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Pre Computation

Caching is a common technique, especially with HTTP as it is made so easy. However pre computation is an alternative that can be used to reduce failures as well as speed up processing and response times.

Caching Example

Assume a list of countries to be displayed on the UI. These are often stored in one logical place, the database. A remote call is issued to query the database and return the results. The results are then manipulated and inserted into the UI. Repeat calls will then be cached for some period by the web server and/or proxy.

Pre Computed Example

As part of the build process have the same query performed, dynamically building up the result set. Using a templating language modify a base source file which simply inserts the dynamic result set. The end result of this would be a source file containing a collection of countries as if you had hardcoded the values. The difference is these values are pulled from a single source of truth as part of the pre build step.

In a statically compiled language you would have compile time safety after this file is generated. Regardless a simple suite of tests to ensure the collection is not empty or badly formed would be beneficial.

Once the deploy is complete all queries to retrieve the collection of countries would be performed by the pre computed collection. This technique works regardless of language due to the simplicity of storing a collection of items in a literal array or hashtable. For content that changes regularly you can use a separate content deploy which simply deploys any changes to content.

Pre computation works for even what appears to be dynamic content. Article submission sites, e-commerce or wikis could all be developed using pre computation.

Use punch outs for anything that varies based on user or context. Javascript is the natural choice for inserting this dynamic content. This advice flies in the face of much of the direction the modern web is heading. However the benefits of reduced remote calls, fast responses and less moving parts should not be under estimated.

Naturally pre computation will not work in areas where content is highly dynamic or specific to users. Single page applications, social media streams and the like are better suited to dynamic content cached where possible. Additionally adjusting a system to handle content deploys is not something that can be achieved lightly. As the build and deploy process must accommodate these changes, pre computation is usually required to be thought of up front or require some rework to introduce.

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