Polyglot everywhere – part 1

April 12th, 2015 No comments

This is the era of polyglot! Proponents of this practice spread the word that you’ve to choose the language best adapted to the problem at hand. And with a single team dedicated to a microservice, this might make sense.

My pragmatic side tells me it means that developers get to choose the language they are developing with and don’t care how it will be maintained when they go away… On the other hand, my shiny-loving side just want to try – albeit in a more controlled environment, such as this blog!


In this 3 parts serie, I’ll try to use polyglot on a project:

  • The first part is about the build system
  • The second part will be about the server side
  • The final part will be about the client-side

My example will use a Vaadin project built with Maven and using a simple client-side extension. You can follow the project on Github.

Polyglot Maven

Though it may have been largely ignored, Maven can now talk many different languages since its version 3.3.1 thanks to an improved extension mechanism. In the end, the system is quite easy:

  • Create a .mvn folder at the root of your project
  • Create a extensions.xml file
  • Set the type of language you’d like to use:

    Here, I set the build “language” as YAML.

In the end, the translation from XML to YAML is very straightforward:

modelVersion: 4.0.0
groupId: ch.frankel.blog.polyglot
artifactId: polyglot-example
packaging: war
version: 1.0.0-SNAPSHOT

    - { groupId: com.vaadin, artifactId: vaadin-spring, version: 1.0.0.beta2 }

        - artifactId: maven-compiler-plugin
          version: 3.1
            source: 1.8
            target: 1.8
        - artifactId: maven-war-plugin
          version: 2.2
            failOnMissingWebXml: false

The only problem I had was in the YAML syntax itself: just make sure to align the elements of the plugin to the plugin declaration (e.g. align version with artifactId).

Remember to check the POM on Github with each new part of the serie!

Categories: Development Tags: , ,

What’s the version of my deployed application?

April 6th, 2015 2 comments

In my career, I’ve noticed many small and un-expensive features that didn’t find their way into the Sprint backlog because they didn’t provide business value. However, they provided plenty of ROI during the life of the application, but that was completely overlooked due to short-sighted objectives (set by short-sighted management). Those include, but are not limited to:

  • Monitoring in general, and more specifically metrics, health checks, etc. Spare 5 days now and spend 10 times that later (or more…) that because you don’t know how your application works.
  • Environment data e.g. development, test, production, etc. It’s especially effective when it’s associated with a coloured banner dependent on the environment. If you don’t do that, I’m not responsible if I just deleted all your production data from the last 10 days because I thought it was the test environment. This is quite easy, especially if login/passwords are the same for all environments – yes, LDAP setup is complex so let’s have only one.
  • Application build data, most importantly the version number, and if possible the build number and the build time. Having to SSH into the server (if possible at all) or search the Wiki (if it’s up-to-date, a most unlikely occurence) to have to know the version is quite cumbersome when you need the info right now.

Among them, I believe the most basic one is the latter. We are used to check the About dialog in desktop applications, but unless you deliver many (many many) times a day, those are necessary for any real-world enterprise-grade application. In the realm of SOA and micro-services, it means this info should also be part of responses.

With Maven, it’s quite easy to achieve, this as a simple properties file only is needed and the maven-resource-plugin will work its magic. Maven provides a filtering features, meaning any resource can be set placeholders and they will be replaced by their values at build-time. Filtering is not enabled by default. To activate it, the following snippet will do:


I wrote about placeholders above but I didn’t specify which. Simple, any data set in the POM – as well as a few special ones, can be used as placeholders. Just use the DOM path, inside $ and brackets, like that: ${dom.path}.

Here’s an example, with a property file:


If this snippet is put in a file inside the src/main/resources directory, Maven will generate a file named similarly with the values filtered inside the target/classes directory just after the process-resources. Specific values depends of course on the POM, but here’s a sample output:


Things are unfortunately not as straightforward, as there’s a bug in Maven regarding ${maven.build.timestamp}. It cannot be filtered directly and requires adding an indirection level:


The following properties file will now work as expected:


At this point, it’s just a matter of reading this property file when required. This includes:

In webapps
  • Provide a dedicated About page, as in desktop applications. I’ve rarely seen that, and never implemented it
  • Add a footer with the info. For added user-friendliness, set the text color to the background color, so that users are not disturbed by the info. Only people who know (or a curious) can access that – it’s not confidential anyway.
In services
Whether SOAP or REST, XML or JSON, there are also a few options:

  • As a dedicated service endpoint (e.g. /about or /version). This is the simplest to implement. It’s even better if the same endpoint is used throughout the organization.
  • As additional info on all endpoints. This is required when each endpoint can be built separately and assembled. The easiest path then is to put it in HTTP headers, while harder is to put it in the data. The latter will probably require some interceptor approach as well as an operation on the schema (if any).

There are two additional options:

  1. To differentiate between snapshot versions, use the Maven Build Number plugin. I have no experience of actual usage. However, it requires correct configuration of SCM information.
  2. Some applications not only display version information but also environment environment information (e.g. development, integration, staging, etc.). I’ve seen it used either through a specific banner or through background color. This requires a dedicated Java property set at JVM launch time or an system environment variable.

The filtering stuff can be done in 1 hour max in a greenfield environment. The cost of using the data is more variable, but in a simple webapp footer case, it can be done in less than a day. Compare that to the time lost getting the version during the lifetime of the application…

Categories: Java Tags: ,

Better developer-to-developer collaboration with Bintray

March 29th, 2015 1 comment

I recently got interested in Spring Social, and as part of my learning path, I tried to integrate their Github module which is still in Incubator mode. Unfortunately, this module seems to have been left behind, and its dependency on the core module uses an old version of it. And since I use the latest version of this core, Maven resolves one version to put in the WEB-INF/lib folder of the WAR package. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work so well at runtime.

The following diagram shows this situation:

Dependencies original situation


I could have excluded the old version from the transitive dependencies, but I’m lazy and Maven doesn’t make it easy (yet). Instead, I decided to just upgrade the Github module to the latest version and install it in my local repository. That proved to be quite easy as there was no incompatibility with the newest version of the core – I even created a pull request. This is the updated situation:

Dependencies final situation

Unfortunately, if I now decide to distribute this version of my application, nobody will be able to neither build nor run it since only I have the “patched” (latest) version of the Github module available in my local repo. I could distribute along the updated sources, but it would mean you would have to build it and install it into your local repo first before using my app.

Bintray to the rescue! Bintray is a binary repository, able to host any kind of binaries: jars, wars, deb, anything. It is hosted online, and free for OpenSource projects, which nicely suits my use-case. This is how I uploaded my artifact on Bintray.

Create an account
Bintray makes it quite easy to create such an account, using of the available authentication providers – Github, Twitter or Google+. Alternatively, one can create an old-style account, with password.
Create an artifact
Once authentified, an artifact needs to be created. Select your default Maven repository, it can be found at https://bintray.com//maven. Then, click on the big Add New Package button located on the right border. On the opening page, fill in the required information. The package can be named whatever you want, I chose to use the Maven artifact identifier: spring-social-github.
Create a version
Files can only be added to a version, so that a version need to be created first. On the package detail page, click on the New Version link (second column, first line).On the opening page, fill in the version name. Note that snapshots are not accepted and this is only checked through the -SNAPSHOT suffix. I chose to use 1.0.0.BUILD.
Upload files
Once the version is created, files can finally be uploaded. In the top bar, click the Upload Files button. Drag and drop all desired files, of course the main JAR and the POM, but it can also include source and javadoc JARs. Notice the Target Repository Path field: it should be set to the logical path to the Maven artifact, including groupId, artifactId and version separated by slashes. For example, my use-case should resolve to org/springframework/social/spring-social-github/1.0.0.BUILD. Note that instead of filling this field, you can wait for the files to be uploaded as Bintray will detect this upload, analyze the POM and propose to set it automatically: if this fits – and it probably does, just accept the proposal.
Uploading files is not enough, as those files are temporary until publication. A big notice warns about it: just click on the Publish link located on the right border.

At this point, you need only to add the Bintray repository in the POM.

Categories: Java Tags: ,

Become a DevOps with Spring Boot

March 8th, 2015 1 comment

Have you ever found yourself in the situation to finish a project and you’re about to deliver it to the Ops team. You’re so happy because this time, you covered all the bases: the documentation contains the JNDI datasource name the application will use, all environment-dependent parameters have been externalized in a property file – and documented, and you even made sure logging has been implemented at key points in the code. Unfortunately, Ops refuse your delivery since they don’t know how to monitor the new application. And you missed that… Sure you could hack something to fulfill this requirement, but the project is already over-budget. In some (most?) companies, this means someone will have to be blamed and chances are the developer will bear all the burden. Time for some sleepless nights.

Spring Boot is a product from Spring that brings many out-of-the-box features to the table. Convention over configuration, in-memory default datasource and and embedded Tomcat are part of the features known to most. However, I think there’s a hidden gem that should be much more advertised. The actuator module actually provides metrics and health checks out-of-the-box as well as an easy way to add your own. In this article, we’ll see how to access those metrics from HTTP and send them to JMX and Graphite.

As an example application, let’s use an update of the Spring Pet Clinic made with Boot – thanks forArnaldo Piccinelli for his work. The starting point is commit 790e5d0. Now, let’s add some metrics in no time.

The first step is to add the actuator module starter in the Maven POM and let Boot does its magic:


At this point, we can launch the Spring Pet Clinic with mvn spring-boot:run and navigate to http://localhost:8090/metrics (note that the path is protected by Spring Security, credentials are user/password) to see something like the following:

  "mem" : 562688,
  "mem.free" : 328492,
  "processors" : 8,
  "uptime" : 26897,
  "instance.uptime" : 18974,
  "heap.committed" : 562688,
  "heap.init" : 131072,
  "heap.used" : 234195,
  "heap" : 1864192,
  "threads.peak" : 20,
  "threads.daemon" : 17,
  "threads" : 19,
  "classes" : 9440,
  "classes.loaded" : 9443,
  "classes.unloaded" : 3,
  "gc.ps_scavenge.count" : 16,
  "gc.ps_scavenge.time" : 104,
  "gc.ps_marksweep.count" : 2,
  "gc.ps_marksweep.time" : 152

As can be seen, Boot provides hardware- and Java-related metrics without further configuration. Even better, if one browses the app e.g. repeatedly refreshed the root, new metrics appear:

  "counter.status.200.metrics" : 1,
  "counter.status.200.root" : 2,
  "counter.status.304.star-star" : 4,
  "counter.status.304.webjars.star-star" : 1,
  "gauge.response.metrics" : 72.0,
  "gauge.response.root" : 16.0,
  "gauge.response.star-star" : 8.0,
  "gauge.response.webjars.star-star" : 11.0,

Those metrics are more functional in nature, and they are are separated into two separate groups:

  • Gauges are the simplest metrics and return a numeric value e.g. gauge.response.root is the time (in milliseconds) of the last response from the /metrics path
  • Counters are metrics which can be incremented/decremented e.g. counter.status.200.metrics is the number of times the /metrics path returned a HTTP 200 code

At this point, your Ops team could probably scrape the returned JSON and make something out of it. It will be their responsibility to regularly poll the URL and to use the figures the way they want. However, with just a little more effort, we can ease the life of our beloved Ops team by putting these metrics in JMX.

Spring Boot integrates easily with Dropwizard metrics. By just adding the following dependency to the POM, Boot is able to provide a MetricRegistry, a Dropwizard registry for all metrics:


Using the provided registry, one is able to send metrics to JMX in addition to the HTTP endpoint. We just need a simple configuration class as well as a few API calls:

public class MonitoringConfig {

    private MetricRegistry registry;

    public JmxReporter jmxReporter() {
        JmxReporter reporter = JmxReporter.forRegistry(registry).build();
        return reporter;

Launching jconsole let us check it works alright: The Ops team now just needs to get metrics from JMX and push them into their preferred graphical display tool, such as Graphite. One such way to achieve this is through jmx-trans. However, it’s also possible to directly send metrics to the Graphite server with just a few different API calls:

public class MonitoringConfig {

    private MetricRegistry registry;

    public GraphiteReporter graphiteReporter() {
        Graphite graphite = new Graphite(new InetSocketAddress("localhost", 2003));
        GraphiteReporter reporter = GraphiteReporter.forRegistry(registry)
        reporter.start(500, TimeUnit.MILLISECONDS);
        return reporter;

The result is quite interesting given the few lines of code: Note that going to Graphite using the JMX route makes things easier as there’s no need for a dedicated Graphite server in development environments.

Categories: Java Tags: , ,

Final release of Integration Testing from the Trenches

March 1st, 2015 3 comments
Writing a book is a journey. At the beginning of the journey, you mostly know where you want to go, but have only vague notion of the way to get there and the time it will take. I’ve finally released the paperback version of on Amazon and that means this specific journey is at end.

The book starts by a very generic discussion about testing and continues by defining Integration Testing in comparison to Unit Testing. The next chapter compares the respective merits of Junit and TestNG. It is followed by complete description on how to make a design testable: what works for Unit Testing works also for Integration Testing. Testing in software relies on automation, so that specific usage of the Maven build tool is described in regard to Integration Testing – as well as Gradle. Dependencies on external resources make integration tests more fragile so faking those make them more robust. Those resources include: databases, the file system, SOAP and REST web services, etc. The most important dependency in any application is the container. The last chapters are dedicated to the Spring framework, including Spring MVC and Java EE.

In this journey, I also dared ask Josh Long of Spring fame and Aslak Knutsen, team lead of the Arquillian project to write a foreword to the book – and I’ve been delighted to have them both answer positively. Thank you guys!

I’ve also talked on the subject at some JUG and European conferences: JavaDay Kiev, Joker, Agile Tour London, and JUG Lyon and will again at JavaLand, DevIt, TopConf Romania and GeeCon. I hope that by doing so, Integration Testing will be used more effectively on projects and with bigger ROI.

Should you want to go further, the book is available in multiple formats:

  1. A paperback version on for $49.99
  2. Electronic versions for Mac, Kindle and plain old PDF on . The pricing here is more open, starting from $21.10 with a suggested price of $31.65. Note you can get it in all formats to read on all your devices.

If you’re already a reader and you like it, please feel free to recommend it. If you don’t, I welcome your feedback in the comments section. Of course, if neither – I encourage you to get a book and see for yourself!

Work for a company not lead by finance

February 22nd, 2015 2 comments

Disclaimer: this post touches bits and pieces of finance, management and sociology for which I’m far from qualified. However, I’ve plenty of experience working in companies where they had big effects and I couldn’t resist drawing my own conclusions. I’ll happily listen to realistic solutions.

I’ve been working for more than a decade in the software industry, always as a consultant. Most of my employers were pure consulting companies, with only my latest employer being a software provider. During all these years, my customers were traditional companies in various sectors: banking, insurance, telco, public administration, retail, …

Though my work always revolved around software, in various positions, I couldn’t help notice that it could have been much easier if the context had been different. I’m not talking about personal disputes between two persons, or such trivial things, but about pervasive ideas that originate from very up above – most of the time outside the company, and permeate all hierarchy layers in a organised fashion: the closer to upper management, the stronger its presence.

On short-term objectives

Like it or not, most companies are on the stock exchange. Such companies have to legally publish their results on a quarterly basis. To simplify, the better the results, the higher the share value. This tends to promote objectives based on each quarter to increase the latter. This leads to short-term decisions to increase share value that have very definite consequences on the long-term.

Interestingly enough, the GAFA seem to have a whole another strategy, as they aim for the long-term. Google invests massively in bio-technology and self-driven cars, Amazon makes no benefits since its inception and Apple has a tradition of not being really interested in giving its money to shareholders. I guess despite those respective strategies, none of them could be viewed as unsuccessful.

On productivity

Part of our core values is about always doing “better”. This is of course felt in the private sector, but is also ingrained in us as individuals. I ran twice the half-marathon and the second time, I just had to run it faster than the first time. I didn’t think about it, it was just… expected. For vacations also, most of us want to spend better vacations than the year before, even though they might have been the best so far.

If it so in the personal sphere, what is it like in the professional one? Well, I guess anyone having ever worked knows about it. It’s all about defining metrics, measuring them, then finding ways to improve them in order to improve productivity. This is not bad per se, but there are definitely issues. IMHO, the greatest is the term “productivity” itself. I can understand it when applied to simple basic tasks, but I’ve never heard about judge or policeman productivity. People might comment that the productivity of public service cannot be easily evaluated. Perhaps, but what about the productivity of private jobs such as lawyers? Or engineers?

Trying to measure the productivity of developers is based on the the thinking that they have more in common with manual labourers than engineers.

On the nature of development

Though impossible to measure, different developers definitely have different productivity. For example, when one developer commits a compile error, it impacts the work of all other developers working on the same project. Thus, one developer can have a negative productivity, as it is the case with engineers and lawyers.

In order for one to understand that, one must probably have worked as engineers or with them. Thus, one could in the best of case understood the nature of development work, or in the worst, realized the difference in productivity of different people.

For people who never had a chance to get familiar with engineering work, all engineers are the same. The only difference then would be on the cost of each different one.

On quality

Continuous improvement goes through measurement. Measuring some metrics and not others have definite incidence on behaviour of professionals, as qualities not measured exist in neither retrospectives nor in annual reviews. Engineers pride themselves on delivering quality software. But what is quality? Regarding software, there are two facets of quality:

  • On one hand, external quality can be defined as the gap between implementation and specifications. The highest quality possible is when they are both fully aligned i.e. the software just reflects specifications
  • On the other hand, internal quality is defined as the relative cost to add new features. With the highest internal quality, the cost of adding new features is linear. With the lowest internal quality, the cost of adding new features is so high that it’s les expensive to rewrite the software from scratch.

Internal quality is pretty hard to measure (read, I don’t know about any) since it’s defined as a gap – between the current current cost and the “best” cost. To compute such quality, one would have to do 2 softwares… and it’s not something that is likely to happen. The logical conclusion to this inability is that internal quality is at best vaguely talked about – and at worst completely ignored, while measurable metrics such as costs and planning are focused upon. When any of those start to get threatened, then quality becomes the fifth wheel.

On individual objectives

The agreed upon way to improve – in general and specifically profits, is by defining objectives. Those objectives are agreed by C-levels which in turn dispatch more specifics objectives into their respective departments, and this goes down until the lowest levels of the organisational hierarchy. Management does like that because it acts upon an assumption: in this case, the assumption is that optimising every single place in the organisation will likely improve the organisation as a whole. Interesting, but completely wrong as only the simplest of systems work like this. Systems like human organisations are much more complex, so they have plenty of local optimums: optimising one area probably has negative effect in another.

In one of my previous job, managers/sales persons had no individual incentives. Their bonuses was solely based on the performance of the company as a whole. Some of you might wonder how it could possible. They might even be suspicious that they didn’t go that extra mile to get more money flowing in given there was no incentive. I cannot be the judge of that but what I know is that collaboration was very high and they achieved much in that regard. Besides, there was a very good work atmosphere and much less of the political games seen in traditionally-managed companies.

On Return Over Investment

As an engineer, I always expected a company and all its employees would try to to maximize the benefits of their investments. My experience has been completely different.

A colleague told me the following story: imagine a new bank coming on the market. For a limited time, they propose for every $20 bill you bring to exchange it for a $50 bill. As a company, what’s the budget you should allocate to such a project? $100, $1,000, 100k? The answer is quite easy: as many as you afford as the return over investment is very high, and probably higher than any other project running in the company.

Most companies official policy is to at least describe the expected benefits for a planned project and even better approximate a ROI. Most of the times, business want to push a project based on more or less imaginary assumptions, and the benefits/ROI paragraph is just a nicely wrapping of those.


In Software Development, many seemingly strange (i.e. stupid) decisions happening are the direct results of the conjunction of two or more of the previous points.

  • Outsourcing: those who take decisions to outsource have no clues about development, they think all developers have the same productivity and then why hire a local developer when you can have 3 remote ones for the same price? And of course, development is such a simple process that direct communication has no place in it.
  • No attention to quality: as productivity, when a property is hard to measure, it’s better forgotten. If you add to this the fact that project manager have individual objectives on the budget and the planning, it’s no mystery only engineers that pride themselves about their craft care about quality. Besides, lack of quality only shows in the long-term…
  • Death-march projects: no understanding of software development plus individual objectives

And this might goes on ad nauseam.

What I noticed however is that successful recent technology companies have completely different strategies. For sure, they fully understand software development but it’s not only that. They definitely have long-term plans. Proofs of that include amazon still making no benefits and Google investing in biotech. I’ve never heard any of them trying to measure productivity, but surely they know about differences in developers. They also care about quality… a lot, as they realize it’s an asset which maintenance costs are directly related to quality. Finally, they are not ruled by finance.

I don’t think it’s all about company politics as in the introducing cartoons, as I see everyday people who are genuinely interested in teamwork. However, I believe management focusing on short-term financial KPIs is a dead-end and companies blindly following those old ways are doomed to fail. I you happen to find different ones, I suggest you stick to them.

Avoid sequences of if…else statements

February 15th, 2015 8 comments

Adding a feature to legacy code while trying to improve it can be quite challenging, but also quite straightforward. Nothing angers me more (ok, I might be a little exaggerating) than stumbling upon such pattern:

public Foo getFoo(Bar bar) {
    if (bar instanceof BarA) {
        return new FooA();
    } else if (bar instanceof BarB) {
        return new FooB();
    } else if (bar instanceof BarC) {
        return new FooC();
    } else if (bar instanceof BarD) {
        return new FooD();
    throw new BarNotFoundException();

Apply Object-Oriented Programming

The first reflex when writing such thing – yes, please don’t wait for the poor guy coming after you to clean your mess, should be to ask yourself whether applying basic Object-Oriented Programming couldn’t help you. In this case, you would have multiple children classes of:

public interface FooBarFunction<T extends Bar, R extends Foo> extends Function<T, R>

For example:

public class FooBarAFunction implements FooBarFunction<BarA, FooA> {
    public FooA apply(BarA bar) {
        return new FooA();

Note: not enjoying the benefits of Java 8 is not reason not to use this: just create your own Function interface or use Guava’s.

Use a Map

I must admit that it not only scatters tightly related code in multiple files (this is Java…), it’s unfortunately not always possible to easily apply OOP. In that case, it’s quite easy to initialise a map that returns the correct type.

public class FooBarFunction {
    private static final Map<Class<Bar>, Foo> MAPPINGS = new HashMap<>();
    static {
        MAPPINGS.put(BarA.class, new FooA());
        MAPPINGS.put(BarB.class, new FooB());
        MAPPINGS.put(BarC.class, new FooC());
        MAPPINGS.put(BarD.class, new FooD());
    public Foo getFoo(Bar bar) {
        Foo foo = MAPPINGS.get(bar.getClass());
        if (foo == null) {
            throw new BarNotFoundException();
        return foo;

Note this is only a basic example, and users of Dependency Injection can easily pass the map in the object constructor instead.

More than a return

The previous Map trick works quite well with return statements but not with code snippets. In this case, you need to use the map to return an enum and associate it with a switchcase.

public class FooBarFunction {
    private enum BarEnum {
        A, B, C, D
    private static final Map<Class<Bar>, BarEnum> MAPPINGS = new HashMap<>();
    static {
        MAPPINGS.put(BarA.class, BarEnum.A);
        MAPPINGS.put(BarB.class, BarEnum.B);
        MAPPINGS.put(BarC.class, BarEnum.C);
        MAPPINGS.put(BarD.class, BarEnum.D);
    public Foo getFoo(Bar bar) {
        BarEnum barEnum = MAPPINGS.get(bar.getClass());
        switch(barEnum) {
            case BarEnum.A:
                // Do something;
            case BarEnum.B:
                // Do something;
            case BarEnum.C:
                // Do something;
            case BarEnum.D:
                // Do something;
                throw new BarNotFoundException();

Note that not only I believe that this code is more readable but it’s also a fact it has better performance and the switch is evaluated once as opposite to each ifelse being evaluated in sequence until it returns true.

Note it’s expected not to put the code directly in the statement but use dedicated method calls.


I hope that at this point, you’re convinced there are other ways than sequences of ifelse. The rest is in your hands.

Categories: Java Tags:

Show you blog some love

February 8th, 2015 No comments

Blogging is very interesting, but just as for cars, it’s (unfortunately) not only about driving the car, it’s also about its maintenance. As I believe there’s some worthy content inside, and I’ve reached +20k visits per month, I thought it would be time to add or complete some features.

Cookie authorization

Though “normal” blogging sites such as mine are probably below the radar of governments agencies, European laws mandate for sites to ask about users consent before storing cookies – even though no modern site cannot do without. As I use Google Analytics to keep track of visits, I prefer to try to be compliant… just in case. Google provides an out-of-the-box script for web masters with the relevant documentation. Two flavors are available, one pop-up and one bar. You can choose it by calling the relevant method.

Automated SEO

I thought I achieved some degree of SEO via the SEO Smart Links Wordpress plugin ages ago. In essence, I just installed the plugin, the configuration itself being very crude: you just had to edit the different files.

I recently stumbled upon another plugin that is much easier to configure, the WordPress SEO by Yoast. It provides a friendly user interface with which you can design the pattern of the SEO metadata e.g. blog name plus post title, the type of metadata – Facebook OpenGraph, Twitter Card and Google+. This can of course be overridden on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, it offers a preview of the snippet as it would be displayed on Google search page. There are also plenty of configuration settings I’ve yet to use (and understand).

Google Webmasters Tools

The preview provided by Yoast’s SEO is nice but doesn’t replace the real thing. Fortunately, Google offers a neat near-real preview page to test in real-time the final result of your changes (no caching involved). The greatest advantage of this preview feature is that you may add set an URL but also raw HTML code instead. This lets you check how Google parses the metadata of your unpublished pages.

For sake of completeness, there’s a similar tool provided by Yandex (the Google from Russia) that gives slightly different results. From my microscopic experience, Yandex is slower, but seems to less lenient and more importantly, provides solutions. For example, it tells me that the date value is not in the correct format (ISO 8601) and that I forgot the itemscope attribute at some point, which corrected the error I had on both Google and Yandex.

Both were very effective in pointing out one problem: it seems the post’s author linked to a URL that displayed the home page. Since it didn’t give out a 404, I had no hint about that. (I fixed that by a simple 301 Redirect)

Manual SEO

All this automated stuff is nice but somethings cannot just be automated. For example, I’d like my book Integration Testing from the Trenches to be referenced on the page with the right kind of information and this, I have to do by hand. I’ve searched for metadata frameworks and it seems there are two W3C standards, RDFa and Microdata and OpenGraph by Facebook. The latter seems to be quite crude, so I chose to use RDFa and Microdata. For example, for the page about my book, I use the Book schema and for the page introducing me, I use the Person schema.

Interestingly enough, the book is quite straightforward: either add the relevant itemscope, itemtype and typeof or itemprop and property attributes  to an existing tag or to a new span and you’re done. However, this is getting harder on the Me page; challenges include:

  • Referencing entities in other entities. For example, how to set the author of my listed presentations. This requires usage of itemref
  • Setting data that shouldn’t be displayed. This requires usage of the meta tag in the header.


In the end, I noticed the whole SEO thing is still very in its infancy. There are a lot of contradictory norms, standards and proprietary stuff around. The good thing, is that I think I achieved some things:

  • Google Search results display regular posts in a more detailed way
  • Google Search results also display manually referenced pages in a nicer way. You can have a look at the pre-parsing in their tool.
  • Google+ automatically use the correct data to preview the pages I intend to share
  • (As I have no Facebook account, I couldn’t check there)

On the other hand, I’ve checked other sites, and it seems they do only the automated kind of SEO, and not manual. I can only infer why: it’s going to cost you a lot of time. All what I did is probably not necessary, I could have used the Yoast plugin to only override the title, the description and the image. But as always, it made me learn stuff.

Categories: Technical Tags: ,

Developing around PlantUML

February 1st, 2015 1 comment

In Integration Testing from the Trenches, I made heavy use of UML diagrams. So far, I’ve tried and used many UML editors. I’ve used:

  • The one that came with NetBeans – past tense, they removed it
  • Microsoft Visio
  • Modelio – this might be one of the best
  • others that I don’t remember

I came to the following conclusion: most of the time (read all the time), I just need to document an API or what I want designed, and there’s no need to be compliant to the latest UML specs. Loose is good enough.

True UML editors don’t accept loose, it’s UML after all. UML drawings tools are just that – drawing tools, with a little layer above. All come with these problems:

  • They consume quite a lot of resources
  • They have their own dedicated file format from which you can generate the image

I’m interested in the image, but want to keep the file there just in case I need an update.


Then I came upon PlantUML and I rejoiced. PlantUML defines a simple text syntax from which it generates UML diagrams images. So far, I’ve known 3 ways to generate PlantUML diagrams:

  • The online form
  • The Confluence plugin
  • Installing the stuff on one’s machine

I’ve used the former 2, with a tendency toward the first, as Confluence requires you to save to generate the image. This is good for the initial definition. However, it’s more than a little boring when one has to go through all ~60 diagrams to update them with a higher resolution.

Thus, I decided to develop a batch around PlantUML that will perform the following steps:

  • Read PlantUML description files from a folder
  • Generate images from them through the online form
  • Save the generated images in a folder

The batch run can be configured to apply settings common to all description files. This batch should not only be useful, it should also teach me stuff and be fun to code (note that sometimes, those goals are opposite).

Overall architecture

I’m a Spring fanboy but I wanted the foundations to be completely free on any dependencies.

Overall architecture

  1. jplantuml-api: defines the very basic API. It contains only an Exception and the root interface, which extends Java 8’s Function. This way is not just hype, it let user classes compose functions together which is the highest possible composition potential I’ve seen so far in Java.
  2. jplantuml-online: uses the JSoup library to connect to the online server. Also implements reading from a text file and writing the result to an image file.
  3. jplantuml-batch: adapts everything into the Spring Batch model.

The power of Function

In Java 8, a Function is an interface that transforms an input of type I to an output of type O via its apply() method. But, with the power of Java 8’s default methods, it also provides the compose() and andThen() method implementations.

This enables chaining Function calls in a process pipeline. One can define a base JPLantUml implementation that applies a String to a byte array for a simple call, and a more complex one that does the same for a File (the description) and… a File (the resulting image). However, the latter just compose 3 functions:

  1. A file reader to read the description file content, from File to String
  2. The PlantUML call processor from String to byte[]
  3. A file writer to write the image file, from byte[] to File

And presto, we’ve got our functions composition. This fine-grained nature let us do some unit-testing of the reader and writer functions without requiring any complex mocking.


The result of this code is this Github project. It lets you use the following command-line:

java -jar ch.frankel.jplantuml.batch.Application globalParams="skinparam dpi 150; hide empty members"

This will read all PlantUML files from /tmp/in, apply the above parameters and generate the resulting image files in /tmp/out. The in/out folders can be set using standard  Spring Batch properties overriding.

Categories: Development Tags:

Entropy of code

January 25th, 2015 1 comment

So you were tasked to prepare your next software project. Already, its overall architecture is designed, you already put some code-related parts in place such as the build file, the packages, perhaps a sample use-case. Then after a few months, the project is finished, and the final result has largely diverged from what you imagined:inconsistent packages naming and organization, completely different low-level implementations e.g. XML dependency injection, auto-wiring and Java configuration, etc.

This is not only unsatisfying from a personal point-of-view, it also has a very negative impact on the maintenance of the application. How then could that happen? Here are some reasons I’ve witnessed first-hand.

New requirements

Your upfront architecture has been designed with a set of requirements in mind. Then, during the course of the project, some new requirements creep up. Reasons for this could be a bad business analysis, forgotten requirements or plain brand-new requirements from the business. Those new requirements just throw your architecture upside-down, and of course there’s no time for a global refactoring.

Unfinished refactoring

There comes a good idea: a refactoring that makes sense, because it would improve design, allow to remove code, whatever… Everything is nice and good until the planning changes, something takes priority and the refactoring has be stopped. Now, some parts of the application are refactored and others still use the old design.

New team member(s)

Everything is going fine but development is lagging a little behind, so the higher-ups decide to bring one or some more team members (based on the widespread but wrong assumption that if a woman gives birth to a child in 9 months, 9 women will take only month to do the same). Anyhow, there is no time for the current team to brief the newcomer about design details and existing practices, and he has to develop a user-story right now. So he does as he know how to do it since he has no time to get how things are done on the project.

Cowboy mentality

Whatever the team, probabilities are there’s always a team member who’s not happy with the current design. Possible reasons include:

  • the current design being really less than optimal
  • the cowboy wants to prove himself and the others
  • he just wants to keep control on everything

In all cases, parts of the application will definitely hold his mark. In the best of situations, it can lead to a global refactoring… which has very high chances of never being finished – as described above.

Mismatching technology

Let’s face it, there are plenty of technologies, languages and frameworks around here to help us create applications. When the right combination is made, they can definitely decrease development and maintenance costs; when not… This point especially highlights the 80/20 rule when the technology makes the development of 80% of the application a breeze, while requiring to focus on the remaining 20%.

Changing situations such as New requirements above are particularly bad since a technology well adapted to a specific set of requirements would be wrong if some new one creeps in.

Also, along with the Cowboy mentality above, you can end up with the Golden Hammer of the said cowboy into your application, despite it being completely unadapted to requirements. Another twist is for the Cowboy to try the latest hype framework he never could before e.g. force Node.js to your Java development team.

The myth of self-emerging design

I guess the most important reason for incoherent design in applications is the most pervasive one. Some time ago, a dedicated architect (or team for big applications) designed the application upfront. He probably was senior, and as such didn’t do any coding anymore, so he was very far from real-life and the development team a) bitched about the design b) did as they want anyway. This is what is well-know about the Ivory Tower architect effect. This was the previous situation at one end, but the current situation at the other opposite end is not better.

With books like The Cathedral and the Bazaar, people think upfront design is wrong and that the right design will somehow reveal itself magically. My previous experiences taught me it unfortunately doesn’t work like that: teams just don’t naturally come up with one design. Such teams probably exist, but it takes a rare combination of technological skills, soft skills – among them communication, and chance to assemble them. Most of real life projects will end up like the Frankenstein monster without a kind of central direction.


In order for maintenance costs to be as close as possible to linear, design must be consistent throughout the application. There are many reasons for an application to be heterogeneous: technological, organizational, human, you name it.

Among them, making the assumption that design is self-emerging is a sure way to end up with ugly hybrid beasts. In order to cope with that, balancing the scales again toward the center by making again one (or more) development team member responsible for the design and empowering him to enforce decisions is a way to improve consistency. Worst case scenario, the design won’t be optimal but it will be consistent at least.

Save yourself sweat, toil and tears: the latest meme is not always good for you, your projects and your organization. In this case, having some sort of hierarchy into development teams is not a bad thing per se.



Categories: Development Tags: