Friday, March 6, 2009

Replatforming an app in 21 hours....

I got a cold call a couple of weeks ago. A prominent institution in Calgary had a java application that ran on a Sun OS with an iPlanet web server that was key to their business that didn't work with a key upgrade from a 3rd party vendor. It needed to be upgraded an running in production 2 weeks. Could I help?
I agreed to help and showed up that afternoon to see what could be done. The current code in production ran fine. However, there was no guarantee it would run fine with the upgrade. Unfortunately, the code base was a mess. Multiple versions of the same file were all over the production server with .bak, .ver2, etc extension. Everything had been done on the fly in the past. The logs couldn't provide us with any useful information, and they had no test environment.
After seeing what could be done on the Sun box (which had been running this application non-stop for more than 10 years!), I decided to try and port the application to Tomcat - in this container I knew what I was doing and I could debug the problems more effectively. Within 14 hours we had the application running on Tomcat with some minor bugs.
Over the weekend, new production and test virtual machines were requisitioned and when I came back on my next visit, we got the last of the bugs out of the way and had everything working in the new test environment.
Some lessons learned....
- Don't be afraid to replatform in Java. I would've had a much harder time trying to do this with Microsoft technology. The clients were VERY happy to get off that old server. No one was around to support it anymore...etc. That was 10 year old java code that I didn't have to do a thing to when I moved it onto j2sdk1.4.2_XX.
- It's almost scary how many different ways you can configure things in Tomcat. We had outstanding issue that was 'bugging' me after 14 hours of work. The client required the application to be available from two separate url paths without using an apache web server to do url rewriting. I tried various different configurations in the app's web.xml, the global web.xml, the server.xml and found that I could get the url's to work, but then I had problems with sessions getting lost/corrupted. In the end, we wrote another servlet (sort of like this, but different) that we configured to 'catch' the url we needed it to and redirect the request to the controller servlet that was already mapped to the other url. This worked beautifully.
- We discovered that if your dealing with pages that have a lot of scriptlet code that does response.sendRedirect(someUrl), these method calls will sometimes throw IllegalState exceptions. The (quick) way to get around throwing the exception is to add a return; statement right after it. Or you could put that kind of logic into a servlet if you have time. I didn't (have time).
- Having good logging is critical to debugging an app in an emergency. Seeing my System.out.println() outputs in the tomcat console was like drinking hot chocolate after a day of skiing. So RIGHT! Of course I commented out those lines before we put the code into production.
- Using technologies that don't required registry keys makes configuration and multiple environment installations very easy. I found that I could write two short paragraphs of directions (documentation?) and that was enough for my client to install java and Tomcat into their new test environment by himself. (Pretty much copy - paste, and add the JAVA_HOME system variable and add the j2sdk...\bin onto the Path system variable). They were very happy about that too.
- Having hard coded path references to properties files in java code is so nasty! Every time we changed the path, we had to recompile all our classes. I know that's not the right way to do things, but the client just wanted to get things working and worry about refactoring later.

No comments: