In my time I’ve written a lot of throwaway binary TCP/IP services (servers and services you can interact with over an internet connection, through command line interface or GUI). For me, this involves designing a protocol from scratch every time with varying levels of hand-rolled authentication and error detection (Send this byte for this command, this byte for this other command, etc.). Once I design the protocol, I then have to write both the command line client and the server — something I usually do from scratch over the raw TCP streams.
This process was fun (and informative) the first few times I did it, but spinning it up from scratch again every time discouraged me from doing it very often. However, thankfully, with the servant haskell library (and servant-cli, for command line clients), writing a TCP server/client pair for a TCP service (using HTTP under the hood) becomes dead-simple — the barrier for creating one fades away that designing/writing a service becomes a tool that I reach for immediately in a lot of cases without second thought.
servant is usually advertised as a tool for writing web servers, web applications, and REST APIs, but it’s easily adapted to write non-web things as well. Let’s dive in and write a simple TCP/IP service (a todo list manager) to see how straightforward the process is!
To goal of this article is to take service/program that you already have planned out, and easily provide it with a networked API that can be used over any TCP/IP connection (over the internet, or even locally). This won’t teach you how to write a todo app, but rather how to hook up a todo app over a TCP/IP connection quickly, with a command line client — and in such a simple way that you wouldn’t give a second thought based on complexity issues.
This post can also serve as a stepping-stone to a “microservices architecture”, if you intend to build towards one (this is explored deeper by k-bx)…but really it’s more focused for standalone user-facing applications. How you apply these techniques is up to you :)
All of the code in this article is available online, and the server and client are available as “stack executables”: if you download them all, and set the permissions properly (
chmod u+x), you can directly run them to launch the server and client (if they are all download to the same directory).
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