Click here to close now.

Welcome!

You will be redirected in 30 seconds or close now.

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

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
One of the biggest impacts of the Internet of Things is and will continue to be on data; specifically data volume, management and usage. Companies are scrambling to adapt to this new and unpredictable data reality with legacy infrastructure that cannot handle the speed and volume of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Don DeLoach, CEO and president of Infobright, will discuss how companies need to rethink their data infrastructure to participate in the IoT, including: Data storage: Understanding the kinds of data: structured, unstructured, big/small? Analytics: What kinds and how responsiv...
Since 2008 and for the first time in history, more than half of humans live in urban areas, urging cities to become “smart.” Today, cities can leverage the wide availability of smartphones combined with new technologies such as Beacons or NFC to connect their urban furniture and environment to create citizen-first services that improve transportation, way-finding and information delivery. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Laetitia Gazel-Anthoine, CEO of Connecthings, will focus on successful use cases.
Sensor-enabled things are becoming more commonplace, precursors to a larger and more complex framework that most consider the ultimate promise of the IoT: things connecting, interacting, sharing, storing, and over time perhaps learning and predicting based on habits, behaviors, location, preferences, purchases and more. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tom Wesselman, Director of Communications Ecosystem Architecture at Plantronics, will examine the still nascent IoT as it is coalescing, including what it is today, what it might ultimately be, the role of wearable tech, and technology gaps stil...
The true value of the Internet of Things (IoT) lies not just in the data, but through the services that protect the data, perform the analysis and present findings in a usable way. With many IoT elements rooted in traditional IT components, Big Data and IoT isn’t just a play for enterprise. In fact, the IoT presents SMBs with the prospect of launching entirely new activities and exploring innovative areas. CompTIA research identifies several areas where IoT is expected to have the greatest impact.
Wearable devices have come of age. The primary applications of wearables so far have been "the Quantified Self" or the tracking of one's fitness and health status. We propose the evolution of wearables into social and emotional communication devices. Our BE(tm) sensor uses light to visualize the skin conductance response. Our sensors are very inexpensive and can be massively distributed to audiences or groups of any size, in order to gauge reactions to performances, video, or any kind of presentation. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Jocelyn Scheirer, CEO & Founder of Bionolux, will discuss ho...
SYS-CON Events announced today that GENBAND, a leading developer of real time communications software solutions, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's WebRTC Summit, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The GENBAND team will be on hand to demonstrate their newest product, Kandy. Kandy is a communications Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) that enables companies to seamlessly integrate more human communications into their Web and mobile applications - creating more engaging experiences for their customers and boosting collaboration and productiv...
Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, had reached 30,000 page views on his home page - http://RobertoMedrano.SYS-CON.com/ - on the SYS-CON family of online magazines, which includes Cloud Computing Journal, Internet of Things Journal, Big Data Journal, and SOA World Magazine. He is a recognized executive in the information technology fields of SOA, internet security, governance, and compliance. He has extensive experience with both start-ups and large companies, having been involved at the beginning of four IT industries: EDA, Open Systems, Computer Security and now SOA.
From telemedicine to smart cars, digital homes and industrial monitoring, the explosive growth of IoT has created exciting new business opportunities for real time calls and messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ivelin Ivanov, CEO and Co-Founder of Telestax, shared some of the new revenue sources that IoT created for Restcomm – the open source telephony platform from Telestax. Ivelin Ivanov is a technology entrepreneur who founded Mobicents, an Open Source VoIP Platform, to help create, deploy, and manage applications integrating voice, video and data. He is the co-founder of TeleStax, a...
The industrial software market has treated data with the mentality of “collect everything now, worry about how to use it later.” We now find ourselves buried in data, with the pervasive connectivity of the (Industrial) Internet of Things only piling on more numbers. There’s too much data and not enough information. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Bob Gates, Global Marketing Director, GE’s Intelligent Platforms business, to discuss how realizing the power of IoT, software developers are now focused on understanding how industrial data can create intelligence for industrial operations. Imagine ...
Operational Hadoop and the Lambda Architecture for Streaming Data Apache Hadoop is emerging as a distributed platform for handling large and fast incoming streams of data. Predictive maintenance, supply chain optimization, and Internet-of-Things analysis are examples where Hadoop provides the scalable storage, processing, and analytics platform to gain meaningful insights from granular data that is typically only valuable from a large-scale, aggregate view. One architecture useful for capturing and analyzing streaming data is the Lambda Architecture, representing a model of how to analyze rea...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vitria Technology, Inc. will exhibit at SYS-CON’s @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Vitria will showcase the company’s new IoT Analytics Platform through live demonstrations at booth #330. Vitria’s IoT Analytics Platform, fully integrated and powered by an operational intelligence engine, enables customers to rapidly build and operationalize advanced analytics to deliver timely business outcomes for use cases across the industrial, enterprise, and consumer segments.
The explosion of connected devices / sensors is creating an ever-expanding set of new and valuable data. In parallel the emerging capability of Big Data technologies to store, access, analyze, and react to this data is producing changes in business models under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT). In particular within the Insurance industry, IoT appears positioned to enable deep changes by altering relationships between insurers, distributors, and the insured. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Sick, a Senior Manager and Big Data Architect within Ernst and Young's Financial Servi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Open Data Centers (ODC), a carrier-neutral colocation provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Open Data Centers is a carrier-neutral data center operator in New Jersey and New York City offering alternative connectivity options for carriers, service providers and enterprise customers.
When it comes to the Internet of Things, hooking up will get you only so far. If you want customers to commit, you need to go beyond simply connecting products. You need to use the devices themselves to transform how you engage with every customer and how you manage the entire product lifecycle. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, will show how “product relationship management” can help you leverage your connected devices and the data they generate about customer usage and product performance to deliver extremely compelling and reliabl...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CodeFutures, a leading supplier of database performance tools, has been named a “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. CodeFutures is an independent software vendor focused on providing tools that deliver database performance tools that increase productivity during database development and increase database performance and scalability during production.
The IoT market is projected to be $1.9 trillion tidal wave that’s bigger than the combined market for smartphones, tablets and PCs. While IoT is widely discussed, what not being talked about are the monetization opportunities that are created from ubiquitous connectivity and the ensuing avalanche of data. While we cannot foresee every service that the IoT will enable, we should future-proof operations by preparing to monetize them with extremely agile systems.
There’s Big Data, then there’s really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. Learn about IoT, Big Data and deployments processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines.
The explosion of connected devices / sensors is creating an ever-expanding set of new and valuable data. In parallel the emerging capability of Big Data technologies to store, access, analyze, and react to this data is producing changes in business models under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT). In particular within the Insurance industry, IoT appears positioned to enable deep changes by altering relationships between insurers, distributors, and the insured. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Sick, a Senior Manager and Big Data Architect within Ernst and Young's Financial Servi...
“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.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Intelligent Systems Services 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. Established in 1994, Intelligent Systems Services Inc. is located near Washington, DC, with representatives and partners nationwide. ISS’s well-established track record is based on the continuous pursuit of excellence in designing, implementing and supporting nationwide clients’ mission-critical systems. ISS has completed many successful projects in Healthcare, Commercial, Manufacturing, ...