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Hidden Gems in 4.0.1

Hidden Gems in 4.0.1

Given that most people are now introducing and installing ColdFusion version 4.5, Allaire's latest release of the server and studio software, it may seem strange to read an article on 4.0.1.

Isn't 4.0.1 old news? And anyway, wasn't it just a maintenance fix?
There were new features introduced in the release. While the Allaire Release Notes and Web highlight pages mentioned several of the more prominent features, there were still more - far more - than you would expect in a mere maintenance release.

I've counted more than 60 new features or changes, and many of them aren't well documented, if at all. I'll discuss some of the most important ones here. I'll also provide links to the Allaire 4.0.1 documents.

Why This Is an Important Subject, Even at the Dawn of 4.5
Even if you think you know what was new in 4.0.1, you owe it to yourself, your organization and your associates to review this article to be sure you haven't missed out on anything. Many of them are features or improvements that, if you don't know they're there, you might never be able to take advantage of them. They're not all that obvious.

For those who may be skipping from 4.0 to 4.5 because they just didn't notice 4.0.1, I hope this serves an even more vital role. If you only read about the new features in 4.5, you might miss out on the many important new ones that came in 4.0.1. In some instances you may encounter errors due to changes that were introduced in 4.0.1 but may not be documented as "changed" in the 4.5 release notes (since they're really not new to 4.5).

More Than a Maintenance Fix

Maintenance releases are just supposed to fix things that are broken, and even in announcing the pending 4.51 release Allaire has said that it won't introduce new features.

Version 4.0.1, released as a free update to all 4.0 customers in April 1999, offered a virtual cavalcade of new features. Many of them were quite important, strategic, enterprise-level enhancements.
Here are a few that were highlighted in the Allaire release notes:

  • Failover clustering support in NT
  • Support for advanced security in Solaris
  • New native database drivers for Informix and DB/2
  • New UNIX support for HP/UX
  • European currency support

    Some of the new features are changes in behavior. If you aren't aware of them, they can cause failures in applications that aren't modified. They're also important for those skipping from 4.0 to 4.5:

  • CFAPPLICATION must now specify a NAME attribute.
  • CFABORT no longer stops compilation/interpretation of a template, so if the code following it gets an error, it will now do so even though code isn't executed.
  • If you use a session variable named "sessionid", you'll have conflicts with the new automatically created 4.0.1 session variable of the same name. Allaire documented most of these changes and enhancements, but they were spread among several release notes and Web documents. I've scoured the Allaire site for information on this subject and have come across still more undocumented new features. Speaking of documentation, there were new additions to the Allaire manuals as well as substantive changes. For example:

  • Using ColdFusion Studio took a lot of information from the Developing Web Applications manual and also expanded on important Studio subjects.
  • A Quick Reference serves as a handy listing of CF tags, functions and variables.
  • The Getting Started and Administering ColdFusion Server manuals have been revised.
  • The Advanced ColdFusion Development manual was discontinued and its contents folded into the other manuals. Just a Few More There are so many other new features, but I'll just name a few more of the most significant ones.
  • There is now an option to cause "stack trace" tracking in exception handling, controllable in the Administrator and with a new cfcatch.tagcontext variable.
  • There is also an option to control the display of a template's path on a CF error screen.
  • You can now perform authentication using certificates.
  • You can now "write to" Form and URL variables,* setting them with CFSET and CFPARAM. The benefit: being able to create data for a CFINSERT/CFUPDATE on a form action page rather than solely on the form.
  • A new "type=readonly" attribute was added to CFLOCK so you don't always have to perform an exclusive CFLOCK.
  • The DateCompare now has a third "datepart" parameter to allow comparison on less than the complete date and time.
  • ListValueCount counts the number of instances of a value in a list.
  • StructKeyList lists the key names (elements) in a structure.
  • Improvements were made to custom tags (passing structures) and exception handling (user- defined exceptions).
  • There's a new "type" parm for CFPARAM (any, array, boolean, date, numeric, query, string, struct, UUID, variable name).
  • There's a new IsProtected function.
  • They've added support for x.509 certificates.
  • Administrator pages no longer show debugging info, even if debugging is turned on.

    The new release fixed a couple of rather severe security issues, including limiting the sample application "expression evaluator" to respond to page requests only from the machine on which it's installed. And in Studio?

    There are several other new features in Studio 4.0.1, in addition to those mentioned above. For example:

  • You can create, rename and delete folders in remote connections (both FTP and RDS).
  • Pressing Ctrl-Shift double-click will select that tag, its end tag and elements within it.*
  • There's an option to turn on an outline bar around the current line selected (in options>settings>outline current line).
  • You can specify that Netscape Navigator should be used as the internal browser for CF Studio and HomeSite, if you have the experimental NGLayout (Gecko) engine from mozilla.org installed (probably not worth the trouble since then you'd be browsing with a version that your users likely wouldn't have. Use the "external browser" feature instead).
  • There are new and improved tag editors.
  • There's now a warning when you try to use Design mode on a cfm file.
  • A remote connection to an FTP server can designate the remote directory as being relative to either the Web root or a server-specified user directory.
  • There's support for the third-party link verification tool Linkbot 4.0.
  • The Table Sizer (Quick Table) control on the Table tab can now expand to the limit of the screen. The problem is that there are more than nine documents - if you can find them - on the Allaire site that describe all the changes. Even if you read the most significant documents, you could have missed dozens of other changes since no single document pulls it all together. Many smaller features, not as well documented - what I consider truly hidden gems - introduce important new functionality that might thrill the day-to-day CF programmer or Studio user who missed them:
  • Onrequestend.cfm, the corollary to application.cfm that executes at a template's conclusion

  • Onrequestend.cfm, the corollary to application.cfm that executes at a template's conclusion
  • Short-circuit evaluation where, for instance, you can now say <cfif isdefined("form.size") and form.size is not "small"> without receiving an error when form.size doesn't exist
  • A new ListQualify function that can take a list of string values and place quotes around them, which is particularly important for use with a SELECT ... IN clause, for example
  • A new PASSTHROUGH attribute for CFFORM, CFINPUT and CFSELECT that allows you to specify style sheet and other HTML attributes that Allaire hadn't thought to include in those tags
  • Cached database connections, which can be released on demand or via an optional timeout (to allow updates to locked Access files without having to restart the server or play games with causing SQL error to unlock a file)
  • A date/time stamp request feature* that makes CFINSERT and CFUPDATE mark the date/time of the insert/update rather than the time the form was sent to the browser; it uses a hidden form field with the name of the intended column and a value of Currentdate()
  • The ability to use an ODBC data source for advanced security authentication - a boon for those unable or unwilling to use an operating system security domain or LDAP server for authentication
  • The ability to use Oracle and LDAP databases for storage of advanced security configuration There are still more than 50 other new features in CF Server. And there are quite a few useful changes in CF Studio too, including but not limited to the following:
  • Pressing F1 while the cursor is on a function or tag will open that function's Help page.

  • The Help system's "find" feature now leverages a Verity index, making searches much faster.
  • You can wrap selected text in pound signs using CTRL+3 (which makes sense, if you notice that 3 has the pound sign above it).

    Sometimes It's the Little Things
    One subtle change you might not notice will mean a lot to keyboard mavens: if during file>open and save dialogs you press the enter key while selecting a directory, Studio will now open that directory and display its files. In 4.0 it would attempt to open or save the file instead. Those who know the frustration of this nonstandard behavior have leaped (or will leap) at the discovery.

    Sometimes it really is the little things!
    Along the same lines, if you change the width of columns in the resource tab (such as the date/time or file size columns), they'll be saved when Studio is closed. It didn't do that previously, so many developers simply stopped trying to arrange these columns. There is also a new "view" option when you right-click on this area, to choose whether to even list the date modified, document type, size, and so on. Suffer no more!

    Still more that may be trivial to some but a godsend to others: you can change the default behavior of File>Save As so that it (more logically) places its new file into the same directory from which the source file was opened. Otherwise, the default (to many, illogical) behavior is to store it instead in the directory currently pointed to in the resource tab. The setting is in options>settings>general under the perhaps paradoxically named "display current local folder in file dialogs."* By "current local folder" it means the one pointed to by the resource tab, not the "current" directory in which the source file was located. To clarify, you'll probably want to "deselect" that option to get what I've referred to as the "more logical" behavior. But some like the other approach, and so as not to confuse folks used to the "default" behavior, it remains an option that you can control and must change manually.

    One last thing about Studio 4.0.1. It's not a benefit but rather an odd bug. Sometimes, for reasons that Allaire has not been able to pin down, you may find that on exiting the application you receive Windows "access violation" errors. This has been addressed with a replacement version discussed in Allaire Knowledge Base article 11868.

    Whither the Documentation
    Where can you learn more? Well, of course, you can read the Allaire documentation, such as the CFML Language Reference and Developing Web Applications in ColdFusion. These certainly document the features but don't really identify what things have changed. For that you can find more in the 4.0.1 Release Notes and several Web documents that highlight many of the new features, such as:

    1. 4.0.1 Update Summary:
    www.allaire.com/handlers/index.cfm?ID=10719&method=full&LocationID=324
    2. Server 4.0.1 Release Notes:
    www.allaire.com/handlers/index.cfm?ID=10735&Method=Full
    3. Studio 4.0.1 Release Notes:
    www.allaire.com/Handlers/index.cfm?ID=10025&Method=Full&Cache=Off and www.allaire.com/handlers/index.cfm?ID=10734&Method=Full (seems a duplicate)
    4. Studio 4.0.1 Update FAQ:
    www.allaire.com/products/coldfusion/faqs/401updatefaq.cfm
    5. Documentation Updates for ColdFusion 4.0.1:
    www.allaire.com/handlers/index.cfm?ID=10429&method=full

    There You Have It!
    As I hope these lists have demonstrated, 4.0.1 was much more than just a maintenance release. There were so many new features that ranged from the relatively minor to some fairly significant ones. Again, it's really important that you become familiar with most if not all of them. They'll almost certainly make you more productive, leaving more time for...learning about 4.5.

    * Testing revealed that four of the items listed in the 4.0.1 documents as new were in fact present in 4.0. Perhaps they had not been documented in 4.0. Even so, they are interesting and easily missed, so we have kept them here.

  • 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.

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