Lessons From Fiddling With RunJava

Mar 3, 2020 9:49 AM

Tags: java websphere

The other day, Paul Withers wrote a blog post about RunJava, which is a very-old and very-undocumented mechanism for running arbitrary Java tasks in a manner similar to a C-based addin. I had vaguely known this was there for a long time, but for some reason I had never looked into it. So, for both my sake and general knowledge, I'll frame it in a time line.

History

I'm guessing that RunJava was added in the R5 era, presumably to allow IBM to use existing Java code or programmers for writing server addins (with ISpy being the main known one), and possibly as a side effect of the early push for "Java everywhere" in Domino that fell prey to strategy tax.

Years later, David Taib made the JAVADDIN project as a "grown up" version of this sort of thing, bringing the structure of OSGi to the idea. Eventually, that morphed into DOTS, which became more-or-less supported in the "Social Edition" days before meeting a quiet death in Domino 11.

The main distinction between RunJava and DOTS (other than RunJava still shipping with Domino) is the thickness of the layer above C. DOTS loads an Equinox OSGi runtime very similar to the XPages environment, bringing in all of the framework support and dependencies, as well as services of its own for scheduled task and other options. RunJava, on the other hand, is an extremely-thin layer over what writing an addin in C is like: you use the public static void main structure from runnable Java classes and you're given a runNotes method that are directly equivalent to the main and AddinMain function used by C/C++ addins.

Utility

Reading back up on RunJava got my brain ticking, and it primarily made me realize that this could be a perfect fit for the Open Liberty Runtime project. That project uses the XPages runtime's HttpService class to load immediately at HTTP start and remain resident for the duration of the lifecycle, but it's really a parasite: other than an authentication-helper servlet, the fact that it's running in nHTTP is just because that's the easiest way to run complicated, long-running Java code. For a while, I considered DOTS for this task, but it was never a high priority and has aged out of usefulness.

So I decided to roll up my sleeves and give RunJava a shot. Fortunately, I was pretty well-prepared: I've been doing a lot of C-level stuff lately, so the concepts and functions are familiar. The main run loop uses a message queue, for which Notes.jar provides an extremely-thin wrapper in the form of lotus.notes.internal.MessageQueue. And, as Paul reminded me, I had actually done basically this same thing before, years ago, when I wrote a RunJava addin to maintain a Minecraft server alongside Domino. I'd forgotten about that thing.

Lessons

Getting to the thrust of this post, I think it's worth sharing some of the steps I took and lessons I learned writing this, since RunJava is in a lot of ways much more hostile a place for code than the cozy embrace of Equinox.

#1: Don't Do This

The main lesson to learn is that you probably don't want to write a RunJava task. It was already the case that DOTS was too esoteric to use except for those with particular talent and needs, and that one at least had the advantage of being kind-of documented and kind-of open source. RunJava gives you almost no affordances and imposes severe restrictions, so it's really just meant for a situation where you were otherwise going to write an addin in C but don't want to have to set up a half-dozen compiler toolchains.

#2: Lower Your Dependencies Dramatically

The first big general thing to keep in mind is that RunJava tasks, if they're not just a single Java class file, are deployed right to the main domino JRE, either in jvm/lib/ext or in ndext. What this means is that any class you include in your package will be present in absolutely everything Java-related on Domino, which means you're in a minefield if you want to bring in any logging packages or third-party frameworks that could conflict with something present in the XPages stack or in your own higher-level Java code.

This is a fiddlier problem than you'd think. A release or so ago, IBM or HCL added a version of Guava to the ndext folder and it wreaked havoc on the version my client's app was using (which I think came along for the ride from ODA). You can easily get into situations where one class for a library is loaded from XPages-level code and another is loaded from this low level, and you'll end up with mysterious errors.

Ideally, you want no possible class conflicts at all. I took the approach of outright white-labeling some (compatibly-licensed) code from Apache and IBM Commons to avoid any possibility of butting heads with other code on the server. I was also originally going to use the Darwino NAPI or Domino JNA for a nicer Message Queue implementation, but scuttled that idea for this reason. It's Notes.jar or bust for safe API access, unfortunately.

#3: Use the maven-shade-plugin

This goes along with the above, but it's more a good tool than a dire warning. The maven-shade-plugin is a standard plugin for a Maven build that lets you blend together the contents of multiple JARs into one, so you don't have to have a big pool of JARs to copy around. That on its own is handy for deployment, but the plugin also lets you rename classes and aggregate and transform resources, which can be indispensable capabilities when making a safe project.

#4: Make Sure Static Initializers and Constructors are Clean

What I mean by this one is that you should make sure that your JavaServerAddin subclass does very little during class loading and instantiation. The reason I say this is that, until your class is actually loaded and running, the only diagnostic information you'll get is that RunJava will say that it can't find your class by name - a message indistinguishable from the case of your class not even being on the server at all. So if, for example, your class references another class that's missing or unresolvable at load time (say, pointing at a class that implements org.osgi.framework.BundleActivator, to pick one I hit), RunJava will act like your code isn't even there. That can make it extremely difficult to tell what you're doing wrong. So I found it best to make very little static other than JVM-provided classes and to delay creation/lookup of other objects and resources (say, translation bundles) until it was in the runNotes method. Once the code reaches that point, you'll be able to get stack traces on failure, so debugging becomes okay again.

#5: Take Care With Threads When Terminating

The Open Liberty runtime makes good use of java.util.concurrent.ExecutorServices to run NotesThread code asynchronously, and I'll periodically execute even a synchronous task in there to make sure I'm working with a properly-initialized thread.

However, when terminating, these services will start to shut down and reject new tasks. So if, for example, you had code that executes on a separate thread and might be run during shutdown, that will fail likely-silently and can cause your addin to choke the server.

#6: That Said, It's a Good Idea to Use Threads

A habit I picked up from writing Darwino's cluster replicator is to make your addin's main Message Queue loop very simple and to send messages off to a worker thread to handle. Doing this means that, for complex operations, the server console and the user won't sit waiting on a reply while your code churns through an individual message.

In my case, I created a single-thread ExecutorService and have my main loop immediately pass along all incoming commands to it. That way, the command runner is itself essentially synchronous, but your queue watcher can resume polling immediately. This keeps things responsive and avoids the potential case of the message queue filling up if there's a very-long-running task (though that's less likely here than if you're drinking from the EM fire hose).

#7: Really, Don't Do This

My final tip is that you should scroll back up and heed my advice from #1: it's almost definitely not worth writing a RunJava addin. This is a special case because a) the goal of the project is to essentially be a server addin anyway and b) I was curious, but normally it's best to use the HttpService route if you need a persistent task.

It's kind of fun, though.

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Richard - Mar 3, 2020 12:38 PM

Thanks for your thoughts on RunJava. It's tempting to use but until it's officially supported, I'll stay away from it.

Now that HCL has officially terminated DOTS, I'm wondering what strategy (if any) they have for server-side Java integration. Depending on what folks are trying to achieve, DIIOP is still officially there and somewhat serviceable but comes with its own set of issues and of course implies you have your own standalone Java server/process already running on the server (not to mention no direct console integration).

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