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

Best Practices in ColdFusion Development

Best Practices in ColdFusion Development

In recent years we've witnessed a trend in which organizations gather, codify, evaluate, and disseminate seemingly endless lists of "Best Practices" - guidelines that help promote the success of their business, the consistency of their actions and, presumably, the general cheerfulness of their employees.

Best Practices are cherished by neophytes and mentors alike for many reasons. For beginners (or those toiling fiendishly into the night, alone in their basements, who can't help but cackle, "It's alive!" every time their application runs without crashing), Best Practices offer a coherent and consistent mode of communication with fellow coders who might inherit their work. They also offer guidelines that hasten the debugging process, and they create a compendium of development tips and tricks that can be time consuming to find on your own. For more seasoned developers, Best Practices offer a refreshing prompt to review their habits - as Hal Helms suggested in "Making Assertions" (CFDJ, Vol. 2, issue 10) - and provide an excellent excuse for engaging in witty and urbane debate with one's peers.

These particular Best Practices are divided into five categories: General, Security, Portability/Modularity, Speed/Performance, and Teamwork/Readability. In the spirit of pursuing a provocative American trend, I offer this list of Best Practices for ColdFusion coding and development, which is the strange fruit of many conversations with many developers. My hope is to continue that conversation, and I invite your responses as well as your own Best Practices.

General Practices
When debugging an application, set a simple variable and use <cfoutput> to display it on your processing page.

For instance, you might write <cfset Status = "Okay"> in the offending template, then write <cfoutput>#Status#</cfoutput> in the page in question. If you see the word "Okay" when you view your page in a browser, ColdFusion is processing your application at least up to that point. Move the <cfoutput> tags around within your application, and you can pinpoint exactly how far your application is processing, de-pending on whether or not your output is displayed.

This is also a good way to ensure compatibility of your applications across browsers. For instance, Internet Explorer 5.5 handles table display differently than IE 5.0 does. I've seen well-written applications that simply don't display in IE 5.5. This tip was the light at the end of the tunnel.

You can use a related technique within <cftransaction> blocks. For instance, set the status variable as above, and write a conditional clause around your <cftransaction> <cfquery> block. Set the status to "Not Okay" within a <cfcatch/cftry> block where the <cftransaction> is "Rollback".

<cfif status IS "Okay">
<cftransaction action="commit">
<cfquery...></cfquery></cfif></cftransaction>

Your output will indicate the status of your database transaction.

Use the poor man's Spectra.
While this little idea certainly doesn't cover the many excellent features of Spectra, doing the following will help keep your clients - or your non-IT staff - happy when frequent content updates are an issue. Use a custom tag for formatting and general page display, and <cfinclude> all your content. For instance, when working on a page called "Aboutus.cfm", you might create a custom tag called <cf_layout> or <cf_table>, which allows easy and consistent specification of its attri-butes. You can title the headers of your tables, specify the colors and borders, and size them up. Then write a file called "AboutusContent.cfm", which is only plain text and no code. In a cell within your table call <cfinclude template= "Aboutus Content.cfm">. You can specify fonts with an external stylesheet or from within your custom tag, and you've got instant, consistent formatting and total separation of code from content. When it's time for others to update the content, they don't touch a line of code. Note that there's a slight performance penalty for using <cfinclude> as well as for any custom tag.

<cf_LogoTable>
<tr><cfoutput>
<td align="right"><font face=#font#" size=#medsize#">
Username:</font></td>
</td><input type="Text" name="Username" size="#bigsize#"></td></cfoutput>
</tr>
</cf_Logotable>

where the file LogoTable.cfm de-fines the fonts and sizes as cfparameters and also begins the table by defining a <tr> that contains the company logo, a background color, and more. It's a way of making a hybrid stylesheet/HTML that's easy to reuse.

You can also easily borrow Spectra's Universally Unique Identifier for Content Objects with the ColdFusion "CreateUUID" function as follows: <cfoutput>#CreateUUID()# </cfoutput>. It's also native to Transact-SQL as "NewID()". They both generate a 128-bit value, (almost) guar-anteed to be a unique value for any computer on a network because the last six digits are generated from the node number for the IEEE 802 identifier on your machine's NIC. Kewl! (Notice that there are a couple dozen CF functions like this one that have an exact counterpart in SQL. Use the CF functions when possible, however, for reasons that follow.)

Always scope your variables.
Perhaps it's a little thing, but I've found that referring to #Form.My Variable# rather than #MyVariable# makes it easier for other developers to follow your work, and it cuts down on debugging time. As a side note, remember that when working with <cfmodule>, the code of the module or custom tag is executed in its own process, outside the scope of the calling template. (Thus the module has no access to variables in the calling template.)

Security
Don't use hidden fields to pass any sensitive or important variable (e.g., "price" or a limitation on record set returns).

While it's less of a problem with ColdFusion, it takes seconds to hack a page written in Perl or any CGI/server-side language that passes hidden form field variables. (Hacking 101: simply save the page source as an htm file, change the hidden variable to a price or limitation you like better, and pass your new local page to the absolute URL of the processing page.)

In guest book or other form, don't allow *<CF* as user input.
User input forms allow what my wife refers to as an "attractive nuisance"; hooligans have an opportunity to run code (cfdirectory, cffile) from your text fields. Make sure your application knows to return a tsk-tsk if it spots such input. Check for this by placing the following code at the top of your processing page:

<cfif Form.TextBody CONTAINS "%<cf%">
<cfabort showerror="You are very naughty.">
<cfelse>
Thanks for your input. Etc...
</cfif>

Note that <cfexit> is a better choice than <cfabort> if you're running a custom tag.

Use the poor woman's dedicated SQL server.
You've heard it a hundred times. Put your databases on a different machine. But many maverick developers are unable to afford such a scheme. If you're in this valiant group, there is recourse. At the least make sure your databases aren't in the HTTP tree. If you have no control over this (if you're not hosting yourself), generate a random number to name your database with the following code:

<cfoutput>DBCustomers#RandRange (1,1999999999)#
</cfoutput>

If you do have a separate database machine and Web server but one is more powerful than the other, let the faster one be your SQL server. The sine qua non of many ColdFusion applications is a database; therefore, slow database = slow CFServer, but not the other way around.

Portability/Modularity
Avoid proliferating <cfauthenticate> tags since you must specify the security context on the server.

If you move your app to another host or plug the module into an application on a host out of your control or reinstall ColdFusion server or make a significant upgrade, you'll likely have to rewrite your security context, forcing a potentially difficult migration. If you don't face these dilemmas, <cfauthenticate> is an otherwise handy tag.

Format data within your code, not your SQL data type.
For example, imagine you have a field named "Price". Rather than specifying the datatype "money" in your SQL database, specify INT and use the ColdFusion function Dollar format(#Price#). This practice allows you to follow the tradition that dictates one must separate display, action, and content. Also at issue here is portability/migration between database versions and database vendors. This may be more useful to independent developers looking to peddle their application wares than to job shops with their hosting routine down. Note that you'll take a slight performance hit in the (potentially lengthy) interim.

Use relative paths.
In the root of your applications create a folder called "files" or "general" to store single-page items such as "about" and "contactus" that may not merit an entire folder to themselves. Putting all pages in directories off the root maintains the relative paths for <cfincludes>, images, and Flash menu actions (such as GetURL). If you develop for a number of different clients, it's easy to move an application (or part of one) or reuse the entire app in another site. It makes later additions and changes easier to implement and gives you greater control of definitions and permissions in your Web server.

Speed/Performance
Refrain from running <cfloop>s and other complex logic within your <cfquery> tags.

Because the driver connection remains open for the duration of the code executing within <cfquery> tags, Allaire recommends keeping the executable code therein to a minimum. Anyway, you can accomplish the same task by separating out conditional queries to be run only in the event of a <cfswitch/case> clause as in Fusebox. This reduces to: never hit the database if you don't have to, never ask the database for one column or one row more than you need, and keep your conditional logic in Coldfusion where it belongs.

If database performance is an issue for you, keep this in mind: when designing your tables, accept NULL values sparingly, if at all. SQL Server stores a bitmap in every row to indicate whether a column set to accept NULL values is indeed NULL. By allowing NULLs you force SQL Server to decode this bitmap in each and every called row. This practice multiplies the complexity (read "proneness to bugs") of an application. The server logic em-ployed earns you a second performance penalty as well, as you must account for the allowed values throughout your code.

If you have more than one iteration of the <cfif, cfelseif, and cfelse> tag group, consider using <cfswitch> and <cfcase> to boost performance. In a <cfif/cfelse> scenario, ColdFusion must test against every condition before exiting the clause. If your expression matches the final condition in your series of if/elses, ColdFusion is forced to test and reject every condition. Switch/case is less code text than <cfif/cfelse>, making it easier to follow and debug, and since the conditional logic is more efficient, you can take home a performance boost.

Use nested <cfif> tags sparingly.
I state this as a corollary to the above, though the larger point has been made.

Use the function GetTickCount for testing slow or crashing templates implementing CFX tags or complex CFML logic to isolate the source of the problem.

GetTickcount returns a millisecond counter for timing the processing of ColdFusion markup. Try running the following example code. If this page returns slowly in a no-load environment, you can be confident your performance problem is server side and not due to poor coding or conditional logic. Then test it in a loaded environment, such as the suspect template, where your problem will be exacerbated.

<CFSET Count = 1000>
<CFLOOP Index = idxMyIndex From=1>
<CFSET Start = GetTickCount()>
To=#Count#></CFLOOP>
<CFSET Stop = GetTickCount()>
<CFSET RoundTripTime = Stop - Start>
<CFOUTPUT>Round Trip time was #RoundTripTime# milliseconds</CFOUTPUT>

For Spectra developers, watch this count spiral past 3,000. Then have a heart to heart with your sys admin. (Remember, too, that the IIS 4 Management Console spawns a memory leak if left running. Windows 2000's IIS 5 sports a memory leak so exuberant that it will crash your entire system if you don't run the recently released service pack.)

Trick ColdFusion Studio into quickly saving files in your current project folder, rather than the default Studio folder, for speedy development.

Create a favorite with the following steps:

  1. In the Resource window navigate to your project folder.
  2. Right-click in the file list.
  3. Choose "favorite folders > Add current folder to favorites". Add your folder.
  4. Your subsequent effort to File > Save should result in your folder opening first.
Teamwork/Readability
Use lots of comments.

Everyone says this, but the resulting comments from such a vaguely stated rule are vague enough themselves. More important, who hasn't been set back days or weeks by poorly (or un-) commented code they've inherited? Coders must leave breadcrumbs, especially in a landscape where people typically stay at a job for no more than six months. In your application.cfm file, note the following: the author name and e-mail, the date, and a description of the application. As Ben Forta writes in "'The Ten Commandments' - Revisted" (CFDJ, Vol. 2, issue 10), "...every conditional statement, every loop, every set of variable assignments, and every include or component reference, must be commented with a simple statement explaining what's being done, and why."

To this I'd add that you note at the top of your list what other processes are dependent on the current process. This way, if I cut anything out of my app elsewhere, you'll be able to tell what else might unexpectedly fall apart. I even go so far as to include a "ReadMe.cfm" file in every application I write. When you comment heavily like this, however, I suggest you get rid of the resulting whitespace. In ColdFusion 4.5 you can do this by going to the Administration Page and enabling "Suppress whitespace by default". Refrain from ending a template with a comment if you choose this setting on the server. On a local level, you can also use the <cfprocessingdirective suppresswhitespace="Yes"> tag to handle it. The downside? You need this tag and its closing counterpart in all the templates you have to remove the spaces.

Use tab stops in your code to make it readable later - for yourself and others.

Validate at the top of the form so you can immediately see which fields contain a validation rule.

Use a standard, conventional nomenclature for your ColdFusion objects.
The Hungarian notation standard used in constructing Visual Basic and C applications offers some direction (see Table 1). So named because it was popularized at Microsoft by Hungarian programmer Charles Simonyi, Hungarian notation is a naming convention that allows the programmer to determine the type and use of an identifier (variable, function, constant, etc.)

If you don't like Hungarian notation, just make one up with the people on your team - and consider the following:

  • Mnemonic value: Makes it easy to remember the name
  • Suggestive value: So others can easily understand the name
  • Consistency: Similar names for similar objects
I hope there are one or two suggestions among these that seasoned developers haven't explored and can try out on their own. I also hope beginning coders have found that even if you don't follow any of the suggestions outlined here, it's time saving and aggravation reducing to create a set of your own coding practices that you stick to consistently.

Thank you to everyone who contributed suggestions, especially to Ben Forta for pointing me in good directions for research, and to my friend and colleague Garrick Brooks for contributing excellent ideas on security issues.

More Stories By Eben Hewitt

Eben Hewitt is a Web application developer for Canyon WebWorks-Arizona Internet, the largest full-service Internet company in the state, and an Allaire Alliance Consulting and Hosting Partner. Eben has been writing ColdFusion applications for a more than a year. He has a master’s degree, though he hopes no one will hold it against him.

Comments (0)

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
GENBAND has announced that SageNet is leveraging the Nuvia platform to deliver Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) to its large base of retail and enterprise customers. Nuvia’s cloud-based solution provides SageNet’s customers with a full suite of business communications and collaboration tools. Two large national SageNet retail customers have recently signed up to deploy the Nuvia platform and the company will continue to sell the service to new and existing customers. Nuvia’s capabilities include HD voice, video, multimedia messaging, mobility, conferencing, Web collaboration, deskt...
The Open Compute Project is a collective effort by Facebook and a number of players in the datacenter industry to bring lessons learned from the social media giant's giant IT deployment to the rest of the world. Datacenters account for 3% of global electricity consumption – about the same as all of Switzerland or the Czech Republic -- according to people I met at the recent Open Compute Summit in San Jose. With increasing mobility at the edge of the cloud and vast new dataflows being predicted with the growth of the Internet of Things (and The Coming Age of Many Zettabytes) in the near...
Wearable technology was dominant at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) , and MWC was no exception to this trend. New versions of favorites, such as the Samsung Gear (three new products were released: the Gear 2, the Gear 2 Neo and the Gear Fit), shared the limelight with new wearables like Pebble Time Steel (the new premium version of the company’s previously released smartwatch) and the LG Watch Urbane. The most dramatic difference at MWC was an emphasis on presenting wearables as fashion accessories and moving away from the original clunky technology associated with t...
The WebRTC Summit 2014 New York, to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 16th International Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cisco, the worldwide leader in IT that transforms how people connect, communicate and collaborate, has been named “Gold 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 City, NY. Cisco makes amazing things happen by connecting the unconnected. Cisco has shaped the future of the Internet by becoming the worldwide leader in transforming how people connect, communicate and collaborate. Cisco and our partners are building the platform for the Internet of Everything by connecting the...
15th Cloud Expo, which took place Nov. 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, expanded the conference content of @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit to include two developer events. IBM held a Bluemix Developer Playground on November 5 and ElasticBox held a Hackathon on November 6. Both events took place on the expo floor. The Bluemix Developer Playground, for developers of all levels, highlighted the ease of use of Bluemix, its services and functionality and provide short-term introductory projects that developers can complete between sessions.
Temasys has announced senior management additions to its team. Joining are David Holloway as Vice President of Commercial and Nadine Yap as Vice President of Product. Over the past 12 months Temasys has doubled in size as it adds new customers and expands the development of its Skylink platform. Skylink leads the charge to move WebRTC, traditionally seen as a desktop, browser based technology, to become a ubiquitous web communications technology on web and mobile, as well as Internet of Things compatible devices.
SYS-CON Events announced today that robomq.io 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. robomq.io is an interoperable and composable platform that connects any device to any application. It helps systems integrators and the solution providers build new and innovative products and service for industries requiring monitoring or intelligence from devices and sensors.
The list of ‘new paradigm’ technologies that now surrounds us appears to be at an all time high. From cloud computing and Big Data analytics to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the Internet of Things (IoT), today we have to deal with what the industry likes to call ‘paradigm shifts’ at every level of IT. This is disruption; of course, we understand that – change is almost always disruptive.
WebRTC is an up-and-coming standard that enables real-time voice and video to be directly embedded into browsers making the browser a primary user interface for communications and collaboration. WebRTC runs in a number of browsers today and is currently supported in over a billion installed browsers globally, across a range of platform OS and devices. Today, organizations that choose to deploy WebRTC applications and use a host machine that supports audio through USB or Bluetooth can use Plantronics products to connect and transit or receive the audio associated with the WebRTC session.
Docker is an excellent platform for organizations interested in running microservices. It offers portability and consistency between development and production environments, quick provisioning times, and a simple way to isolate services. In his session at DevOps Summit at 16th Cloud Expo, Shannon Williams, co-founder of Rancher Labs, will walk through these and other benefits of using Docker to run microservices, and provide an overview of RancherOS, a minimalist distribution of Linux designed expressly to run Docker. He will also discuss Rancher, an orchestration and service discovery platf...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the leading innovator in recurring revenue, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Proven by the world’s most demanding enterprises, including AAA NCNU, Constant Contact, Falck, Hootsuite, Pitney Bowes, Telekom Denmark, and VMware, Aria helps enterprises grow their recurring revenue businesses. With Aria’s end-to-end active monetization platform, global brands can get to market faster with a wider variety of products and services, while maximizin...
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
SYS-CON Events announced today that Alert Logic, the leading provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® and DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo® and DevOps Summit 2015 Silicon Valley, which will take place November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Sonus Networks introduced the Sonus WebRTC Services Solution, a virtualized Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) offer, purpose-built for the Cloud. The WebRTC Services Solution provides signaling from WebRTC-to-WebRTC applications and interworking from WebRTC-to-Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), delivering advanced real-time communications capabilities on mobile applications and on websites, which are accessible via a browser.
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.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Solgenia 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, and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Solgenia is the global market leader in Cloud Collaboration and Cloud Infrastructure software solutions. Designed to “Bridge the Gap” between Personal and Professional Social, Mobile and Cloud user experiences, our solutions help large and medium-sized organizations dr...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Liaison Technologies, a leading provider of data management and integration cloud services and solutions, 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. Liaison Technologies is a recognized market leader in providing cloud-enabled data integration and data management solutions to break down complex information barriers, enabling enterprises to make smarter decisions, faster.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Akana, formerly SOA Software, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Akana’s comprehensive suite of API Management, API Security, Integrated SOA Governance, and Cloud Integration solutions helps businesses accelerate digital transformation by securely extending their reach across multiple channels – mobile, cloud and Internet of Things. Akana enables enterprises to share data as APIs, connect and integrate applications, drive part...