• Jul 18, 2018

A good while back, I created a project structure for reforming my blog here in Darwino, but, as happens with low-priority side projects, it withered on the vine, untouched since then. Beyond just the "cobbler's children" aspect to it, I also lost steam due to a couple technology paths I initially headed down.

The first was basing the UI on Angular, which I've never really enjoyed working with. I'm sure I could have ended up with a decent result with it, but Angular always rubbed me the wrong way. And not just Angular: for a dead-simple UI like this, a full JS UI is just weird overkill.

The second was off in the other direction: I initially tried cramming a Rails app in the tree, which could be made to work, but it introduced so many weird edge cases outside of the problem at hand. That alone isn't the end of the world, but not much of what I'd have to solve to make that work would be transferrable elsewhere any time soon, so it'd end up a real time sink.

So, taking what I've learned since and the projects that I've been working on, I've decided to take another swing at it. Before I get into the implementation side, it will be useful to go over the technologies I did choose for the new form.

Java/Jakarta EE

I've recently become kind of enamored with the modern form of the Jakarta EE stack, and so I decided to use this as an opportunity to really dive in to what a blue-ocean small by-the-books Java app looks like nowadays.

JEE got a well-deserved bad rap over the years for its configuration complexity and general impenetrable-ness, but I've been very pleased to find that those tides have largely receded. It's all still there if you want it, but a fresh new app primarily consists of decorating a handful of Java classes with declarative annotations.

JEE consists of a series of individual specs, and building an app involves choosing which ones you want to use, plus (depending on which you choose) picking your app server target.

Tomcat

I originally gave a shot to adding enough OSGi metadata and bundles to target Domino, but decided quickly that it was just not worth it. The HTTP/servlet stack in Domino is just so old that, even if I got everything bound together, I'd still be fighting the platform every step of the way.

The better route was to put it aside and just run a modern Java app server. I went down the list of GlassFish, Payara, WebSphere Liberty (the nearest miss), TomEE, and WildFly, but each one ended up having some problem with either the dependencies I wanted or with their Eclipse integration. I ended up settling on good ol' reliable Tomcat. Tomcat itself isn't actually a JEE server, but it's kind of like a Raspberry Pi: it gives you the baseline for a Java servlet engine, and then you can cobble together your own EE stack on top of it by explicitly bringing in implementations. Though the final .war file is far less svelte this way, I found that this build-your-own method results in the lowest chance of being held back by the platform currently.

As an aside, Sven Hasselbach has been writing a very interesting series on running Jetty on top of the Domino JVM to achieve a similar end, albeit with Spring.

Darwino

For all the same reasons as when I set out on this journey originally, I'm using Darwino for the baseline. This lets me replicate in my existing blog data smoothly while getting the advantages of a superior backing database. I'm not making use of mobile clients or most Darwino services with this, but the baseline is nonetheless a step up, and fits in with a JEE app like a glove.

JNoSQL

I brought in the JNoSQL Darwino driver I wrote a little while ago to handle the model layer. JNoSQL is essentially JPA but reformed for NoSQL access - no cruft, no relational/NoSQL impedence mismatch, and designed to fit with current JEE technologies.

CDI

CDI is one such technology, and it's a very interesting one to work with. The whole "dependency injection" realm is a little fraught and, if my Eclipse UI error reporter is any indication, prone to bizarre errors, but the core concept is good and very useful. I've gotten it into the swing of using it both as the "managed bean" provider for the front end as well as the general service provider glue for the app. It still takes some getting used to, and the learning curve falls prey to a similar problem as when I was learning Maven: something about learning how it works makes you forget what it was like to not know, and so a lot of the answers online assume way more knowledge than a neophyte has.

Bean Validation

I've long been a fan of the Java bean validation API, and it's a clean fit here too: JNoSQL picks up on the presence of Hibernate Validator without configuration beyond the dependency and it just works. No muss, no fuss.

JAX-RS + MVC Spec

JAX-RS is at this point familiar territory for a lot of Domino developers, but I decided to use it as the underpinnings of the whole UI, in tandem with a draft framework called MVC 1.0. The latter's generic name doesn't really give much detail, but it's essentially a spec that enhances JAX-RS entities with knowledge of HTML templating frameworks, allowing you to write a very clear app structure. It's not a server-state-based framework like JSF, but rather a bit "closer to the metal", where you deal directly with the HTTP method cycle.

As I'll go more into in the "UI" post, it's been surprisingly refreshing to get back to basics in this way - JSF/XPages is often a bit conceptually easier to work with (at first) and client-side JS frameworks have some REST+JSON purity to them, but just "this server-rendered HTML page with no server state is everything you need" feels really good sometimes.

Admittedly, the MVC spec itself is in a weird place. It was originally a candidate for inclusion in Java EE 8, but was dropped in the final runup. It's possible that this will prove to be a kiss of death, but the spec is so small but functional that I don't feel bad about taking the risk of building an app on it.


That about covers the technology stack. When I get around to writing the next post, I'll go into some of the specifics about how I decided to set up the UI, which has been a fun experiment of its own. In the mean time, the active repository is up at:

https://github.com/jesse-gallagher/frostillic.us-Blog/tree/develop/frostillicus-blog

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