2013 was Exciting! I had several side contracts, which helped us buy a house. We left Jacksonville, and moved back to the Nashville area. I finally put some health issues behind me, allowing me to get out to some user group meetings again, as well as present. I put in a new topic for cf.Objective, which has been accepted. I picked up the camera I've been waiting a decade to buy, and jumped back in to photography with both feet. And, I carved in some time there to review a few books, do a CF Hour interview, and write a few blog posts (some even a little controversial). Now, there's downside here too. Heavy side contract work is not always conducive to a happy home. Buying a house, much less from another state (and the move that goes along with it) can be very grueling and stressful. Working at this kind of pace can bring on other health issues. The financial requirements of buying a house, moving state to state, setting up a new home, etc, make it impossible to do "other things" (like conferences, for instance). And, I still have several other book reviews I've yet to write, and didn't blog nearly as much as I would've liked. Well, you do what you can with what you have, and pray for the best. The two bright points in all of that are my wife, Teresa, and my daughter, Savannah, who continually support this crazed life, and without whom it really wouldn't be worth doing it all. I can never tell them enough how much I Love Them, nor just how much they mean to me. I never got the opportunity to talk about my conversation with Rakshith, concerning the future of ColdFusion. It was a great conversation, focusing quite a bit on Adobe's commitment to the platform, the strides in the education initiatives, and a focus on giving developers the tools (and language) they need to build better products. I think one of the greatest ColdFusion bits, to come out of this past year, was the creation of Team CF Advance. This group, entirely made up of volunteers, is working to produce Open Source applications and API's in ColdFusion. While it is still getting off the ground, the team has already made some pretty big strides. This is the kind of thing that will help bring ColdFusion back out front. I have high hopes, and high expectations, for what is to come from 2014. I've already committed to taking at least one picture a day, gotten seriously started on losing a few (too many) pounds, have several topics laid out for blog series, and am about to put some spit and polish on that preso I mentioned earlier. And that should be just the beginning. So, to all of my friends, colleagues, co-workers, and family, I wish you all the Happiest and most Prosperous of New Years.
So, the very first Adobe ColdFusion Summit is being held this week in Las Vegas, NV. What started out as a small conference, originally capped to 250 participants, is now nearly twice that size, with people coming from all over the world to attend.
We've had a lot of discussions here recently about What's Wrong With ColdFusion, and things that can be done to fix those perceptions. Ultimately, there's been a lot of positive feedback, some reasonable initial response out of Adobe, and a community that's started talking again.
What I'm hoping for is for that discussion to continue, hard, at the Summit. As much as I would like to be there, due to constraints I am unable to attend. So, I'm hoping that the community will come together to ask some hard questions. What really is being done to address the concerns brought up? How does this change current development practice, timeline, and direction? How soon can we expect to see x, y, or z? When, and how, is marketing of ColdFusion going to change?
It's important that we, the community, use this opportunity to speak to some of the engineers. "Why are we doing this? (in this new version) And not doing that?" We have to tell them what we think, and why, to assist in defining new directions. They're always gathering requirements, and you are the perfect focus group. The suits (management types that buy the licenses) can tell them that it should do this or that, but you (the developer) are the ones who truly know the things that are needed.
I know that I've talked a lot about "Adobe" ColdFusion. I am an Adobe Community Professional, so I have to choose my words carefully sometimes. Ultimately, any positive changes are changes that push innovation, competition, and advancement of the platform. In that vain, the Team CF Advance initiative, to write, support, and contribute to Open Source software solutions written with ColdFusion, is one of the single greatest things to come out of our discussion. (Big kudos to Denny Springle [with a side of Corfield], for pulling this idea back out of the hat and getting it up and running) Any time, and assistance, that anyone can give, is a good thing. While we need people to write code, we also need people that can assist with requirements gathering, documentation, and other things. Of all of the suggestions pushed in these discussions, this is the one that we (the developers) can have the most say and control.
I have always pushed for full parity between cfscript and tags, because scripting is more natural to me, in terms of writing programmatic logic. Sure, cfoutput and cfloop make a lot of sense in the middle of html display code, but CFC's don't (typically) contain display code, being data access and model objects.
I have issues with the implementation of CFScript. I find that there are a lot of functions of similar actions with completely different naming conventions, and argument requirements, and more. I think these things need to be addressed. That said, if I have to call the function anyway, I prefer script to tags when it's outside of display. It's a more natural approach, to me. 99 times out of 100 I end up with less lines of code, and find the logic more defined, clear cut, and easier to understand.
It's not for everyone. There are many that just plain hate cfscript, and that's their prerogative. But I will continue to use cfscript, and my examples will show that, because I personally find it a better way to write code. If it's not your preference, that's fine, you're welcome to translate my examples to tags if you need to, but for me this is how I do it. (For the record, many of the newer functions are not identical, under the hood [base Java code], as their tag counterparts, and some scripted functions have been proven to have better performance than their tag counterparts. There are benchmarks for this out there, somewhere, if you feel strongly enough to go look for them. I just take it on my experience with using it.)
One common complaint, among opponents of ColdFusion, is the poor code that's out there on the web. I would counter that there's a ton of bad code out there in most any language (I know, I've written some of it), but I do "get it". ColdFusion, as powerful a language as it can be, also has an extremely low barrier of entry. It was created in such a way that anyone who could write HTML could turn around and write an application in ColdFusion (hence the language design decision to use a tag syntax).
Well, just because you can write code in one way, that doesn't necessarily mean that you should. There are thousands upon thousands of blog posts, articles and books out there showing people how to do various things in ColdFusion. Many (not all) are cobbled together rather quickly, offering up functional examples on how to do this or that. And, while awesome that someone bothered to take that time and share that knowledge, they didn't always consider best practices in their examples. After all, it was just a quick example, right? You wouldn't just copy and paste it into your editor. You'd tailor it to your application's needs, right?
Well, no. Many of us have copied some bit of code and just dropped it in without revision. And often it just stays like that, until it causes some sort of issue. To top it all off, chances are you copied and pasted the same bits of code into other areas of your app, or even into new applications, again without revision.
So, I want to start a new series here at Cutter's Crossing. I'm going to call it "Build A Better ColdFusion App", and in each article I want to highlight some small bit of best practice advice, with some code examples that match up accordingly. It won't be a "Tip of the Day" bit or anything, and the articles may come at any time, but they'll all get a common header, and I'll try to group them together so they're easy to find. If you have suggestions for some of these tips, or topic areas you think would be a good fit, please fill out the Contact Form and drop me a note with your suggestions.
By The Way: I'm not perfect. I might put up something and it's hosed too, or you might have suggestions on how to do it differently and/or better. Please, call me on it. We're a community of professionals, and want to put out info of value for any and all.
Yes, Apple is a fantastic company, making really nice products that work very well. If someone gave me one of those nice Macs with the 27" screens today, I'd probably switch. I wouldn't buy one myself. Nice as they are, I can't justify the expense when I can buy a machine twice as powerful for half the money, and actually repair it myself when I need to. But, that's my decision. I choose the imperfections of Windows on a PC architecture as a counter to the affordability and maintainability of the platform. And, it's done really well by me.
I watched Andy Matthews accidentally spill orange juice on to Aaron West's 17" MacBook Pro once, several years ago. Aaron finally got it back from the Mac Store about two weeks later. I can't afford that kind of productivity loss. No thanks.
Again, this is just me. Many others still use a Mac, and love it, and I get it. It's a fantastic operating system, and Apple does make pretty stuff.
But I wouldn't load ColdFusion server on a Mac. Not really. Not on to OS X directly. Yet, I've heard this complaint recently. About how buggy the ColdFusion install is, and what a hassle it is to get up and running.
You're running it on a Mac? On OS X? Why?
The web doesn't run on a Mac. Yes, there are OS X servers, but have you seen that market share? The web runs on *nix and Windows. And, if you're writing code for the web, then your environment needs to match. Load up a VM, and install ColdFusion on the VM, in *nix or Windows. That makes sense.
Is that where you're having trouble? I get CF up in about 20 min on my Windows Server VM, and that includes the download time.
Now, should the ColdFusion server install easily on a Mac? Sure, I think it should. There are way too many developers out there trying to do exactly what I've described, and they're in pain. Go badger the Adobe CF team to get it straight.
But, again, what's your site running on?
You can post comments if you like, but I'm not taking the bait.
Last week I raised the question, and Wow! Have people responded? Yes. There's some fire in the belly, and a lot of people have a lot of opinions. More importantly, they have a lot of great ideas as well. So, what I'd like to do here for a minute is break down all of that feedback, to get down to the meat. We've attracted some attention, with our little discussion, so I think it's important to focus on all of the core points. From there? Good question. People are listening. Maybe we help to blaze a new trail in the wilderness.
Make It BetterFirst and foremost, there was an overwhelming call to "get with the times". Among complaints about stability, setup, and pricing, the key take away was that the server needs some retooling. Smarter people than me have talked about the pitfalls of CF running as a servlet, issues with context roots, and (continuing) issues with object instantiation, and all of these things should be addressed. Take that feedback and couple it with the two largest suggestions in the bunch: Modular feature deployment/package bundling and management, and a Command Line Interface (for multiple reasons).
A modular approach can absolutely open a lot of doors, both for developers and Adobe. It can allow someone to deploy a server with only what they require for their application, or upgrade that server's capabilities as required as well. These cut out the cruft, allow the system to be smaller/faster/better, and possibly provides a new (and ultimately more profitable) way for Adobe to handle the licensing of their product. Strip 'er down to her core, then provide deployment packages for things like cfform, orm, office and exchange integration, etc. This modularity also would allow Adobe to laser focus on updates to key areas in a more timely fashion as well (like bringing SharePoint or Exchange support up to the current version in a productive way, etc).
As a broader part of that picture, many asked for the removal of features (UI cruft, cfform, all tags, etc). This isn't really practical, considering the thousands of applications running and supported on ColdFusion today. Adobe needs that licensing revenue. That said, the revenue goes away if they (insert business names here) start switching languages. This modular approach opens new licensing models, better tailored to larger business (and developer) needs, and can address key concerns on the cost of scale. The comparison to the current cloud offerings are a prime example of how this model could truly be a more effective tool for everyone.
True Issues To AddressAside from the suggested improvements, there was a lot of conversation about things that truly are broken, and require attention. I'm not just talking about the list of bugs in the bugbase, but some core process issues. Adobe ColdFusion is a paid product, and that licensing includes "enterprise" support. As such, a common complaint is that the support is unknowing, uncaring, or unresponsive. When I call in for support on install issues with Creative Cloud, I was able to get quick and solid resolution, and follow-up. Why should ColdFusion be any different? And why, when a true issue is brought up (like some of the recent security issues), should it take weeks and months to admit the problem, allocate resources, and write/test/deploy fixes?
I, and everyone else, understand that ColdFusion server development is a closed ecosystem, being that it is a corporate product. It does not have the benefit of rapid development that an Open Source project might have, with a large community behind it. That said, considering the costs involved in licensing the product, the turnaround model on identified issues actually ranks a higher priority. How you interact and respond to your customers is critical. This is just business sense, as the customer you keep happy is the one that you retain and keeps buying your product (and tells others how awesome it is).
The other addressable issue, brought up in the conversation, is marketing and education. ColdFusion isn't being taught (or it is, but very little), and new developers aren't coming in to the fold. Some of this is marketing, some of this is perception, and some of this is ... Well, what is it? Why isn't every high school and college in America (or the world) given licensing for ColdFusion? Not ed licensing to dev on, but actually running their university sites, and student unions and such? Why aren't there coding challenges being sponsored in classrooms, to help create the next round of rockstar open source applications? And why aren't there timely, up-to-date, curriculums being developed for these markets? Materials that help teach the language, with focus not only on the language and the server but also development as a whole and best practice?
OK, so all of these "issues" require resources, in an age when things have been scaling down. We've identified them as issues. We've identified their importance. Now it's up to someone to decide the value of addressing those issues.
Where's Our Community?ColdFusion has, for me, always been a great community. There are hundreds of developers out there who have worked at this stuff for a long time, tripped over good code and bad, and attempted to provide their own brand of support through blogging and answering StackOverflow questions, and just sharing in general. They've done these things, usually, on their own time, with their own money, and at the sacrifice of other things.
But, it's easy to fall off that wagon when you're trying to help others and someone else just tells you "you're doing it wrong". A great case in point here is the OO debate: should you or shouldn't you. First, I'll say "yes, you should", for a thousand little reasons, but then I'll also say "you don't have to, but you should." Second, I'll say that there's no one way to approach development, and that each approach provides it's own pluses and minuses. The single greatest thing that you can do, as a developer, is to read other peoples' code, and realize that it might not be the best approach, or that it might be a much better approach. Each of us has something to learn from someone else, as each of us has a different perspective. Yes, sometimes that perspective may be wrong, and it's good for us as a community to police one another, in our examples, to help promote better code. It's how we have those conversations that will change us. "This Sucks," is not a productive response. Sure, I hate getting called out on my crap code, and then I learn from it (thanks Ray ;) ) [For the record, go read the code for FW/1. Outstanding! The things I learn from Sean...]
The other side to that coin is the framework debate. We have a lot of "mine's bigger than yours" going on, still. The thing is, these are tools, each of them written differently and from different points of view, and if all of these framework developers were to collaborate, instead of pulling out the yard stick, we could really move mountains. You people are smart, and you're dedicated, and you have great ideas. Please work with each other instead of against one another.
And this comes down to the final area of discussion, in round 1, and that's our community's willingness to share their work. There are many people out there that write thousands upon thousands of lines of fantastic code that never sees the light of day outside of a firewall. One great comment I saw said something like "What if every CF project were out there and you could just drop it in and it almost worked?" How many user management modules have you written? Permissions systems? Rudimentary document management? Can't you put anything on GitHub? RIAForge? Every small bit of code we contribute, as a community, adds to the overall ecosystem. We have to start helping each other solve common problems. These other communities, that so many developers are turning to? That's what they've been doing right. And that's where we, as a community, have been failing. There were a lot of fingers pointed toward Adobe, in the comments to my post, but I'll remind you that every pointing hand has three fingers pointed back. We have brought a good bit of this upon ourselves as well, and only we can change that.
So, this recaps (very high level) all of the comments on my last post. The discussion has begun, now where do we take it? Can we define a path for ColdFusion's future? Is Adobe part of that discussion? (I hope that they are) I would like to hear from you again, dear reader. What are your thoughts on what's being said today? Throw out the negative, focus on solutions, and tell me what you believe can/could/should be done for us, as a community, to move forward and thrive.
So, today there was a little discussion on Twitter about ColdFusion. ColdFusion lives on top of Java, specifically on top of the JVM, which makes it capable of processing other languages as well. Sean Corfield has put out some things in the past on this. I mentioned that it would be good to rekindle talk of how that is possible, in ways to help promote ColdFusion as a platform.
I was somewhat surprised by Sean's response.
#coldfusion really has no value to those communities - they already have better languages and better tools
Now, I want to go on record now as saying that I love Sean to death, and really and truly respect his work and his opinions. I also love ColdFusion a lot too. So, my question (basically) then became "What's wrong with ColdFusion?"
So, I posed another question to Sean, that I'll pose to the community as a whole: What's wrong with ColdFusion as a language? As a platform for enterprise development? More to the point, how can it be made better?
I'm not looking for a hack fest, or "my crap is better than your crap" stuff, I'm looking for some solid feedback. What does it take to try to make ColdFusion a first class choice among programmers of web enabled applications? More to the point, what does it take to do that and keep it CF simple? ColdFusion has always been a great Rapid Application Development platform, with a very lower barrier of entry, and an ease to learn and maintain. Is it too simple? Too forgiving?
If the direction of the ColdFusion platform development were to drastically change today, with a focus on the language and the core of the system, what would/should that look like? What is truly missing? What should be done differently, and how? (And why?) Gimme the nuts and bolts.
The floodgates are open now. If we never talk about it, nothing will ever change. Please be constructive, and let me know your thoughts.
Sometimes, all of the planning in the world won't stop a problem from occurring. Recently a piece of code deployed to production. It took a perfectly functional process and rendered it inert, no longer saving data that used to save. It wasn't horrible, being caught fairly early, but people got upset.
This is understandable. Here are the facts: Code was deployed. Code wasn't right. Data was lost.
Sometimes it's hard to hear that, but it's true. Your process is continually evolving, as a developer or as a team, and sometimes process is just broken and you don't know it. The code in question here was in testing for five full months, but no one noticed the issue. Would TDD have helped see the issue early? Probably. Would better QA and end user testing have helped? Absolutely. But...
The key thing isn't that something happened, but in how you deal with it. Fact: This happened already, and you can't turn back time. What do you do? Fix the problem.
Some people want to start pointing fingers, looking up who did what, and assigning blame. And, while holding people accountable for their actions is important, the really important thing, at this moment, is to get right. Fix the problem. Step away from the negative, focus on the issue at hand, and gain some resolution, even if it is in small incremental steps. You can do an After Action Review of what happened later, and use the failure as an opportunity to learn, grow, and mentor. Chances are that you've identified a hole in your process that needs correction. But all of that is secondary to correcting your immediate issue, getting things right again for your client.
It isn't the mistakes you make in life that define you, but in how you handle them.
"I'm afraid that we all make mistakes. One of the things that defines our character is how we handle mistakes. If we lie about having made a mistake, then it can't be corrected and it festers. On the other hand, if we give up just because we made a mistake, even a big mistake, none of us would get far in life." - Terry Goodkind
As developers, sometimes it is hard to see beyond the code. We know code. We like code. Some of us occasionally even dream in code (just ask my wife...) Knowing this, it is sometimes difficult, when troubleshooting performance of Legacy Code, to remember that the issue might not be in code.
One great area, that so many developers overlook, is the ColdFusion server itself. The installer makes it fairly easy to get things up and running, but is the environment truly setup optimally for your application? By default, CF only loads allocating 512kb of RAM to the underlying JVM. 512kb is not much, especially in a high traffic, heavy process system. And have you ever adjusted your Request Tuning settings? Checked your Queue Timeout? What sort of template caching are you using?
Another area to look at is your JVM itself. While you can adjust some of the JVM settings in the CFIDE (in ColdFusion 10) properly, it's still a good idea to review things like your Garbage Collection settings, your RAM allocation, and other bits. Are you loading unnecessary libraries? And, are you still using the installed version of the JVM? It might be worth while to download a new JDK, install, and test your app. For one thing, it'll help keep your underlying Tomcat more secure.
Then there's the hardware and network review. What sort of throughput are you getting from your hard drives? Is your file I/O optimal for the ops you're running? Are you storing data and assets on other network connected systems and, if so, what sort of throughput are you getting from those internal connections.
And then we're back to your database. Hopefully it isn't on the same machine, but the same sort of review applies. Do you have enough RAM? What sort of hard drives are you using? Are you getting enough throughput through that old NIC card?
Some of these things are really easy to address, taking a little time and effort and research. Others may require parts and equipment replacement, maintenance windows and downtime. It's really up to you to balance out what makes sense.
Step one: write a plan.
Step two: follow through.
With these last 17 posts I've written down a lot of little things to help anyone take their Legacy Code (outdated and tired ColdFusion applications) and begin to carry them forward into new life. Some changes are farther reaching than others, and all require careful research, planning, management and testing. To let these applications sit, without thought for modern change, is to waste the time originally spent to create them in the first place. Nothing grows without care and feeding and light.
It is my belief that you can still benefit from the hundreds of thousands man hours of previous time and effort spent on these applications, without having to take drastic moves that could prove unnecessary or even disastrous. ColdFusion was the first web application server, outliving many predecessors, and continues to grow with the times. ColdFusion continues to be a fantastic Rapid Application Development platform, allowing many developers to write applications in a fraction of the time it would take on other platforms, and there's a solid roadmap for future versions already on the board. There are thousands upon thousands of active, thriving, scalable and performant ColdFusion based applications on servers in thousands of top ranking companies in countries all around the world, still, to this day, because of the power available here.
This article is the seventeenth in a series of articles on bringing life back to your legacy ColdFusion applications. Follow along in the Legacy Code category.
One of the greatest culprits in poorly performing ColdFusion applications, Legacy Code or modern, is badly written SQL. ColdFusion was originally written as a middle tier between the web server and the database, giving us the ability to output queried data in html format. In fact CFML was originally DBML. One of it's greatest strengths has always been the ease with which one could get data back from a multitude of datasources, from a variety of platforms, and display it to a user. One of it's greatest weaknesses is that it allows you, the developer, to write those queries just as poorly as you want to as well.
How many queries in your system start with SELECT *? Of the 35 columns in that table, are you really using more than five or ten? And, do you have multiple <cfquery> calls, one after another, with each using data from the query before? Can this be translated into a single query using some well thought out joins? By the way, when's the last time you analyzed your query performances? How about rebuilt your table indexes?
In most applications that I've worked on, Legacy and modern, major bottlenecks occurred due to the poor performance of queries. Applying <cfqueryparam>s helped a little, but truly reviewing each query, running it through a query analyzer, rebuilding and creating new indexes.
Some people, especially writing quick small apps and prototypes, have used ORM frameworks for their database interaction, such as Reactor, Transfer, and now ColdFusion's own built-in implementation of Hibernate via ColdFusion ORM. These are very popular, and great for quickly standing up new product, but they are also very object intensive, and don't necessarily give you deep introspection into what those data transactions are truly doing under the covers. Yes, they can allow you to quickly build new applications, but that doesn't necessarily mean that those applications will scale well, or continue to perform three years later the same way they did on day one.
There was a really good article by Chris Travers on DZone, a few weeks back, defending the choice to continue to hand code your SQL. It's not a very long article, but one paragraph really stood out for me, and is something that I already do.
I find that my overall development time is not slowed down by hand-writing SQL. This remains true even as the software matures. The time-savings of automatic query tools is traded for the fact that one doesn't get to spend time thinking about how to best utilize queries in the application. The fact is that, as application developers, we tend to do a lot in application code that could be done better as part of a query. Sitting down and thinking about how the queries fit into the application is one of the single most productive exercises one can do.
This is something that is very easy for me to identify with, and also a good argument for the (occasional and well thought out) use of stored procedures. Many developers stay away from stored procedures because a) they don't know how to write or use them, and/or b) those procedures aren't stored in code, so it's not as easy to introspect or search for things when you're making changes. While both of these may be valid arguments, in some way, there is the performance trade off. Stored procedures due, typically, perform better, having compiled cached execution plans on the SQL server. If you can overcome your other obstacles (and you can), you can gain from placing complex SQL logic inside of stored procs.
Again, this type of change, in a large Legacy Code system, can be long and arduous. Set a goal, with each bit of maintenance that you do, to review the queries you are using in the requests you are adjusting. Tools like FusionReactor can help you identify slow running queries, for you to target your efforts. It may pay well to hire an outside SQL resource to review your databases, monitor query performance, and provide detailed analysis and suggestions on improvement. A good DBA, even a part timer, can save a Legacy Code application from extinction.
In our next post we'll dive into some of the things that you can do at the Application Server level, to help you get the most out of your Legacy Code.
This article is the sixteenth in a series of articles on bringing life back to your legacy ColdFusion applications. Follow along in the Legacy Code category.