The Order of the JSON

Dion Almaer
Aug 19 · 3 min read

NOTE: This was originally posted on my own corner of the Internet.

When I read Fitz’ tweet about ordered JSON my body shuddered, as my brain was flooded with a past experience that taught me a frightening lesson on technology being used by non-technical companies.

It was a moment that had me wonder:

  • How does world not break due to technology more often
  • How much time and money is wasted due to some ignorance at some part of the development cycle?

Ok, here goes. My frightening tale around the order of the JSON.
I was working on a project for a large Fortune 500 (I will protect the name of the company to protect the innocent!).

The project at hand required integrating a modern front end (mobile apps and web) with a legacy system. This isn’t legacy in a “the engineering team really wants to rewrite it in the new shiny”, but in a “there is COBOL running back there somewhere isn’t there” kinda way.

Much of the system was so old that it was hard to find anyone who knew how it actually worked, and it’s maintenance had been outsourced to some of the typical IT outsourcing companies of the time.

At first all was well. We had created mock services that spoke the protocol and we were building against it. We were dealing with pretty simple REST calls with JSON, so it wasn’t like we were all SOAP-y.

We wanted to integrate with the real systems as soon as they were ready of course, and that’s when it got fun. I remember the first time we spoke to the system an got a terse error message:

ERROR 1000294

That was it. No more info. We asked the service folks for more context, and *two weeks later* we were told “Oh, the JSON payload that you sent us was in the wrong order“.

Huh? Why would you care what order we were sending the name value pairs for this?

We asked if they could fix this and be more flexible. They said they would get back to us.

It turned out their did a “LOE analysis” (level of effort, in case you haven’t had the privilege), and came back to tell us that they would fix it, but it would take 9 people 6 months to do complete. With a straight face. In a way that signalled that this is the cost of doing business and it happens all the time.

We couldn’t wait that long, and we thought about creating a custom emitter that would indeed order the JSON. We wouldn’t want to do it on the client, as what if something changed? We didn’t have faith that this “order” would be set in stone forever.

Ok, let’s handle it on the server then…. and have continuous testing to make sure that if anything changed we would know right away. Not the end of the world I guess.

But it still didn’t feel right. I got on a plane to visit the site where this was all going down.

I mentioned that it was hard to find people who knew how these systems worked. I have previously mentioned how QA engineers are underrated and they came to my aide again here. I hunted down the QA lead and he took me on a tour of how he tests the systems.

I got to learn that we were talking to a service running IBM DataPower Gateway which sat on top of WebSphere which sat on top of the COBOL.

He was showing me the DataPower GUI, and let me play around with it. After awhile of drilling around and going through settings I got to a hidden advanced setting that was a checkbox asking:

Validate order of JSON? [X]

I unchecked it. Ran a client to post the JSON to that instance. It worked just fine.

And, then I sat back and contemplated how this type of event was probably occurring daily, all over the world, and some consulting companies were getting millions of dollars.

Finally, I was so curious about where the root of this came from, and did a search for ordered JSON and ended up on this IBM javadoc.

Of course! I am sure you have never run into scenarios like this in you time in tech, have you?

Ben and Dion

now: Google, formerly: Walmart Labs, Set Direction, Ajaxians, webOSians, Mozillans, and more.

Dion Almaer

Written by

Google Developers; Karaoke Ready

Ben and Dion

now: Google, formerly: Walmart Labs, Set Direction, Ajaxians, webOSians, Mozillans, and more.

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