|By Ben Forta||
|October 18, 1999 12:00 AM EDT||
No one wants to write buggy code, at least no one I choose to know. Bugs are annoying, bugs are embarrassing. And bugs can cost you (and your clients) lots of time and money.
Bugfree code is the ideal all developers strive for - at least should strive for - but it's a lofty goal not easily attained.
To write bugfree code it's important to understand how bugs are introduced. I'd like to explore what I believe to be one of the primary causes for the introduction of bugs into your code: failure to expect the unexpected. While many of these ideas apply to application development in general, the positioning of this column relates specifically to ColdFusion.
Flow? What Flow?
Applications are designed with a particular program flow in mind. Users start at point A, go to point B, then to point C. Program flow is an important part of any application, and when developers write they anticipate a particular program flow.
Here are some examples.
In each of these examples there's a logical starting point, then a series of steps. The search dialog must be displayed before the search can be performed, users must select items from the product catalog before the order can be processed, and login information must be provided before access can be authenticated.
In traditional application development, programmers had total control over program flow. Users had no way to access screens out of order, nor could they start from a screen other than the one they were supposed to start at. But Web applications, for better or worse, behave differently. As every Web page has a unique address (its URL), it's indeed possible for users to execute pages out of order, just as it's possible for them to start from the wrong page.
How could this occur? There are several ways. Users could bookmark pages directly, search engines might index pages below your root, and newer browsers feature an auto-fill option that completes URLs for users but frequently uses the most recently visited page in the site (often the wrong page).
To understand this better, look at the following code:
<!--- Perform search --->
<CFQUERY DATASOURCE="ds" NAME="search">
SELECT title FROM books
WHERE title LIKE %#FORM.title#%'
<!--- Create page --->
<!--- Display search results --->
Actually, this is fairly typical ColdFusion code (it's even commented). It performs a simple database search and displays the results. The search itself is driven by a form that contains a field named "title"
And that's what's wrong. The code makes two dangerous assumptions - that the page will be called from a form and that the form contains a field named "title". If either assumption turns out to be incorrect, ColdFusion throws an error because #FORM.title# would refer to a variable that didn't exist.
What's the solution? There are a couple of things you can and should do. The first is always check for the existence of variables before using them, initializing them with default values if needed. The ColdFusion <CFPARAM> tag is very useful for this, and good programming practices demand that every variable be initialized this way so they always exist (either as submitted FORM or URL values, or as locally created variables). If the following code were inserted above the code example, the page would always execute correctly, regardless of how it was invoked and what fields were passed:
<CFPARAM NAME="FORM.title" DEFAULT="">
Sometimes you may not want to use default values. For example, in the preceding code you may not want to display the entire contents of the table if the page is executed directly. If a user ends up on this page without having filled in the form to perform the search, you'd want to send them to the search page instead. Here's one way you could do this (assuming the search page was named search.cfm):
<!--- Is form field present? --->
<CFIF NOT IsDefined("FORM.title")>
<!--- Not present, redirect to search screen --->
With this snippet at the top of the page your code is now safe. If users try to execute the page directly, you'll programmatically redirect them to where they really should be.
The truth is, every page on your site should be written so that it's safe to execute directly. That way you'll never make assumptions about program flow, and your code won't break when the unexpected occurs.
Are you up for a challenge? How about writing code that uses <CFDIRECTORY> to traverse your code tree to find all CFM pages, then looping through each one, executing it via <CFHTTP> to see which ones throw errors and which work. You could call this code daily (or weekly or monthly) and e-mail yourself the results so you'll know as soon as possible if things might break.
Changes in Site Usage
Another phenomenon that's part of Web site use is the frequency with which that use changes. Programmers anticipate that their site will be used in one way, but, inevitably, users find another way to use it. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but it does present an interesting problem.
All applications, not just Web-based applications, are designed so that particular parts perform better than others. This is usually because certain parts of the application are more critical and get more use, so the time and effort needed to improve and enhance the site tends to be best spent on these parts.
The application hums along nicely, handling the load thrown at it, and everything works well until those pesky users start using your site in ways you didn't expect. Suddenly the efficient and highly optimized parts are being executed less and less, and the less fine-tuned (I'm being generous) parts start to buckle under the growing load.
This is actually a very common problem. Some of the largest and most impressive sites on the Internet have fallen victim to it.
The good news is that ColdFusion provides you with an invaluable (and frequently overlooked) tool you can use to identify these potential trouble spots. The ColdFusion Administrator (starting in version 4) features a checkbox that, when checked, allows you to log page requests that take longer than a specified amount of time.
Again, the key here is to expect the unexpected and be ready when it occurs. Individual log entries aren't necessarily indicative of a problem, but repeated entries most definitely are. I'd strongly advise all site administrators to enable this option, even on production sites. Determine what the "normal" response time should be (and then pad that number a little) and have ColdFusion log all page requests that take longer. If specific pages start appearing in the log repeatedly, you'll know where to spend your fine-tuning and performance-enhancing efforts.
Up for another challenge? Write a scheduled event that checks this log file daily for new entries. If it finds any, it should e-mail them to you so you'll know about them immediately.
When Bad Things Happen
You've cleaned up your site. You no longer expect specific program flow, nor do you expect specific usage patterns. That's great, but it's not enough.
The other big trouble spot is reliance on other systems and technologies. Whether it's database integration, execution of third-party objects and components, or interaction with other Internet protocols (like HTTP, FTP and NNTP), the more you rely on other systems and technologies, the more room there is for something to go wrong.
Whether it's database failure, the inability to connect to a specific host, or errors and problems in calls resources, they're all your problem because to the end user your site is broken. It's not an ideal world out there; bad things do happen and you'll be blamed. And you're not going to escape this one anytime soon.
So what do you do? Again, ColdFusion (version 4 or later) provides a tool to respond to these situations - try catch error handling. While full coverage of try catch is beyond the scope of this column (I'll devote an entire column to error handling in the future), here's the basic idea.
Try catch error handling allows you to trap errors in your code, then pick up the processing elsewhere when an error occurs. The basic page layout looks like this:
... page goes here ...
... error processing goes here ...
By wrapping an entire page between <CFTRY> and </CFTRY> tags, any error that occurs within that page will be trapped. As soon as an error is caught, processing will be taken over by the catch block (the code between <CFCATCH> and </CFCATCH>). There's no limit to what you can place in the catch block-you can change variables, redirect requests, generate e-mail, write logs and even try to fix error conditions.
Experienced developers take this one step further by nesting try catch error handling. Generic error handling is implemented at the page level, and additional error handling is implemented around specific features or functions. This type of implementation provides the greatest level of control and allows developers to not just expect the unexpected, but also to handle the unexpected.
The Internet is a highly dynamic and configurable environment. With all that flexibility and power comes the need for greater caution and planning to ensure that applications don't suddenly break. Bugfree code is a wonderful ideal, but for most of us, writing good code that doesn't break in unexpected scenarios is as close as we'll get to attaining it.
The bottom line is that as developers writing code for this new environment, we must all expect the unexpected- because it's going to happen and usually at the least opportune time.
“In the past year we've seen a lot of stabilization of WebRTC. You can now use it in production with a far greater degree of certainty. A lot of the real developments in the past year have been in things like the data channel, which will enable a whole new type of application," explained Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 20, 2014 08:00 AM EST Reads: 1,241
SYS-CON Events announced today that IDenticard will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IDenticard™ is the security division of Brady Corp (NYSE: BRC), a $1.5 billion manufacturer of identification products. We have small-company values with the strength and stability of a major corporation. IDenticard offers local sales, support and service to our customers across the United States and Canada. Our partner network encompasses some 300 of the world's leading systems integrators and security s...
Dec. 20, 2014 07:00 AM EST Reads: 2,057
The BPM world is going through some evolution or changes where traditional business process management solutions really have nowhere to go in terms of development of the road map. In this demo at 15th Cloud Expo, Kyle Hansen, Director of Professional Services at AgilePoint, shows AgilePoint’s unique approach to dealing with this market circumstance by developing a rapid application composition or development framework.
Dec. 20, 2014 06:00 AM EST Reads: 973
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), moderated by Ashar Baig, Research Director, Cloud, at Gigaom Research, Nate Gordon, Director of T...
Dec. 19, 2014 11:30 AM EST Reads: 2,328
"BSQUARE is in the business of selling software solutions for smart connected devices. It's obvious that IoT has moved from being a technology to being a fundamental part of business, and in the last 18 months people have said let's figure out how to do it and let's put some focus on it, " explained Dave Wagstaff, VP & Chief Architect, at BSQUARE Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 19, 2014 11:00 AM EST Reads: 1,893
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas.
Dec. 19, 2014 07:00 AM EST Reads: 2,200
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
Dec. 19, 2014 06:30 AM EST Reads: 2,200
ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...
Dec. 19, 2014 05:00 AM EST Reads: 2,015
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
Dec. 18, 2014 09:45 PM EST Reads: 1,069
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 18, 2014 09:00 AM EST Reads: 1,324
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, at more than US$500 billion, and ranks 23rd in the world. A recent re-evaluation of Nigeria's true economic size doubled the previous estimate, and brought it well ahead of South Africa, which is a member (unlike Nigeria) of the G20 club for political as well as economic reasons. Nigeria's economy can be said to be quite diverse from one point of view, but heavily dependent on oil and gas at the same time. Oil and natural gas account for about 15% of Nigera's overall economy, but traditionally represent more than 90% of the country's exports and as...
Dec. 18, 2014 06:00 AM EST Reads: 856
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...
Dec. 17, 2014 11:15 PM EST Reads: 1,350
"At our booth we are showing how to provide trust in the Internet of Things. Trust is where everything starts to become secure and trustworthy. Now with the scaling of the Internet of Things it becomes an interesting question – I've heard numbers from 200 billion devices next year up to a trillion in the next 10 to 15 years," explained Johannes Lintzen, Vice President of Sales at Utimaco, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 17, 2014 11:00 PM EST Reads: 1,407
"For over 25 years we have been working with a lot of enterprise customers and we have seen how companies create applications. And now that we have moved to cloud computing, mobile, social and the Internet of Things, we see that the market needs a new way of creating applications," stated Jesse Shiah, CEO, President and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 17, 2014 08:00 PM EST Reads: 1,392
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
Dec. 17, 2014 06:30 PM EST Reads: 1,300
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
Dec. 17, 2014 11:45 AM EST Reads: 1,517
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
Dec. 16, 2014 11:45 PM EST Reads: 1,351
Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your organization should be taking to position itself for the next platform of digital competition.
Dec. 15, 2014 11:45 PM EST Reads: 1,710
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Dec. 15, 2014 10:30 AM EST Reads: 6,892
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group, discussed how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, sensors, social, and ...
Dec. 15, 2014 10:00 AM EST Reads: 1,970