Passer au contenu principal

Wrapping my head around jobs

Jobs are business processes turned into functional-style scripts. What does that mean, how should you approach writing jobs?

First, this is how I think about jobs and what we do at Open Function Group to try to make our job code as readable, future-proof, and concise as possible. There are a million different ways to approach writing jobs. This is one.

It all starts with state

If a job is a set of instructions for a chef (a recipe?) then the initial state is all of the ingredients they need tied up in a perfect little bundle. It usually looks something like this:

{
"configuration": {
"hostUrl": "https://moh.kenya.gov.ke/dhis2",
"username": "taylor",
"password": "very-secret"
},
"data": {
"type": "registration",
"patient": {
"age": 24,
"gender": "M",
"nationalId": "321cs7"
}
}
}

This might be the initial state for a real-time, message-triggered job. Some source system generated a new patient payload and sent that payload to OpenFn. The data from our source system will wind up in state.data. Now if my job is meant to take this new patient registration information and use it to create a new record in the national health record system, I'll also need to provide my robot-chef here with a credential so they can access that system. The credential I've specified will get put into state.configuration and now our "raw ingredients" are all ready for our robot chef.

Note that even if this job was initiated by a cron trigger (e.g., "Hey chef, prepare this recipe every Tuesday at 7pm") or by a flow/catch trigger (e.g., "Hey chef, prepare this recipe only when you fail to make banana pancakes") it will have an initial state.

Every job, and every operation inside that job (think "step" in a recipe) is called with state and returns state when it's done.

Initial state for a cron triggered job might look like this:

{
"configuration": {
"hostUrl": "https://moh.kenya.gov.ke",
"apiKey": "abc123"
},
"data": {},
"lastProcessedId": 321
}

And for a fail triggered job like this:

{
"configuration": {
"hostUrl": "https://moh.kenya.gov.ke",
"apiKey": "abc123"
},
"data": {},
"lastProcessedId": 321,
"error": ["Required field missing", "Patient Surname", "Line 43"]
}

No matter what, jobs start with state. See "Initial and final state for runs" for a detailed breakdown.

It ends with state too

Now that we've got it in our heads that state is the raw ingredients you hand to your chef when you ask them to prepare a recipe, let's look at the recipe. Boiled down (excuse the pun) a job for loading those patients into the national health record system might look like this:

get('/api/insuranceRegistrations');
post('/api/patients', { ...someData });
post('/api/visits', { ...someData });

We're telling our chef to take those raw ingredients (login info for our national health system and a chunk of information about a newly registered patient) and do the following:

  1. Find out whether this person already has a national health insurance number
  2. Add this person to the patient registry (making use of some insurance data from step 1)
  3. Add a visit record with information about this initial visit (making use of patient registry data from step 2)

When all of this is done, we'll not only have a new patient and visit logged in the national health registry, but we'll also return a final state object with information about what we've done that can be used in subsequent jobs. Imagine that we want to make a cash transfer to this patient so that they can take a cab to the next visit—we might create a job with the Mpesa adaptor that takes the final state of this first job as its initial state. In this way, jobs are composable.

But what about the complexity inside our job—in order to complete step 2, we need some data from the insurance registry and we only get that data in step 1. Crucially, each operation (again, think "step" in a recipe) takes state and returns state. In effect, the OpenFn execution pipeline simply calls all of your action methods with state, passing it along from one operation to the next, waiting for each to finish and using the output from the first as the input for the second.

While you may write your get, post, post job as it's show above, the way it's handled by OpenFn is actually more like:

return get('/api/insurance', { ...useDataFromState })(state)
.then(state2 => post('/api/', { ...useDataFromState2 })(state2))
.then(state3 => post('/api/visits', { ...useDataFromState3 })(state3));

Each of these operations returns a function which takes state and returns state. This means that within a job, you are essentially modifying state, creating/manipulating records in external systems, and returning state.

It opens up a really interesting world of possibility for data manipulation, cleaning, or transformation. Consider what we might do after we get data from the insurance registry but before we create that patient in the national patient registry:

get('/api/insuranceRegistrations');
fn(state => {
console.log(state.data); // let's look at the response from the insurance API.
state.data.people.filter(p => p.HasActiveInsurance); // and modify the payload to only retain those with active insurance
return state; // before returning state for our create patients operation.
});
post('/api/patients', { ...someData });
post('/api/visits', { ...someData });

We might even need to do some manipulation before we send a get request to the insurance registry. That's no problem:

fn(state => {
state.data.registrationType = state.data.age > 18 ? 'Adult' : 'Minor';
return state; // before returning state for our create patients operation.
});
get('/api/insuranceRegistrations', {
query: { type: dataValue('registrationType') },
});
fn(state => {
state.data.people.filter(p => p.HasActiveInsurance);
return state;
});
post('/api/patients', { ...someData });
post('/api/visits', { ...someData });

Here, we've added a step to modify the initial state before we send that first get request to the insurance API. We determine if the new patient is a minor, and then use that newly calculated data to apply a query to the insurance API request.

Using fn(state => state) or alterState(state => state}) is incredibly useful, because it allows us to separate our data manipulation, calculation, and raw Javascript (which will be harder for low-tech users to understand) from our external actions. Let's explore that some more.

Keeping external actions clean

Inside each operation we could do some data manipulation... all of these operations, across the many different language packages, allow for inline data manipulation like this:

get('/api/insuranceRegistrations', {
query: state => {
console.log("I'm doing some fancy stuff here.");
return { type: state.data.age > 18 ? 'Adult' : 'Minor' };
},
});
post('/api/patients', {
body: {
name: state => {
return `${state.data.firstName}${state.data.lastName}`;
},
},
});

But if you're interacting with both technical and non-technical users, it makes for harder to read jobs. Consider the following instead:

// Perform calculations...
fn(state => {
// Create several new calculated attributes...
state.data = {
...state.data,
type: state.data.age > 18 ? 'Adult' : 'Minor',
fullName: `${state.data.firstName}${state.data.lastName}`,
};

return state;
});

// Get insurance data...
get('/api/insuranceRegistrations', { query: { type: dataValue('type') } });

// Create new patient...
post('/api/patients', { body: { name: dataValue('fullName') } });

Since we often have non-developers creating the external operations like get and post above, this pattern makes our handoff easier. The business analyst can say "I need to have a registration type field available for use when querying the insurance registry." A developer might respond, "Great! How do you want to calculate it... I've got all of Javascript at my fingertips." That dev can then make as many API calls as they'd like, perform as many map.reduce(...) calls as their heart desires to complete that calculation... so long as they make sure the hand off state to the business analyst's operation with a valid state.data.type attribute.

A final benefit of this approach is that it becomes much easier to generate job scripts from Google Sheets. Our implementation team frequently works with non-technical clients to generate field maps that look like this:

Path to Source DataDestination FieldAuto-generated syntax (using concat)
patient.fullNamenamefield('name', dataValue('patient.fullName')),
patient.ageagefield('age', dataValue('patient.age')),
???typeplz help us calculate 'type' based on x, y, z
patient.sexgenderfield('gender', dataValue('patient.sex')),

We can then copy and paste the syntax generated in that final column directly into OpenFn and update the bits that need some sort of custom code, writing an fn(state) block or an alterState(state) block before the external action.

Wrapping up

Some key takeaways here:

  1. Jobs start and end with state — some raw ingredients that will be used in a recipe.

  2. Jobs are lists of operations — steps in a recipe that each take state, do some stuff, and then return state.

  3. As you move through the steps in a job, you are modifying state. Each subsequent step begins with the final state from the previous step.

  4. It may be useful to keep all your custom Javascript data cleaning, manipulation, etc., in a separate operation (e.g., fn(state) or alterState(state)) so that your external actions are clean and easy to follow.

Finally, taking a close look at how developers write those fn(state) steps tells us a lot about what the job execution pipeline is really doing:

// here, "fn" is a function that takes state and returns state
fn(state => {
console.log("I'm doing some cool stuff.");
// I might create some new attribute...
state.myNewThing = true;

// And ALWAYS return state for the next operation to use...
return state;
});

I hope this gives you sense of how I think about structuring jobs and building data pipelines or automation flows on OpenFn. We recognize that this stuff is complex, and are pushing our new documentation regularly, so please do get in touch if you think there are ways we could improve this type of walk-through/helper article.

Happy integrating,

Taylor