Gradle deployment script for Grails webapp

I haven’t had much success with finding useful deployment strategies and/or scripts for Grails anywhere. The extent of the documentation I’ve been able locate for deployment simply tells you to create a WAR and upload it to the servlet container.

Not terribly helpful if you want to run a formal process.

So, for my Grails webapps, I came up with this. I create a file in the “gradle” directory named “deploy.gradle” containing the following:

Also in the “gradle” directory is a subdirectory named “deploy” where I have the files specific to the environments to which I can deploy, such as “staging.gradle”:

Using the script above, I can deploy a particular branch from within my git repository to a specific environment thus:

It’s probably not perfect, but since I’m new to Gradle and Grails, I think it’s a pretty good start!

WordPress Shortcodes – My Way

As anyone whose work in WordPress whose tried to create their own shortcodes knows, it can be a nuisance. Trying to come up with unique names for the shortcodes so as not to cause conflicts, supporting nested shortcodes, etc., etc. It can be a challenge.

Instead of using functions, however, I’ve started using enclosures and classes. Such a class itself registers shortcodes which it can have embedded. And to overcome the actual shortcode tag itself conflicting – I’ve found you can “namespace” those, too. Here’s an actual example:

So, what we have here is a shortcode “sunsport:tiles:start” which creates an instance of our class. That instantiation registers a new shortcode “sunsport:tiles:create”, which would be unavailable otherwise, thus we avoid have to check to make sure it’s properly enclosed in a parent “start” shortcode, and we gracefully deregister it at the end of the run.

It’s probably worth include the “fragments/tiles/start.php” file just for reference:

And here’s the actual usage:

There’s is one word of warning – do not do a naming convension like this:

  • parent shortcode – sunsport:tiles
    • child shortcode – sunsport:tiles:create

The child shortcode will never fire. For some reason, it seems WordPress doesn’t actually read in the full shortcode in this scenario – instead of “sunsport:tiles:create” firing, WordPress will simple re-run “sunsport:tiles”.

That caveat aside, I find this feels a lot cleaner and less collision-prone than other examples I’ve seen.

Another “WTF?!” IE9 Bug

With Internet Explorer’s complete lack of support for any of the neat and useful CSS styles, one always has to revert to Microsoft’s disgusting “filter” hack. The filters don’t take in very many useful parameters (such as color stops in gradients) and disable text anti-aliasing. 

But here’s something you probably really didn’t see coming – under IE9 only (this doesn’t affect IE8), filters completely cripple events. If you define any mouse over or even click events, they will not fire.

This created a situation where I could no longer use a horizontal sliding accordion, because IE doesn’t support text rotation and uses a … you guessed it … filter.

I hate Microsoft so much … so very very much …

XMLSerializer for Internet Explorer

While trying to convert a jQuery element object into a string, I noticed that all the major browsers support “XMLSerializer”, which does precisely that task. Of course, Internet Explorer is the exception. However, IE does offer the “outerHTML” property on DOM elements, which seems to do the same thing.

I herewith present an extremely short JavaScript snippet which allows global use of XMLSerializer

Lithium Problem on Rackspace

Today I came across a situation where I was deploying a PHP-based webapp written in Lithium and running on a Rackspace cloud site. In my scenario, I noticed 2 symptoms (appearing differently, but having the same cause).

  1. if the Lithium app is a subdirectory of another webapp (in my example, the main site is WordPress), you will always get a WordPress “Oops! The page you are looking for does not exist.” error.
  2. if the Lithium app is in the root, you will get an “Internal Server Error” page.

As it turns out, the problem is the .htaccess file included with Lithium.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the .htaccess per se, but under Rackspace you seem to have to include the “RewriteBase” directive.

So, as a result, you must edit all 3 .htaccess files in your Lithium project thus:

  • /.htaccess – RewriteBase /
  • /app/.htaccess – RewriteBase /app/
  • /app/webroot/.htaccess – RewriteBase /app/webroot/

If your webapp is a subdirectory, this subdirectory name will need to prepended to RewriteBase path:

  • /.htaccess – RewriteBase /subdir/
  • /app/.htaccess – RewriteBase /subdir/app/
  • /app/webroot/.htaccess – RewriteBase /subdir/app/webroot/

And presto, it now magically works!

XML-RPC under Ruby on Rails

On a current project, I needed to develop a series of web services for a custom single-signon (unified login) for a bunch of different websites to share. The project needed to be in Ruby on Rails, since that is what is available to the servers, and needed to use a protocol which PHP, Java and Ruby could all understand.

At first I tried to investigate using ActiveResource, but I found this to be excessively Rails-centric, and it only seemed to provide basic CRUD functionality. I needed these webservices to do a lot more work, with a lot more parameters. Since the Rails community (and a lot of web developers in general) seem to rave about RESTful services, my next direction was to write a custom series of REST-based webservices. As I proceeded, it became glaringly obvious that REST services have on major shortcoming – complex data.

Since the basic idea of REST is that all parameters become part of the URI itself (something, I might add, ActiveResource violates right away), you immediately have a problem when it comes to things like street addresses. Everyone’s solution is to use basic HTTP parameters or to URL-encode the data, but to me these solution tainted the point of REST, and made for some truly hideous looking URL’s, respectively.

I also didn’t like the lack of type control. This same lack also negated using JSON-RPC or even some custom YAML-based solution. All the experiences I had with SOAP left a bad taste in my mouth for that one, so what was I to do?

Thankfully, I discovered that Ruby had XML-RPC functionality built right in. But the problem arose that all examples I could find of using it (since Ruby’s documentation is complete and utter dog-sh*t) only showed the XML-RPC server running in stand-alone mode. I certainly couldn’t do this. So after much tinkering, I herewith present a controller class which you can extend to offer very simple XML-RPC calls from within a Rails environment:

#
# This class provides a framework for XML-RPC services on Rails
#
require 'xmlrpc/server'
class WebServiceController < ApplicationController

  # XML-RPC calls are not session-aware, so always turn this off
  session :off

  def initialize
    @server = XMLRPC::BasicServer.new
    # loop through all the methods, adding them as handlers
    self.class.instance_methods(false).each do |method|
      unless ['index'].member?(method)
        @server.add_handler(method) do |*args|
          self.send(method.to_sym, *args)
        end
      end
    end
  end

  def index
    result = @server.process(request.body)
    puts "\n\n----- BEGIN RESULT -----\n#{result}\n----- END RESULT -----\n"
    render :text => result, :content_type => 'text/xml'
  end

end

Here is a working example of using the above code:

class StringController < WebServiceController

  def upper_case(s)
    s.upcase
  end

  def down_case(s)
    s.downcase
  end

end

Invoking the remove method couldn’t be any simpler:

require 'xmlrpc/client'
require 'pp'


server = XMLRPC::Client.new2("http://localhost:3010/string")

result = server.call("upper_case", "This is my string")
pp result

result = server.call("down_case", "This is my string")
pp result

I certainly hope this simple bit of Ruby will help anyone else who may have suffered trying to figure this out as I have.

Enjoy!

When “Agile”, “Dynamic” and “Typeless” Become a Hindrance.

In recent years, I’ve seen the apparent rising popularity of “Agile” programming, powered by “dynamic” languages such as “Ruby”. While these things seem warm and fluffy at first, in the long term with large projects, they really can become a difficult beast to control.

Let’s take “Ruby on Rails” as an example. I was recently tasked with upgrading our version of Rails from 1.2.3 all the way up to 2.3.2, no easy task to be sure. We decided that a gradual, version-by-version upgrade would work the best, since it would allow us to catch deprecations and handle the framework changes a bite at a time.

What I discovered in the end was that Rails itself uses so much “magic”, and directly modifies so many core Ruby API’s that it was impossible to predict what would break between versions. As an example, a minor version change from 1.2.3 to 1.2.4 caused unexpected changes in how dates were handled. The change-logs made no reference to such modifications. The change from 2.1 to 2.2 resulted in a host of modules no longer being identified. Oh sure, if you printed it out, Ruby “thought” it was available, but the minute you tried to actually use anything within the module, you would receive “uninitialized constant” errors on the module name itself.

I know everyone has their own opinions on the matter, but from where I stand using Ruby on Rails on a system even vaguely large and complex simply raises far too many question marks on predictability and a clean upgrade path.

As a comparison, let’s refer to Java 2 Enterprise. Every piece of code I have ever written in J2EE version 1.0 runs without any issue under a J2EE version 3 container. Not even a re-compile was required. I do realise that the comparison is somewhat unfair – but the point still remains. I have very rarely needed to make major changes to any Java-based application to cater for a new framework – especially between minor version numbers.

I hate to make a blanket case for all agile/dynamic frameworks, so I’ll admit that was probably unfair (Grails, Django are on my to-do list). However, my case is even held fast on a more superficial level – my own benchmarks on a variety of languages clearly show that although time and effort may be saved on initial development time, dynamic/typeless languages will always suffer in raw speed, and agile frameworks will always suffer from a degree of unpredictability when upgrading (this becomes immensely exaggerated when “auto-magic” comes into play, as there is no clear path when anything does break).

To be clear, I won’t abandon agile frameworks – if I just want a simple website up, and expect maybe a dozen hits a month, I’m certainly not going to do it in a full blown enterprise container – but in the same token, I would certainly not use any such framework in a banking environment!

Partial Mocking/Stubbing and why it’s not evil.

Over the last few years, I’ve started expanding the places where I use automated testing (both test driven development and behaviour driven development, even though one would have to admit that in reality there’s little difference between them). I had only every written very simplistic JUnit tests for Java modules, but never really for the greater overall project. This changed when I starting working on a Ruby on Rails, where we were required to make extensive use of RSpec.

One of the things I learned to appreciate was the heavy use of stubbing (and expectations) that RSpec provided. Obviously, this was easier to do for a dynamic language such as Ruby (ignoring all the other shortcomings of the language itself).

When I started writing Java applications again, I obviously wanted to be able to perform similar tests with similar stubbings. To my dismay, the more pedantic amongst us programmers somehow decided that partial mocking/stubbing was somehow a truly terrible thing to do. I began reading all sort of justifications for why it was bad, and how one should refactor the class being tested in order to test it.

jMock and Mockito both adhered to this belief, EasyMock seemed less stringent, but stubbing was overly string-based (making refactorying later on a little annoying since tests would fail for no other reason than renaming a method).

Following is an example of the EasyMock mechanism (as shown in their documentation)

ToMock mock = createMock(ToMock.class,
   ToMock.class.getMethod("mockedMethod", null));

Unfortunately, all these folks fail to take into account the real world, and situation under which you code might not want to allow users to screw around with dependent objects. Here is a real example:

I created a class which did a load of work (let’s call it FlowClass), and part of this work was to use another class (let’s call it LoaderClass) which started up operating system processes. I needed to test the flow of FlowClass, but I didn’t want to start firing off all sorts of new processes. Easily enough, I was able to move the instantiation of LoaderClass into another method, but using something like jMock, how do I prevent that one single method from causing processes to load? I emphatically do not want the user to have to set instance of LoaderClass (like a JavaBean property), because I needed to keep strict control over the flow. The idea of having to introduce potential erratic program behaviour simply in order to test is completely unacceptable by any stretch of the imagination.

One site I came across suggested subclassing FlowClass directly in the test (even though, once more, the author makes all sort of claims of this being evil but delicious). This did the job, but it seems like so many lines of code to do nothing more than force a value to be returned. On top of that, what if I wanted to check to make sure the method was even ever called?

My needs eventually led me to create JavaStubs. It doesn’t do all the work that the other mocking frameworks do, but what it does do is allow me to quickly and easily stub method, including capturing exceptions for testing, and counting how many times they were called. I tried to be as string-less as possible (thank goodness for Java generics), and make it easily readable (much thanks to Mockito for suggestions on that one).