We need some Context

Within web application development a nagging issue always crops up, how do I get data from one function to another in a pipeline? For an example, I have a simple flow which consists of a chain of middlewares, one of which adds some trivial information, say a unique identifier for each request, which we need to use in the next function in our pipeline. How can we concisely get that information passed in our processing pipeline?

Some solutions involve a global hashmap of request pointer to interface{} but this is a frustrating central clamping point. The amount of time waiting for a lock to write to, and read from these types of solutions are very unappealing.

Other solutions involve creating a custom handler function, or middleware type wherein you can pass in a context created per request, where you can stow this enriched information from middleware to middleware to handler in a pipeline. This can be a fine solution, except for the wildly different solutions everyone invents for their context structures or interfaces.

Enter net.Context

Luckily, Google came to the rescue, and provided a very interesting solution for dealing with the context problem, explained in depth here. According to the blog entry, Google requires every function signature to contain a net.Context parameter as the first argument for every function on the call path between incoming and outgoing requests. This allows every request from creation to response to have context as to what this request is for, and extra collected meta data for every step of the pipeline.

In short, you can think of net.Context as a stackable context. Take the following:

	// we are "stacking" our new context with value below on top 
	// of the "background" context which is just an empty context
	baseCTX := context.WithValue(context.Background(), "requestID", 12345)
	// we are now "stacking" a cancel-able context on top of our 
	// previous value context, net.Context allows us to be able 
	// to cancel a context by running the cancel function when we 
	// want to cancel this context.  The context interface defines 
	// a Done() <-chan struct{} struct method for us to check to see 
	// if a context has been timed-out or canceled, as well as 
	// an Err() error method to tell use why.  VERY HANDY!
	cancelCTX, cancel := context.WithCancel(baseCTX, "requestID", 12345)

	// we are now "stacking" another valued context on top of our cancel-able
	// context.
	lastCTX := context.WithValue(cancelCTX, "shortLived", true)

	// now comes the magic: calling the cancel function will traverse down the child
	// context hierarchy and iteratively cancel all of the child contexts.  This 
	// is pretty great because you can have a clean organization of where to prune
	// the context

Coming Soon!

I am also very excited to hear that this net.Context interface will be coming soon to the http.Request structure. Hindsight is 20x20 of course, but this will solve so many implementation issues that are stop gapped by current web framework implementations. Basically it will take out all need for using a framework at all for passing context.

I believe personally that the days of context laden web frameworks is nearing the end. I am also very glad that the golang community has shown the core contributors that there is a need for a clean context implementation attached to the http.Request structure.

I can very clearly see piecemeal framework groupings being a thing, where people can pick the best router, and marry that url router with the best middleware implementation, and all the while not going through the effort of doing web api development in a particular boxed framework.