Astoria futures: offline-enabled data services

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We mentioned that we were doing some early thinking of “Astoria Offline” back in Mix 2008, where we even demo’ed an early proof of concept. Now we’ve been working on various design aspects of Data Services for its future versions, and synchronization/offline support is one of them. It’s still an experimental thing with no official home or release vehicle, so this is the best time to follow the design process if you find the scenario interesting, as this is when it’s easiest to influence the direction we’ll go for.

A short way of describing this can be: “imagine you can point Visual Studio to a data service and say ‘take it offline’, and things just happen”.

Of course, the real world is more complicated than that 🙂

Astoria Design Walkthrough: Thinking of a future with sync & offline


In this first note I’ll just touch on the scenarios we want to hit and go over a few guiding principles. In future posts I’ll elaborate more on the details.

We have many scenarios in mind for this infrastructure. The ones we’re thinking of tackling first:

· Outlook type of apps: I’m sure there is a fancier way of saying this, but anyone that has used Microsoft Outlook knows what I mean. The application is basically a 1-tier app that interacts with a local (embedded) database. In the background -and independent from UI activity- 2-way synchronization with a data service (e.g. a Microsoft Exchange server) happens. Often sync’ing against a database is not quite what you want…”Astoria Offline” will let you sync against your data-service layer, where the usual business logic/validation/etc will run just like in the online path.

· The description above sort of implies that server and client are built in collaboration, perhaps as part of the same development team. That’s certainly an scenario and we can do some things easier when that’s the case. But the other scenario we want to tackle is when client and server in a synchronization relationship are independent from each other (e.g. sync a service that’s just available for sync on the web).

· Local replicas of cloud-stored data: as more online services offer structured storage capabilities, and more of them use the Data Services REST interface, it becomes more interesting to be able to synchronize that data locally either for latency reduction, offline operation or other reasons.

· Data consolidation: if you have multiple data services that expose data from a variety of sources (some databases, some online/”cloud” stores, some custom repositories), you may want to synchronize a slice of data of each store to a local database, and then work with the data locally.

A couple of guiding principles:

· We will stick to a simple and open interface. What that means is that while we will definitely build a nice end-to-end integrated story for Visual Studio, it will be on top of a well-documented underlying data exchange using just HTTP and known formats. Anybody with an HTTP client and enough knowledge of our sync strategy should be able to synchronize with a data service.

· Data independence will remain there for sync as it is already for online access. Today when you access a data service the interface is the same regardless of whether the service is backed by a database, a cloud store, some custom application or whatever. With sync, the same applies. If the data service is sync-enabled you can sync with it, no matter what backs it.

· We are targeting data services for structured stores and business applications. That implies certain level of sophistication in the shape of data, such as assuming cross-item dependencies, store-level and application-level constraints that dictate consistent states of data, the need for making partial progress during synchronization, etc. Such support does come with some extra complexity, but we think it’s the right target.

We’re just taking on this space, so any feedback you may have is good. Are our initial scenarios interesting? Do you need this thing at all? Does the initial direction we’re looking at sound reasonable?

btw – if you are going to be at PDC, we have a full talk on this at the event.

I hope this “short video” format that Andy wants to do for our design notes adds a good little twist and makes them more interesting.

Pablo Castro
Software Architect
Microsoft Corporation

This post is part of the transparent design exercise in the Astoria Team. To understand how it works and how your feedback will be used please look at this post.


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