The Podcasts I Listen To

  • Sep 22, 2015

Over the years, I've accumulated a stable of podcasts I listen to, mostly tech-related (and then mostly Apple-related), and I realized that this may be a handy list for anyone looking to pick up some new listening material. I've uploaded the full list here, but here are some of the highlights:

  1. Accidental Tech Podcast - This show is hosted by John Siracusa (of OS X review fame), Marco Arment (of Overcast and Peace fame), and Casey Liss (of, now, ATP fame). It's almost all about technology, primarily Apple, with minor divergences into other topics.
  2. Hypercritical - This show ended several years ago, but is worth going back to if you have the time; it's John Siracusa's original podcast.
  3. Reconcilable Differences - Rounding out the Siracusa top-heaviness of my list, this podcast is less about tech and more about growing up and outlooks on life.
  4. Roundtable Podcast - This one not only doesn't involve John Siracusa, but also isn't about programming. Instead, it's about video games, hosted by a couple people I watch on YouTube and Twitch, and with a slant towards indie games.
  5. The Talk Show - Back to form, this is John Gruber's Apple-tech-heavy show, which is a great companion if you follow Daring Fireball.
  6. Random Trek - A podcast about a random episode of a Star Trek series each week. That description should tell you quickly whether or not you'd like it.
  7. Debug - This is something of a long-form conversation/interview show with a tech personality or two each episode. The episodes with Don Melton and Nitin Ganatra are particularly good.
  8. The Incomparable - This one covers geeky culture stuff generally: TV, movies, books, and so forth. I only listen to the episodes where they're talking about something I know, but those episodes are always worth listening to.
  9. Developing Perspective - This is a 15-minute-an-episode podcast about being an iOS developer, and is a great window into that world.
  10. Quit - This is about improving your career, including the potential benefits and perils of quitting a steady-but-crummy job for something else, and is often quite entertaining to boot.

There are a number of other good ones on my list that I didn't cover, but I didn't want to make the "highlights" summary TOO crazy. If you're interested in getting up to speed with the Apple world in particular, you can't go wrong with either ATP or The Talk Show.

Seriously, Though: Reverse Proxies

  • Sep 16, 2015

So, Domino administrators: what are your feelings about SSL lately? Do they include, perhaps, stress? It's "oh crap, my servers are broken" season again, and this time the culprit is a change in Apple's operating systems. Fortunately, in this case, the problem isn't as severe as an outright security vulnerability like POODLE and, better still, there is a definitive statement from IBM indicating that they are going to bring their security stack up to snuff almost in time.

But this isn't the first time we've been in this position, nor will it be the last. The focus on cracking and hardening TLS, particularly in the context of HTTPS, is not going to let up any time soon, nor will the basic movement towards encryption everywhere. So I would like to reiterate my stance: Domino is not suitable for direct external exposure via HTTP. The other protocols are problematic as well, but HTTP is the big one and, fortunately, the easiest to solve.

Whenever I've made this exhortation, part of the response I get is that administrators "should not" have to take this step. That Domino should be fully modern in its security stack or, at least, that IBM should handle this problem for them in one way or another. Or that one of Domino's traditional strengths is its all-on-one nature, with a single easy installation that takes care of everything, and that installing a separate web server is a complicated step that administrators shouldn't have to take.

Well... tough.

The promise of an integrated server system that took care of everything is a great promise, but it's always been extremely difficult to achieve, even for a platform firing on all cylinders. No matter the ideal, Domino does not perform at this level, and I still maintain that it should not need to. Outside of Domino and PHP, the application server is not generally expected to also be a full-fledged front-end web server, for exactly this sort of reason. Domino's job with respect to the web is to generate and serve up HTML, JSON, and other content; it's something else's job to make sure that that leaves your company's network securely.

If you still maintain that this should be Domino's job due to how much you pay for licensing, then that's a conversation between you and your IBM sales rep. I, though, am entirely fine with a paid-for app server not covering this ground, and that's in large part because the products that do perform this task are superb and often open-source.

These other products – nginx, Apache, HAProxy, and so forth – are made for this job. This flurry of SSL/TLS features and bugs you've been hearing about? These are all implemented or fixed in dedicated products, sometimes years before they come to your attention. And when new problems crop up, they're fixed and talked about immediately across the web, with guides for what to do appearing as soon as the problem arises.

Is it easier to continue using Domino HTTP directly than to set up a reverse proxy? Sure! Well, sort of, when there's not an active disaster to mitigate. And, much like how keeping an XPages (or other web) app up to spec and working on all target devices is more complicated than a legacy Notes app, sometimes that's just how the world goes. Deciding that it's complexity you don't want, or that your company's policy doesn't allow for an additional server, is not a tenable stance. Unless you're Apple, your company's policy will not bend the arc of the industry.

So, I implore you, at least give this kind of setup a real look and a trial run. I think you'll find that the basic setup is not dramatically more complicated than just Domino alone and will also open the door to new non-security features like improving page load speeds on the fly. If you want, with eyes open, to maintain an externally-facing Domino HTTP stack, that's fine, but I'll see you when the next security apocalypse comes around.

XPages Devs: Enable "Refresh entire application when design changes"

  • Sep 14, 2015

When developing an XPages application of beyond-minimal complexity, you're likely to run into a problem where your app starts saying that a class is incompatible with itself in one way or another. The exception usually traces down to something like "foo.SomeClass is incompatible with foo.SomeClass" or "cannot assign instance of foo.SomeClass to field X..." where the field is that same class. This has cropped up since time immemorial.

It's actually, though, something that IBM sort-of fixed in 8.5.3 by adding an xsp.properties option of xsp.application.forcefullrefresh=true and then, in 9.0, a GUI option in Xsp Properties:

Basically, this checkbox amounts to "don't break my app periodically". From what I gather, the default behavior is in the interest of being clever with classloaders, but can lead to creeping problems in complicated apps, to the point where changing seemingly-innocuous things like the ACL breaks the app until you restart HTTP or "kick" the app by modifying certain design elements (namely, Java classes or faces-config.xml). Since that behavior is never desired, there is no reason to not check this box, and I enable it on every new NSF I create.

Dealing with OSGi Fragments in Tycho and Designer

  • Sep 11, 2015

This post is partly to spread information publicly and partly a useful note to my future self for the next time I run into this trouble.

In OGSi, the primary type of entity you're dealing with is a "Bundle" or "Plug-in" (the two terms are effectively the same for our needs). However, there's a sort of specialized type that you may run into called a "Fragment". They're similar to a plug-in in that they're a contained unit of Java code and resources, but they have the special property that they're attached to another plug-in and automatically come along for the ride when the main plug-in is used. This is useful in a couple situations, such as code organization, serving platform-specialized native libraries, after-the-fact additions, or providing library dependencies.

In the basic case, the only requirement is to specify in the fragment what the "parent" plug-in is (Eclipse provides a field for this in its editor) and then including the fragment in the installable feature alongside the plug-in. However, there are a few situations where a bit more work is required if you want to access the classes in the fragment: when used as part of a Tycho build and when used as an XSP Library in Designer (which may also apply to Eclipse dependency use generally).

Tycho

When doing a full Tycho build, even if both the plug-in and its fragment(s) are part of the current build, another project won't automatically include the fragment when doing the compilation. This can lead to a situation where the projects will compile cleanly in Eclipse (which handles the fragment attachment) but fail in Tycho. The trick, though small, is non-obvious: you have to tell the project that is using the fragment code about the fragment in its build.properties.

So say you have three projects: the main plug-in (some.main.plugin), a fragment attached to it (some.main.plugin.fragment), and the project consuming them (some.dependent.plugin). The normal first step is to include the main plug-in in the dependent plug-in's MANIFEST.MF as usual:

Require-Bundle: some.main.plugin

In Eclipse, this will suffice: both the main plug-in and its fragment will show up in the "Plug-in Dependencies" library. For Tycho, though, you have to tip it off using a line like this in build.properties:

extra.. = platform:/fragment/some.main.plugin.fragment

Think of this as saying "hey, dummy, don't forget about the fragment". Once you have that line, the Tycho-enabled Maven build should be able to resolve the fragment's classes and all will be well.

Designer

When using the plug-in and its fragment in an XSP Library in Designer, there's a similar-seeming problem: though Designer will include any direct dependencies of your Library plug-in in the class path, it won't pick up on any fragments by default (though it seems that Domino does). The trick here is that the primary plug-in has to tell Designer that it accepts fragments, which is done by setting Eclipse-ExtensibleAPI in the MANIFEST.MF file for some.main.plugin, like so:

Eclipse-ExtensibleAPI: true

Once that's in place, the fragment should start showing up in your NSF's classpath when the library is enabled.