Everything is Relative

Today i want to talk a bit about “Relativity”, a new feature we’re shipping with Data Abstract this month (and which is actually available as “tech preview”in the current Winter 2009 releases).

“Relativity” is, simply put, a standalone server application that can be used to host Data Abstract schemas and serve data. In essence, it provides the complete Data Abstract middle tier, in a precompiled box and ready run. This offers several benefits, not the least of which are:

  1. No need to build your own. Relativity provides all the power and abstraction of a true Data Abstract middle tier server, without you actually having to create, build, and deploy your own executable. This allows you to concentrate on the client development. It also is really handy for prototyping, if you just want to have database server to talk to, without much work, even if you plan to eventually implementing your own custom server.
  2. Build on Data Abstract for .NET. .NET is platform with the most advanced version of DA – it supports our powerful DA SQL execution engine, and other features not available on all platforms. “Relativity” is being made available to all users of Data Abstract, so whether you’re a developer using .NET, Delphi, or Xcode, you can now write clients against Relativity that take full advantage of these features.

But let’s go and take a more detailed technical look at Relativity.

Relativity is a server application, so it does not provide any user interface. You can deploy a Relativity server in several ways, including:

  • Running it as a regular user application, on Windows.
  • Installing it as a Windows service.
  • Running it as a Unix daemon with the mono-service2 tool, on Mac and Linux.
  • Running it as a menubar item, on Mac.

Regardless of how you deploy and run it, Relativity will start making it’s Data Abstract services available on (by default) port 7099. But of course before it can start serving actual data, it will need to be configured with what data to serve. That is done thru the Relativity Server Admin tool, which is currently available for Windows (but versions for both Mac and iPhone are in the works).

When you first start it, the Admin tool will look something like this:

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On the left hand side, you will see a tree view with all known instances of “Relativity” servers. This includes any servers (local or remote) that you connected to in the past, as well as any servers discovered on the local network using ROZeroConf.

Select any of the servers (here, “VEMMY” is the one instance running in my Windows VM), to connect and get more options.

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The first two nodes allow you to configure how this “Relativity” server is accessed. This includes options such as what ports to listen on, what RemObjects SDK channels and messages to use, etc. Here you have the full choice of all the options provided by RO, you can choose the familiar HTTP, TCP, Super HTTP or other channels, BinMessage, SOAP Message, and so on.

Where it gets more interesting is the third node – Domains. This is where you configure the meat of the services Relativity is providing.

Each Domain corresponds to what typically would be a separate Data Abstract middle tier server. Domains are completely abstracted from one another and Relativity allows you to host as many separate domains as needed. With that, a single Relativity server can replace multiple DA servers, be it for related to completely independent applications or projects.

As you can see, i have three domains set up in my server, one for “BC7”, our new bug tracking system (using a PostgreSQL database running on our Xserve build server), one for “RemObjectsCom”, the database that drives our website (Microsoft SQL Server, running on the Windows server that hosts our website), and finally “OneSpace”, the database for a personal iPad project i am working on.

As we drill into a specific domain, you start seeing more things that will be familiar to you as a Data Abstract developer. Each domain can contain one or more Schemas – which correspond directly to .daSchema files or TDASchema components as you know them. You can manage schemas right there in the Admin tool, or directly launch Schema Modeler to edit the schema in question:

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The domain also maintains a list of Connections to back-end databases available to it’s schemas. Once again, this directly corresponds to the .daConnections file or TDAConnectionManager component. Since Relativity is based on DA/.NET, these connections are based on the available DA/.NET drivers – regardless of whether your regular development platform is .NET, Delphi or Cocoa.

Another interesting part is the Login node. Relativity provides several options for handling authentication from client applications for data access (something you would normally need to manually implement, in a standalone DA server): in addition to relying on a static list of allowed username/password combinations, you can also choose to use a data table or command defined in one of the domain’s schemas to verify users (as i do in the example shown below) or query an external LDAP server for login.

The LDAP option is very handy if you are running a variety of services – some using Relativity, and some not – that you want to share user data among. We recently switched to LDAP for all our employee resources, and it has made administration so much easier.The LDAP support in Relativity is based on a new 100% managed LDAP client implementation we’ve added to Internet Pack for this upcoming release. Carlo will blog more about this, soon.

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The Login Provider architecture is extensible, so you can implement your own providers, for example if you need to do user authentication with a different method.

Client Access

Once you have Relativity set up to serve your data, your client application(s) can access it like any other Data Abstract server.

The only slight difference is that, since a Relativity server can host more than one domain, you need to tell the server which domain to access, by simply passing an additional Domain parameter as your login string, as in


You will also want to select which Schema to query. in regular DA applications, each schema usually has its own DataService, so keeping in line with that, Relativity allows you to append a schema name to the ServiceName property of your Remote Service. Instead of using DataService, simply use DataService.<em>DomainName</em>. (Alternatively, you can also pass a Schema to LoginEx).

In Closing…

So, this has been a brief introduction to Relativity – i hope you found it useful.

We think of Relativity as a strategic piece of Data Abstract, and it will play an increasing part in what we do for DA. We have lots of things planned for the future that will make Relativity even more powerful, such as our upcoming JavaScript Business Rules Scripting based on Carlo’s RemObjects Script for .NET.

You can try out the tech preview of Relativity now, and the official release will be part of what we ship at the end of this month. I’m looking forward to your thoughts and feedback!


marc hoffman

Chief Architect and CEO here at RemObjects Software. Project Manager for Elements and lead developer of Fire, our awesome new development environment for the Mac.