January 29, 2010

EJB to Ruby proxying and a little bit on programming languages

This essay goes quite technical at times but the presented idea is pretty simple.

Java and the J2EE stack seem to be used in large-scale enterprise web solutions. Ruby is an odd hippie programming language that is not so often met (yet!) in this enterprise world. Ruby on Rails does not quite have the native equivalent in Java web development toolpack, and there never will be such. One key fundamental difference in Java and Ruby, is their measure of abstractness. Higher abstraction in some cases help to describe and solve the problem in just a few code blocks. Ruby lets you express ideas outside the micromanagement level - right from the beginning of your introduction to the language.

JRuby helps to break a major technical barrier, making possible to leverage the massive amount of Java libraries that now can be used through the Ruby interpreter. This is a description of a real world scenario where Ruby expression describes and solves the problem quite beautifully.

To understand what is happening next you need to know that an EJB is an Enterprise Java Bean. You can imagine that the Bean is an exporter in Brazil. The Java transaction layer RemoteMethodInvocation is built on top TCP/IP infrastructure. Regular citizen Java clients need to contact their national supplier.

It is quite a bureaucratic process. It takes some knowledge of Java to understand how each object should behave. EJB3 makes this a bit easier but to efficiently use the developer tools will take a long time to learn. This is an example of the Java enterprise business model where you develop on elaborate IDEs and large companies have lots of people doing object-oriented chunks of code. After having that much Java your dreams will become XML configurable for a while..

Ruby has a similar technique, DRb - Distributed Ruby. It is built into the Ruby core language. It provides a way to share data objects over the wire. As we will see, it takes only a few lines, perfectly writable even from the vi editor.

Now, let's inspect the supply chain.

bean_context =
        'java.naming.factory.initial'      => 'com.evermind.server.rmi.RMIInitialContextFactory',
        'java.naming.security.principal'   => security_principal,
        'java.naming.security.credentials' => security_credentials,
        'java.naming.provider.url'         => provider_url
This is the Brazil Bean exporter who has the brew I like. His contact is found by jndi_name from the @context. Home represents my national office who will be creating me this @stub guy who actually does the delivery of my order.
@context = InitialContext.new(bean_context)
  @home = @context.lookup(jndi_name)
  @stub = @home.create
EJB home is an object that implements the create() method for requesting the remote EJB and returning the stub object that acts as the EJB interface. It acts a bit like a database table model.

Let's say we want to know more of the company..

  => "430146"

  => "Brazil Bean Provider"
Mmmh. So let's make an order..
@order = @stub.createOrder(uid,"Coffea arabica, 1 kg sample")
  => #<#:0x62ee558f @java_object=BBPServices stateless session>  
Ah! It returned an object! One important aspect of the dynamic nature of Ruby (and thus JRuby) is that the callable methods need not be specified beforehand. The method call to the Ruby object is dispatched to the EJB, the return value as well and if possible, JRuby casts it to Ruby native.
  => ["Coffea arabica, 1 kg sample"]
This could be usable in Rails, but the architecture should allow dynamic translation of method calls so that the solution would have the most leverage and also to stay clean out of implementation details. Ruby has the sort of inner beauty that is capable of this.

method_missing() is a powerful Ruby kernel method, which has its counterpart in Python and Lisp, possibly other dynamic languages are growing into that direction too. Unless you are not familiar with method_missing(), I will explain it so that when Ruby calls a method on the EjbObject's instance (there is this @stub), and the Ruby object does not find the method, it calls method_missing, and here the call is redirected to the @stub, alas the EJB interface and along the network over TCP/IP. In other words, Ruby does not care what kind of EJB it gets.

This is the core of EjbObject class:

class EjbObject
    def context_environment
        'java.naming.factory.initial'      => 'com.evermind.server.rmi.RMIInitialContextFactory',
        'java.naming.security.principal'   => security_principal,
        'java.naming.security.credentials' => security_credentials,
        'java.naming.provider.url'         => provider_url

    def initialize
      @context = InitialContext.new(context_environment)
      @home = @context.lookup(jndi_name)
      @stub = @home.create

    def method_missing(method, *args, &block)
      @stub.send(method, *args, &block)
EjbObject is used by subclassing it:
class MyEJB < EjbObject
    set_provider_url 'rmi://....'

And so, this essentially is the JRuby engine in ejb2rb. The solution wouldn't be complete without the Rails counterpart, ActiveEJB. Conceptually DRb and RMI are very similar.

Ok - even if the code didn't speak to you, think it this way - now JRuby can talk to the remote Java beans, call their methods, and use the return values as other objects that have methods. Some object classes are mapped directly to corresponding Ruby classes, such as Strings, Arrays and Fixnums. The Java-cast beatnik flower child JRuby can talk enterprise jargon. The EJBDispatcher::Instance enables him to open a channel to one EJB for other Ruby VMs that are equally valuable as Ruby implementations but have not developed their Java-fu.

This is how the EJB stub object is shared for DRb clients (the thread is started later by Hydra):

module EJBDispatcher
    class Instance

      self.config = {
        'hostname' => 'localhost',
        'port'     => '9876',
        'class'    => 'MyEJB'

      def initialize
        @uri = "druby://%s:%s" % [config['hostname'],config['port']]
        DRb.start_service(@uri, Kernel.const_get(config['class']).new)
        return DRb.thread
What happens on the Ruby end?
module ActiveEJB
    class Entity < DRb::DRbObject
      def initialize
        uri = 'druby://%s:%i' % [drb_server,drb_port]
ActiveEJB::Entity is used by subclassing it:
class MyEJB < ActiveEJB::Entity
    include Singleton

    set_drb_server 'localhost'
    set_drb_port   '9876'

So, in the end, you can use this in native MRI Ruby Rails:

profile = MyEJB.getUserProfile(@username, "PDS")

  contacts = MyEJB2.getCountryContacts(profile.getAddress().getCountry())
  contacts.each do |contact|
Or something .. usually more or less involving enterprise business logic.. The actual implementation can handle multiple concurrent EJB instances.

But, in the end, if we look at the power and sheer expressfulness of Ruby, I think this is a fine example of it working to solve a real world problem. The source code is available to help rubyists with the leverage this technology may give them trying to survive under the serviance of J2EE.

Oh, yes, the order:

  => 1.108

    :milk => true,
    :sugar => false)

January 23, 2010

Mathematical discourse on the web

Consider explaining mathematics on the web for someone. The tools to use are quite nifty. Algebra needs distinguishable symbols, geometry some other control methods. Even simple formulas are not so simple: I have a friend who recommended I should try to mix MathFlow with webMathematica and offered me a developer platform. This post is not so much as on the display of formulas as it is about my personal experience of mathematical expression on the web. Mathematica feels like a nice language. I had help for learning it from an experienced notebook / jsp writer, another friend. With his teaching I could quickly learn the essentials constructs of Mathematica's functional style to do simple experimentation and mix it in jsp. WebMathematica3 is a Java servlet package with the necessary backend kernel connectivity and a taglib for the developer. Worked out-of-the-box on OSX – Linux server requires 1 extra step for Xvnc. The taglib is quite usable, with three basic types of components: Manipulate is not quite as swift as it is in native Mathematica. The image does not follow the slider before the click is released. The network and server would be stressed for serving many concurrent users..

MathFlow is an input mechanism to essentially decrease the learning curve to input mathematical notation into the web. It is a Java applet that seems to work on all major OSes given that the moon is in correct orientation and system Java has not crucially changed. Icedtea6 Java plugin on Ubuntu worked too. MathFlow is proprietary software, this was an evaluation license. To be able to test it on a private server so that clients other than localhost can see it, was possible by recompiling the jar with a custom evaluation license. I could not find any open source alternatives, and this software seems capable of doing the job right now. Ideally, modern-day alternative could be written in JavaScript.. maybe compatible with MathJax..

The output formula is in MathML, and it can be captured to webMathematica input, in JavaScript, using for example the MooTools toolkit to do an XHR and update the page:

var mml = document.SampleSimpleEditorApplet.getMathML();
   params = 'fun='+URLescape(mml);
   var req = new Request.HTML({
     method: 'post',
     url: '_action.jsp?'+params,
     encoding: 'iso8859-15',
     onRequest: function() {},
     update: $('div.output'),
     onComplete: function(response) {}

This would send the contents of the editor applet to _action.jsp in request parameter fun, and the XHR would update the page. This _action.jsp in webMathematica could..
<%@ page contentType="text/xml"%>
<%@ taglib uri="http://www.wolfram.com/msp" prefix="msp" %>

.. generate an image of the formula in traditional mathematical notation. Notice the $$fun variable, which is parsed by the webMathematica backend. In case where the formula has variables, it is possible to parse it in the "delayed" form:
Or plot it, notice the use of MSPBlock ..
        {x, -2*Pi, 2*Pi},


So you can build all sorts of elaborate user interfaces on top of these building blocks. This is just an example of plotting the user input formula. He shouldn't need to learn LaTeX or any other new notation to input the mathematics into the computer.

The mathematica magician can work with the Wolfram Workbench to write Mathematica code, and still work in a familiar notebook environment.

The web developer has a similar view to produce the 3D applet, where the MSPLive3D module creates the HTML code for the Java applet.


      RGBColor[0, 0, 1],
      Map[Line, house]
     Boxed -> False

This is LiveGraphics3D generated by webMathematica3 on Safari. The house is rotatible. =) The original .nb was cc'd to me by Jyrki Kajala a few years ago. Quite recently he taught me about Mathematica packages, and .m files, and how the notebook can load the package. The package can now be subjected to functional testing and also included to webMathematica JSP. The tools have a certain good feel of dynamicity. Some issues, here and there, but it would be very interesting to build various use scenarios ..