You will be redirected in 30 seconds or close now.

ColdFusion Authors: Yakov Fain, Jeremy Geelan, Maureen O'Gara, Nancy Y. Nee, Tad Anderson

Related Topics: ColdFusion

ColdFusion: Article

Why It's Wrong to Use Application.dsn in Your Templates

Why It's Wrong to Use Application.dsn in Your Templates

You've probably seen the use of a variable called "application.dsn" (or "application.datasource") in code. Perhaps you've even been taught to use the method in a class.

Maybe you've even been doing it in your own code. I'm talking about setting this variable in the application.cfm file to hold the name of your data source for a given application.

It seems so innocuous, and it seems to provide ways to make your code easier to maintain (change the dsn variable once in the application.cfm, and all the templates that use it under control of that application.cfm get the benefit of the change).

The Problem
However, there's a problem and it can be a nasty one. This issue has to do with the locking of (or failure to lock) shared-scope variables such as this one, and the fact that rarely does any discussion of this approach include the consequences of using shared variable scopes. There have been other articles in CFDJ on the subject of shared variable locking, as well as Macromedia Knowledge Base articles.

Maybe you didn't make the connection between them and this issue. This article puts the problem in perspective and offers some explanations of how to understand and resolve it. The ultimate solution involves using a "request"-scoped variable instead of an "application"-scoped one.

If you're not familiar with shared variable scopes, or are fuzzy about locking issues, or perhaps have never understood what "request" scope variables are about, this article should help you.

If you do understand these things, change your references to application.dsn to request.dsn, and if you find any locks around code that was using such an application.dsn variable, you need to consider whether those should stay as well. I'll also offer insights into how to find and fix such locking references.

Some Background
You may see code doing this in application.cfm:

<CFSET application.dsn = "whatever">

which declares the variable as "global," in essence, and can therefore be used later in all other templates as in:

<CFQUERY datasource="#application.dsn#" ... >

to refer to that data source name. The upside to this is that if the data source name needs to be changed (from "whatever" to "whatever_test", for instance), you can simply modify the application.cfm to point to the new name, and all templates under its control get the benefit of the change.

It's a good plan, but the use of an application-scoped variable is flawed. It opens you to potentially troublesome locking issues (for more on that, including a good explanation for why it's a problem, see "ColdFusion Locking Best Practices" at www.allaire.com/Handlers/index.cfm?ID=20370&Method=Full). More important, you can have the intended benefit with an equally useful and less troublesome way.

The Solution
For reasons I'll explain in a moment if it's still unclear, I'm suggesting that you stop using the application scope to hold the data source name. However, instead of dropping "application." from the variable name, I'm suggesting that you use the "request" scope. In other words, do the following (in your application.cfm):

<CFSET request.dsn = "whatever">

and then in all your templates do:

<CFQUERY datasource="#request.dsn#" ...>

If it's not clear why this is useful, or how it works, then there may be confusion about:

  • How the application.cfm works like a CFINCLUDE (and how we could, but won't, use a local variable called "dsn")
  • What the request scope is about (and why it's better to use "request.dsn")
Let me explain both. Though it would seem that many understand the first point, I find they often don't and it's fundamental to the rest of the discussion. The use of request scoped variables is also poorly understood by many. The end result is that you'll no longer have to deal with locking issues with regard to this variable.

How Application.cfm Works Like a CFINCLUDE
And How We Could, but Won't, Use a Local Variable Called "dsn"
Nearly every CF developer knows that whenever a CF template is run, CF first tries to execute any application.cfm that exists in the same directory (or its parent directory, or its grandparent, and so on).

What may not be obvious is that CF actually runs the application.cfm like a CFINCLUDE, which means that any variables set there, including "local" variables (such as <CFSET firstname="bob">), are then available to the template that was originally being run.

So let's say we have a template that does the following:

<CFOUTPUT>Hello #firstname#

If it did this and nothing else, you might expect it to fail since you can't refer to variables that don't exist, and it's only outputting the variable, not creating it. But if firstname was set in application.cfm (assuming this template is in a directory controlled by that application.cfm), it can indeed refer to the variable.

Knowing that, you may wonder why the folks who promoted this solution of setting the dsn variable to the application scope even bothered. They could just as easily have said:

<CFSET dsn = "whatever">

and then in all their templates do:

<CFQUERY datasource="#dsn#" ...>

It would work. In fact, there's no need to be using the application scope to pass the variable to all templates (make it global), because any variables set in the application.cfm "trickle down" to all templates, in effect making them global. There are certainly good uses of application scoped variables, but this isn't one of them.

The simple example of setting a variable called "dsn" (or what could be formally specified as variables.dsn, which is the same thing) to hold the name of the data source would work, and would trickle down to all the templates. It's effectively "global," at least for the life of that template, and it's reset at the execution of each template by being executed in the application.cfm each time.

I've recommended that you use "request.dsn" rather than "dsn" or "variables.dsn". Why? And what is the request scope, anyway?

What the Request Scope Is About
And Why It's Better to Use "Request.dsn"
If you understand that setting a local variable called "dsn" will work, can you think of any situation in which your code may expect to have access to that variable but won't? Think hard. Okay, custom tags. Yep, most know that custom tags have their own local variable scope. So a local variable set in the caller (or in the application.cfm) won't be available to the custom tag.

When we were setting the dsn variable to an application scope, it was available in the custom tag (as are all shared scopes and also form, url, cgi, and other variables that are passed to the calling template).

By changing the application.dsn variable to dsn (or variables.dsn, same thing) while it's available in all templates under control of the application.cfm, it's not available to any custom tags called by those templates. That's why we need to use the request scope instead.

Its sole purpose, poorly understood though it is, is to create local variables in a program that are available within custom tags called by that program (and vice versa). That's it. Nothing more.

Many confuse the request scope with some sort of persistence or shared nature (and the fact that there's a different kind of "request" scope in other languages like ASP and JSP only confuses matters further). It's best to think of it as nothing more than a scope that allows local variables to be seen in a custom tag called by the template setting the request scope variable. And since our request.dsn variable is set in the application.cfm, it trickles down to the template being executed and is therefore also available to any custom tags we call as well.

That's why you should use the request scope rather than a local scope.

Remediation of Application.dsn Misuse
One last thought: you may not be able to blindly do a global search and replace application.dsn with request.dsn wherever it occurs. Depending on the savvy of the coder, the use of application.dsn may have at least two wrinkles that require more care than just replacing application.dsn with request.dsn:

  • You may be testing for the existence of application.dsn before setting it in the application.cfm, in which case you need to set the request.dsn outside that test since it will never "already exist."
  • You may have CFLOCKs surrounding CFQUERYs, or CFLOCKs that are moving the application.dsn to a local variable. You wouldn't want to just rename the scope in those instances.
Each of these cases requires a little more care to resolve. I provide further insights into solving these problems on my Web site, www.systemanage.com/cff/application_dsn_bad.cfm.

I hope this article not only helps prevent problems with application.dsn, specifically, but also increases your understanding of request scope variables and application.cfm processing in general.

More Stories By Charlie Arehart

A veteran ColdFusion developer since 1997, Charlie Arehart is a long-time contributor to the community and a recognized Adobe Community Expert. He's a certified Advanced CF Developer and Instructor for CF 4/5/6/7 and served as tech editor of CFDJ until 2003. Now an independent contractor (carehart.org) living in Alpharetta, GA, Charlie provides high-level troubleshooting/tuning assistance and training/mentoring for CF teams. He helps run the Online ColdFusion Meetup (coldfusionmeetup.com, an online CF user group), is a contributor to the CF8 WACK books by Ben Forta, and is frequently invited to speak at developer conferences and user groups worldwide.

Comments (3) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

Most Recent Comments
charlie arehart 04/15/08 02:16:10 PM EDT

Thanks for that, Brian. I should add that while this article was from 2001, since CF7 we now have application.cfc and its onapplicationstart method. That does change things a bit, in that one could safely create an application variable there and it really would be created only once, at the start of the application. For that reason, I suppose it may no longer be so "wrong" to see application.dsn--but again, that's only if you're using this feature. Otherwise, it may be better to stick with the request scope as discussed in the article.

Brian 04/04/08 03:17:23 PM EDT

Very informative! I've been wondering what the request scope is for such a long time and no other resource did such a great job of explaining it.

Charlie Arehart 08/31/01 10:36:00 AM EDT

A read asked by email: "don't you also need to lock request vars?" The answer is no. They're not shared by any other user. More particularly, they're not shared by any other "thread".

The request scope, like the variables scope, is local to the running program and belongs only to it. It's a single thread of execution, so there's no risk of conflict with other threads, as with the "shared scope" variables, server, application, and session.

@ThingsExpo Stories
Business professionals no longer wonder if they'll migrate to the cloud; it's now a matter of when. The cloud environment has proved to be a major force in transitioning to an agile business model that enables quick decisions and fast implementation that solidify customer relationships. And when the cloud is combined with the power of cognitive computing, it drives innovation and transformation that achieves astounding competitive advantage.
As IoT continues to increase momentum, so does the associated risk. Secure Device Lifecycle Management (DLM) is ranked as one of the most important technology areas of IoT. Driving this trend is the realization that secure support for IoT devices provides companies the ability to deliver high-quality, reliable, secure offerings faster, create new revenue streams, and reduce support costs, all while building a competitive advantage in their markets. In this session, we will use customer use cases...
Digital Transformation: Preparing Cloud & IoT Security for the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) power solution development and delivery, many businesses need to build backend cloud capabilities. Well-poised organizations, marketing smart devices with AI and BlockChain capabilities prepare to refine compliance and regulatory capabilities in 2018. Volumes of health, financial, technical and privacy data, along with tightening compliance requirements by...
The IoT Will Grow: In what might be the most obvious prediction of the decade, the IoT will continue to expand next year, with more and more devices coming online every single day. What isn’t so obvious about this prediction: where that growth will occur. The retail, healthcare, and industrial/supply chain industries will likely see the greatest growth. Forrester Research has predicted the IoT will become “the backbone” of customer value as it continues to grow. It is no surprise that retail is ...
Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settlement products to hedge funds and investment banks. After, he co-founded a revenue cycle management company where he learned about Bitcoin and eventually Ethereal. Andrew's role at ConsenSys Enterprise is a mul...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
DevOpsSummit New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DXWorldEXPO within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive over the long term. A total of 88% of Fortune 500 companies from a generation ago are now out of bus...
With 10 simultaneous tracks, keynotes, general sessions and targeted breakout classes, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO are two of the most important technology events of the year. Since its launch over eight years ago, @CloudEXPO and DXWorldEXPO have presented a rock star faculty as well as showcased hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors! In this blog post, we provide 7 tips on how, as part of our world-class faculty, you can deliver one of the most popular sessions at our events. But before reading...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that "Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO" has announced that its Call for Papers is now open. The two-day event will present 20 top Blockchain experts. All speaking inquiries which covers the following information can be submitted by email to [email protected] Financial enterprises in New York City, London, Singapore, and other world financial capitals are embracing a new generation of smart, automated FinTech that eliminates many cumbersome, slow, and expe...
Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo have announced the conference tracks for Cloud Expo 2018. Cloud Expo will be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, and November 6-8, 2018, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation (DX) is a major focus with the introduction of DX Expo within the program. Successful transformation requires a laser focus on being data-driven and on using all the tools available that enable transformation if they plan to survive ov...
DXWordEXPO New York 2018, colocated with CloudEXPO New York 2018 will be held November 11-13, 2018, in New York City and will bring together Cloud Computing, FinTech and Blockchain, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, AI, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location.
DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing was coined and where technology buyers and vendors meet to experience and discuss the big picture of Digital Transformation and all of the strategies, tactics, and tools they need to realize their goals. Sponsors of DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO benefit from unmatched branding, profile building and lead generation opportunities.
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that ICOHOLDER named "Media Sponsor" of Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO. ICOHOLDER give you detailed information and help the community to invest in the trusty projects. Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO has opened its Call for Papers. The two-day event will present 20 top Blockchain experts. All speaking inquiries which covers the following information can be submitted by email to [email protected] Miami Blockchain Event by FinTechEXPO also offers s...
Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized digital expert, bestselling book author, frequent keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, and transformation expert based in Washington, DC. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the industry-leading digital strategy and online community solutions firm, 7Summits.
Widespread fragmentation is stalling the growth of the IIoT and making it difficult for partners to work together. The number of software platforms, apps, hardware and connectivity standards is creating paralysis among businesses that are afraid of being locked into a solution. EdgeX Foundry is unifying the community around a common IoT edge framework and an ecosystem of interoperable components.
Digital Transformation and Disruption, Amazon Style - What You Can Learn. Chris Kocher is a co-founder of Grey Heron, a management and strategic marketing consulting firm. He has 25+ years in both strategic and hands-on operating experience helping executives and investors build revenues and shareholder value. He has consulted with over 130 companies on innovating with new business models, product strategies and monetization. Chris has held management positions at HP and Symantec in addition to ...
Cloud-enabled transformation has evolved from cost saving measure to business innovation strategy -- one that combines the cloud with cognitive capabilities to drive market disruption. Learn how you can achieve the insight and agility you need to gain a competitive advantage. Industry-acclaimed CTO and cloud expert, Shankar Kalyana presents. Only the most exceptional IBMers are appointed with the rare distinction of IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the company. Shankar has also receive...
Enterprises have taken advantage of IoT to achieve important revenue and cost advantages. What is less apparent is how incumbent enterprises operating at scale have, following success with IoT, built analytic, operations management and software development capabilities - ranging from autonomous vehicles to manageable robotics installations. They have embraced these capabilities as if they were Silicon Valley startups.
The standardization of container runtimes and images has sparked the creation of an almost overwhelming number of new open source projects that build on and otherwise work with these specifications. Of course, there's Kubernetes, which orchestrates and manages collections of containers. It was one of the first and best-known examples of projects that make containers truly useful for production use. However, more recently, the container ecosystem has truly exploded. A service mesh like Istio addr...
Predicting the future has never been more challenging - not because of the lack of data but because of the flood of ungoverned and risk laden information. Microsoft states that 2.5 exabytes of data are created every day. Expectations and reliance on data are being pushed to the limits, as demands around hybrid options continue to grow.