Responder flow validation (part 2 - extension)

December 10, 2019

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In Responder flow validation I closed the post with the following:

How can I enforce the rules of my business when the logic inside a CorDapp is shared?

I will answer that question in my next post…

You can wait until then.

I’m not one to leave you hanging for too long. So, here I am, true to my word to show you how to enforce your own validation on a shared CorDapp.

Now, before I continue, I have a little disclaimer. What I will cover in this post requires cooperation from the developers of the CorDapp. Why? They are in control of what the CorDapp does. If they do not follow the necessary steps, then extending their CorDapp becomes much more difficult. It is still possible, but the chance of errors goes through the roof.

Obviously, this problem goes away if you are the one developing the CorDapp.

For the purpose of this post, I am going to assume that you are the CorDapp developer. I will show you how to write an extensible CorDapp that an external developer can leverage while adding a sprinkle of their own code. More specifically, allowing them to add extra verification to the responder flows that you create.

I will be skimming through some of the content in this post. For extra background information, I wrote Extending and Overriding Flows from external CorDapps earlier on this year. That post dives deeper down in regards to implementation compared to this post. Here we will only focus on custom validation.

Why extendable flows make sense for injecting validation

In Corda, organisations interact with each other through shared code, this means that each and every organisation executes the exact same code. The false assumption this model makes is that all businesses have identical processes. Many might be the same (there is a lot of duplication in this world), but the chance of them being exact copies is minuscule. To be honest, I would go as far as saying it’s impossible. Somewhere in the process, there will be a difference.

CorDapps need to be able to reflect this. Corda does its best to amalgamate processes amongst organisations. But, there is an appreciation that local customisation is necessary before companies can truly make the switch to distributed applications.

A vital example of the need for customisation is applying business rules to a shared application. Contracts and flows can provide a base level of validation. However, unique business rules still need to be applied before each individual organisation’s requirements are met.

As described in Extending and Overriding Flows from external CorDapps, a flow can be extended to apply additional logic defined inside of another CorDapp. Through the use of flow extension, you can design an extensible flow that applications can leverage to inject customised validation.

What a CorDapp developer must do

There are only a hand full of steps required to create an extensible flow:

  • The flow must be open (Kotlin) or not final (Java)
  • Provide a function(s) that can be overridden
  • The overridable function(s) must be called in relevant places

The following responder flow incorporates all the points above:

@InitiatedBy(SendMessageFlow::class)
// The flow is open
open class SendMessageResponder(private val session: FlowSession) : FlowLogic<SignedTransaction>() {

  // An overridable function to contain validation is provided
  open fun checkTransaction(stx: SignedTransaction) {
    // To be implemented by sub type flows - otherwise do nothing
  }

  @Suspendable
  // [call] is final to prevent it from being overridden
  final override fun call(): SignedTransaction {
    val stx = subFlow(object : SignTransactionFlow(session) {
      override fun checkTransaction(stx: SignedTransaction) {
        // The validation function is called
        this@SendMessageResponder.checkTransaction(stx)
        // Any other rules the CorDapp developer wants executed
      }
    })
    return subFlow(ReceiveFinalityFlow(otherSideSession = session, expectedTxId = stx.id))
  }
}

I want to expand on the final step I mentioned above:

The overridable function(s) must be called in relevant places

I believe that SignTransactionFlow.checkTransaction is the best place to call an overridable function that contains custom validation. checkTransaction is triggered before signing a transaction, therefore it makes sense to add additional rules here. You could place it somewhere else, but the code becomes less efficient and harder to follow. I also discussed adding validation to checkTransaction in Responder flow validation.

An external developer now has two ways to use this flow:

  • Directly use the flow just like any normal flow. This means checkTransaction will execute without any code inside of it.
  • Leverage the flow by extending it and including their own custom verification.

Before we move on, I want to focus on a comment I included in the code:

// [call] is final to prevent it from being overridden
final override fun call(): SignedTransaction {

This might not be important. But, I personally think it is. By preventing external applications from altering the flow too much, you reduce the chance of the flow malfunctioning. For example, one unbalanced send or receive will break the flow. Making call final does not actually prevent this problem. However, by providing clear functions to implement, developers are less likely to make mistakes.

What an external developer must do

To extend and leverage an extensible flow, you must do the following:

  • Extend the flow
  • Include @InitiatedBy referencing the initiating flow
  • Implement/override provided functions

In other words, exactly what you would do to extend any average class in Kotlin or Java.

Below is what this could look like:

@InitiatedBy(SendMessageFlow::class)
class ValidatingSendMessageResponder(session: FlowSession) : SendMessageResponder(session) {

  override fun checkTransaction(stx: SignedTransaction) {
    val message = stx.coreTransaction.outputStates.single() as MessageState
    check(message.recipient == ourIdentity) { "I think you got the wrong person" }
    check(!message.contents.containsSwearWords()) { "Mind your language" }
    check(!message.contents.containsMemes()) { "Only serious messages are accepted" }
    check(message.sender.name.organisation != "Nigerian Prince") { "Spam message detected" }
  }
}

SendMessageResponder has been extended and checkTransaction has been implemented to include custom verification.

Any sessions that are initiated with the base SendMessageResponder will now be routed to ValidatingSendMessageResponder. You do not need to do anything else. Corda will handle it from here.

That’s really all there is. If the CorDapp developer has done the work in their flow to make it extendable, then external developers that leverage the flow should generally have a straight forward task when it comes to implementing their code.

Wrapping up

In this sequel to Responder flow validation, we looked into why flow extension provides an ideal solution for injecting custom validation and how to implement such a flow. If you continue to write CorDapps that are extensible, particularly regarding transaction validation, you will significantly increase both the usability and impact of your code. Businesses are far more likely to explore new solutions and migrate away from their existing linchpin/legacy applications if they are 100% confident that all of their needs can be met.

Just like the first episode in this trilogy, I will leave this post with a cliff hanger.

Now, before I continue, I have a little disclaimer. What I will cover in this post requires cooperation from the developers of the CorDapp that you wish to add your own rules to.

So, what can you do if the CorDapp developer does not play ball?

You’ll have to wait and see.



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