Saturday, July 26, 2008

Dynamic Grails Application Configuration

If you deploy your grails applications with war files you may find it necessary implement an application configuration mechanism that lives outside the web-space. My first though was to use and external file, probably xml and read it in when needed. But, I decided that persisting configurations to the database provided a much more universal solution. It also avails itself to adding a UI or acting as a remote web-service.

The Domain Object, AppConfig is very simple. It has a name, parameter, value and status:

class AppConfig {
String name
String parameter
String value
String status

The "name" and "parameter" columns uniquely identify the configuration setting and the "value" is a string representation of the parameter's value. The status can be anything, but I find it useful to set the target environment, e.g., 'dev' or 'test'. I usually use the class name as the configuration name, so looping through a set of parameters is as easy as this:

AppConfig.findAllByName( ).each { p ->
switch(p.parameter) {
case 'enabled': enabled = (p.value == 'true' ? true : false)
case 'other': other = p.value
case 'anInt: myInt = Integer.parseInt( p.value )

I use a standard dataset loader to read in and insert settings on application startup taking care not to clobber existing values. Configurations are read in during development, test and production.

A typical use is to set parameters for Quartz Jobs. This way, the parameters are read each time the job starts to dynamically configure actions. The most common is to enable or disable the job. This comes in handy if a job goes bad but you can't bring down the web server.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Groovy Polymorphics with Closures

Let me begin by stating the problem: I need an object that can locate files in a specific folder, parse the selected files, then execute database updates against the parsed results. The twist is that the update process might be inside a grails application using GORM, or, it might be a standalone jdbc process that has it's own data access mechanism. Here is the proposed object:

class Process {
def findFiles() { /* return a list of files */ }
def parseFile(file) { /* parse the file, return the data */ }

// the update function (closure)
def update

// the runner
def run() {
def list = findFiles()
records = []
list.each { records << parseFile( it ) }
update( records )
Forget about the empty methods for now, let's just assume they work. Notice that run() finds the files, parses them, then updates them. Here is how the target object is used:
def process = new Process()
process.update = (isGorm ? gormUpdater : jdbcUpdater)
The first thing you might notice is that 'update' in the Process class has no body--it's simply a tag for the closure name. When the class becomes an object, update is assigned the closure method based on the runtime environment. Here is how a very simple GORM closure would be defined:
myGormUpdater = { records ->
records.each { row ->
Simple. Loop through the records and save each one. The polymorphic magic is implemented with a closure, not a sub class. This eliminates class bloat by using portable stand-alone methods assigned to normal variables of a class--like named function pointers. An added benefit is that the closure can be used on similar classes that require the same functionality.

Real World Scenario: Lets say I have a small group of software engineers. Two of my engineers are data-feed experts, another three are database domain experts. Me, well, I'm the manager.

So, since I have the big picture, I design the base class and create test fixture data. Then, I tell my feed experts to give me methods for parsing a set of files. They don't have to worry about where the files are, just how to parse and create datasets. At the same time I assign the database ops to the database group. They don't have to concern themselves with where the data comes from, just how to convert datasets into database updates for all our target databases.

Even though I'm a manager, I contribute in a real way to the code base. And, to keep my team productive, I create the test data for the parser and database groups. The experts are assigned tasks that they handle best.

Combine this with daily scrum communications and, for the hands-on CTO, this is very Groovalicious!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Flex on Grails

Borrowing from Flex/Rails libraries created about a year ago, I have created a Flex/Grails application using similar HTTP/XML protocols. The application requests report data via HTTP, the server creates the report, persisting it to a file, then the client pulls the data back with a file request. This was the only way I could get Flex/Flash to open a "file-save" dialog to let the user write to their local hard-drive.

I used Flex's HTTPService object to do the initial report request, then FileReference with additional URLVariables parameters to retrieve the file. Grails/GORM made the data retrieval easy and the controller/service packages were simple implementations. This was comparable to Flex/Rails implementation that I worked on a year ago.

The server side runs in a war distribution so the output file had to exist outside the webspace. The Flex application requests the file with an HTTP post using URLRequest with specific parameters (URLVariables) to retrieve the file. Because the server is deployed with only war files, the request is made to a specific controller with a "getfile" action that retrieves the file from someplace on the server's drive (obviously not in the war file) and is consistent with where the file was originally written. Once the file is returned to the client it is removed, so it can only be read back a single time.

This first iteration returns a CSV file, but creating a full xls spreadsheet or a PDF document would be easy to implement. There is also an xml document that can be returned to enable showing the report in a local viewer, e.g., a data grid.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Replacing GORM with Groovy Sql for Lightwieght Jobs

GORM, the Grails Object-Relational Mapping persistence framework provides a rational way to use Hibernate based on pojo (or groovy pogo) domain classes and basic conventions. Create a domain class, define some constraints, start up grails and viola! tables, columns, indexes are created without coding a line of SQL/DDL or creating annoying XML mappings.

But, what if you have a simple standalone process that requires single or multiple database access? Currently GORM has trouble working outside of grails, and creating a new grails project just to support a simple, no-client script is overkill. For that, I use groovy's database access classes in groovy.sql and a small custom library to easily access multiple data sources and provide simple query tools optimized for batch operations.

Here's an example: Tracking multiple UPS shipments. The application must access existing shipment requests from a local database, then query the UPS tracking remote service to discover shipment status. When a shipment is picked up or delivered, another local database is updated and a third system is updated via XML feed.

To summarize, the requirements are:
  • provide simultaneous access to multiple databases
  • query UPS tracking via HTTP requests
  • create XML responses and write to a messaging system
Cron triggers this process multiple times during the working day. It runs on the production machine (1MB slice at slicehost), so should be kind to existing web and database applications serving the user base.

Design Implementation:
As always, I start with the tests. Using groovy test case, the database queries, inserts, and updates tests were created, then the target classes and methods. Queries are always the easiest, and updates are straight forward as well. Inserts with auto generated IDs are a bit tricker, but here is where groovy sql comes to the rescue.

Creating new tables presented a new problem: should I create SQL/DDL scripts? No! For this, it was easy enough to access the current grails application and create the new domain classes, run grails to have Hibernate create the new tables.

The groovy Sql class provides a method called executeInsert(). The magic in this method is that it returns an array of all auto-generated keys. So, if I'm working in MySql or Oracle or whatever, inserts all look the same--no database specific code required.

Database access defaults to the production environment but database tests must operate on the test database (similar to grails). This is easy to accomplish by simply overriding the default behavior in the test scripts.

  • Use groovy Sql for small, non-web applications that require single or multiple database access.
  • Use Grails/GORM for all database/table creation and maintenance (no DDL scripts). This also has the additional benefit of enabling access to new tables through grails if required.
  • Use executeInsert() to return auto-generated keys when inserting new rows.