Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cisco: Not Serious About Network Programmability

"You can't fool me, there ain't no sanity clause!"
Cisco isn't known for providing easy programmatic access to their device configurations, but has recently made some significant strides in this regard.

The REST API plugin for newer ASA hardware is an example of that. It works fairly well, supports a broad swath of device features, is beautifully documented and has an awesome interactive test/dev dashboard. The dashboard even has the ability to spit out example code (java, javascript, python) based on your point/click interaction with it.

It's really slick.

But I Can't Trust It

Here's the problem: It's an un-versioned REST API, and the maintainers don't hesitate to change its behavior between minor releases. Here's what's different between 1.3(2) and 1.3(2)-100:

New Features in ASA REST API 1.3(2)-100

Released: February 16, 2017
As a result of the fix for CSCvb21388, the response type of /api/certificate/details was changed from the CertificateDetails object to a list of CertificateDetails. Scripts utilizing this API will need to be modified accordingly.

So, any code based on earlier documentation is now broken when it calls /api/certificate/details.

This Shouldn't Happen

Don't take my word for it:

Remember than an API is a published contract between a Server and a Consumer. If you make changes to the Servers API and these changes break backwards compatibility, you will break things for your Consumer and they will resent you for it. 

It Gets Worse

Not only does the API fail to provide consistently formatted responses, it doesn't even provide a way to discover its version. Cisco advised me to scrape the 'show version' CLI output in order to divine the correct way to parse the API's responses. Whenever they decide to change things.

The irony of having to abandon the API for screen scraping in order to improve API compatibility is almost too much to bear. Lets assume for the moment that I'm willing to do it. Will the regex that finds the API version today still work on tomorrow's release? Do I even know how to parse the version numbers?

What's the version number of the current release anyway?

  • 1.3(2)-100 (according to the release notes above)
  • (according to show version CLI output)
  • 1.3.2 (according to the 'release:' field on the download page)
This does not look like a road I'm going to enjoy traveling.

Would You Use This API?

When I inquired about version-to-version incompatibilities, Cisco's initial response was:
"This definitely shouldn't be happening."
Followed by:
"We are aware of the limitations resulting for not having versioned ASA REST API releases. And as of now there are no plans for us to fix this."
 Further followed by:
"we will update the documentation to reflect the correct behavior, once we post this fix to CCO."
So hey, no problem right? We might sneak breaking changes into the smallest of maintenance releases, but at least we'll document it! Have fun selling and supporting your application!

Clearly I am one of the angry and resentful customers predicted by the articles quoted above :)

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