24 Days of Hackage: scotty

A fairly new movement in the web programming scene is to build web sites using so called micro frameworks. Way back in 2005, Ruby on Rails changed the web programming landscape by bringing to the masses the idea of building web applications out of re-usable components. However, by today’s standards, Ruby on Rails stands as a somewhat heavy-weight solution. Idiomatically, it’s strongly MVC, but sometimes you just don’t need that. The micro frameworks movement is much more about a small DSL that is designed specifically for routing web requests, and doing a bit of logic depending on what URL the user requests. Python has Flask and Bottle, Ruby has Sinatra and Camping, Perl has Dancer, and of course we have a solution in Haskell too: scotty.

Last year we took a brief look at the Snap framework, which still remains my framework of choice when it comes to building web applications. But much like I alluded to earlier with Ruby, Snap can also feel a tad heavyweight - especially when you just want to throw up an application under a URL for prototyping purposes. This is exactly where scotty shines.

scotty is a DSL that works with a combination of two monads - the ScottyM monad and the ActionM monad. Your entire application sits in the ScottyM monad, while requests are processed by ActionM actions. We introduce ActionM actions by providing a route to them.

For example, we have just been comissioned by Christmas & Christmas Ltd. to build their new social Christmas app, chrstms.ly. All we need to put online for now is a landing page that lets people enter their email address in order to record their interest, and to let them know when we launch. The first thing we can do is define our routes:

chrstmsly :: ScottyM ()
chrstmsly = do
  get "/" showLandingPage
  post "/register" register

get and post both take a route as their first parameter, and an ActionM action to run if the route is matched. Naturally, get only matches if the HTTP request method is GET, and post only matches POST requests. Easy! Now we need to actually implement the actions. For the showLandingPage action we’ll just serve out a HTML file our designers provided us:

showLandingPage :: ActionM ()
showLandingPage = do
  setHeader "Content-Type" "text/html"
  file "landing.html"

For the registration we need to do a bit more. I’ll assume that we’ve been given a registerInterest :: String -> IO (Maybe String) function by someone else in the team. The designers have told us that full page requests are so 90s, and now they are using AngularJS and want to do registration with full AJAX to keep the UI slick. We just need to be able to take a POST request with an email address as a query parameter, and return a JSON document to signal whether or not the request was handled correctly. Here’s what this might look like:

register :: ActionM ()
register = do
  emailAddress <- param "email"
  registered <- liftIO (registerInterest emailAddress)
  case registered of
    Just errorMessage -> do
      json $ object [ "error" .= errorMessage ]
      status internalServerError500

    Nothing -> do
      json $ object [ "ok" .= ("ok" :: String) ]

We use param to pull out the email parameter from the submission, and then try and call the registerInterest routine. registerInterest is an IO action, so we have to use liftIO to embed it into our ActionM action. This returns Just errorMessage if it fails - in which case we relay the error to the browser as a JSON object, and indicate the failure by setting the response status code to 500. If it was successful, we indicate that everything was OK with an “ok” JSON object. The browser will also see a 200 response code, as that is the default from scotty.

But wait a minute - we’re being a little bit too trusting here. Web programming 101 says that we should never trust requests coming into the system, and that’s no different here. For example, what happens if we POST to /register without an email address? In that case, we’ll fail to pull out the parameter and we’ll throw an exception! We can do better than that.

scotty comes with a simple exception handling system. With it, we can have multiple actions for the same URL, and we can fall-through to the next action when exceptions are thrown. To do so, we change our chrstmsly application to the following:

chrstmsly :: ScottyM ()
chrstmsly = do
  get "/" showLandingPage
  post "/register" register
  post "/register" registrationFailure

Next, we write the registrationFailure action:

registrationFailure :: ActionM ()
registrationFailure = do
  json $ object [ "error" .= ("Invalid request" :: String) ]
  status badRequest400

Finally, we add a bit more exception handling to the register action. The current behavior is to throw an exception if the email parameter isn’t in the request, but we’d rather fall through to registrationFailure. We can use rescue to do this:

register :: ActionM ()
register = do
  emailAddress <- param "email" `rescue` (const next)
  registered <- liftIO (registerInterest emailAddress)
  case registered of
    Just errorMessage -> do
      json $ object [ "error" .= errorMessage ]
      status internalServerError500

    Nothing -> do
      json $ object [ "ok" .= ("ok" :: String) ]

rescue is given the contents of the exception, but in this case we don’t care and simply request the next action. Now, when we can’t pull out the email parameter, we will instead fall through to registrationFailure and provide a much more understandable response.

The last piece of the puzzle is to serve the application. scotty uses the WAI interface, so any WAI-compatible server can be used to serve the application. It also comes with support for launching the application using warp with the scotty action:

main :: IO ()
main = scotty 9176 chrstmsly

If we run this and head over to http://localhost:9176, we get presented with our application. We can poke around with curl to see what happens:

ollie@io ~> curl 'http://localhost:9176/'
<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
  <head>
    <title>Coming soon...</title>
  </head>
  <body>...</body>
</html>

ollie@io ~> curl -XPOST 'http://0:9176/register?email=a@b.com'
{"ok":"ok"}⏎

ollie@io ~> curl -XPOST 'http://0:9176/register?email=foo'
{"error":"I broke :("}⏎

This post is my first experience with using scotty, but I’m really excited about it. The real value I see is that scotty is really simple, and this is fantastic for people who are new to Haskell. There are only a few things that you have to understand - how to do routing, and how to write actions. After that, it’s bread-and-butter Haskell. While scotty doesn’t come with a huge amount included, it is extendable with WAI middleware, of which there is a lot of. Furthermore, by keeping it simple, scotty-built applications don’t look particularly alien when you put them next to a Python project, for example. Thus I think scotty is probably going to become one of my go-to suggestions to give to people when they graduate from LYAH and want to try building something a little more practical.

If you like the look of scotty, Aditya Bhargava has written a much more in-depth tutorial - go check it out! The code for today’s blog post can be found here.


You can contact me via email at ollie@ocharles.org.uk or tweet to me @acid2. I share almost all of my work at GitHub. This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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