In the last couple of months the Microsoft Azure Bot Service went GA (Generally Available), which was great news for all of the developers out there who have been using the platform and the associated Bot Builder SDK to build bots that can be surfaced across multiple channels, like Facebook, web chat, Skype, Slack and many more. Production bots right now, hosted on the Azure Bot Service, use v3 of the SDK and it provides a solid platform for developing all sorts of types of chat bot scenarios.
Looking ahead, in the last couple of weeks, Microsoft has open sourced the next version, v4, of the SDK which is now under active development on GitHub. I applaud the Bot Framework team at Microsoft for taking this approach (now becoming more and more common at Microsoft) of developing the SDK in the open and accepting contributions and feedback from the community, helping to ensure the next version builds on the awesomeness of the last.
I should say at this point, the team are very clear that v4 of the SDK is under active development and is therefore in a heavy state of flux and as such should only be used for experimentation purposes right now. However, this gives us a great opportunity to see the direction of travel for the platform and Microsoft have even shared some of the high level roadmap for what we should expect looking forward over the next few months (again though, this is all subject to change).
Here are couple of highlights (keep reading for some roadmap details further on :))
- Much closer parity between the available flavors of the SDK – The v3 SDK is available for both C# and Node.js, but there are some key differences right now between the development approaches and some of the features available within each. e.g. FormFlow within the C# SDK, but not within Node.js. Moving forward it looks like the team are aiming for a close to parity as possible between the SDKs, which will be hugely beneficial for developers, especially those who may end up using both of them.
- New middleware capabilities – The current version of the v4 SDK contains a new middleware system, which allows you to create rich plugins for your bot, or more generic middleware that can be used in multiple bots. Every activity that flows in or out of your bot flows through the middleware components and therefore this allows you to build pretty much anything that you need. A couple of example of middleware that exist right now are implementations for the LUIS and QnAMaker Cognitive Services.
The current roadmap
Obviously, in such an early stage the roadmap is likely to change, but in the spirit of transparency the team have shared some of the milestones that they envisage over the coming weeks and months. The below is based on the public information the team have shared on the v4 wiki.
- M2 – March 2018 – Further ground work and consolidation of the SDKs, plus the introduction of the Python and Java SDKs.
- M3 – April 2018 – Potentially this is when the initial API freeze will happen plus work on the migration story from v3 to v4 and helpers for developers relating to this.
- M4 – May 2018 – Refinements and stabilisation work and this is also when the team are aiming for a broad public preview for the v4 SDK.
Where can I find this stuff?