use `base::serializer()` in the plumber API

Xianying Tan

2018/11/14

Recently, I need to share an R model on the server to my colleagues who use R. Plumber comes to my mind immediately. Build a web API using plumber is really easy. I love the roxygen-way to define the API. It’s elegant and easy to maintain.

Usually, web APIs use JSON to represent data. Unfortunately, JSON encodes objects in a string, which may result in information losses. For example, the attributes (other than names) cannot be preserved. And it causes troubles:

Luckily, all my “clients” (my colleagues) are R users, so I don’t really need a general web API. JSON is only one of the many methods to serialize objects and I’m not bound to it. Due to the existence of base::saveRDS(), I know there must be a serializing method provided by R itself - whether the method is exported or not is the only thing in doubt. Fortunately, with little effort, base::serialize() and base::unserialize() are the cures I’m looking for.

My solution is provided in the code below. Since the rds file is almost the seamless representation of the R objects (external pointers are the exception), using base::serialize() as the customized serializer of the plumber API minimizes the efforts required to establish a stable plumber API for the R users.

Enjoy!

UPDATE @2020/03/21

As the time of writing, the dev version of plumber now gains the new native serializer rds.


The sample code (BOTH POST and RETURN r objects)

plumber.R

#* @post /api
#* @serializer rds
function(req) {
  req$robj
}

main.R

(In practice, you probably want to have a condition inside. A good example is this: https://github.com/ozean12/protopretzel/blob/master/R/protobuf_filter.R)

library(plumber)
x <- plumb("plumber.R")
x$filter("robj", function(req) {
  req$rook.input$rewind()
  req$robj <- unserialize(req$rook.input$read())
  plumber::forward()
})
x$run(debug = TRUE, port = 9999)

client.R

out <- httr::POST(
  "http://127.0.0.1:9999/api",
  encode = "raw",
  body = serialize(iris, NULL),
  httr::content_type("application/octet-stream")
)
# you may need to check httr::status_code() == 200L 
# or if is.raw(httr::content(out)) is TRUE, first
base::unserialize(httr::content(out))