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Hailstorm in Hand

by Rael Dornfest and John Osborn

Among the long-awaited elements of the .NET initiative that Microsoft Professional Developers Conference attendees are scheduled to receive in Los Angeles this week is an early version of the .NET My Services Developer's Edition and software developer kit (SDK).

My Services is the new name for Hailstorm, a Web services initiative that Microsoft announced in March to supply several building blocks for developers to create user-centric Web applications.

My Services also includes Passport, which is a way for users to consolidate their identities and other information in data repositories on the Internet. (For an overview of My Services, see "Get Ready for Hailstorm" by Jon Rauschenberger in the current issue of .NET Magazine.)

Mark Lucovsky, chief architect of My Services, says the SDK lets developers run the service on their own systems. It ships with 13 My Services Web services, a set of interfaces, and a set of databases that host Hailstorm information. Developers can deploy the software on their laptops, or they can deploy it on a server in their office. "Attendees are getting the server side of My Services with a full-blown Web service interface," Lucovsky said. "The only way to talk to it is by sending it SOAP messages and handling its responses."

The SDK includes command line tools for setting up Hailstorm accounts and providing data to - or "provisioning," in Microsoft lingo -- any of the 13 available services. Also included are some sample applications. With these tools, Lucovsky said, developers can begin building applications that talk to a My Services host natively.

Missing from the SDK is a full-blown authentication service. Microsoft has said that authentication in My Services will be based on Kerberos. Lucovsky said that Microsoft was working on a Kerberos domain controller that it planned to include on the My Services Developer Edition CD, but the company decided in September to drop it from the kit in order to hit the release date.

But while the developer kit doesn't have authentication enabled (developers will get around this by creating a user ID that is a hash of the user name), it does have authorization enabled, Lucovsky said, "so developers can share My Services data with applications, but won't have to authenticate."

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One way to get started with My Services today is to download HSDLTool, a sample application that demonstrates how to format and submit HSDL queries to .NET My Services. HSDLTool was developed by Jim Culbert, co-author (along with Ian Murphy) of O'Reilly's upcoming Hailstorm Essentials (due in January). The tool includes a control pane that lets developers create HSDL queries in an editor window and submit those queries to .NET My Services. It also lets developers store and retrieve queries returned by My Services. For more information, see the HSDLTool.doc file, included in the Zip file. Caveat: This software has been built against a pre-release of the My Services Developer Kit and with VS.Net Beta 2. It has not yet been validated against the new code drop.

"If I were a developer," Lucovsky said, "I'd want to fire up my favorite programming environment, be it C#, or Javascript or Perl, and begin partying on the services. For example, if I worked for a firm that sold services that were time based, I might be interested in writing an application that could overlay My Calendar data with data from a customer. So for me it would be important to get comfortable with working with two My Calendar service streams and thinking about how I might combine and work with that information in a calendar control."

Lucovsky said developers should get comfortable with sending and receiving SOAP messages using whatever language they are most comfortable with. The SDK includes a copy of the My Services XMI Manual, which serves as both an architectural specification for Hailstorm services and a programmer's reference. XMI is the name for the XML Message Interfaces programmers will use to call the services.

Once comfortable with SOAP, Lucovsky says, interested developers should dive in, no matter what the programming language.

"Don't think ... I have to forget everything that I knew how to do and do something different. If you're a C# programmer and you're in our fold and you love that environment, then use it. If you prefer writing DHTML, Javascript, or Perl, then start there. Don't feel that you're constrained. Just start writing something and have fun with it."

Rael Dornfest is Founder and CEO of Portland, Oregon-based Values of n. Rael leads the Values of n charge with passion, unearthly creativity, and a repertoire of puns and jokes — some of which are actually good. Prior to founding Values of n, he was O'Reilly's Chief Technical Officer, program chair for the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference (which he continues to chair), series editor of the bestselling Hacks book series, and instigator of O'Reilly's Rough Cuts early access program. He built Meerkat, the first web-based feed aggregator, was champion and co-author of the RSS 1.0 specification, and has written and contributed to six O'Reilly books. Rael's programmatic pride and joy is the nimble, open source blogging application Blosxom, the principles of which you'll find in the Values of n philosophy and embodied in Stikkit: Little yellow notes that think.

John Osborn is a senior editor with O'Reilly Media, Inc., responsible for Windows and .NET developer books, PDFs and other content.

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