So Here's Why I Hate LotusScript

  • Oct 29, 2011

For the most part, writing agents in LotusScript is the best way to go (at least when it can't be done in formula language), mostly for smoothness of interaction with the built-in libraries (no .recycle()) and because it's less prone to running into memory problems when other agents go wonky than Java agents are. That doesn't mean I have to like it, though.

If there's one thing that drives me nuts about LotusScript more than any other aspect, it's its handling of arrays. This came to the fore with one of my recent projects, which involves spitting out the contents of a view, which in turn entails lots of use of entry.ColumnValues. My first, quick-and-dirty draft ran into an early performance issue, which is that every call of .ColumnValues on a NotesViewEntry seems to be as expensive as the first, meaning that the class doesn't do any internal cacheing and has to re-fetch it every time. Ugh, fine - I'll just assign the value to a new variable at the start:

Dim colValues as Variant colValues = entry.ColumnValues

Not too bad - two extra lines at the start of a loop is a small price to pay for a significant speed improvement. Unfortunately, it doesn't work - it throws a Type Mismatch error at runtime. After doing a TypeName() on entry.ColumnValues, I saw that it considers it "VARIANT( )", an array of Variants, which makes sense. It's a bit weird, since I've stored arrays in Variants before, but whatever - with a quick code adjustment, we're off to the races:

Dim colValues() as Variant colValues = entry.ColumnValues

Great! Now hit Ctrl-S and... compiler error. You're not allowed to assign to the entirety of an array like that. Argh! So I guess I'm going to have to make my new array manually and loop through the original to copy each entry over individually. If you're familiar with another scripting language, that probably sounds like a simple task, but LotusScript's array annoyances continue. Because this is like BASIC, you can't just do "colValues.add(something)" - you have to ReDim the array to the right size. Here's the code I ended up with:

Dim columnValues() As Variant ReDim columnValues(-1 To -1) ForAll columnValue In entry.ColumnValues If UBound(columnValues) = -1 Then ReDim columnValues(0 To 0) Else ReDim Preserve columnValues(0 To UBound(columnValues)+1) End If columnValues(UBound(columnValues)) = columnValue End ForAll

Before you look at that "-1 to -1" crap and deem me insane, hear me out. Though the NotesViewEntry doesn't cache its property value, the ForAll loop does, meaning that, according to the profiler, ColumnValues is only called once for each view entry, which is about as efficient as it gets. All that extra crap about ReDim'ing the array over and over instead of just once is essentially "free" compared to the expense of the product object call, so it ends up being completely worth it.

Sync

  • Oct 25, 2011

So there's a new round of talk lately about syncing and the trouble involved, thanks to some changes in Google Reader's behavior and the desire to find a new safe haven for RSS syncing. The best example is, unsurprisingly, from Brent Simmons:

Google Reader and Mac/iOS RSS readers that sync

However, the whole time I was reading this article, my brain kept yelling at me, louder and louder as time passed:

This is Lotus Notes! The system you're describing is Lotus Notes! It does syncing and deletion stubs and read marks! IT'S LOTUS NOTES!

This kind of thing would indeed be really easy in Notes/Domino, particularly if you were actually using the Notes client (though it wouldn't be much to look at). Subsets of data, managing deleted elements, timed refreshes from the source, storing each feed entry as its own entity, and offline access that can have its changed synced back to the master are all things that Notes has done since its conception - the only problem is that it's so ugly and arcane that mass-market appeal is nigh-impossible.

Nonetheless, it got me thinking about the viability of using Domino as a syncing server for this. You wouldn't be able to use NSF files in your RSS clients, which would make the job a bit tougher, but the new "XWork" licensing model would fit into this nicely. Scalability would be a serious concern, but the simple nature of the data would keep view updates quick, and it'd just be a bit of cleverness in the database layout to direct users to the correct place. Toss a couple clustered servers in there and you should have some good load balancing, too. The Domino Data Services API might be enough to handle data access from the client, but, if it's not, a couple simple agents would do it.

I'm sort of tempted to try hashing something out.

The Domino Data Service

  • Oct 5, 2011

Though I don't have a use for it currently, I can't help but get kind of excited about the Domino Data Services in 8.5.3 and the Extension Library. If you're writing a normal Domino application - using either legacy elements or XPages - you probably won't have terribly much use for it.

However, the really cool aspect of it is that it significantly smooths the process of using Domino as a backing data store for another front end written in PHP, Ruby, or anything else. This has always been sort of possible - you could use the Java API or a combination of ?ReadViewEntries, ?CreateDocument, and ?SaveDocument URL commands to access Domino data without actually being in Domino, but it wasn't exactly a smooth process. With the Data Services, now Domino is very similar to, say, CouchDB, but with reader fields and impenetrable licensing terms for non-vendors.

One nice little side effect of the fact that it uses the HTTP stack is that DSAPI modules work. When I was testing around, I was able to get a list of available forums as Anonymous, resulting in only the two visible ones. When I included my user authentication filter cookie, it started showing me the rest of the forums that the user could access, exactly like you'd want. While you could presumably just pass the username and password in each request using normal HTTP authentication, it's pretty cool that any alternate methods like this work as well.

It's all pretty exciting, and I'm itching to find a use for it.

My next two favorite features of 8.5.3

  • Oct 5, 2011

Since 8.5.3 has been out for about 24 hours now, I naturally rolled it out on both my development and production servers. Fortunately, my irresponsibility was greatly rewarded: the largest problems I've had so far were a change in the way Java classes are accessed in JavaScript (I could no longer just call methods on non-public classes defined in the same file as a public one, so I had to split them out into their own files... which is what you're supposed to do anyway) and a minor CSS change where the top borders of my Dojo tabbed tables are now back to a light grey color, so I need to find the new CSS rule to change them back to brown.

I'm rather happy so far about two minor things in particular: CSS/JavaScript aggregation and OSGi auto-loading.

The CSS/JavaScript aggregation is almost a freebie: once you have Designer 8.5.3, you get a new option in the database properties sheet to turn this on and then 8.5.3 servers will happily obey it. I immediately noticed a decent load-speed increase of about 1/3 and one non-technical guild member said that the odd problem of dog-slowness that they (and not other people) had has been fixed. My favorite aspect of this is that it's a smart feature: due to the way you define Dojo modules in an XPage as <xp:dojoModule/> elements and not just text on a page like normal HTML, Domino knows ahead of time what you're using and can thus feel free to optimize it in transparent ways like this. It feels good seeing the same code go from one form to a more efficient one just by virtue of done the "right thing" when writing it to begin with.

The OSGi plugin auto-loading was mentioned briefly on Dec's Dom Blog back in June and I hadn't seen much reference to it since, so I was afraid it wouldn't necessarily make it in. Fortunately, it has: I created a new Update Site with the template from an 8.5.3 server, imported the latest Extension Library, ran the "Sign All" agent, and set the notes.ini parameter to look there. And lo and behold: it properly loads up the extensions from the NSF, so I was finally able to delete the filesystem versions that were previously necessary. This makes managing the Extension Library much smoother and it's one less potential gotcha when I upgrade my dev server first and then want to deploy it - since the Update Site has a replica on both servers, the upgrade is handled with the normal replication process and I don't have to remember to copy any files over from server to server. And the fact that it's an NSF theoretically gives you all kinds of other, more complicated deployment options, like server-based Reader field control or partial replication to control which servers see which plugins if you're so inclined. Very cool - I approve, IBM.