Writing the XSP Transpiler Maven Plugin

Jul 9, 2020, 10:33 AM

Tags: maven xpages

When I was first getting my XPages webapp support project into workable shape, I was faced with the immediate problem of translating XSP source into a usable form. Though the XPages core contains both the code for translating XSP source to Java and the loader that executes the compiled Java classes, they're best thought of as two disjoint components in a larger toolchain. Designer uses the translator to create Java source, which it then compiles into .class files like any other Java source. At runtime, Java uses the CompiledPageDriver implementation of the FacesPageDriver to look for these compiled classes based on translating page names like Foo.xsp to class names like xsp.Foo, loading them with the active classloader, and calling their methods to emit the UIComponent tree.

The fact that XSP is transformed to Java and then bytecode is incidental, though: the FacesPageDriver interface only requires outputting some object that can build page trees. I've tinkered a bit with building on the Bazaar's existing dynamic-interpretation code to go directly from XSP to the tree of UIComponents, but there are a lot of fiddly details. Onerous as it may be, the translation+compilation process covers all of the edge cases that may show up.

The translation process requires a classpath populated with both the XPages core code and any libraries you have, since libraries are defined as dynamic Java classes and not, for example, statically-readable XML configuration files (there are XML files in there, but they're only identified by the Java class). Designer deals with this by making you install XPages libraries into your runtime: the classes have to be present in the Eclipse environment for Designer to be able to identify and load them. That works, but it's onerous and not practical for my uses.

Runtime Compilation

The tack I took initially with the webapp support was to write a FacesPageDriver implementation that translates XSP to Java and then compiles those classes on the fly. This has the distinct advantage of having the entire running app going, so all libraries and control definitions are available. There's overhead on first load for each page, especially for complicated ones, but subsequent loads are as speedy as the precompiled route.

Incidentally, this is basically how JSPs work in normal app servers: the JSP source is included in the .war file, and then it's translated into a Servlet implementation Java class and compiled on the fly.

Maven Compilation

Still, I really wanted to avoid having the app have to translate and compile on the fly. While it works, it's wasteful and adds noticeably to the initial load time of a freshly-deployed instance.

My goal was to do this compilation process during Maven compilation - independent of any particular IDE. The trouble there is that there's still a hard requirement on having the actual app class environment available so that library classes can be resolved. It's not enough to just solve the problem of including XPages artifacts as Maven dependencies, since that wouldn't account for using e.g. ODA in an app.

My original tack for this was to do what I do in the NSF ODP Tooling: create an Equinox environment containing the app and its dependencies, and then execute the transpilation in there. I event went so far as to implement it, though it's essentially an undocumented feature of 3.0 and above. This didn't sit quite right with me, though. For one, it's kind of outside of the Tooling's bailiwick: while it certainly does XSP compilation as part of the overall NSF assembly, it's really a distinct activity. Moreover, though, loading a whole Equinox environment is fiddly and unnecessarily requires a Notes runtime to be configured along with it.

So I took a second pass at it in the xpages-runtime project, and this has been working out well. I realized that I didn't need to have all of the app's classes available to the Maven plugin, nor did I need to spawn a whole second process. I could instead construct something of a jail ClassLoader to house the process. I build a ClassLoader based on the project's dependency tree (which inherently includes the required XSP core classes), copy in a transpiler implementation, and execute the process reflectively. This means that the whole thing can happen in-process and without a special Notes runtime, just like a normal Maven plugin.

Better still, I use the BuildContext apparatus to identify changes, and Eclipse's m2e hooks into this. In this way, I can do essentially incremental compilation that fires off whenever you modify a .xsp file inside Eclipse, essentially giving the same kind of experience that you get in Designer (with less crashing). In both Maven and Eclipse, the actual Java → bytecode compilation happens with the normal compiler: I just drop class files in the right place, tell the project about the generated source folder, and let it do its thing.

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with how this turned out. It's still primarily useful for the type of development workflow I've set up personally, but it's definitely had a noticeable impact on the modify-deploy-run cycle. For a moribund stack that I'm actively working away from, I've built myself a pretty-respectable toolshed.

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