Why NetJSON?

Motivations: why we started NetJSON

Developing software that deals with networks is harder than it should be.

Developers have to take into account all the differences between vendors, operating systems, routing protocols, hardware and (when working with community networks) with the countless approaches of different communities.

Very often, each vendor develops an entire stack that works exclusively with its own hardware and software.

There exist many libraries and web apps for networking, but it is very hard to make them interoperable, that is, making them talk and understand one another with minimum effort.

Instead of creating an ecosystem, we have been creating silos that hardly talk to each other.

This is an attempt to invert this trend, following the successful example of the GeoJSON open standard in the GIS field.

By defining common data structures we can allow developers to focus on their goals instead of having to struggle with the differences of each vendor, firmware, routing protocol or community.

Moreover, we will lay the groundwork for an ecosystem to grow organically: once the standard JSON structures are defined and adopted it will be easier to write systems that work together, instead of creating silos.

Goals: what we want to achieve with NetJSON

We want to define simple JSON data structures that are able to represent the lowest common denominator of:

  • network device configurations
  • monitoring data extracted from devices
  • routes (dynamic and static)
  • network topology

We are currently busy working to write implementations for the following kind of programs:

  • Firwmares and linux modules
  • Routing protocols
  • Configuration management tools
  • Monitoring agents
  • Node databases
  • Monitoring tools

These implementations should be able to either produce or consume one or more NetJSON objects.

Some implementations might be able to do both: produce NetJSON and consume it; for example, think about an HTTP API that returns NetJSON but at the same time also accepts a NetJSON object in the payload of a POST HTTP request in order to store it into a database.

The final goal is to write small tools that solve specific problems and are able to talk to one another with minimum effort.

These tools will form an ecosystem that will enable developers to build networking applications faster and better.

You may want to find more information about implementations in the dedicated section.

Design principles

There are a few design principles which we adopted while designing and refining the NetJSON specification.

KISS

KISS means “keep it simple stupid”, we adopted this principle to reflect the fact that we want to proceed one step at time, define priorities and use our resources wisely.

While we welcome contributions and feedback with open arms, we also have to recognize that opening too many issues and working on too many fronts at the same time is a form of waste which leads nowhere.

Therefore, we want to stay focused and add complexity to the specification only if the motivations and goals of each change are clear and the need for a specific change is shared among the parties involved.

Principle of least astonishment

The principle of least astonishment is also known as “principle of least surprise” and we use it to refer to the preference of using accepted and recognized terminology.

Explicit is better than implicit

We are in favour of explicit names when this improves the readability and understanding of the JSON objects.

Exceptions can be made when an abbreviation of a long word is widely used and accepted in the field, for example, the use of frag_threshold to refer to the 802.11 fragmentation threshold.

Readability counts

Readability of the specification (RFC) is really important to us.

We want the RFC to be the main reference document for all kind of developers, therefore it has to be readable and easy to understand.

If you think a specific part of the NetJSON RFC is not clear, not specific enough or particularly hard to read, please let us know.