Remote Configuration Files

By Deane Barker on September 21, 2003

It’s time for applications to start running off of remote configuration files. By this, I mean have applications store their settings in a file they access via an HTTP call, instead of on the local file system.

Take NewsGator, for example. At the office, I add and remove subscriptions daily. Over the weekend, on my home computer, I’m suddenly confronted with the fact that none of the subscription changes are on this machine, and I’m going to have either remember to export the OPML file every Friday, or recreate the changes from memory. But what if NewsGator could simply run off an remote OPML file, so both my installations could get their list of subscriptions from a file on some server somewhere?

There are some issues here, obviously. HTTP is a read-only protocol, so there would need to either be some WebDav involved to let the app write to the config file, or it would need to FTP the write, and just use HTTP for the read. Either that, or an application would have to come with remote configuration support from the vendor — the vendor maintains the server which will store the configuration settings in a database or some other structure which responds to XML-RPC or some other protocol.

And what about difference between machines? If there’s a file path in the config file that’s specific to one machine, then the other machine can’t really use that, can it? So there would have to be two levels of settings: (1) those specific to the machine it’s running on, and (2) those global to the application.

Obviously, there are a lot of issues, but I think the concept is valid. Just needs some fine-tuning and the right situation.

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