencies, debug, write boilerplate code and ensure the logic is in place to handle inbound traffic, all while uncovering nuanced programming constructs.

Developers also face many challenges when they shift to a cloud-native model, as they attempt to connect various enterprise applications. Programmers typically use multiple domain-specific languages for native code and then must turn to general-purpose languages, like JavaScript or Java.

Similar scenarios are common. For example, to write an HTTP request to another service, the developer must call a client library dependency using an API. Another library often must handle subsequent communication outages, such as retries or timeouts.

Ballerina proffers a simpler experience for microservices, API development, network scripting and composite development. It combines the agility of a type-safe programming language with the syntax of integration sequence diagrams. As a result, developers can deploy every Ballerina program as a sequence diagram of its flow with endpoints, including synchronous and asynchronous calls.

Concurrency in microservices with Ballerina

In the development world, the term concurrency emphasizes the manager/worker model of parallel programming. Concurrent operations significantly boost the number of transactions per second on basic hardware.

In the Ballerina language, each concurrency construct has a worker as the basic execution element. Every Ballerina construct comprises one or more of these workers. Within the concurrency model, some workers are assigned the outbound work, while others handle inbound operations, eliminating any thread blocking or performance lags.

Ballerina programming features

  • Built-in container support: Programmers using Ballerina can annotate code, automatically create a Dockerfile, package it within an image and then run it as a container. Compiler automation cuts the time it takes to build and test iterations.
  • Serverless capabilities: Developers can turn any function in the Ballerina language into an API endpoint, which makes each function a stand-alone microservice. Ballerina is supported by numerous serverless platforms.
  • Visibility: Developers can express the structure and logic of a program in graphical terms, such as sequence diagrams to depict endpoints and actions. Configure the end clients to interpret and display the visualization data.
  • Security: Ballerina offers protection against SQL injections, path manipulation, file manipulation and other related attacks. Taint checking functionality shows API developers whether any security-sensitive parameters use tainted code, for example.
  • Documentation and testing: Docerina generates API documentation for the Ballerina language in HTML format, although it can extend to support other formats as well. The Testerina automated testing framework enables developers to write unit tests and check the viability of their source code with mock-ups of actual programs.

To further support multiple parallel executions, Ballerina includes fork/join constructs. This capability can introduce a pattern that splits the work for multiple parallel executions and then joins all the responses into a single execution. Ballerina programmers easily define workers and their actions within a fork/join statement.

Overall, the high degree of integration in Ballerina enables developers to concentrate on how to create business logic instead of troubleshooting lower-level technical details. Through an awareness of all service interactions, Ballerina provides the capability to reliably handle those service calls, enable container deployments as needed and ensure that actions and data remain in a constant state.

As companies rely on microservices and the cloud more for business-critical applications, Ballerina's approach to API development, system administrator network scripting and composite development could make it part of the modern development toolkit. The Ballerina language's main benefits include distributed systems integration and a type-safe, concurrent environment for building microservices and smooth, dynamic exchanges across network endpoints.

This was last published in March 2019

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