Source Code Control (SVN) and Team Development with ALBPM and OBPM 10g

posted Nov 28, 2012, 5:22 PM by Floyd Walker

12/08/2011

I recently published an article on ALBPM and OBPM 10g source code control on a blog of a friend. I didn't want my fans to miss out. So here is the link:

Source Code Control with ALBPM and OBPM 10g on the Practical BPM Blog.

As always, Enjoy.


Automating ALBPM / OBPM 10g Interactive Forms in a JUnit Test

posted Nov 28, 2012, 5:18 PM by Floyd Walker

11/10/2011

One of my previous posts demonstrated several ways to test your BPM processes with unit testing. The most flexible and useful by far is by mixing PAPI with Java JUnit test classes to automate specific test cases. This way you can exercise all the paths of your process and be sure everything works as expected. This article will show you how to do that.

This article explores a solution to a problem with that methodology. Namely, the JUnit tests on BPM processes with interactive forms can't be completely automated. You would have to pause the test for a bit, while you open up Workspace, find the instance and execute the form. This procedure is prone to human introduced variations in the test which can't be reliably reproduced.

The Problem
A BPM process deployed to either the Studio or Enterprise engine sends and receives data in many ways. The interaction can be done through database calls, webservice calls, JMS topics or queues, files, interactive forms, the list goes on.

When testing with JUnit/PAPI you can stub all of these out with local copies of files, and databases. JMS topics and queues can be filled with expected data via JUnit. Webservices can easily be mocked out with SOAPUI. Getting your test cases with reproducible and reliable test cases.

But as long as there are interactive forms in your process, you can't automate further. And, because you have to go through Workspace, no back-end, JMeter, or HTTP trickery can reliably interact with the forms to get and send data to the process.

The Solution: WAPI
To overcome these shortcomings, we can use WAPI to send the data we want directly to Workspace. Thus, our test cases can be completely automated with predictable data.

WAPI: ALBPM / OBPM 10g's Web API
What is WAPI? It is ALBPM / OBPM 10g's Web API. Meaning, you can interact with Workspace via HTTP calls. You can do things like executing Workspace tasks, getting and filling out forms, getting process diagrams and audit trails, and more. Unfortunately, there isn't much in the way of documentation on it. All that we really have to go on is a few examples provided for is in the <bpm_home>/studio/webapps/workspace/wapi/urlActionsExample.jsp file. This file shows you how to do a few things with WAPI. But that was enough to get me started. And now you have a fairly complete example of how to apply this technology to automate your JUnit test cases for your BPM projects.

But, WAPI is a Web Interface. Meaning it is meant to be called from a browser. Like Workspace, you have to provide valid login credentials in order to do anything interesting. In fact, WAPI is a part of the Workspace Java Application. So you may be wondering how Java and JUnit are able to use WAPI to provide form inputs for interactive activities.

I have done a bit of socket programming in my day. So I'm familiar with the HTTP web protocol and how browsers interact with servlets. So I wrote a few static methods that you can use to connect to workspace in Java using the normal login credentials, manage the session, and post form values over the HTTP protocol. To Workspace, it works just like a browser.

All of this is in static variables in the Tools.java class. To use this class, you just provide the HTTP POST values that are in the form you are presenting in the interactive activities. In the example projects, I got this working for the declarative forms, Object Presentations, and custom JSP's. The static methods should do most of the work for you. The tricky part will be properly formating the form post values.

Setting the Form Values
The form values are put in the config/*.properties file along with all of the other PAPI/WAPI settings. This allows you to store posts several different forms and several posts for the same forms to satisfy any test criteria you have.

I provided two sample .properties files in the config folder to show you how to connect to the Studio engine as well as a WLS engine using PAPI.

The form's values use the following syntax:
fieldName1=fieldValue1&fieldName2=FieldValue2&fieldName3=fieldValue3%20With%20Spaces&FieldN...

Notice the "%20" for the space. This is typical URL encoding, using hex values for special characters which would confuse parsers. The field names are the "name" attributes of the HTML INPUT tags. For example, the INPUT tag: "<INPUT type=text name=FieldName1 value=FieldValue1 />" the name is "FieldName1". For declarative forms and object presentations, this can be hard to decipher. I usually use this shortcut to generate the post-value strings I put in the .properties file. But to do this you need Firefox and the Firebug plugin.

  1. Open Workspace in Firefox.
  2. Open the form you want to automate.
  3. Fill out the form.
  4. Then, just before you submit, open the Firebug panel and select the "Net" tab.
  5. If the "Net" tab is not enabled, enable it.

    6. Click on the "Clear" button to get rid of any previous network traces.
    7. Click on the "Persist" button to make sure the traces you want don't get cleared
    8. Make sure the "All" button is depressed
    9. Press the button or link on the form that saves or closes the form and returns control to the screenflow or process.
    10. In the Firebug Net panel, you should see some network traces appear. Look for the first "POST" line, and click on the plus button next to it.


     11. Open the "Post" sub-tab, and scroll down until you see the "Source" section.
     12. You will notice that the text in this section match the syntax I described above, URL encoding and everything. So, just select the entire text of the "Source" section and paste it where you like it in the .properties file.


This procedure makes it much easier to generate the test data for form posts. And it is less error-prone because it uses the actual data your form used to submit to Workspace.

Getting the Source
The working examples are available at the following links. The archives contain both the BPM project export and the Java source code.

Using the Examples
After you uncompress the source code, you will need to provide the necessary ALBPM or OBPM 10g jar files to run the examples. These are your typical jar files you would use for any PAPI program you would write. They are available in your BPM Enterprise installation folder <BPM_HOME>/client/papi/lib folder. There is a text file in the lib folder of the example which lists explicitly the jar files I used to get the project working.

Second, if you are connecting to a BPM Enterprise engine, you will need to put that engine's directory.xml in the config folder. This file contains database connectivity information so the Java program will know where all of the BPM goodies are (the BPM Directory database). I usually get if from the <BPM_HOME>/webapps/workspace/WEB-INF folder of the J2EE installation.

Next, edit the .properties file you are going to use to suit your environment. Most of these values will be easy to decipher. But I will go over a few of the ones which might give you trouble. I provide two .proerties files. One for the typical connection to a J2EE Enterprise installation of BPM. Another for connecting to the BPM Studio engine.

The Studio engine connection does not need to know where the directory.xml file is located (fuego.directory.file). But it does need to know where the project is located (fuego.project.path). Also, Studio does not require passwords to connect. But the example code expects a value in "bpm_password". So it doesn't matter what you put in this value. It just has to be present.

The J2EE Enterprise connection does need a password. And because I just hate plain text passwords in text files, the example code expects the password in the .properties file to be encrypted. I provide a simple Java class to encrypt a password (com.floydwalker.crypto.CryptoLauncher). If you plan on connecting to BPM engines that handle sensitive data, you will of course change this to suit whatever security policy you have in place.

There are two sets of credentials. "bpm_user"/"bpm_password" are the PAPI engine connection credentials. "WorkspaceUser"/"WorkspacePassword" sets the participant login that is used to execute the interactive forms.

There are a few "Workspace..." settings that allow you to specify where Workspace is located. You can probably just change the hostname and port on these guys to get them working.

At the very bottom of the .properties file are the form post values for the interactive forms provided in the BPM project export.

Everyday Use
I have been using these techniques frequently to apply test-driven-development techniques to BPM Process design. It has made it much easier to find errors and bottlenecks in edge cases. I also like the convenience of proving that recent changes are viable. Using mocked servers and stubbing out other interfaces to external systems, it is easier to isolate whether or not bugs come from BPM or from the external systems.

It is my wish that this knowledge help you to develop better processes, faster. Enjoy.


Unit testing ALBPM and OBPM: Unravelling PUnit, CUnit and PAPI JUnit Testing

posted Nov 28, 2012, 5:04 PM by Floyd Walker

6/24/2010
I have long been a fan of unit testing. Thus, I was full of joy when I found out that there were PUnit and CUnit objects were made available back in ALBPM version 6.
My good mood was quickly dashed when I found out that there was not much in documentation and examples. There is a paragraph or two in the manual. And the example included with the installation of Studio was equally terse.
But, over time I eventually learned the ins and outs of leveraging these objects to my benefit. While they aren't as comprehensive or as reliable as I would like, they are quite useful.
I will let everyone know what I have learned about these objects here, so others will not have to go through the pain I went through figuring this out.

PUnit and CUnit -- What they are and What they do.
First of all, let's introduce these objects to those who don't yet know them.
PUnit objects are a special kind of Business Object you can create in the Component Catalog in ALBPM 6, 6.5, or OBPM 10g Studio. They allow you to create automated tests of your processes in the style of JUnit tests. They will even allow you to specify how you want interactive activities to respond through the use of PUnit tasks.

CUnit objects are another special kind of business object that allow you to create automated tests of your business objects in the Catalog.

Creating a PUnit Test
Creating a PUnit object is easy. It's just a matter of choosing the right menu option off of the "New" menu when you right-click on a "Module" of the Catalog. See the Image below.
Creating a PUnit Object

Now creating a test method in the PUnit object is a bit more tricky. Right-click the PUnit object in the Catalog, select "New" then "Method". Here is the tricky part. You have to begin the name of the test method with the word "test". Otherwise, OBPM will not recognize that method as a test method. So, name the method something like "testProcess" or "testBetterDocumentation" or something like that. After you have a test method (you will know because the method icon will be green instead of blue), you can put special PUnit test object calls into the method. You can find these easily by using Eclipse's Ctrl+Spacebar feature to tell you what you can do. The operations and objects are easy to understand, especially if you know PAPI. To get you started, I have written a sample test method in this project export you can download below.

Notice the built-in methods "setUp" and "tearDown". These should be familiar to JUnit veterans. They initiate a PAPI connection/session to the Studio engine before running a test, and shut it down gracefully afterwards. You shouldn't need to change the "tearDown" method which is written for you. But, you may want to change the participant specified in the "setUp" method. After all, the participant specified here will be the user context under which the test will be performed, and you probably won't have a participant "punit" in your Organization settings.
There is also a built-in attribute of type Fuego.Test.ProcessServiceSession named session included with the PUnit test object. This is your connection to the Studio engine, and the object from which most of your interactions with the engine will be done.

Writing and Running a PUnit Test
The example I have provided shows how you can do the following tasks in a PUnit test.

  • Create an instance of a process
  • Assign input arguments to a process instance
  • Assert that the instance is running
  • Get the current activity of a running process
  • Get the value of an instance variable (only works for simple data types)
  • Assert that a process instance arrives at a certain activity within a certain amount of time

You can do much more with the session object. But these are the activities I usually do in a Process test. The Fuego.Test.ProcessServiceSession has some similar methods to the PAPI ProcessServiceSession. But, the PUnit version is quite different. You don't have as much flexibility as do with PAPI.

But, you are able to interact with interactive activities. Here is how you do it. Right-click on the interactive activity you are including in your process test, select the "PUnit task" menu option.

Testing Interactive Activities

Since PUnit tests are automated, and there is no actual user interaction, you specify how the interactive activity changes the process instance (when you are running the PUnit test) in the PUnit task. So if the interactive's output parameter set an instance variable, you would set the same instance variable in the PUnit task method.

Next, in the PUnit test method, when you are sure the process instance is waiting at the interactive activity, use the session.activityExecute method to execute the PUnit task specified.
To run the test method, first start the ALBPM or OBPM 10g engine. Then right-click the method in the Catalog, and choose "Run Test". The "Test Results" pane will pop-up and you can watch the test execute.

The Test Results Pane

If you are using objects in your Catalog which have been introspected from jar files as input or output parameters of processes, you will need to modify Studio/Eclipse's classpath. The test runner executes the tests in Eclipse's Java environment. So, while writing the test code, there are no errors (Eclipse knows what is in the Catalog), and the engine runs fine (in another Tomcat Java environment which has the jar files deployed with the BPM project), the test runner will report ClassNotFound. This is pretty tricky, I solved it by modifying the file %BEA_HOME%\albpm6.0\studio\eclipse\configuration\config.ini and changed the osgi.frameworkClassPath value to include my custom jar files in Eclipse's classpath.

While this worked for me, occasionally I still received ClassNotFound errors. But these went away when I restarted ALBPM Studio.

Limitations of PUnit Tests
You can get the values of instance variables returned to the test method. However, this only works reliably for simple or native data types. Complex datatypes (business objects, and introspected objects) can be viewed as XML if they are serializable. Otherwise, their values can't be inspected in the test.
Testing processes which use subprocesses and Split/Join activites can be difficult. You can't get a subprocess' Id from the parent process. And targeting a specific thread in a Split/Join group can be difficult.

Those limitations aside, testing Processes with PUnit is a pretty useful feature. One of the more welcome features is the ability to change the PUnit test method and run it without having to stop the engine or redeploy the process.

Writing and Running CUnit Tests
As mentioned earlier CUnit tests can be used in the traditional fashion to test code written in Business Objects to insure they work as expected. You create and write CUnit tests in the same way as you do PUnit tests. You also have to start the names of CUnit test methods with the word "test".

CUnit tests can also be used to verify or proove that External Systems (Web Services or Databases, etc.) are returning the expected responses to your inputs. Or, they can be used to do ad-hoc testing of Business Object code.
The advantage of CUnit tests to PUnit tests is that you don't need to have an engine running or a process deployed to run them. But if you are using introspected jar's in the test code, you will need to change Eclipse's classpath as shown earlier.

Using a PAPI JUnit Java Test Environment
Sometimes you need to test your BPM project in a J2EE container because the process just does not behave the same way in Tomcat as it does in WebLogic Server. To do this, simply write JUnit test cases using PAPI. Doing this has some advantages and disadvantages to using the PUnit test cases.

  • If your subprocess activity has the "Generate Events" option turned on, the PAPI JUnit test case can pick up a process' subprocess id and continue testing. You can't do this with PUnit tests.
  • You can get the vales of instance variables of complex data types.
  • PAPI JUnit test methods can not execute interactive activites in a process. PUnit tasks are not available ouside of ALBPM / OBPM Studio.

Once written PAPI JUnit tests can be run on both the J2EE engines as well as ALBPM / OBPM Studio engines.
You can download the example below to get you started creating a PAPI JUnit test suite.

Maximizing Instance Memory Efficiency in OBPM / ALBPM

posted Nov 28, 2012, 4:58 PM by Floyd Walker

5/19/2010

When you get to the point where you have hundreds of thousands of active instances in your engines, minimizing the amount of memory each instance uses is essential. Insuring you have a good process design at the beginning will save you problems trying to scale your servers to support them. This article will give you some ideas how this can be done.

Most of us software developers are familiar with the venerable Model/View/Control (MVC) methodology which has greatly increased memory efficiency, performance, and maintainability in our projects. I have developed a similar methodolgy for developing BPM projects in OBPM / ALBPM which has proven to be successful.

Three Kinds of Business Objects

The BPM Component Catalog allows you to introspect many kinds of objects from disparate resources. While this is very convenient, don't get into the trap of using those objects as they are imported. This will usually get you using objects which consume much more memory than you need. It is better to create new objects which just accomplish what BPM needs to do, and have methods or helper objects to transfer the appropriate information between concerned objects.

Sample Business Model Object

If you start to segregating your object, you will end up having three kinds of objects: Business Model Objects, Process Flow Objects, and Process View Objects. I will explain what I mean below.

Separating the Object Into Useful Portions

Business Model Objects

These are usually the objects which are introspected into the Component Catalog. They are very detailed an complex. They probably have relationships with other objects. They represent the knowledge of a business concept, or at least how those concepts interact with the business' systems.

Business Model Objects are very useful for interacting with web services, databases, and other external systems. But for processes because of their memory requirements. And, they are cumbersome to use for user interfaces because the data is optimized for retrieval and storage, not for data entry or display to a human.

Process Flow Objects

The Process Flow Objects contain a subset of the information stored in the Business Model Objects. The idea is to only have information in these objects which the process flow will need for decisions and supporting the process flow.

Process View Objects

These objects also contain a subset of the Business Model Objects. The focus of the Process View Objects are supporting Screenflows or Presentations. The data and object structure of these objects is optimized for easy presentation of user interfaces.

Using Business Model Objects in the Process Flow

So if you take the bait, and use your Business Model Objects as instance variables in your process flows, here is what happens. First, there is a big splash as the object is filled in by your back-end systems. Information is shared between activities by putting in or changing data in the object's attributes. As the process goes through its life-cycle, the object grows in memory usage. And, the object is using memory for the full duration of the lifespan of the process.


Using Business Model Objects in the Process Flow

Using the Three Object Types Method in the Process Flow

Business Objects are used in automatic activities to provide data to the Process Flow and Process View objects. They are then unloaded from memory.The objects with the smallest footprint (the Process Flow objects) are in memory the longest.


Using the Three Object Types

Process View objects are loaded with data in order to support interactive activities. They are only in instance memory long enough to complete the interactive activity, and send the results to the other objects. Since these objects are optimized for the screenflows, their memory usage is reduced.

Object Type Relationships

Well That's Nice, But...

Yeah, sometimes you just need to keep large chunks of data around to avoid performance problems caused by excess chatter (from continually loading the Business Model Objects). This is when you would use "separated" instance variables. These are then stored in a database table and not in direct instance memory.

How to Segment Business Model Objects

First, Business Model Objects can have methods to load and save to database/webservice/etc. This keeps the complexity of the persistence method out of the process flows completely.

Segmenting the Objects

Next, Process Flow Objects can have methods for loading their information from the Business Model Objects.

Then, Process View Objects can have methods for loading and saving their information back to the appropriate objects.


JMS Techniques in OBPM

posted Nov 28, 2012, 4:48 PM by Floyd Walker   [ updated Nov 28, 2012, 4:49 PM ]

4/21/2010

Background
I have had several clients now desire to dump their current Web Service integrations in favor of using JMS in their BPM orchestrations. The reasons are many, but the main ones have to do with message persistence and scalability. Messages sent with JMS are queued up and persisted until the consumer is ready. And, JMS is a little more efficient than Web Services due to the lack of the SOAP envelope. Whatever your reasons for wanting to use JMS instead of Web Services in OBPM/ALBPM, this article should help you a bit.

Not as Simple as it Sounds
OBPM makes it seriously easy to implement Web Service integrations. Just introspect the WSDL into the catalog and then drag a method from the catalog to a code-block. The response is usually returned immediately in the typical HTTP request/response cycle. Plus, all of the objects involved are usually embedded in the WSDL so everybody knows what they are talking about.
With JMS, the BPM process has to listen to a JMS Queue with a Global Automatic activity and manually wait for a response using a Notification Wait activity for an asynchronous response. Also, if you are doing more than just simple text JMS messages, all the objects being used will need to be manually introspected into the catalog, and kept up to date with what the other side of the JMS conversation is using. The following diagram shows the differences.


The Message Router
You may be asking why you need two processes for this to work. Well, if you just have one JMS conversation going on, then you will only need one process. Something like the following diagram will certainly do the trick.


But, if you have several conversations going on with numerous processes, you won’t want to have a single JMS queue built for each conversation in each process. You will probably want to use just a few JMS queues and route messages to the processes based upon what is in the messages (such as by object type). Thus you will end up with something like the following message router process (MRP).


Note: I don’t like using the Process Notification activity to notify processes. If the process instance to be notified is not found, the instance of the MRP is aborted. If an error handler is present in the MRP, this can be avoided, but the engine still logs a Warning error in the log. Get enough of these, and it can really clutter up the log. I prefer to use the PBL Notification.Send method in an Automatic Activity. Then, you have more control over what happens in these scenarios. Processing the Notification
A Correlation Set has to be created and initialized by the process receiving the notification from the message router process (MRP) before it receives the notification. This is so that the MRP can find the appropriate process instance by the unique business Id. The MRP does not need to know about the Correlation Set, it just needs to set the appropriate unique business Id argument before sending the notification.
The receiving process also needs to handle unexpected problems with the messaging conversation. Here are a couple of examples. First, to handle the case where the JMS sender never sends a response, an activity with a due transition needs to be present to time-out the conversation. Next, when the sender responds with a message that it couldn’t perform the desired action, a conditional path is created.
So our simple example from earlier now looks like this.

Whew! That’s a lot of infrastructure to build up just to replace a simple Web Service request/response. Yeah, JMS may be more efficient, but its implementation here is much more verbose.
Now that you have a better idea of how to do it, I have a few implementation patterns you may want to consider in implementing JMS in OBPM/ALBPM.

JMS Process Pattern 1: Interrupting Interactive Activities
This is a case where a process instance is waiting at an Interactive Activity, and it needs to move on to the next activity when it receives a JMS message. Essentially, the process flow is blocked by an Interactive instead of a Notification Wait activity. This pattern works well when you want the process instance to appear in the Workspace inbox even though it is actually waiting for a JMS notification. The user can then have the opportunity to interact with the process without having to search for it and use a Grab.

I like this pattern because it increases the visibility of the process instance in the Workspace. Plus, it gives the user more information and influence over the instance. The user can have their view set to sort by instance creation date, and easily see which instances have been stuck too long waiting on a notification. If we used Notification Wait’s to block the process, a custom view would need to be created to cause the instances to be visible.
A Correlation Set is initiated in the Begin activity, and used in the Notification Wait activity. The latter has the “Allows Interruptions” option turned on so that when the notification occurs, it will interrupt the running instance in a way similar to the error handling flows. In the automatic activity, the PBL sets the predefined variable “action” to SKIP. Thus, when the notification flow reaches the Compensation Activity, the process instance will skip the processing of the current activity (the interactive) and proceed on to the next activity down the unconditional path towards the “Finalize” activity. The Grab Activity is there so participants in a more administrative role can easily move the instance along the path should the notification never arrive.

JMS Process Pattern 2: Manually Moving a Process Instance
The “action=SKIP” strategy only works if the next activity in the process flow is where you want the instance after the notification arrives. What do you do if you need more control over where the process instance goes? That is the question that the following pattern answers.

The diagram of this pattern is exactly like the previous one, except for the addition is the “Exception Grab” activity. This is a From All/To All Grab. I call these “Exception Grab’s” because they are usually used as a method of last resort to fix a process instance that has gone down the wrong path.


In the notification flow, the Automatic Activity uses a round-about way to automatically execute the Exception Grab to send the instance to the activity of choice.

Because you can’t execute a grab while in a notification or error flow, a simple process is created to connect to the engine, find the process, and execute the grab.
All of the code and the processes are included in the sample project export that can be downloaded below. Also, this example (in the export) shows how to manually initiate and finalize the Correlation Set in PBL.

JMS Process Pattern 3: Handling Multiple Asynchronous JMS Responses
This pattern addresses the case where a single request can cause multiple JMS responses. And, these responses can arrive in any order. But the process must wait for all of the messages to be received and so something with the responses as they arrive.

To achieve this, a business object is created in the catalog to keep a record of the messages that have arrived. The business object is implemented as an instance variable. The flow is blocked by an Interactive Activity only if a message has not been received.

This example shows how to use activity.source to determine where in the process the instance was at when the notification arrives. It also shows how instance state can be preserved when multiple asynchronous events are occurring, and they can occur at any time of the life of the instance. Boolean flags are used in the business object instance to insure that the process instance only reacts once to a certain type of message.
Note: In the process export all four Automatic Activities utilize the same process method.

Process Project Export
All three of these patterns are included in the following Process Project Export. Also included is the “GrabAndRedirect” process and demonstrations on how to send a JMS message in PBL.

MooControls -- .NET Custom User Controls that Integrate MooTools Client-Cide Validation With Server-Side Pizzaz

posted Nov 28, 2012, 4:34 PM by Floyd Walker

10/08/2010

I have been up to my neck in Java and BPM stuff for a while, but nothing really exciting. So, since I haven't posted for a while, I thought I'd clean up an old .NET / WCI portal project I did and tell you guys about it.

The Story

The MooTools JavaScript library has an excellent set of validators that were developed by the guys at Clientcide. They are really elegant in both implementation and presentation. Once you load the MooTools library on the page, and add one line of JavaScript, you just add a class name for the validator you wish to use to the HTML form item you want to validate and BAM! that's it. If you want it to look pretty, just add a stylesheet. All of the effects are controlled through styles.

More information about these validators can be found at the mootools.net site.

Note: These user controls were made with a dated version of MooTools. And, the validators at that time had not yet been integrated into MooTools. They were still being managed by CNet / Clientcide. If I get some time, and I think it's interesting enough, I'll update it to the latest version.

In The Portal

While these controls work great in a standard ASP.NET web application, they are really designed specifically to run in an Oracle Web Center Interaction (WCI) portal.

Designing portlets for a WCI (aka. Aqualogic User Interaction (ALUI), aka. Plumtree) can be a bit daunting for junior developers. The Oracle .NET Application Accellerator makes things a bit easier by capturing post-backs and updating the portlet in-place. But, if you want to do fancy AJAX stuff like some of the MooControls do, then things get dicey. The Microsoft AJAX controls just don't play well with WCI.

The MooControls, combined with the Oracle WebCenter Application Accelerator for .NET makes creating nice, form-based WCI portlets much easier. Plus, there are a few tricks it can do to really make the portlets pop.

Don't have a WCI portal? Don't worry; the MooControls work fine in a regular ASP.NET application. One nice feature of the MooControls is that it can detect whether or not the application is being hosted in a portal or not. This makes debugging the UI outside of the portal a little easier.

The Controls

Each MooControl is a derivation of one of the standard .NET WebControls you are probably already know and love. The next table shows a list of the MooControls. The names of the controls and their base class should tell you what they do. If you need more information, check this page for details on each control and their attributes, methods and behaviors.

MooControl ASP.NET Base Control
Simple Controls
MooFormValidatorSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.WebControl
MooCheckBoxSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.CheckBox
MooDateTextBoxSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.TextBox
MooDropDownListSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.DropDownList
MooRadioButtonListSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.RadioButtonList
MooTextBoxSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.TextBox
MooButtonSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.Button
MooLinkButtonSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.LinkButton
Complex Controls
MooGridViewSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.GridView
MooPopupViewSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.Panel
Portal-Specific Controls
MooPTSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.WebControl
MooPTImageSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.Image
MooPopupPortletContainerSystem.Web.UI.WebControls.WebControl

The MooControls and their ASP.NET Base Class Controls

First, the MooFormValidator control tells ASP.NET how and when to load the MooTools JavaScript library onto the form. It will initialize the JavaScript object and control all of your MooControls on the form. Consequently, you will need one of these guys on each form you use a MooControl.

The other "Simple Controls" behave exactly like their base control counterparts. They even appear in the ASP.NET Toolbox and look nice in the "Design" and "Split" views of the Visual Studio IDE.

To begin using the validator functions of the MooControls, you just need to specify two attributes:

  1. The "MooFormValidatorID" needs to contain the Id given to the MooFormValidator control on the form you want the control to be asscociated with. (Yes, you can have more than one for a form.)
  2. Type one or more validator names from this list into the "ValidatorTests" attribute. The validator names should be separated by a singe space.

The MooButton and MooLinkButton have been modified to insure that the client side MooTools validators validate the controls before executing their server side event code.

Dependent Controls

I implemented in the MooControls the idea of dependent controls. What this means is you can have a set of MooControls that are dependent upon one MooControl. These dependent controls either appear/disappear, enable/disable, validate/don't validate based upon the value of the master control.

This is useful for forms where you need additional information if a user selects a certain radio button or checkbox, or even puts a large value in a numeric textbox. Of course, you need to provide the test in JavaScript (for the browser) and then again on the server (in server side code). See the example project in the download if you want to see how it's done. It's really not that complicated.

Here is a non-functioning example:

Have you ever been convicted of a felony? Yes
No
Please explain:


You don't want the "Please Explain" prompt to appear unless the user specifies "Yes" in the master MooRadioButtonList. The "Please Explain" label and associated MooTextBox are in a DIV element that specifies the container for the dependent controls. When the dependent controls are not visible, their validators are not active.

Other Features

The MooControls has a really neat date entry control in the MooDateTextBox (thanks to MooTools). It has really good date entry, selection, and validation. Plus, you can specify date range validation.



MooDateBox Sample

The MooTextBox control can insure you provide a specific number or a range in the number of characters entered. If it is a numeric MooTextBox, you can insure that the number is in a specified range.

These ranges and validators can be added, removed, turned off or on, in the client-side (JavaScript) code. You can specify where you want the validation messages to appear. You can change the validation text if you want. Custom validators aren't too difficult to create, especially if you know regular expression syntax (not required) and rudimentary JavaScript.

All of these features are demonstrated and documented in the sample project in the download.

The Complex Controls

The MooGridView control works like the out-of-the-box GridView conrol. But, it has a few extras added to allow the user to create a grid of MooControls. This is useful if you need to collect a series of zero or more instances of a data type. Say you need to have the user enter the beginning and ending employment dates and the name of the employer. Each row begins with a checkbox (for row selection), then two MooDateBox controls and a MooTextBox control, each with their own validators. At the bottom of the MooGridView is two buttons: "Add" and "Delete". This allows the user to add and remove rows in the collection.


MooGridView Sample

The MooGridView manages the dynamic creation and removal of the MooControls contained within the rows of the grid. The developer just needs to drop the controls in a template row, and bind them to the data source correctly. An example is in the download.


MooPopupView Sample

Next, the MooPopupView is just low-hanging fruit. MooTools provides what they call a StickyWin control. It is a very customizable modal DHTML window which can appear and disappear based on user interaction. Every bit of HTML that appears within the start and end tags of the MooPopupView control will appear inside a StickyWin window. It will appear as a modal, draggable window. The rest of the page will be "greyed-out" and disabled. And, the developer gets to select the buttons that appear at the bottom of the StickyWin. See the download project for an example and documentation.

The WCI Portal Controls

If you are going to use the MooControls in a WCI portlet, the MooPT control should be on every page that is hosted in a portlet. First, it detects whether or not the browser request is coming from the portal, or straight from the browser, then changes the script path accordingly. This is wonderful if you need to test your portlet outside of the portal a bit. When it is in the portal, it gets the MooTools JavaScript files from the Image Server. Otherwise, it will look for the files in the web application.

The second thing it does is drop the "pt:token" tag on the page, so you can make all of the names and Id's in the portlet page unique.

The MooPTImage tag behaves like the out-of-the-box Image control when the page request comes directly from the browser. But, if it comes from the portal's gateway, it will put the "pt://images/" prefix in front of the image URL. This insures that your images are served from the Image Server when the portlet is deployed. And, if you want to test your page outside of the portal, you don't need to change the URL's of your images.

The last of the portal MooControls is the MooPopupPortletContainer control. This control is also the most complex of them all. Setting it up requires a bit of orchestration. But once operational, the effect can be quite cool.
Here is the idea. You have one portlet on a portal page. In that portlet, you have a link or button that when pressed causes a form to appear in a modal style like the MooTools StickyWin or MooPopupView control. The difference is, post-backs occur in-place inside the modal window. When finished, the user clicks a button on the form, it posts-back to save the form data, then the modal window goes away and sends a result back to the parent portlet.

This is done by having a portlet page with the MooPopupPortletContainer in it. The control causes the portlet to disappear from the portal page. When a specific JavaScript function is called, the invisible portlet loads an ASPX page, becomes visible and changes it's dimensions so that it becomes a MooTools StickyWin. The Oracle WebCenter Application Accelerator for .NET handles the rest. When done, another JavaScript function is called, and MooPopupPortletContainer returns to its original, invisible state.

The End?

I am not actively maintaining this library. But, I did have a great deal of fun developing it. I really should update them to support some of the great things in the latest version of MooTools. Perhaps if I get really bored one day… I thought it was a really good idea. Especially since I really hate the out-of-the-box validators that Microsoft gave us with ASP.NET. And, the MooTools validators are very pretty.

I have included a demonstration project with the download. It not only shows you how to use the controls, but also contains a bit of documentation as well. Here they are, for your enjoyment:

The download links are below. The WCI version (requires the Oracle WebCenter Interaction Development Kit (IDK) and the Oracle WebCenter Application Accelerator for .NET).

FindClass -- A Simple Utility To Find A Java Class in a Folder of Jars.

posted Nov 28, 2012, 4:14 PM by Floyd Walker

4/15/2010

A long time ago, when I was supporting various Java applications I didn't write, I was freqently encountering the dreaded ClassNotFound exception. (Haven't we all.)

I had just finished playing with FWZipLib.dll wrapper around the Info Zip libraries. So, I quickly wrote this utility to scan a folder of jar's (which are just zip files anyway) for a class provided on the command line. It proved so useful that I still use it occasionally.

It is a simple C# console application. To use it, here is the syntax:

FindClass ClassNameToFind c:\SomeFolder\SomeJavaApp\lib


The utility will then list all of the jar files in the folder. Then, it will tell you when it finds the class file in one of the jar's.

However useful it may be, I never really updated it with any fancy features. There are other utilities which other jar-heads use for this feature. But if you like a simple, and free, utility to find those elusive classes, you can download it below.


FWZipLib.dll: A C++.NET Zip Compression Library Wrapper Around Info Zip

posted Nov 28, 2012, 4:11 PM by Floyd Walker

4/15/2010

Had enough with the portal tools? Well, here is a simple tool I made a long time ago someone may find useful.

The FWZipLib is a C++ DLL wrapper around the venerable Info Zip library for Windows. This makes this library accesible to .NET applications. It can do all of the standard operations on zip files: compression, decompression, listing of zip file contents, password protection, etc. Basically, just about anything the Info Zip library can do.

Hold On a Minute
There are a couple of things you must know before using this library. First, there are much better libraries out there for .NET. (Particularly the SharpZipLib.)
Second, I really don't think that it is all that thread-safe. (I haven't really tested it.) If you need it for small one-off utility programs, console or forms applications it will probably work fine.

Usage
To use it in your average C# program, just reference the FWZipLib.dll. Then, make sure you copy the Zip.dll and UnZip.dll files into your bin folder. These are the Info Zip libraries which actually do the work. The FWZipLib.dll provides the interface to the Info Zip dll's.

The Download
The download below includes the source code and the compiled binary for the FWZipLib.dll. It also contains a VB.NET test client to show you how the syntax works.


WCI Slideshow Portlet

posted Nov 27, 2012, 6:53 AM by Floyd Walker

4-1-2010

One day I wanted to show some images in a WCI / ALUI portal and was astonished to find out that there is no OOTB facility for this. Of course, I could just host an HTML page in a portlet, or just use a Publisher announcement portlet. But then I couldn't open my compiler and write something.

Since a slideshow portlet would need a file listing for it to do it's dance in the browser, I figured I could easily extend my fabulous File Share portlet (which lists files) to list images into a JavaScript slideshow object. The JavaScript object I chose is JonDesign's SmoothGallery which is a plugin to one of my favorite JavaScript libraries Moo Tools.

So here it is. On the back end (administration), it works just like the File Share portlet. You point it to a UNC share somewhere the Remote Server can reach, and give it the login credentials. Put the images in that folder, and the Slideshow Portlet will do the rest. If you create a sub-folder called "thumbnails" which has smaller images that have the same filenames as the larger images in the parent folder, Slideshow will use those in the portlet (for faster rendering), but deliver the larger ones when you click on the image.

The Slideshow Portlet in Action

Features
The JonDesign Smooth Gallery has some neat features (which can be tweaked as options to the JS object). It has a slide-out index strip of all the images in the show for easy navigation to a particular image. It has a translucent image information which shows momentarily at the bottom of the image. Also, there are arrows to the left and right to go to the adjacent images in the show.

Slideshow Portlet Index Strip

Galleries
If there are sub-folders (not named "thumbnails") at the folder you point the portlet to, the Slideshow Portlet figures you want to enable the galleries feature. This will show each folder (even the root folder if it has images in it) as a block with its name and a sample picture in it so you can choose which folder you wish to look at.

Slideshow Portlet Galleries

Synergy
Put a File Share portlet on the same community page. Point it to the same folder where the images are. And, set it's security so that only the community owner can see it. Now you've got an easy way to manage the images through the portal. B)

Too Good to be True?
Well, this is just an experiment. There are a few glitches which need to be worked out. Namely, it doesn't work in some versions of IE. But, if that doesn't scare you, or if you are willing to tweak the JavaScript click on the link below.

WCI (ALUI) File Share Portlet

posted Nov 27, 2012, 5:06 AM by Floyd Walker

3-24-2010

What I have here is an attempt at simplicity. The old Plumtree portal (now called Web Center Interaction) provides a wealth of features. But, the implementation of these features can be a bit daunting for the audience the product was targeted.

I have been on many sites where the Knowledge Directory feature to share company files in a secure manner has been severely underutilized. The reasons are many from the highly technical to completely psychological.

The WCI File Share Portlet I wrote does not implement many of the great features of the Knowledge Directory. What it does do, is allow a community administrator to easily set up a file share through the WCI portal.

What the User Sees
Here is a look at how it appears on the community or MyPage if the user has only View or Select rights to the portlet.


And, if the user clicks the folder, he gets breadcrumbs, and folder tree navigation.


And here is how it looks to a user who has Edit rights.

Where the Files are Stored
The folder structure is stored in a Windows folder somewhere where a user and the portlet server can reach via UNC. The folder is protected by domain credentials. The portlet will impersonate the domain user to access and maintain the file share.

If the portlet user has Admin rights to the portlet, they will be able to access the administrative preferences as seen here.

As you see, here is where the path to the shared folder is specified, along with the domain credentials which the portlet will need to access it. Note: The portlet (remote) server will need to have access (a network path) to the file share in order for this to work.

There is a link which allows the administrator to specify which WCI group will have access to the toolbar functions shown in the edit-mode image above.

For narrow columns, there is a couple of checkboxes which will turn off a couple of columns. This makes the portlet fit better.

Searching
Because the target of the File Share portlet is known only to the portlet itself, the portal can't index the documents like it can with the Knowledge Directory. This severely limits some of the main functions of the whole portal idea. Saved-search portlets will not be able to return results from the targeted files.
However, you can point an NT file crawler to the same folder that the File Share portlet targets, and you have a handy way of pumping files into the Knowledge Directory.

Implementation
The File Share Portlet was implemented using C#.NET v2.0 and the .NET Application Acellerator (used to be called the Plumtree .NET Web Controls). This allows in-place refreshing of the portlet when the web form does a "post-back".

Try It Out
If you are adventurous and want to try it out on your lab portal to see how it works, click on the link below.

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