Foldable services architecture

Foldable services architecture

Foldable micro-services

In this short article I’ll describe an approach for building a set of services, which can be deployed as separate services, or a single service with multiple end-points, without any major change in code.

Though I have said “micro-services” in the heading, it does not have anything to do with the “standard notion of microservices”, rather it simply means a bunch of lean services which can exist on their own, without necessarily depending on the other services. So, that can be like the standard type of microservices, or just SOA done the right way (not heavy, multi-fucntional, monolithic services) or just any type of web services.

We can say this is a design pattern, but I’d rather think of this just as a design idea, that applies to a very specific use case, as described below.

I need to build a set of independent web services. I want deployment flexibility. I may want to deploy them as independent services on separate servers/containers. Or in some cases, I’d want to deploy them as a single set of services, deployed as a single deployment unit. And between this move, I do not want a major code change. When deployed as single service, we’d want inter-service calls to be direct function calls rather that API calls, for performance & resources!

Following is a design approach for the problem statement above that worked for us, and I guess it might help others as well.

Note: This pattern applies ONLY to the scenario described above, and it is NOT a generic micro-services pattern! Do NOT follow this pattern if your scenario/need is different. This comes with a few constraints, one being coupling to a single programming language/platform. If you want to build separate services on different “programming stacks”, this will not work.

Foldable services architecture - Rationale

This is what we want from our services

  • In the long term, we want to deploy the web services on cloud/containers
  • The services should be able to talk to each other, and expose some public APIs (one or more per service), for client applications to talk to
  • We’d want to deploy the services as bunch of lean/micro services, behind an API Gateway, with some public Auth integrated
  • But for some customers, we may also want to deploy everything locally behind a single local web server
  • For local deployment, we do not want to get into the complexity of multiple services, containers, api gateway, inter-service auth, service orchestration etc.
  • In the move from local client to cloud, we want full reuse of code, with least amount of throw-away code
  • While in local client, for simplicity & performance, we’d want inter-service communication as plain function calls across DLLs (rather than web service calls)
  • In cloud deployment, those inter-service calls will become HTTP based API calls. This should not affect the external APIs exposed for clients to use

Common standard & structure

  • All the services are implemented in the same language/platform/“stack” (e.g. JVM or .NET Core)
  • Each service is a separate solution/deployable (with one or more projects/modules)
  • All the service solutions are part of one bigger solution
    • Easier code sharing with common projects
    • Easy to expose all service APIs together (single deployment)
    • For common models, there should be shared models (e.g. POJO/POCO)
  • All public API definitions are defined in a common API Contracts layer/project
    • All services/projects can refer to the API Contracts project
    • API Contracts project refers ONLY to the shared models project
    • If required, some domain agnostic projects like Utilities, Data Access can also be shared
  • The API end-points
    • There is an API Functions layer that actually implements the API Contracts in full, i.e. no additional code is required to achieve the required API functionalities beyond this, as defined by the contracts
    • Above that, there’d be a very thin API Layer which will simply expose the API Functions as network callable API end-points. In MVC world, those can be bunch of simple Controllers
    • The Controllers can have security, auth, caching etc. API functionalities plugged in, but there should be 0 (zero) application/domain logic
  • In the move from single-client-app to distributed cloud deployment, nothing changes for the front-end or client apps. It still calls the same HTTP based APIs, with exact same contracts. Only the base URL will change from local URL to public API Gateway URLs
  • For public APIs, ideally AuthN/AuthZ should be implemented between client & services

Design 01: Single deployment unit

  • All services are installed locally behind a single web server
  • All the service APIs are exposed as a single set of APIs
  • Inter-service calls are fulfilled through direct function calls
  • NOTE: Here, the bigger outer solution is deployed as one unit
  • There is a single copy of binaries for all the common modules like Shared Models, API Contracts
  • That also means IoC/DI resolves contracts across the bigger solution
  • Please note, the generic structure of service core shown on the bottom-left is not absolute. It just means that the service core can have their own internal layers for separation of concern, maintainability, testability etc.


Note: Why should the API Facade or API Layer (below) should implement API Contracts, when API Functions already implements them? Well, the functions layer actually implements the functionalities defined in the contracts. The upper layers (facade & API layer), doesn’t necessarily need to implement the contracts. The only reason this is recommended is, so that there is never a discrepency between the functions & API layer. They should always have the exact same “shape” (function signatures), and the above layer should directly expose the functions layer without ANY extra code, except infrastructure related ones.

Design 02: Distributed deployment

  • All services are installed on cloud, clients access them over internet
  • All the services are deployed as independent lean/micro services
  • Inter-service calls are fulfilled through API calls
  • NOTE: Here each (inner) service solution is deployed separately
    • There is a separate copy of binaries for the common modules like Shared Models, API Contracts, for each service installation
    • That also means IoC/DI resolves contracts only within each service project
  • Here, the API Facade layer is discarded, and each service gets it’s own API Layer
  • And there is a Network Layer in each service that basically implements the API Contracts from other services (ONLY the required parts), through HTTP calls to the actual service APIs. This layer is OPTIONAL i.e. only used if the specific service needs to communicate with other service(s)



  • Possible bunch of NotImplemented methods in Layer 3
  • Works only if the whole system is written in same language or targetting a single platform/intermediate language
  • There still is small layer of code that is not re-used in both deployments (e.g. API Facade)
  • Overly complex if single deployment unit is not a requirement (but, that is the whole point of the article)
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