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A Practical Solution for the Deployment of JavaServer Pages Part 2 of 3, by Alexis Grandemange

Last month in JDJ (Vol. 6, issue 1) we looked at the advantages of downloading servlets and JavaServer Pages (JSP) from a repository, for example, the same way a browser downloads applets. We described a simple implementation of this concept based on a service servlet and a custom class loader. This tool, named JSPservlet, handled servlets and JSP packaged in JAR archives to minimize the number of connections and transfers required.

This month I'll show you how to publish an archive, update it or force its download through a JSPupdate servlet, and extend the solution to handle resources, HTTP caching, request forwarding, page inclusion, and JSP beans. The code listings for this article can be found on the JDJ Web site, www.JavaDevelopersJournal.com.

Archive Update
This simple JSP, JSPupdate, handles archive publishing and updates (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

JSPservlet and JSPupdate are packaged in a Web application, typically in a WAR archive that's described by a web.xml deployment descriptor (see Listing 1). This archive is a general-purpose agent responsible for downloading the target presentation archives and routing requests to their servlets and JSPs.

To publish a new archive you must query the proper agent and provide the archive name and the remote location where it should be downloaded from. Simply identify the agent on your browser by its URL, in this example http://localhost:8080/jdj/ JSPupdate, where http://localhost:8080 identifies the Java server and jdj the agent's Web application. This displays the form in Figure 1. Fill it and click the button to start the publishing. Use the same form to change the archive location or to force a new download. In the latter case you don't even need to fill the remote location. Let's go back to the tool design and walk through the implementation of JSPupdate (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Tool Design
The JSPservlet is a special servlet that handles HTTP requests for a Web application and forwards them to target servlets and JSPs with the help of the following objects:

  • JSPhandler: Manages Web applications and maintains a ClassEntry map.
  • ClassEntry: Manages archives and maintains a cache of target objects.
  • JSPloader: Maintains a cache of target classes.
Therefore JSPupdate handling implies the following steps:
  1. Identify the relevant JSPhandler and create it on the fly if it doesn't exist.
  2. Find the ClassEntry responsible for the archive.
  3. If it doesn't yet exist, create a ClassEntry. In this case the tool acts as an archive publisher.
  4. Otherwise, unreference the JSPloader, clear the target object cache, and instantiate a new JSPloader.
The first step is implemented in JSPupdate and JSPhandler. Listing 2 shows the JSPupdate code. I prefer to use the GET mode to simplify updates by programs or scripts. I'll return to this point in the next section. In the script, starting on line 27 in Listing 2, I first get the JAR name you filled on the form and the application name, contextPath, from the URL. Then I look for the corresponding JSPhandler in the JSPhandler's HashMap, and finally I invoke the JSPhandler's update() method. I postpone the explanation of the case in which the appropriate JSPhandler doesn't exist to the RequestDispatcher section.

Listing 3 shows the JSPhandler.update() implementation. Remember the tool minimizes downloads from a central repository and handles its unavailability thanks to a local archive copy. JSPhandler.update()first removes this archive cache with File.delete(). Then, if you filled the Remote Location field, it updates the remoteLocProp property and persists it on remoteLocFile. Eventually JSPhandler.update() looks for the appropriate ClassEntry in the classEntries HashMap and invokes its update() method. If it doesn't find it, it creates a new ClassEntry and adds it to classEntries.

Listing 4 shows the ClassEntry.update() implementation. It first invokes the destroy() method of all cached target objects. Then it clears servletObjects, the target object's HashMap, to unreference them and then unreferences the corresponding JSPloader instance. Next ClassEntry.update() invokes the garbage collector, which can free the target and JSPloader objects and also the target classes and static data. Though the garbage collection can take time, it reduces the Java server footprint and improves its behavior. I considered the garbage collection duration to be a minor drawback as I designed JSPupdate to be invoked outside peak hours. Once the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) reclaimed the memory occupied on behalf of the archive, ClassEntry.update() created a new JSPloader and a new target object cache.

Scripted Update
JSPupdate uses the GET mode. To require the update of an application whose URL is www.iamakishirofan.com/gunnm for a JAR named gally stored in a repository located in http://myserver, you simply need to use the URL www.iamakishirofan.com/gunnm/JSPupdate?jarName=gally& remoteLocation=http%3A%2F%2F myserver&Submit=JSPupdate.

Listing 5 shows a Java class, UpdateClient, you can use to update an archive from the command line or from a script. To update the application above, invoke UpdateClient either with Java JSPservletPkg/ UpdateClient http://www.iamakishirofan.com/gunnm gally http:// myserver if you want to publish or update the remote location or with Java JSPservletPkg/UpdateClient http://www.iamakishirofan.com/gunnm gally if you simply need to force a download.

UpdateClient first builds a URL string with the UpdateClient's parameters. To convert the remote location to a MIME format that's appropriate in a URL, UpdateClient simply uses URLEncoder.encode(). Then it creates a URL and opens and reads a stream, which it parses to check the Java server response. Use the exit code in your script to handle error cases; the most common one is server unavailability.

Consider the common case in which a JSP or servlet refers to an image with a URL that's relative to the current path. Since JSPservlet is configured in the Web application deployment descriptor to handle all its requests, it also has to process image requests.

This case raises three issues:

  1. How to detect an image request
  2. Where to download the image from
  3. Where to handle the request
I chose to delegate images and other resource handling to JSPloader because, as we'll see later in the beans section, it has to address other resource needs anyway.

Where should we download the resources from? Should we cache them? These aren't trivial issues, as an image is much larger than a JSP or servlet. My choice is to support resources that are included in the archive file or stored in the same remote location as the archive, and to cache resources in memory.

Listing 6 shows the resource handling in JSPservlet. JSPservlet detects images and other resources such as HTML files after their URL extension. It also sets the content type according to the URL extension. Then it uses JSPhandler.getResourceAsStream() to get an input stream on the resource from JSPloader. JSPhandler simply forwards the request to the appropriate ClassEntry, which invokes JSPloader.getResourceAsStream(). If getResourceAsStream() doesn't find the resource, JSPservlet invokes HttpServletResponse.sendError(SC_NOT_FOUND), which builds an HTTP response with a 404 status, which indicates that the requested resource is not available. Otherwise JSPservlet reads the input stream and rewrites it on the response output stream.

To support resources embedded in an archive, I modified last month's JSPloader.ParseStream() method. Remember this method is invoked during JSPloader construction to parse the archive content that's read from the local archive cache or from its remote location. In the latter case it's also responsible for storing the archive in the local cache. However, the modification is minimal, as you can see in Listing 7. JSPloader maintains a resources HashMap that acts as a resource memory cache the way classes act as a class memory cache. parseStream stores a resource in a byte array in resources, instead of storing a class in classes.

Listing 8 shows the JSPloader.getResourceAsStream() implementation. It first tries to retrieve the resource from the resources memory cache. If it doesn't find it, it tries to download the resource from the same location as the archive with URL(remoteLoc).openStream(). Then it stores it in resources. If a resource is stored in the archive, it's always served from resources. A resource that must be downloaded is downloaded only once, then served from resources. If the resource is neither in the archive nor remotely available, getResourceAsStream() delegates the request to getResourceForward() in order to support local Java server resources. getResourceForward() first tries to find the resource in JSPservlets's Web application using the getResourceAsStream() method of JSPservlet's class loader, then tries to find it elsewhere using the getResourceAsStream() method of the JSPloader parent class loader.

Proxy and Browser Caching
Figure 3 displays a typical HTTP caching scenario with three actor types, browsers, a proxy, and an HTTP server. The first browser requires a URL that the proxy can't find in its cache. So it requests the URL from the HTTP server with an HTTP GET. The HTTP server returns a response, which also includes Expires, ETag, and Last-Modified header fields. The Expires field gives the date/time after which the response is considered stale, the ETag field provides a Entity tag value that can be used for comparisons, and the LastModified tag indicates the date and time the server believes the data was last modified.

Figure 3

The proxy stores the response in a cache and returns it to the browser. Then a second browser requires the same URL. The proxy finds the response isn't stalled so it returns it to the browser without requesting the HTTP server. Next, a third browser requires the same URL and this time the response is stalled but still in cache, so the proxy asks the HTTP server if the response is still valid with a conditional HTTP GET (a GET with an IfNoneMatch or IfModifiedSince field). The HTTP server checks if the Entity tag is the same in the case of IfNoneMatch, or if the LastModified tag hasn't changed in the case of IfModifiedSince. If yes, it sends a NotModified response without a body. If the browser requested an image, the image is not transferred. If it requested a dynamic page that required RDBMS access or heavy computation, this processing is not needed.

The HTTP server sends an updated Expires value in its NotModified response, so if a fourth browser requests the same URL before the updated date/time, the proxy will again serve the response without involving the HTTP server.

I described a proxy's behavior for clarity, but a browser also caches the responses it receives and behaves exactly the same way regarding the header fields presented in Figure 3. It's the reason I had to involve four different browsers in the scenario. As a consequence, an HTTP server can drive both proxy and browser caching with the same code.

To implement that mechanism for resource requests, I had to make two decisions:

  1. Where should I take the LastModified date/time?
  2. Should I implement Expire?
Remember the JSPloader.getResourceAsStream() implementation? It first tries to retrieve the resource from the archive, then from the same location as the archive, and eventually by asking the Java server class loader.

When the resource is stored in the archive, it picks up the LastModified date/time from the archive entry with JarEntry.getTime(). When the resource is stored in the same location as the archive, it uses a URLConnection object to download it. URLConnection acts as a browser, so it has access to HTTP headers. It even provides helper methods for the most common headers, such as URLConnection.getLastModified() for LastModified that's invoked by JSPloader.getResourceAsStream(). In the last case where JSPloader.getResourceAsStream() asks the Java server for the resource, I use the archive cache creation time. The rationale is this sort of resource is typically stored on a Java server and therefore cheap to retrieve.

The bottom line is:

  1. If an archive or downloaded resource hasn't changed, JSPservlet will return NotModified even after an archive update.
  2. For a resource retrieved by the Java server class loader, JSPservlet will return a full response at the first request after an archive update.
When the proxy receives a response containing ETag or LastModified, it can set an internal expiration value. However, this behavior isn't mandatory and can vary, so I prefer to implement Expire and let you set it in an additional initialization parameter, expiration, with a five-second default. The HTTP 1.1 specification allows you to go up to one year, but its optimal value depends on your configuration. The higher it is, the more time it will take to refresh caches after an update. If your browsers are on the same LAN as the Java server, don't worry about round-trip delays.

Let's go back to Listing 6 to look at the implementation details.

JSPservlet checks if the HTTP request was conditional. More precisely, it retrieves the value of ifNoneMatch and ifModified header fields. If they're set, it checks, respectively, if client Entity tag and Last modified date/time are still the same as server ones. If they are, JSPservlet returns an HTTP response with a status NotModified (303), using HttpServletResponse.sendError (SC_NOT_MODIFIED). This response includes an Expires field set with:

System.currentTimeMillis() + jh.expiration * 1000)

setDateHeader is another convenient helper method that simplifies setting a date header field. It takes two parameters, the name of the field and the elapsed time since the epoch (January 1, 1970). JSPhandler computes it using JSPhandler's expiration, which contains the expiration initialization parameter.

If the HTTP request is not conditional or if cache entries are stalled, JSPservlet sends the resource. It's set before the Date, Cachecontrol, LastModified, ETag, and Expires header fields. Date represents the date and time the message originated. JSPservlet builds this Date the same way as Expires. Cachecontrol:public indicates that the response may be cached by any cache. I already covered LastModified and ETag. Both contain the date and time extracted by JSPloader. LastModified handling is slightly more complex, as JSPservlet formats it in the RFC 1123 format - the HTTP preferred date format - using a java.text.SimpleDateFormat.

When building a Web application, it's common to forward a request to another servlet or to include the output of another servlet in the response. The servlet specification defines the RequestDispatcher interface to accomplish this. The support of this feature implies some modifications in the JSPservlet code.

First let's look at why and how the JSPservlet is involved. RequestDispatcher lets you forward to another servlet or include the output of a servlet, the forwarded or included servlet being in the same Web application. Since JSPservlet handles all requests toward a Web application, it's invoked.

The first issue is related to the include specification. The included servlet has access to the including servlet's request object. So when JSPservlet is invoked on behalf of an included servlet, the request path doesn't contain its path but the path of the servlet that included it. This is annoying since JSPservlet uses this path to identify the archive and the class to forward the request to.

Fortunately it's possible to know the path by which a servlet was invoked thanks to special request attributes described by the Java Servlet Specification, v2.2. For instance, I can get the included servlet pathInfo and extract its archive and servlet names with:

String pathInfo =

If the attribute is not defined, it means the servlet wasn't included, so I can safely retrieve pathInfo with request.getPathInfo().

A larger issue is related to the context root. You can get a RequestDispatcher with ServletContext.getRequestDispatcher("/garden/header. html"). The "/garden/header.html" path is relative to the root of the Web application, which doesn't contain the archive name. So JSPservlet won't be able to handle the request. There are two solutions to this problem. The fully standard one is to use relative paths with ServletRequest.getRequestDispatcher(). Since we're using ServletRequest, the path can be relative to the current request. It addresses the common case where the included servlet is located at the same place as the including one. If it's not the case, you must add the archive name, for instance:

ServletContext.getRequestDispatcher(jarName + "/garden/header.html")

The problem with this solution is it breaks the independence between development and deployment (where archive names are chosen). In the complete implementation I provide a JSPhandler.getJAR (ServletRequest) static method to return the current archive name. You can use it without breaking your servlet portability if you use reflection as shown in Listing 9.

I considered and rejected a fully transparent method. Remember the including servlet is invoked through JSPservlet. I could implement a special ServletContext that delegates all calls to the JSPservlet ServletContext except for getRequestDispatcher() in which I'll transparently add the current archive name. I rejected this solution since it forbade invoking a servlet hosted in a different archive. However, if your requirements are different from mine, you can implement this solution.

Now we can come back to the JSPupdate pending issue, to the update handling when the appropriate JSPhandler doesn't exist yet. The problem's origin lies in the JSPupdate and JSPservlet deployment descriptor (see Listing 1). JSPupdate can't be included in an archive because it would be unable to download an initial archive, and JSPhandler relies on JSPservlet init-params to initialize. JSPupdate calls JSPservlet when it needs to create a JSPhandler and uses a RequestDispatcher to achieve this.

Let's revisit the JSPupdate code (see Listing 1). On line 39 you see that when the appropriate JSPhandler doesn't exist, JSPupdate creates a RequestDispatcher with getServletContext().getRequestDispatcher ("/JSPservlet") and uses it to include JSPservlet.

JSPservlet.service() must be modified to include the code in Listing 10 in order to identify and process updates. This code first retrieves the JSPservlet context path using the javax.servlet.include.context_path attribute, since the JSPservlet is included. Then it invokes getHandler(), which will create the appropriate JSPhandler. Next, the implementation detects that it's called through a JSPupdate include by checking the included servlet name returned by request.getServletPath(). Eventually it retrieves the archive name and remote location from the request and invokes JSPhandler.update(), which calls ClassEntry.update( ).

JSP Specification1.1 provides two mechanisms to integrate Java logic: beans and the more recent tag extensions. A tag extension is arguably more sophisticated and complex. However, it requires no special handling because tag extensions are converted to Java code at JSP compilation time. Therefore we don't need to distribute tag library descriptors and can retrieve tag handler classes from the archive as usual. Though beans are simpler, they can raise an issue in the tool context.

The compiled JSP should create a bean with Beans.instantiate(getClassLoader(), beanName). This static method lets you specify which class loader to use, and its beanName can indicate either a serialized object or a class. For example, given a beanName of "x.y", Beans.instantiate would first try to read a serialized object from the resource "x/y.ser"; if that failed, it would try to load the class "x.y" and create an instance of that class. To fully support beans, I need to allow unserializing from archives.

My code supports the Beans.instantiate(getClassLoader(), beanName) way to create the bean (Tomcat code) because target JSPs are loaded by JSPloader. Therefore getClassLoader() returns the relevant JSPloader instance, whose getResourceAsStream() is invoked to get the serialized bean.

It's not difficult to develop a solution that's portable across Java application servers and:

  1. Dynamically downloads Web applications from one or many repositories.
  2. Commands downloads or updates from anywhere using a browser or a command that can be started from a scheduling tool.
  3. Supports Web applications' JSPs and servlets accord- ing to JSP Specification v1.1 and Java Servlet Specification v2.2.
A Java server can act as a browser that downloads applets on demand and therefore is administration-free. However, there's a difference. There's nothing to prevent a large number of browsers from downloading the same applet at the same time, collapsing the network. As Java servers download only when commanded, they avoid this problem.

Author Bio
Alexis Grandemange is an architect and system designer. A Java programmer since 1996 with a background in C++ and COM, his main interest is J2EE with a focus on design, optimization, and performance issues. [email protected].

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