My Internet != Your Internet

September 22, 2008

So I’m debugging this SOAP protocol and having a certain problem: me and a vendor are submitting the “exact same” request but getting different responses. Furthermore, each of us repeatedly get the same response to our requests, but never get each other’s.

At this point I realize that we have different meanings of “exact same”. In my mind, “same” means “the bytes that go over the wire are identical”. In their mind, “same” means “the objects being serialized have the same data”. The difference there, of course, is the manner of serialization. Different request serializations produce different responses. Same != Same.

This made me realize that we all have different notions of how the internet works. I’m a low-level guy so I think in terms of bytes, whereas others think in terms of higher level protocols. I think there are benefits and detriments to thinking on every layer, but the most important thing is to identify when you’re thinking on *different* layers.

Furthermore, it’s caused me to wonder what I’m missing out on by thinking of the internet as a series UDP/TCP flows. What magical wonders are happening at the IP layer that I’m just overlooking? How does BGP *really* work? What are the actual differences between 802.11 a-g? I have no idea.

But I bet there’s going to be a lot of exciting developments happening at these lower layers as programmable radios become commonplace and the average Joe can suddenly whip up a new wireless protocol from scratch.

Similarly, what’s going on at those higher layers? I’ve heard of microformats and semantic data and agent programming and the like. It all sounds dreamy. But maybe I should be considering them in a more practical sense?

Regardless, back to the present. It’s always an interesting to discover that the common ground you think you share isn’t so common after all. My notion of the internet is not necessarily your notion, so beware.


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