2011 In Review, and the View for 2012

My, how time flies when you're having fun! It seems like only yesterday that I was welcoming in 2011, and now we're here a year later. So many things have happened in the last year, and rereading that post I see that I missed some things I should've done, but let's take a look in retrospect.

I wrote 27 blog posts in 2011. This is nothing, compared to guys like Ray Camden or Ben Nadel, but for me it was quite a bit, especially when you consider that between March and August I released only one post. Very early in the year, I began a series on creatingmany sites with one codebase. In the process, the series has evolved to contain a fairly detailed primer in ColdFusion application architecture (because of it's importance to this process), has currently spanned 8 separate posts, and was even referenced by Sean Corfield in his great presentations on the same topic. 2012 will see the completion of that CF app discussion, and gradually move it back to the MSOC topic itself, as there is still a ton to talk about there, and a lot of interest in the topic. I also began a series on the jqGrid JQuery plugin. jqGrid is another Data Grid visualization tool (I have now written about three, including Ext JS and DataTables), and is a clear choice for those who must use JQuery. (To be fair, JQueryUI is working on a grid component, but they are still behind the curve, and way behind Sencha.) Finally, one common thread seen in the majority of my posts, is how much I've embraced cfscript. I wrote a lot of things, on a variety of topics, but most of my code examples were pure scripted examples.

Now let's talk about some other departures from the norm for Cutter.

You did not see a lot of content around Ext JS. In fact, I stopped writing Ext JS books. This is not, in any way, a reflection on my feelings for Ext JS. I still believe that Sencha has built one of the best client-side libraries for web application development. In evaluating the overall ROI, I realized that I was writing more for the community than the money, and that my reach was greater through my blog, while giving me flexibility on when and what I deliver from a content standpoint. That said, I didn't have a single project this year that used Ext JS, so had very little time to experiment and write about it. This year, I'm going to expand on a personal project, and get back to some great Ext JS content for my readers.

You, also, did not see me speak at any conferences this past year. Nor at any user group meetings. This wasn't because I didn't want to, but because of some more personal reasons. I'm not going to go in depth here, other than to say that I've had some long standing health issues that required me to have some surgery done on my mouth. (Mark Drew is making a joke right now...) Aside from the fact that this has been very costly (chewing up any conference/travel budget), it also meant that my speech has been affected for a good part of the year. Thankfully this experience is (mostly) over now, and I hope to get back to presenting sometime this year. Any user group looking for a speaker this year, please contact me through the Contact link on this blog.

One group I am hoping to speak to this year is the Northeast Florida CFUG. I have to call Mike back, but he's looking to get things kicked off again, and I want to help it be successful. If you're in or around the Jacksonville area, make sure to keep an eye on the site for upcoming events.

One other thing I'm looking to do is to migrate all of my projects into GitHub. I've been using Git at work, and I am loving it, and I think combining GitHub with RIAForge is a great way to promote the terrific technologies we work with every day. I will make the time, I promise.

This comes to the final discussion of this post, Adobe. I again had the pleasure of being an Adobe Community Professional this past year. Due to my health issues, I didn't get to do everything I would've wanted to this year, but I've tried to be a good supporter. There are some fabulous things coming in ColdFusion Zeus and, by extension, to ColdFusion Builder as well. There has been a lot of hub-bub over Adobe's communications flubs regarding Flash, mobile, and Flex. I've avoided much of the discussion, other than to say "be patient and watch". Flash isn't going away, and neither is Flex. HTML 5 is a beautiful thing, if you aren't developing desktop browser applications (i.e. You're only writing for mobile/tablet development). There, that is my whole contribution to that discussion. Give it a rest.

2012 will be a fantastic year. Set yourself some clear, definable goals. Break them down, step by step, and write the steps down on paper. Each successive step, print out in large letters and place it somewhere where you will see it each and every day. Set yourself up to succeed, and you will. Have a great year, everyone, and I can't wait to hear what you have planned for 2012.

Using The DataTables JQuery Plugin

For adminstrative applications, most of my readers know I'm a huge proponent of the Ext JS library. But for front-end, consumer facing sites, I'm often pushed to use JQuery. JQuery is very light weight, and wonderful for DOM manipulation, but it isn't a component library. When you want widgets for advanced data display, you have to use something like JQueryUI. Unfortunately, JQueryUI doesn't yet have a grid component (though they are working on it). So when I recently needed a dynamic, paging data grid, I started looking for something that used server-side data requests and could be skinned using the ThemeRoller. That's when I came upon the DataTables plugin.

It took me some time to figure out the works of how the plugin makes server-side requests. What I found was that, by default the plugin passes an extreme amount of data on a request, and not typically in a format very conducive for our needs. I also had to find a way to pass the method name and data returnFormat needed. That's when I discovered that I could override it's default request. Once I figured that out, I wrote a method to parse the data to create a request object more conducive to a ColdFusion Component request. It passes the following arguments along in a request:

  • iDisplayStart - The number of the first record in the requested set.
  • iDisplayLength - The number of records to return in the requested set.
  • sEcho - A DataTables request identifier, to be echoed back with the return.
  • aoSort - If present, this will be a JSON string representation of sort columns and orders. It's an array of objects:
    • colName - the column name
    • sortDir - the sort direction (asc|desc)

After getting data to my CFC, I had to build my paging query. For my example here I wanted to use the MySQL database I use for my blog, so this was a learning experience for me. The biggest trick for me was getting the TotalCount of records, as this is extremely different from MS SQL, requiring two separate SQL statements for the query and the count. Since DataTables can also sort off of different columns, I needed a way to dynamically set the ORDER BY clause of the query. You can't bind parameters to the ORDER BY clause, but you want to protect your server from SQL injection attack, so you have to validate that part of the request (especially as it's an ajax request, which would be easier to manipulate). Pete Frietag came up with a little regex expression that could be used in this case.

We set up our component to return a structure in the following format:

  • success - A boolean to denote success or failure of the request.
  • message - Only returned if the request fails, a message to state why the failure occurred.
  • totalCount - The total number of records available for the filters applied.
  • result - The paging query.

The last piece of the puzzle was back on the client-side again, where the ColdFusion return had to be put back into a format that can be consumed by the DataTables plugin. This was actually very easy because of the way that ColdFusion returns query data.

Once I had these methods, I wanted to find out how to write a feature plugin for DataTables. One where I could identify additional config arguments in DataTables, and have it automatically work. I contacted Allan Jardine, who wrote DataTables (and has some great web dev tools on his site). He never wrote in that capability, saying that the method override was the only way to make this happen. What I did discover was that I could add options to the standard DataTables config. I created a new option for DataTables, oCFReaderDT, which takes an object of options. Only one argument is required, "method", to define the method to call in the CFC request. I also setup the processor to accept an option, "sForm", as a string selector of a form whose values you may need in the request (i.e.: 'form#myForm'). Then I wrote a custom function that encapsulated the previously written methods into one method, that could then be used as the value of the "fnServerData" option in the DataTables configuration object.

In the download link below is a zip file with all of the files for the example, which has been heavily commented so you know what's going on. Though written for ColdFusion 9, I have included both scripted and non-scripted CFC's. I hope you find this useful, and please leave any comments/questions/suggestions through the Comment Form or Contact links below.