Simon Willison’s Weblog


Thursday, 14th March 2024

How Figma’s databases team lived to tell the scale (via) The best kind of scaling war story:

"Figma’s database stack has grown almost 100x since 2020. [...] In 2020, we were running a single Postgres database hosted on AWS’s largest physical instance, and by the end of 2022, we had built out a distributed architecture with caching, read replicas, and a dozen vertically partitioned databases."

I like the concept of "colos", their internal name for sharded groups of related tables arranged such that those tables can be queried using joins.

Also smart: separating the migration into "logical sharding" - where queries all still run against a single database, even though they are logically routed as if the database was already sharded - followed by "physical sharding" where the data is actually copied to and served from the new database servers.

Logical sharding was implemented using PostgreSQL views, which can accept both reads and writes:

CREATE VIEW table_shard1 AS SELECT * FROM table WHERE hash(shard_key) >= min_shard_range AND hash(shard_key) < max_shard_range)

The final piece of the puzzle was DBProxy, a custom PostgreSQL query proxy written in Go that can parse the query to an AST and use that to decide which shard the query should be sent to. Impressively it also has a scatter-gather mechanism, so select * from table can be sent to all shards at once and the results combined back together again.

# 9:23 pm / databases, postgresql, scaling, sharding

Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology. Gunpei Yokoi’s product design philosophy at Nintendo (“Withered” is also sometimes translated as “Weathered”). Use “mature technology that can be mass-produced cheaply”, then apply lateral thinking to find radical new ways to use it.

This has echos for me of Dan McKinley’s “Choose Boring Technology”, which argues that in software projects you should default to a proven, stable stack so you can focus your innovation tokens on the problems that are unique to your project.

# 4:13 am / design, dan-mckinley, boring-technology

Guidepup. I’ve been hoping to find something like this for years. Guidepup is “a screen reader driver for test automation”—you can use it to automate both VoiceOver on macOS and NVDA on Windows, and it can both drive the screen reader for automated tests and even produce a video at the end of the test.

Also available: @guidepup/playwright, providing integration with the Playwright browser automation testing framework.

I’d love to see open source JavaScript libraries both use something like this for their testing and publish videos of the tests to demonstrate how they work in these common screen readers.

# 4:07 am / accessibility, screenreaders, playwright