Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jigsaw/JSR 294 on JavaPosse

I listened to most of the JavaPosse interview with Mark Reinhold and Alex Buckley about Project Jigsaw and JSR 294. It's nice to see some technical details emerging and I can start to see why OpenJDK would prefer a different design for modularity to that of Apache Harmony.

I was moderately surprised to find that the design point is to load multiple Jigsaw modules with "local" dependencies into the same class loader. I wonder how many class loaders the JRE will end up having? There was even talk of putting all the bootstrap classes in a single class loader. So maybe the answer is most of the JRE code will be loaded by in the bootstrap class loader and subdivided using JSR 294 constructs. Time will no doubt tell.

For the record, I hope I've never claimed that Apache Harmony has shipped runtime modularity. The Harmony class libraries are divided into bundles with OSGi metadata. A prototype that enforced those class loader boundaries in the JVM was built, but never shipped. It had a rather different design for bootstrap class loading to that being proposed for OpenJDK, but I suppose Harmony had the benefit of having modularity in mind from the start.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

OSGi, Scala, maven, and git

I've noticed a few people are integrating OSGi and Scala. In particular Heiko Seeberger is building OSGi bundles for the Scala language plus various utility modules and DSLs. Then he's using maven for build and git for version control.

I am, of course, a fan of OSGi. I'm rapidly warming to git. But I'm not sure Scala and maven really solve more problems than they introduce. I don't want to dwell on maven as I'm not sure other build systems are really much better, but Scala does raise lots of question in my mind.

Many years ago, I was keen to adopt new technology and some combinations worked really well while others just seemed to multiply the overall complexity. One particular combination was the use of Z specification language embedded using literate programming in a subset of our target programming language with proof rules. It was possible to create proof trees of simple specifications refined to the target language. The main problem was that there were very few people who could acquire the skills necessary to master the combined technology.

Well, perhaps that was an extreme example and maybe it was doomed from the start, but I have a niggling doubt about the size of the Scala language.

So I'd be delighted to understand what features of OSGi and Scala work well together (and what features are simply best not used as part of this combination). In particular, are there any particular problems which are significantly simplified by combining OSGi and Scala which cannot be attacked very well using OSGi (and Java) or Scala alone?


This document partially answers my questions. Scala makes it easy to write a DSL for handling OSGi services simply.

This is similar to the kind of function provided by Spring DM (or, equivalently, the OSGi Blueprint service).

The main difference is that there is still some minimal clutter in the Scala program whereas with Spring DM POJOs are configured in XML to provide and use OSGi services. I suppose the Scala approach favours sophisticated use of OSGi services, but this is not the norm in typical enterprise applications.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Coding and hill-walking

I've recently been re-organising the internals of the SpringSource dm Kernel so that it can be extended to provide structured install artefacts known as "plans". The current code has been extended to provide a plan equivalent to the existing PAR files, but other variants of plans, unscoped and non-atomic, cannot be implemented without the necessary data structures being put in place.

From early in the development of dm Server 1.0, the team was using several terms which summarised the behaviour of the kernel, but which were not easily identified in the code. Terms such as "scope" and "deployment pipeline". As we started thinking about 2.0, we identified "plan", "install tree", and "install environment" as basic concepts, even if the latter was pretty fluffy.

Scopes were implemented as first class types quite a while ago now and were crucial to being able to make cloning work. One of the trickiest areas was performing operations on types which could be cloned or non-cloned. Explicit scopes enabled these operations to be coded to a non-cloned interface type and re-dispatched as necessary to the appropriate cloned type.

Recently, I've been turning deployment pipeline, install tree, and install environment into first class types. I really love this kind of work. It's rather like walking through a range of hills where the higher peaks are only visible when some of the lower summits are behind you.

Sometimes however things get much more strenuous. It's like the terrain is getting much steeper and there no obvious path to follow.

This afternoon I was struggling to structure the code to handle the starting of bundles. There's an interesting coordination and state management issue because starting a bundle has a synchronous phase defined by OSGi and often an asynchronous phase defined by Spring DM or the OSGi Blueprint Service. I made some progress, but I'm still not happy with the current code and it certainly isn't easily unit tested which is a good measure of code quality.

At this point, the only option is to take a break and come back to the problem with a clear head. I tried consulting colleagues and that helped quite a bit, but there are hopefully some really good abstractions waiting to be discovered.

I think the root cause of the complexity of this small area is that it is fairly low level and we're lacking some really good ways of thinking about the asynchronous processes involved. Occasionally, modelling processes in CSP and exploring the properties of the model using a model checker such as FDR has helped. But more often than not, the best approach seems to be iteratively cleaning up a bunch of code until a good structure starts to emerge.

In the worst case, I'll make the code as clean as possible and add it to the list of areas where future discoveries will hopefully make things cleaner. But I'm hoping for a much better outcome.

Well, that's enough for now. I put this blog together as I expect other people have similar experiences when working in complex areas of software and it's good to learn from each other. I'd be interested in your perspective and how you approach these kinds of activities.

I'll leave you with a hill-walking illustration of my current position: standing on one peak trying to make out the next one in the mist.


OSGi (130) Virgo (59) Eclipse (10) Equinox (9) dm Server (8) Felix (4) WebSphere (3) Aries (2) GlassFish (2) JBoss (1) Newton (1) WebLogic (1)