The Not So Super, Super API

Now and again you come across the ‘one size fits all’ of computer programming the ‘Super API’. It derives its name from the fact that it tries to act as a superset of a bunch of other platform-specific APIs. One good example of this is JDBC/ODBC, but there are many others. JDBC/ODBC allow access to many many database servers because they’ve normalised the API so that you can write code that doesn’t care which database it is connected to.

Now and again, though, I find myself requiring features that are not exposed in a Super API. They’re not exposed because the feature is either too niche or because it is not standard across implementations. Creating a Super API is in some ways like plastering. Once you’ve created that nice even finish across an entire wall you might find that you’re missing a few light switches.

I was reminded of this the other day when one particular super SQL API: CLSQL uses another super API: UFFI, what they do and how they do it is largely irrelevant. The important point is that I’m only going to be concerned about the operation of one of the combination of technologies (MySQL with SBCL:SB-ALIEN). I’m concerned because there is a particular SBCL feature that I want CLSQL to make use of when it calls SBCL:LOAD-SHARED-OBJECT from via UFFI. Confused? Don’t worry, it’s not that important.

In the end I found a (most heinous) way to do what I want but it occurred to me that there has to be a better way. I appreciate that there is no way that the library writer could know what I want before I want it and neither could they potentially anticipate future underlying API changes to provide for them. However, what if the library writer gave me the option of registering a per-API first-chance callback function? This function could then perform custom processing for my platform combination and then yield control back to the library when it was completed. That way I could inject any code I wanted at potentially any supported depth.

I don’t doubt that it would be difficult to produce an API like this. Certain classes of API (non reentrant APIs being one that jumps to mind) could potentially break in new and unforseen ways and library maintainers would have to be creative about how they detect and cope with errors happening in and around user injected code.

But if the injected code was simply a one-line replacement for the one-line that would otherwise have be called then it might work. Perhaps it might even be fun to try it.

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