Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy Holidays everyone!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Creating a centered page layout using ADF Faces (only)

by Eduardo Rodrigues

It’s been a long time since I last posted here about my old friend: ADF. But now that I’m working in ADF BC’s awesome development team, I was already feeling the self-pressure and urge to go back to this vast subject. Let’s start easy though.

As you all might have noticed, ADF has gone a long way since it’s early days. ADF Faces 11g is quite different from its 10g predecessor. One of the differences, besides all the rich components and built-in AJAX capabilities, is the fact that some of the components that were present in 10g have moved from ADF Faces library to Apache Trinidad (or MyFaces). One of those components was the “rowLayout”. That layout component certainly makes it very easy to center its content in relation to the entire page, both horizontally and vertically. However, using Trinidad components ad tag libraries alongside with ADF Faces, although possible, may not be always desired. So, the question is: how to achieve same layout using only ADF Faces’ layout manager?

If you’re somewhat used to the particularities of ADF Faces’ layout manager, you probably already know that setting up a container that not only stretches 100% of the page’s (or of its parent container’s) height but also centers its content vertically is not as easy and straightforward as one would think.

Thinking fast, the first approach most come up with (including myself) is this:

panelStretchLayout (only center facet enabled) > panelGroupLayout (Layout = horizontal ; Valign = middle) > panelGroupLayout (Layout = vertical ; Halign = center)

Pretty intuitive and simple, right? Yes! But the layout manager doesn’t seem to agree.

The problem with this layout structure is basically the fact that a horizontal panelGroupLayout does not support being stretched inside a panelStretchLayout facet. This is actually clearly documented:

After a lot of trial-and-fail, I eventually found a way (thanks to my good friends and ADF gurus Maiko Rocha and George Maggessy).

The layout structure is this:

panelStretchLayout (top, bottom and center facets enabled; TopHeight = 33% ; BottomHeight = 33%) > panelGroupLayout (Layout = vertical ; Halign = center)

Even if you don’t need any content going in the Top or Bottom facets, it’s important to add at least an empty panelGroupLayout to both of them just to ensure the specified 33% of height will be allocated.

To wrap up, here’s a complete source code example of a page with a page-centered login form:

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?>
<jsp:root xmlns:jsp="" version="2.1"
  < contentType="text/html;charset=UTF-8"/>
    <af:document id="d1" title="Login Page">
      <af:form id="f1" defaultCommand="#{'pgTplt:cbLogin'}">
            <af:panelStretchLayout id="psl1" startWidth="33%" endWidth="33%"
                                   topHeight="33%" bottomHeight="33%">
              <f:facet name="center">
                <af:panelGroupLayout id="pgl1" layout="vertical"
                  <af:panelFormLayout id="pflLogin" rows="2" maxColumns="1">
                    <af:inputText id="itUsername" label="Username"
                    <af:inputText label="Password" id="itPassword" secret="true"
                    <af:spacer width="10" height="10" id="s1"/>
                    <af:commandButton text="Login" id="cbLogin"
              <f:facet name="bottom">
                <af:panelGroupLayout id="pgl2"/>
              <f:facet name="top">
                <af:panelGroupLayout id="pgl3"/>

And this is how the page above should look like:


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Our second official book review in on its way...

by Fábio Souza

Hi everyone, are you doing well? I'm fine, thanks for asking.
Well, I was wondering these days : "It would be a good idea to change the topic for a little while and talk about a product". It seems that someone at Packt Publishing heard me, and, to incentive myself, they invited us to write a review of a new book .
The topic is hot: Webcenter 11g. As you all know (I hope :)) this is a strategic product that arose to compete in the Enterprise 2.0 market.

The book is:
Web 2.0 Solutions with Oracle WebCenter 11g

I'm very excited to read the book, but I can already tell you some good things about it:
- Vince Casarez is one of its reviewers
- It covers all the product's main points (installation, environment setup, custom applications, and so on)
- There is a Oracle WebCenter Spaces Overview

I hope to be posting the review soon!

Ahhh! I almost forgot (kidding, I was planning it) to say that our big friend and also architect master, George Maggessy, helped the writers with his WebCenter knowledge.

See you!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

JDeveloper Overview and (book) Review

Dear visitors,
I will pretend I forgot that I'm about a year without posting anything and I will go straight to the subject that I owe to you: The review of the book "Processing XML documents with Oracle JDeveloper 11g". Before start I would like to make an introduction to JDeveloper.

About JDeveloper


JDeveloper is the Oracle's Strategic IDE. Besides being used to develop Oracle's products it is a tool that has the goal to support all Oracle's technological stack, and also the majority of Java EE patterns and derivables. For example: you can draw a BPEL flow that orchestrates several services available in Oracle Service Bus, develop WSRP portlets that will be consumed by your Oracle Portal, implement EJBs that can be easily published like Web Services, or even build an portal that follows the E2.0 trend with Webcenter ADF components.

Main features

• Integrated enterprise development environment
• Visual and declarative editors
• Complete development lifecycle coverage
• Built-in development framework
• Advanced features for Java, Database, Web services, SOA, and Web development

Being a developer, I cannot forget to mention the powerful Oracle ADF (Application Development Framework). I will not cover details but worth it is saying that part of the framework is considered a model JSF implementation -- by the way, it was donated to the Apache Foundation -- and it has a powerful abstraction of the model layer (JSR-227) that, with the JDev's drag-and-drop-declarative interface, makes the development of lowly coupled and highly cohesive applications much simpler and more productive.

JDeveloper and Netbeans

Both IDEs are very important and their development will not stop. While support for Oracle's stack will be implemented mostly in JDev, NetBeans will continue to provide a powerful open source IDE.


JDeveloper is a free tool, you don't have to purchase it. Besides, there is a runtime license required for any production application if you choose to use Oracle TopLink or the Oracle ADF. This license is already included in all editions of the WebLogic Server. Nevertheless you can use JDev for development/evaluation. There is no special license for academic/open source use, but in many cases the "Free OTN License Agreement" (check it out) for JDeveloper will cover this type of usage.

This is the information that I've found in Oracle's website (see the links at the end of the article). Remember: "license things" can and do change. Always check them first before using the product.


For those who are willing to know something about the JDev’s origins.

Processing XML documents with Oracle JDeveloper 11g – The Book


In my opinion, JDeveloper 11g shows that it has reached a very good maturity with regard to dealing with XML. The idea of this book is to show us several easy-to-use out-of-the-box JDev’s features while, at the same time, it exposes fundamental concepts about XML processing.

Some concepts about XML presented by the book:

  • DOM Parser
  • SAX Parser
  • Validation with XSD
  • XML navigation using XPath
  • XML transformation using XSLT

Some JDev's features that are also presented by the book:

  • XML Edition(by code and also by its own structure)
  • Creation of XSD using drag and drop
  • Wizard to generate XMLs using XSDs
  • Automatic XML validation (using XSD)

The book has 11 chapters and each of those has a well defined scope and they can be read independently (you don't need to follow any particular order). Generally each chapter introduces a different technology with the following order: an overview, discussion about the main features and the demonstration of a practical example. The examples are very simple and made with dozens of print-screens and source codes. Although it has about 370 pages, the big part of them are used to explain these examples, what turns the book more practical than theoretical.


In my vision, the book targets to two types of public:
1 - Advanced Developers: the book can introduce technologies and may be used as a quick reference guide.
2 - Novice Developers: the book introduces fundamental concepts/tools, showing them in a practical way.

What caught my attention

The book talks about several recent technologies that are in evidence. There are chapters about DOM 3.0 LS, XSL-FO, XML conversions, and also Oracle Berkley DB. For each approach concerning XML processing, the author always uses the Oracle’s Implementation (Oracle XDK). This is very interesting because it shows us features that you don’t have when using the default interfaces.

What I missed the most

There are no details about performance or even about how to choose the right technology for the right problem. And... there is no mention of StAX.
Another point to mention is that the book doesn’t talk about the tight-coupling disadvantages that exist when the Oracle XDK implementation is used instead of the default interfaces.

Chapters overview

Chapter 1: Creating and Parsing an XML Document

  • Introduction to SAX and DOM

Chapter 2: Creating an XML Schema

  • Introduction to Schema (XSD)
  • How to create a schema using the IDE and its wizards
  • How to create XML based on a schema

Chapter 3: XML Schema Validation

  • How to programmatically validate a XML document using schema

Chapter 4: XPath

  • How to use the IDE to "query" the XML using XPath
  • How to programmatically "query" the XML using XPath

Chapter 5: Transforming XML with XSLT

  • Introduction to XSLT
  • How to programmatically use XSLT
  • How to use Oracle's XSLT extension function to call Java classes (very interesting, and seems very powerful as well)

Chapter 6: JSTL XML Tag Library

  • Introduction to the JSTL XML tag library
  • How to configure a web project that uses this tag library in JDev
  • Using JSTL to parse and transform a XML document

Chapter 7: Loading and Saving XML with DOM 3.0 LS

  • What is and how to use it
  • Exposes advantages of using it

Chapter 8: Validating an XML Document with DOM 3 Validation

  • Shows the "dynamic validation", a very relevant functionality that is part of DOM 3.0 LS. This is a very important stretch that I took from inside this chapter:

Oracle XDK 11g is the only XML API that implements the DOM Level 3 Validation specification (; however, some of the DOM 3 Validation features are not implemented by the Oracle XDK 11g API. A test was run by W3C to determine which of the DOM 3 Validation methods are supported by the XDK 11g implementation. You can refer to the results of the DOM3 Validation test ( when developing a DOM 3 Validation application.

Chapter 9: JAXB 2.0

  • Introduction to JAXB 2.0
  • How to use JDev to generate the JAXB classes using a schema
  • Introduction to the marshalling/unmarshalling process and to the JAXB 2.0 annotations

Chapter 10: Comparing XML Documents

  • Overview about tools that can do XML comparison/diff
  • Introduces the Oracle XDK 11g. This tool provides an API to work with comparison/diff and to automate the XSL generation. The second feature is achieved based on the original XML and the XML which we want to transform the original one into. Example: XML1 has X differences comparing to XML2. Using these X differences the API knows how to create an XSL that transforms XML1 into XML2

Chapter 11: Converting XML to PDF

  • Overview of several tools that generate PDF files
  • Short explanation about XSL-FO
  • Demonstration on how to transform a XML into XSL-FO document using XSL
  • How to use the Apache FOP API to transform a XSL-FO document into a PDF file

Chapter 12: Converting XML to MS Excel

  • Overview about several tools to read/write XLS files
  • This chapter is not like the others that introduce some standard patterns and concepts. This one just shows how to use Apache POI-HSSF to work with XLS

Chapter 13: Storing XML in Oracle Berkeley DB XML
This is a very interesting chapter because BDB XML is not a subject that is commonly discussed. It's worth to know the basics because it is an efficient way (and also fast) to store and query XMLs. Main points:

  • Overview about Oracle Berkeley DB XML ("an embeddable XML database for storing and retrieving XML documents").
  • Using BDB XML from command line (basic operations)
  • Using BDB XML with a Java API (basic operations)

Chapter 14: Oracle XML Publisher

  • Overview about Oracle XML Publisher (now it is called Oracle BI Publisher) and its advantages over the Apache FOP/Apache POI (shown on chapters 11 and 12, respectively).
  • How to use Oracle XML Publisher + XSL-FO to generate PDF (and how it is possible to generate different formats as well)
  • How to create and merge XSL-FO docs
  • How to merge PDF docs
  • How to use the "Data Engine API" to create an XML document from database data


Processing XML documents with Oracle JDeveloper 11g
JDeveloper History
JDeveloper FAQ
Oracle Java Tools FAQ

Monday, May 24, 2010

How to upgrade your Dell’s BIOS directly from Ubuntu

I know this post is totally off topic but I faced this same issue last week and I’m pretty sure this will be very handy for a lot of people out there. So why not share it, right?!

Many people worldwide are migrating from Microsoft Windows to Linux nowadays, specially Ubuntu, which is probably the most friendly and stable distribution currently. I’m sort of one of those people. I’ve always used Unix but mainly at my work environment. But I’ve recently decided to switch one of my desktop PCs, a Dell Optiplex 755, from a 32-bit Windows XP Professional to a brand new 64-bit Ubuntu 10.04. And so far I’m an extremely happy user, I must say (finally making full and intelligent use of my 4GB RAM and certainly much more efficient use of my Core 2 Duo CPU).

Problem was, as I was eager to get rid of my old Windows XP, I didn’t pay attention to details, such as the PC’s BIOS version. By the moment I realized it was still A14 while the most recent was A17, I had already installed Ubuntu without any dual boot option and spent hours installing cool apps and tweaking everything to my own personal taste. As you probably know, flashing the newest BIOS release from Dell without any DOS or Windows partition on the PC would now be quite a handful and would probably involve using some freeware stuff to create a DOS or Windows recovery bootable CD and then execute Dell’s flash utility from an USB drive or something like that.

As usual, I sought help from our good friend Google and found some promising blogs and forums on the subject. However, none gave me a full-circle solution. But after some deeper research, I was able to put all necessary pieces together and compile the easiest steps to flash virtually any Dell’s BIOS directly from Ubuntu’s terminal prompt and using the most reliable source: Dell’s upgrade utility itself.

So, these are the magical steps, compiled from several different forums and articles  (they might work on other Linux distributions as well but I only tried on Ubuntu):

  1. apt-get update (not always needed, but won’t hurt)
  2. apt-get install libsmbios-bin
  3. getSystemId (will display info about your Dell, including BIOS version, System ID and Service Tag)
  4. Download the most recent BIOS upgrade for your system from as you would if using Windows
  5. Execute the downloaded utility on a command line. For example: O755-A17.exe –writehdrfile
    This step can be executed on any Windows machine or directly on Ubuntu using Wine (apt-get install wine).
  6. (you can skip this step if Wine was used in step 5) FTP or copy the extracted .hdr file to your Ubuntu
  7. modprobe dell_rbu (loads the dell_rbu driver)
  8. trigger the BIOS upgrade using dellBiosUpdate –u –f <the .hdr file from step 5>
  9. reboot the machine (the BIOS will be automatically upgraded during boot)

Voilá! You have safely upgraded your Dell’s BIOS directly from Ubuntu, without having to create any external boot CD or USB drive.

Hope this helps. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Micromanaging Memory Consumption

by Eduardo Rodrigues

As we all know, specially since Java 5.0, the JVM guys have been doing good job and have significantly improved a lot of key aspects, specially performance and memory management, which basically translates into our good old friend, the Garbage Collector (a.k.a. GC).

In almost all articles I’ve read on the memory subject, including those from Sun itself, a particular comment was always present. That briefly is:

The JVM loves small-and-short-living objects.

Don’t “nullify” variables (myObject = null;) when you decide they aren’t needed anymore as a way of hinting the GC that the objects once referenced by those variables are OK to be disposed.

I guess, after reading this “message” so many times, I finally internalized it in the form of a programming style, if I may. It’s actually very simple and takes advantage of a very basic structure, which is extremely common and kind of taken for granted. I’m talking about the very well-known code block. Yes, I’m talking about those code snippets squeezed and indented between a pair of curly braces like { <my lines of code go here> }.

In general, most programmers use these structures just because they have to as they are mandatory in so many portions of the Java language’s syntax. You need them when declaring classes, methods, try-catch-finally blocks, multi-line for loops, multi-line if-then-else blocks, etc. But the detail many programmers seem to forget is that these code blocks may actually be defined anywhere in a method body, unattached to any particular keyword or command. Even more, code blocks can be nested as well.

Besides being syntactically mandatory, the use of code blocks demarcated by opening and closing curly braces also imply a very important feature of the language. Code blocks also define variables scopes! I’ll explain…

Any variable that happens to declared inside a curly-braces-pair-demarcated code block will “exist” only within the context of that particular code block (or scope). Such variables are said to be “local variables”. Actually, if we try to use a local variable outside of its scope, we’ll most certainly get a compilation error, because that variable literally doesn’t exist outside that code block (or scope) where it was declared. And right there lies the very code of this best-practice tip.

Specifying well-defined scopes for all your local variables is actually the best way of hinting the GC about what strong references are or not in use when it kicks in. Simple enough, any strong reference coming from a variable declared inside a scope that is currently not being executed, is clearly to be considered as not in use by the GC, thus increasing the chances of proper and prompt disposal of the referenced object (if no other strong references to it exist, of course).

So, in order to better illustrate my case, here is a simple example. First let’s consider this very innocent piece of code:

public class Foo
   public final static void main(final String args[])
            DocumentBuilderFactory builderFactory = DocumentBuilderFactory.newInstance();
            DocumentBuilder builder = builderFactory.newDocumentBuilder();
            URL cfgUrl = this.getClass().getClassLoader().getResource("config.xml");
            File cfgFile =  new File(cfgUrl.toURI());

            Document cfg = builderFactory.newDocumentBuilder().parse(cfgFile);
            XPath xpath = XPathFactory.newInstance().newXPath();
            Node cfgNode = (Node)xpath.evaluate("//*[local-name()='config']", cfg, XPathConstants.NODE);

        } catch (Exception ex) {

If we consider that in the very first part, variables builderFactory, builder and cfgUrl are not really needed after cfgFile is instantiated, rewriting that part like this would be preferred:

public class Foo
   public final static void main(final String args[])
            Document cfg;

                DocumentBuilderFactory builderFactory = DocumentBuilderFactory.newInstance();
                DocumentBuilder builder = builderFactory.newDocumentBuilder();
                URL cfgUrl = this.getClass().getClassLoader().getResource("config.xml");
                File cfgFile =  new File(cfgUrl.toURI());
                cfg = builder.parse(cfgFile);

            XPath xpath = XPathFactory.newInstance().newXPath();
            Node cfgNode = (Node)xpath.evaluate("//*[local-name()='config']", cfg, XPathConstants.NODE);

        } catch (Exception ex) {

With that, when the execution is passed the red code block, all local variables declared only in that context will cease to exist for all practical means. This simple example is a mere illustration and certainly doesn’t represent any major benefit but, believe me, in a real life code, using this approach of well-defined scopes for local variables may have a significant and positive impact on your application’s memory consumption profile.

As you can see, this is indeed a very simple Java best-practice tip. It’s easy to adopt, has no collaterals whatsoever and can prove to be very powerful. So, why not use it?


Friday, May 7, 2010

The X (Path) File

by Eduardo Rodrigues

This week I came across one of those mysterious problems where I had some test cases that needed to verify the content of some DOM trees to guarantee that the test went fine. So, of course, best way to achieve this is using XPath queries. And because the DOM trees involved were all quite simple, I figured writing the XPath queries to verify them would be like a walk in the park. But it wasn’t.

I spent hours and hours trying to figure out what was I doing wrong, googling around but nothing seemed to make any sense at all. Then, just when I was almost giving up and throwing myself through the window, I finally realized that tiny little detail that explained everything and pointed me out to the right solution. The culprit was the default namespace specified in my root element!

Turns out, whenever a namespace URI is specified without any prefix (like xmlns=””), this is considered to be the document’s default namespace and it usually don’t affect parsers. But, as I found out, it does affect XPath big time. XPath, by definition, will always consider namespaces, even the default one. The problem with that is, because a default namespace don’t have any specific prefix, we completely lose the ability of using the most simple and common path-like approach when writing queries to locate nodes in the DOM tree.

Here’s a very simple example that illustrates the issue very well. Consider the following well-formed XML:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="iso-8859-1"?>
<HR Company="Foo Inc.">
    <Dept id="1" name=”Board”>
        <Emp id="1">
            <Name>James King</Name>
        <Emp id="10">
            <Name>Jon Doe</Name>
        <Emp id="20">
            <Name>Jane Smith</Name>

If I want to check if there’s really an employee named “Jane Smith” earning a 100K salary in the “Board” department, a very simple XPath query such as “//Dept[@name='Board']/Emp[string(Name)='Jane Smith' and number(Salary)=100000]” would easily do the job.

Now just add an innocent default namespace to the root element:

<HR xmlns=”” Company="Foo Inc.">

and try that very same XPath query that worked so well before. In fact, even the most simple of all queries – “/” – won’t work as expected anymore. That’s just because XPath considers the default namespace context and therefore requires it to be referenced in the query. We just don’t have any way of referring to that namespace in the query since it doesn’t have any prefix associated to it. My particular opinion on this issue is that it represents a huge design flaw in XPath specs., but that’s a completely different (and now pointless) discussion.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic in this case. To keep using XPath queries in this kind of situations, we need to use a more generic (and less compact) syntax where we can be more specific about when we do care about fully qualified (or expanded) names and take namespaces into consideration, or if we just care about local names but do not about namespaces. Bellow is the very same query, using this more generic syntax and these 2 different naming flavors, both providing the exact same outcome:
  1. If you need (or want) to consider the namespace:
    //*[namespace-uri()=’’ and local-name()=’Dept’ and @name='Board']/*[namespace-uri()=’’
    and local-name()=’Emp’ and string(Name)='Jane Smith' and number(Salary)=100000]
  2. If you just care about the elements’ names, then just remove the “namespace-uri” conditions:
    //*[local-name()=’Dept’ and @name='Board']/*[local-name()=’Emp’ and string(Name)='Jane Smith' and number(Salary)=100000]
The reason why I prefer to use function local-name() instead of name() is simply because, together with namespace-uri(), this is the most generic way of selecting nodes since local-name() doesn’t include the prefix, even if there is one. In other words, even if you had a node such as <hr:Dept>, local-name() would return simply “Dept”, while name() would return “hr:Dept”. It’s much more likely that the prefix for a particular namespace will vary amongst different XML files than its actual URI. Therefore, using predicates that combine functions namespace-uri() and local-name() should work in any case, regardless of which prefixes are being used at the moment.



Saturday, May 1, 2010

The easy-small-simple-quick-step-by-step-how-to article on AspectJ you’ve been looking for is right here

by Eduardo Rodrigues

That’s right. Have you ever spent hours of your precious time googling the Web trying to find an easy, small, simple, quick and step-by-step tutorial, article or sample on how to use AspectJ to solve that very simple use case where you only need to add some trace messages when certain methods of a certain library are called (and you don’t have access to its source code)? If your answer is “YES” then this post is exactly what you’ve been looking (maybe even praying) for.

For convenience, readers may download all files mentioned bellow at

Step 0: get the latest stable version of AspectJ

AspectJ can be downloaded from I recommend using the latest stable release, of course. As of now, this would be release 1.6.8.

To install the package, just run “java -jar aspectj-1.6.8.jar”

Step 1: write the aspect code

Well, AspectJ doesn’t really have what I would call a very intuitive syntax so I’ll not try to explain it more than the strictly necessary for this post. A good way to start learning is reading the official documentation at
In my case, I only needed to write 1 single and very simple aspect capable of capturing all calls to 1 particular method in 1 particular class and then log those calls when the method’s argument was equal to a particular value. In my opinion, this “trace calls” use case is the most simple, obvious and probably one of the most used for any AOP (Aspect Oriented Programming) solution. Therefore, this simple example will probably cover the requirements of most of the readers. That’s what I hope, at least. So here is my aspect FULLProjection.aj:

import java.util.logging.Logger;
import java.util.logging.Level;

 * Simple trace AspectJ class. In summary, what it does is:
 * Before executing any call to method setProjection() on any instance
 * of class, execute method logFullProjection() defined
 * in this aspect.
 * Modifier "privileged" gives this aspect access to all private members
 * of the captured object.
privileged aspect FULLProjection {

    private static final Logger logger = Logger.getLogger(Projection.class.getName());

     * AspectJ syntax: defining the execution points to be captured at runtime.
     * target(p) sets the target object to be the instance of
     * class Projection which method setProjection() is called on.
     pointcut tracedCall(Projection p):
          call(void Projection.setProjection()) && target(p);

     * AspectJ syntax: defining what should run right before the
     * pointcut specified above is executed.
     * Argument p will contain the exact instance of class Projection
     * which is being executed at runtime.
     before(Projection p): tracedCall(p) {
          // m_projectionName is a private member of object p.
          // that's why this aspect must be declared as privileged.
               logFullProjectionByZimbra(); // call our Java method, which does the trace

     * Standard Java method to be executed.
     * Just logs the call if it came from any class under mypackage.*
     private void logFullProjection()
          try {
               StringBuilder c = new StringBuilder("FullProjectionCall: ");
               StackTraceElement st[] = Thread.currentThread().getStackTrace();

               for (StackTraceElement e : st)
                         logger.log(Level.WARNING, c.toString());
          } catch(Throwable t) {

Most recent versions of AspectJ have 3 distinct modes of performing the necessary instrumentation on needed classes:
  1. instrument the original source code directly (when available) at compile time;
  2. weave the class files after before using or deploying them as a post-compilation step;
  3. weave classes on demand at runtime (a specific agent must be configured when starting the JVM).
I won’t discuss the pros and cons. In my my case, option 1 was discarded because I didn’t have access to the source code and option 3 was not good because I didn’t want to mess with the container’s setup. So I chose option 2.

Step 2: instrument classes with AspectJ

Since I decided to use option 2 above, my compilation process didn’t need to change a bit. What I needed was to add a post-compile step in which the necessary AspectJ instrumentation would be performed on already compiled classes. The right tool to do that is AspectJ’s command-line compiler: ajc.

This was the hardest part for me because I could not find any tutorial or example on the Web that would show me, in a direct and simple way, how to use ajc. So, instead of making the same mistake and start trying to describe and explain the compiler tool and its options, I’ll simply paste the shell script I used in my case:


# AspectJ's install dir
# Defining the classpath to be used by ajc
MYCLASSPATH=<include here all elements needed by the classes to be instrumented>

$ASPECTJ_HOME/bin/ajc -classpath $MYCLASSPATH -argfile my_aspects.cfg

The trick here was to use file my_aspects.cfg to define all other parameters to be passed to ajc. Here is its content:

-1.5          # Java 1.5 compatibility
-g            # add debug info
-sourceroots  # path containing the aspects to be compiled (FULLProjection.aj in my case)
-inpath  # path containing the classes to be instrumented ( inside platform.jar in my case)
-outjar  # output JAR file (I preferred to have a separate JAR and keep the original)

This file must contain only 1 command-line option per line. When an option requires a subsequent value (like –sourceroots), the value must also be declared on a separate line, subsequent to the option line. A complete reference to ajc can be found at

Notice that, as long as you don’t choose the runtime instrumentation mode, there’s no need to deploy your aspects with the application. They can be completely separate from your source code as well.


AspectJ as well as any other AOP solution can be a very powerful and useful ally to any software developer. Even as an architectural element by itself. Its possible applications go far beyond the simple use case shown in this post. So, if you’re still undecided, give it a try. Don’t be afraid of using it when necessary and, if you have the opportunity, consider including it as an active component since the beginning of your application’s development cycle.

And remember… if possible, share your experiences with the community (in an objective and clear way, please).


Thursday, April 29, 2010

How to write a simple yet “bullet-proof” object cache

…continued from a previous post, by Eduardo Rodrigues

As promised, in this post, I’ll explain how we solved the 2nd part of the heap memory exhaustion problem described in my previous post: the skin resources cache. This part was much trickier to fix because we couldn’t simply get rid of the custom cache as we did with the resources bundle. We needed to keep the skins cache for 2 reasons: the cached objects were not instances of java.util.ResourceBundle but a String containing a CSS and they had to be indexed by a specific combination of variables as cache keys, which include skin base name, client locale and user agent. As already mentioned before, what causes the heap exhaustion are the various different possible combinations of the components used to compose the cache keys so the challenge here was to find a safe and efficient way of dealing with any possible amount of entries in our skins cache and also ensuring its size won’t ever cause an OutOfMemoryException that would ultimately crash the JVM.

(I know this will be a rather complicated post but I’ll do my best to keep it as simple as possible.)

The very first and most obvious approach that came to mind was to implement our own “HashMap” using weak or soft references, available since JDK 1.2. In a tiny nutshell, objects of these classes wrap the access to a specified target object and they receive a special treatment from the garbage collector (GC). If the only “live” references – meaning references that are valid and currently in use, therefore are not orphans – to an object come from instances of either java.lang.ref.WeakReference or java.lang.ref.SoftReference then such objects, including the Weak/SoftReference objects referencing them, are eligible for discard even if the Weak/SoftReference objects themselves are “alive”. The main difference between a weak and a soft reference is that the former allows the GC to discard them as soon as possible while the latter causes the GC to keep them alive as long as heap space available is not critical yet.

The reason why we didn’t initially think of using class java.util.WeakHashMap is obviously due to the fact that it uses a weak reference as the map’s key and we needed it to be as the map’s value. Another detail is that we wanted to have 2 implementations in hand, one using weak and the other using soft references. That’s because we had some concerns regarding how each solution would affect the GC performance on a heavily loaded and concurrent productions environment. Actually, our concern was more with regard to the soft references. We feared that the leniency of the GC with soft references would potentially cause such objects to quickly accumulate in the heap until the critical point where the GC would have to discard them. Since the amount of soft references to be discarded tends increase fast, this could have a substantial impact on the overall cost for the GC to do its job.

So, we started implementing our first idea, which basically consisted in writing classes WeakCache and SoftCache, both implementing interface java.util.Map and using an internal java.util.HashMap<String, java.lang.ref.WeakReference or java.lang.ref.SoftReference> as backing storage. With that, we also needed to associate each new value reference with its own java.lang.ref.ReferenceQueue since this would apparently be the only way of keeping track of the target objects being discarded by the GC and, thus making it possible for us to remove the corresponding map entry as well. Hopefully, with that we’d ultimately achieve the same functionality offered by java.util.WeakHashMap but adding a soft reference flavor to it and moving the auto-discardable references from the map’s keys to its values.

Looks good. But not good enough.

There are two big issues with the approach described above:
  1. A WeakReference can be too volatile.

    In theory, even to the point where it can render our WeakCache almost useless. The main reason for this is the fact that, in our particular case, we were dealing with a web application where the view layer is practically 100% implemented as an AJAX client and the skin resources being cached are only used in the mid-tier (where the cache exists) during the user login flow, which is processed in one single request. Therefore, we can pretty much assume that once a login request is over, unless another one that works with the same just-cached skin resource is currently being processed on the same JVM, there won’t be any "hard” references left at all to that object.

    If you are somewhat familiar with Java, you’ll probably agree with me that one of the most certain things about the Garbage Collector is actually its uncertainty. By definition, we can never guarantee when the GC will kick in, much less how it will behave or which objects will be actually discarded during its cycle, therefore, no code should ever rely on any particular assumption regarding any behavioral aspect of the GC. On top of that, if we look closely into the Javadoc for java.lang.ref.WeakReference we’ll also notice that there are no guarantees whatsoever on the exact moment when disposable weakly-referenced objects will in fact be discarded by the GC. In our case, in a worse case scenario, this unpredictability pretty much means that a new skin resource object that’s just been added to our WeakCache during a login request could be immediately discarded by the GC soon after the request was processed by the mid-tier. In other words, depending on the rate at which new login requests would reach the container (or JVM) where the cache lives as well as on the skin resources they would be working with, our WeakCache could tend to be empty most of the time. And that wouldn’t be a very useful cache :)

    The way we solved this “minor set-back”  was by adding a configurable structure to our WeakCache, which we called a “hard cache”. The idea is very simple: we just added an internal linked list and an optional argument called “hardCacheSize”. If not needed, then specifying zero as the hardCacheSize (or not specifying it at all) would basically turn the internal hard cache off. But if the hard cache is needed (and it was in our case), then a greater than zero hardCacheSize should be specified in which case, every time a skin resource is added to the cache as a weakly-referenced value in its internal HashMap or when a skin resource is found and fetched directly from the cache, a normal (“hard”) reference to the very same instance of the skin resource is also appended to the internal LinkedList until its size reaches the defined hardCacheSize at which point the first (oldest) node in the list will simply be removed to make room for the one being appended (newest), thus limiting the list’s maximum size so that it will never overflow the hardCacheSize defined. The intention here is to add a simple LRU (Least Recently Used) feature to our cache. The more an object is “hit” in the cache, the more hard references to it will exist in the LinkedList and, because its a linked list, the order in which each hard reference was added is maintained, thus ensuring that its first node will always point to the oldest reference and its last node to the newest. Having at least one hard reference to a cached object coming from the internal hard cache should be enough to prevent the high volatility issue described here.

    If you’re asking why haven’t I mentioned the SoftCache here, it’s not because I forgot. Due to the nature of soft references, at least in theory, they are much less vulnerable to the issue just described.

  2. Efficient monitoring of associated reference queues can be tricky and costly.

    As I mentioned before, the Javadocs for package java.lang.ref you’ll see that the recommended way to keep track of which weakly or softly-referenced objects have been disposed by the GC is to associate a java.lang.ref.ReferenceQueue instance with the references. We have two distinct ways to work with this queue:

    2.1. keep polling the queue in a controlled loop to check whether a new discarded reference is available;
    2.2. “listen” to the queue by using blocking method remove([long timeout]).

    Either way, if we want to keep our cache’s availability high, the smartest way of implementing a reference queue handler in our cache would probably involve the use of background threads or, since we’re talking about a J2EE application using Java 5.0, we should then make use of some executor service available in package java.util.concurrent.

    Needless to say, this certainly represents an overhead both in terms of code writing and complexity.
So, while we were thinking hard to come up with the most efficient, generic and elegant way of finally implementing our weak and soft caches, Mr. Eric Chan, who is one of the main architects in Oracle Beehive team, had a very interesting breakthrough. In short terms, he thought of a very nice way of combining both WeakReference and SoftReference in our weak and soft caches so that they would provide exactly the same functionality without having to deal with those reference queues at all. Basically, instead of using a plain HashMap as our backing storage, we used a java.util.WeakHashMap in both our cache implementations. The hat trick was what and how to store things in it.

Let’s start with the easiest one…

The WeakCache

This one was simple. We just replaced the backing HashMap<Key,Value> with a WeakHashMap<Key,Value> and then we used that internal “hard cache” I mentioned above as an implicit way of controlling which entries in the internal map are still in use and which ones can be disposed. The trick here was to add hard references to the map entries’ keys in the “hard cache” instead of to the values. So, if  there aren’t any hard references to a map’s key neither outside the WeakCache nor in the cache’s internal linked list, this naturally implies that the corresponding map entry in the WeakHashMap is available for disposal. To make it easier to understand, look at the diagram bellow, summarizing how the WeakCache works:

  WeakCache Diagram

Now let’s go on to the trickier one…

The SoftCache

This one was the trickiest. We also replaced the internal HashMap with a WeakHashMap, however the mapped values are SoftReference objects. But instead of simply pointing them directly to the target object being added to the cache, they point to a wrapper class called ValueHolder. The trick here was to not only hold the map entries’ value objects but also their corresponding key objects. And what goes into the internal “hard cache” in this case are hard references to these ValueHolder instances. Therefore, because the internal “hard cache” is the only place where hard references to the softly referenced ValueHolder objects mapped in the internal WeakHashMap are being held and those ValueHolder objects hold hard references to their corresponding map keys, ultimately, we can assume that, provided no external hard references to a key K inside the map exist, the map entry corresponding to that key K will be kept in the map as long as there’s at least 1 instance of ValueHolder containing key K exists in the internal “hard cache”. Otherwise, the weakly referenced key K will be available for disposal and so will be its corresponding map entry.

SoftCache Diagram

Explaining the internal “hard cache”

This is merely an auxiliary structure. Its content does not represent the cache’s actual content, which will always be identical to that of the internal WeakHashMap. This, by the way, is a sine qua non condition. Other then that, the following rules apply:
  1. when a new object is added to the cache a new reference to it is also immediately appended to the “hard cache”;
  2. when an object which exists in the cache is requested, a new reference to this object is appended to the “hard cache”;
  3. when the amount of elements in the “hard cache” reaches the maximum limit defined for it, then, immediately before any addition of a new reference to the “hard cache”, the oldest one (least recent) will be removed from it in order to open space to the new one (most recent);
  4. the size limit that is imposed to the “hard cache” does not apply to the cache itself but uniquely and exclusively to the “hard cache”.
From that, we can extract this corollaries:
The “hard cache” contains only “hard” (or normal) references to objects that exist in the cache, therefore are contained in its internal WeakHashMap, in the natural and sequential order by which those references were added. Hence, the smaller the order of a reference in the “hard cache”, the least recent was its utilization.

There will never be a reference in the “hard cache” to an object that does not exist in the WeakHashMap. The contrary, however, is allowed. In other words: an object may exist in the WeakHashMap even if there aren’t any references to it in the “hard cache”. In this case, that particular object would be available for disposal if it’s not referenced at all from outside the cache.

The quantity Q of references in the “hard cache” to a single cached object may be defined as:

Q = [ 1 (object was simply added to the cache but never requested from it) , N ]
N = [ total # of requests to that object , S ]
S = maximum size defined for the “hard cache”

From the definition of Q above, in an extreme scenario, nothing prevents that during any given period of time the “hard cache” be completely filled with references to one single object A in the cache. For that, these 3 conditions must be met by a consumer application:
  1. add object A to the cache;
  2. make N requests for A to the cache where N = S (size limit defined for the “hard cache”) – 1;
  3. the requests mentioned in the previous condition must be contiguous. They cannot intercalate with requests or additions of other objects.
Just to illustrate how both cache will work, consider this scenario:
Given objects A, B, C, D and E and the following sequence of operations on a cache with a maximum “hard cache” size limited to 10 elements:

   1: put ( “c” , C ); 
   2: put ( “a” , A ); 
   3: put ( “d” , D ); 
   4: get ( “a” ); 
   5: get ( “e” ); // returns null as “e” wasn’t added to the cache yet 
   6: get ( “a” ); 
   7: get ( “d” ); 
   8: put ( “b” , B ); 
   9: put ( “e” , E ); 
  10: get ( “b” );
  11: get ( “e” );
  12: get ( “a” );

Then the internal state of the cache would be:

Cache's internal state after the fiven sequence of operations

Notice that there are no references (arrows) to the map’s entry containing object C coming from the “hard cache”. Therefore, provided there aren’t any references to C from outside the cache either, if the GC was to execute now, there’s a fair chance the internal state of the cache would become like this:

Cache's probable internal state after a GC cycle

Don’t forget to get the sample code

For convenience, I’ve also made sample implementations of both caches explained available for download:
Beware of the obvious fact that, being sample implementations, they’re only intended to better illustrate the concepts described here and are not at all to be used as-is in real world applications. Even though they’re very good initial templates. Some of the issues I see for a high-end real world application are:
  1. the use of wrapper java.util.Collections.synchronizedCollections(…) as a solution for concurrent access to the internal WeakHashMap as opposed to a more fine grained and efficient use of java.util.concurrent.locks.ReentrantReadWriteLock to establish and control all needed critical regions.
  2. the use of a java.util.LinkedList as the internal “hard cache” has the main advantage of guaranteeing constant performance for the most used operations add(…) and getFirst() but the remove(…) operation on the other hand doesn’t. Actually, this is the main issue with these samples because it tends to add significant overhead when explicitly removing any object from the cache. I don’t really have any quick and ready solution for this particular problem but it could involve using a more sophisticated data structure and/or some parallel processing to mitigate the overhead.
So, enjoy and…
Keep reading!

* credits go to Mr. Eric Chan for the conceptual design and to Mrs. Khushboo Bhatia for the implementation of both caches.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Oracle + Sun + Iron Man 2: Awesome!

A cool Iron Man 2 teaser...

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Don’t be smart. Never implement a resource bundle cache!

by Eduardo Rodrigues

Well, first of all, I’d like to apologize for almost 1 year of complete silence. Since I’ve transferred from Oracle Consulting in Brazil to product development at the HQ in California, it’s been a little bit crazy here. It took a while for me to adjust and adapt to this completely new environment. But I certainly can’t complain, cause it’s been AWESOME! Besides, I'm of the opinion that, if there’s nothing really interesting to say, then it’s better to keep quiet :)

Having said that, today I want to share an interesting experience I had recently here at work. First I’ll try to summarize the story to provide some context.

The Problem

A few months ago, a huge transition happened in Oracle’s internal IT production environment when 100% of its employees (something around 80K users) were migrated from old OCS (Oracle Collaboration Suite) 10g to Oracle’s next generation enterprise collaboration solution: Oracle Beehive. Needless to say, the expectations were big and we were all naturally tense, waiting to see how the system would behave.

Within a week with the system up and running, some issues related to the component I work on (open source Zimbra x Oracle Beehive integration) started to pop up. Among those, the most serious was a mysterious memory leak, which had never been detected before during any stress test or even after more than a year of production, but was now causing containers in the mid-tier cluster to crash after a certain period.

After a couple days of heap dump and log files analysis, we discovered that the culprit were 2 different resource caches maintained by 2 different components in Zimbra’s servlet layer, both related to its internationalization capabilities. In summary, one was a skin cache and the other was a resource bundle cache.

Once we dove into Zimbra’s source code, we quickly realized we were not really facing a memory leak per se but an implementation which clearly underestimated the explosive growth in memory consumption that a worldwide deployment like ours has a huge potential to trigger.

Both caches were simply HashMap objects and, ironically, their keys were actually the key to our problem. The map keys were defined as a combination that included client’s locale, user agent and, in the case of the skins cache, the skin name was also included. Well… you can probably imagine how many different combinations of these elements are possible within a worldwide system deployment, right? Absolutely! In our case, each HashMap would quickly reach 200MB. Of course, consuming 400MB out of 1GB of configured heap space with only 2 objects is not very economic (to say the least).

So, OK. Great! We found our root cause (which is awesome enough in this kind of hard-to-analyze-production-only bugs). But now comes the harder part: how can we fix it?!

The Solution

First of all, it’s very important to keep this very important aspect in mind: we were dealing with a source code that wasn’t ours, therefore, keeping changes as minimal as possible was always crucial.

One thing we noticed right away was the fact that we were most likely creating multiple entries in both maps that ended up containing identical copies of a same skin or resource bundle content. That’s because our system only supported 15 distinct locales, which means, every unsupported client locale would fallback to one of the supported locales, ultimately, the default English locale. However, the map key would still be composed with the client’s locale, thus creating a new map entry, and even worse, mapping to a new copy of the fallback locale. Yes, locales and skins that had already been loaded and processed, were constantly being reloaded, reprocessed and added to the caches.

So, our first approach was to perform a small intervention with the only intention to prevent any unsupported client locale from originating a new entry in those maps. Ideally, we would want to change the maps’ key composition but we were not very comfortable with this idea, mainly because we were not sure we fully understood all the consequences of that, and fix the problem causing another was not an option.

Unfortunately, days after patching the system, our containers were crashing with OutOfMemory exceptions again. As we discovered – the hardest way – simply containing the variation of the locale component in the maps’ key composition was enough to slow down the heap consumption but not enough to avoid the OOM crashes.

Now it was time to put our “fears” aside and dig deeper. And we decided to dig in two simultaneous fronts: the skin cache and the resource bundle cache. In this post, I’ll only talk about the resource bundle front leaving the skin cache front to a next post.

When I say “resource bundle”, I’m actually referring to Java’s java.util.ResourceBundle, more specifically its subclass java.util.PropertyResourceBundle. With that in mind, 2 strange things caught my attention while looking carefully into the heap dumps:

  1. Each ResourceBundle instance had a “parent” attribute pointing to its next fallback locale and so on, until the ultimate fallback, the default locale. This means that each loaded resource bundle could actually encapsulate other 2 bundles.
  2. There were multiple ResourceBundle instances (each one with a different memory address) for 1 same locale.

So, number 1 made me realize that the memory consumption issue was even worse than I thought. But number 2 made no sense at all. Why have a cache that is only stocking objects but is not able to reuse existing ones? So I decided to take a look at the source code of class java.util.ResourceBundle in JDK 5.0. The Javadoc says:

Implementations of getBundle may cache instantiated resource bundles and return the same resource bundle instance multiple times.

Well, turns out Sun’s implementation (the one we use) DOES CACHE instantiated resource bundles. Even better, it uses a soft cache, which means all content is stored as soft references, granting the garbage collector the permission to discard one or more of its entries if it decides it needs to free up more heap space. Problem solved! – I thought. I just needed to completely remove the unnecessary resource bundle cache from Zimbra’s code ant let it take advantage of the JVM’s internal soft cache. And that’s exactly what I tried. But, of course, it wouldn’t be that easy…

Since at this point I already knew exactly how to simulate the root cause of our problem, I started debugging my modified code and I was amazed when I saw that the internal JVM’s cache was also stocking up multiple copies of bundles for identical locales. The good thing was that now I could understand what was causing #2 above. But why?! The only logical conclusion was, again, to blame the cache’s key composition.

The JVM’s resource bundle cache also uses a key, which is composed by the bundle’s name + the corresponding java.util.Locale instance + a weak reference to the class loader used to load the bundle. But then, how come a second attempt to load a resource bundle named “/zimbra/msg/”, corresponding to en_us locale and using the very same class loader was not hitting the cache?

After a couple hours thinking I was loosing my mind, I finally noticed that, in fact, each time a new load attempt was made, the class loader instance, although of the same type, was never the same. And I also noticed that its type was actually an extended class loader implemented by inner-class com.zimbra.webClient.servlet.JspServlet$ResourceLoader. When I checked that code, I immediately realized that class com.zimbra.webClient.servlet.JspServlet, which itself is an extension of the real JspServlet being used in the container, was overriding method service() and creating a new private instance of custom class loader ResourceLoader and forcefully replacing the current thread’s context class loader with this custom one, which was then utilized to load the resource bundles.

My first attempt to solve this mess was to make the custom class loader also override methods hashCode() and equals(Object) so they would actually proxy the parent class loader (which was always the original one that was replaced in method service()). Since the web application’s class loader instance would always be the same during the application’s entire life cycle, both hashCode and equals for the custom loader would consistently return the same results at all times, thus causing the composed keys to match and cached bundles to be reused instead of reloaded and re-cached. And I was wrong once again.

Turns out, as strange as it may look at first sight, when the JVM’s resource bundle cache tries to match keys in its soft cache, instead of calling the traditional equals() to compare the class loader instances, it simply uses the “==” operator, which simply compares their memory addresses. Actually, if we think more about it, we start to understand why they implemented this way. Class loaders are never expected to be constantly instantiated, over and over again, during the life cycle of any application, so why make an overhead method call to equals()?

Finally, now I knew for sure what was the definitive solution. I just needed to transform the private instances of ResourceLoader into a singleton, keeping all the original logic. Bingo! Now I could see the internal bundle cache being hit as it should be. Problem solved, at last!

At the end, after having completely removed the custom resource bundle cache implemented in Zimbra’s servlet layer and performed the necessary changes to make Zimbra take full and proper advantage of the built-in bundle cache offered by the JVM, instead of wasting a lot of time and memory reloading and storing hundreds of instances of resource bundles, mostly multiple copies of identical bundles, I could now confirm that despite all different client locales coming in clients' requests, the JVM’s bundle cache was holding no more than those corresponding to the 15 supported locales. With that, we had finally fixed the memory burning issue for good.


As this article’s title suggests, don’t try to be smarter than the JVM itself without first checking whether it’s doing it’s job well enough or not. Always do carefully read the Javadocs and, if needed, check your JVM’s source code to be sure about its behavior.

And remember…. never implement a resource bundle cache in your application (at least if you’re using Sun’s JVM) and be very careful when implementing and using your own custom class loaders too.

That’s all for now and…
Keep reading!