In Between My Project and XPages

  • Mar 15, 2012

Despite my grousing about the state of programming for Domino in general and Designer in particular, I'm still mostly a fan of XPages. I use it for my guild's web site and pretty much every new project at work. However, I haven't been able to crack migrating my main work database template over.

Without getting too much into it, the point of the template is to create one database per project to act as a project web site listing online events with arbitrary registration forms and exit evaluations (among other things). Except for custom changes, everything is done via the normal Notes client, not Designer - pages exist as documents with a Body rich text field and associated data and register forms/exit evals, crucially, contain a set of response documents describing their fields. It's important to keep everything as visual as possible, because the users (the people at my company that set up these web sites) are not programmers.

I scrupulously try to avoid modifying the design of the database, so I go out of my way to do custom work via the existing mechanisms as much as possible, and I make pretty good use of rich-text-isms like embedded views, tabbed/computed tables, attachments, buttons, and computed text. In the case of the generated forms, fields can be placed either automatically (with a surrounding template of HTML per-field) or directly into the rich text body via <%FieldName%> placeholders (creating an experience like form design in Designer). Additionally, I have "WebQueryOpen" and "WebQuerySave" fields in the documents for formulas that I pass on into @Eval() in the equivalent places in the actual forms; most of the time, I use these for running agents.

Computed Text

Of the various potential show-stoppers, I think computed text fares the best. For one, it mostly worked - the computed formulas are indeed evaluated and the result is put into place correctly. However, they don't have the same environment you get with the "classic" design elements. The big one that I ran into immediately was @UrlQueryString(...) - it appears that the rich text renderer doesn't inform the rich text about its web environment completely. Prior to 8.5.3, "Display XPage instead" pages didn't know about the real URL, so they couldn't get query parameters at all, but 8.5.3 appears to pass that information along properly. So that means it MIGHT be fixable, if I find a way to properly set fields in the document before the rich text is rendered, so I can set QUERY_STRING - if I can do that, either @UrlQueryString(...) will work or I can manually parse the string as needed.

Embedded Views

They work! ...ish. It looks like icon columns get their URLs a bit messed up, but I can't think of a time when I actually used them, particularly in a situation where I couldn't just write out the URL myself.

Tabbed/Computed Tables

From a cursory glance, I think I'd be SOL when it comes to these. Tabbed tables render flattened out and computed tables don't seem to work. The former can be improved on easily with Dojo, but the latter would mean replacing server-side business logic with client-side JavaScript, which would lead to headaches.

Attachments

These show up as "(See attached file: foo.jpg)". So... not functional. I might be able to fix it by using a filter on the text to replace the HTML with a link to the document, but I don't know if I could get the attachment image properly. Attachment images aren't amazing, but sometimes they do the job.

Buttons

Nope.

WebQueryOpen/WebQuerySave

In some cases, I could run the formulas through session.evaluate(), though I'm not even sure queryOpenDocument/postOpenDocument let me hook into the right spots (sometimes I set fields on document open). I don't think that would run agents, though, so I'd be stuck trying to parse out the text to look for @Command([ToolsRunMacro]; "...").

User-generated Forms

This is the toughest one. I've given this thought a number of times, and I can't think of a great solution. I can't just re-use the subforms I have already, I don't think I can generate and import an XPage via DXL (though I haven't given that a significant shot), and I can't just do a <xp:repeat/> to create all the fields, since some are in the body area. The main routes I can think of to try are a) arranging the fields on the page after the fact via JavaScript and b) generating the page components on the fly with Java or Server JavaScript. I'll probably give the latter a shot eventually, but I expect it to be a bag of hurt.

 

It's a lot of hurdles! I'd love to switch over to XPages, particularly since, for everything that's more difficult than using classic elements, there are 10 things that are way easier. It'd just be quite an investment of time to merely get up to par with the functionality I already have, if it's even possible in all cases.

Basic Eclipse Plugin Installation in Designer

  • Mar 15, 2012

Since Domino Designer is based on Eclipse, one of the nifty advantages is that you can use some of the same plugins as vanilla Eclipse. That "some of" is a big caveat, since Designer's base isn't the latest Eclipse, so some plugins won't install, won't work, or will even cause Designer to stop launching until you manually remove them. So... proceed with caution.

The first thing you have to do is to enable Eclipse plug-in installation, which is something you've likely done if you've installed the Extension Library. You used to have to go into your workspace directory and edit a config file to enable it, but 8.5.3 made it much easier. There's now a simple checkbox in the "Domino Designer" section of Designer's preferences (the fuzzy fonts come from my fiddling with GDI++ in my VM):

Once that's enabled, you can go to File -> Application -> Install. On the resultant dialog, pick "Search for new features to install" and click Next. What you do next depends on whether your plugin is an update site you downloaded (like the Extension Library) or one that's hosted (as it seems most Eclipse plugins are). Since the one in question is Eclipse Color Themes, you can click "Add Remote Location...", enter in a Name of your choosing, and enter "http://eclipse-color-theme.github.com/update" as the URL:

After that, you can click "Next", check the boxes for the plugin you want, and "Next"/"Finish"/"Yes" your way through however many prompts it gives you before it's done. Then, after a possibly-necessary restart of Designer, you'll be able to find the configuration in the preferences:

Quality of Life: Eclipse Color Themes

  • Mar 10, 2012

Well, this is a nice quality-of-life improvement: the plugin Eclipse Color Themes, which (so far) works just fine in Designer (8.5.3). Having to go through every single editor type and manually pick each color for each code element every time I wanted to change a color theme was always a huge annoyance, particularly compared to other editors. Fortunately, that plugin handles it pretty well, though it unsurprisingly doesn't support LotusScript, so that's still manual. I installed it without problem, found its settings in General\Appearance\Color Themes, installed a port of my preferred theme, and saved myself tons of hassle.

How I Want To Use Domino

  • Mar 7, 2012

From my perspective, there are three main problems with Domino: the limits, the client, and the server. Now, that's a lot of stuff... most of the product, in fact. However, the facts that I'm still programming for it and that my company's 16GB project-tracking database is as snappy as it was when it was empty attest to the core quality of the product. Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of things that make Domino salvageable:

  • Reader fields. These are hard to beat and hard to find elsewhere. While you can do everything without them that you can do with them, you'd likely spend a lot of time worrying about edge cases or limiting yourself to coarse security. If a user doesn't have Reader access to a document, it doesn't exist (well, except for some shadows in view indexes).
  • Solid, straightforward directory integration. Going along with reader fields, it's very helpful that the directory system is part of the overall product and works well enough with LDAP that you don't have to worry too much about it. User names, group memberships, and roles all make sense.
  • Full-text searching. It works and it's quick.
  • View indexing, more or less. As long as you don't rock the boat too much and don't think about what you used to do with SQL tables and views, Domino does a fine job of maintaining views for you.
  • File attachments. They work well and can even be full-text searched if they're the right type.
  • ID files. I used to hate these, and they're often more hassle than they're worth (as my C API programming is demonstrating), but they have some distinct advantages. If you squint, you can see them as really long password that may themselves have another level of password. They're also essentially the same concept as SSH keys. They also tie into handy encryption and certificate abilities that I don't usually have much use for.
  • Potential capability as a blob store. I saw a great post a while ago talking about the ability to just cram arbitrary data into a Domino document, and I think this is a very valuable line of thinking. If your data fits into the model of "a couple queryable bits and then a block of arbitrary data" or the "upside-down" method of memory-storage-first from the post, such a setup could work extraordinarily well.
  • Replication and clustering. Sync is not hard... unless you let your deletion stubs expire.
  • Agents, more or less. The language choices and lack of immediacy make agents kind of a pain sometimes, but it's still handy to have code directly associated with the database with schedule and event triggers.
  • Read marks. It's nice to have the option to let the server handle this for you when it fits your needs.

That's on top of the various benefits you get from document databases generally, like multi-value fields and the lack of schemas. Note, though, that none of these are (directly) related to Domino's chops as a mail platform, web server, or GUI app environment, its choice in programming languages, the value of its standard array of templates (though they can be handy), or pretty much any virtue extolled by its marketing materials. The guy writing on the invisible whiteboard on IBM's page doesn't care about reader fields or blob storage.

Though most of my Domino work is for the web and XPages are a better way to do that than the legacy elements, it's still a drag. Java as a language is a hassle (the platform has its charms), Server JavaScript isn't a full replacement in the way that Groovy and JRuby can be, and working on top of a giant Jenga tower of Java classes and abstractions can be hazardous to your health.

I really just want to treat Domino like MongoDB, CouchDB/Couchbase, and the rest: an environment-independent document database. This is probably not worth the effort, particularly since IBM seems passively hostile to the notion, but I find it to be a compelling idea. It doesn't have to fit into, say, Rails, but grinding Domino down to its solid NoSQL core could open up a lot of possibilities.