Saturday, February 18, 2006

Thinking Outside the Box

Sometimes you gotta stretch the definition of things...

If you have a new application that needs interprocess communications, but you don't want to build the whole infrastructure, consider using something like email or instant messaging for IPC. Many modern languages have libraries that support email, so it's not a difficult thing to add, and allows you to take advantage of the entire internet connectivity. You also can use it for communications back to developers, when significant errors occur.

Instant messaging can be used as well, but there are fewer libraries built-in to langauges. It's faster and more connection-oriented, but less well-supported across the networks. You will have a variety of IM protocols to choose from, and a plethora of servers to run, should you choose to run a private server.

Another useful hack for developers is to use Gmail as a poor-man's FTP utility. Since you have over 2.5GB of space on an account, it will be large enough for most any transfer. You probably will want to encrypt your files, however, to preserve security. This will pose a slight problem, as Google blocks encrypted archives. Never fear, because you can use something like uuencode to convert an encrypted file into pure ASCII. After downloading the file, uudecode will convert it back into its original binary form.

Andrew Tannenbaum has been quoted as saying "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes shurtling down the highway". As network speeds have increased, so has portable storage density, so the saying is probably as true now as it was then, with only the vehicle and media changing (I'd probably reference a minivan full of USB thumb drives, personally). Sometimes the brute force approach is the best combination of simplicity and utility. If you need to be able to do a rapid upgrade with the ability to just as rapidly return to the initial setup, look into the cost of simply making a complete copy of the machine in the new configuration, and perform the switch by swapping the network connections.

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