Thursday, July 31, 2008


Perpetual coding doesn't leave much time for blogging. I'm in the middle of a long-running set of tests, so I figured I should take the time to write, even if I'm too tired. :-)

SPARQL on Mulgara always seems to have more to do than I have time or mandate for. That should be OK, given that SPARQL is now available through the SAIL API, but it's never quite that simple.

To properly work with Sesame/SAIL we need to build (or at least deploy) Mulgara using Maven. Now I understand what Maven does... I've just never used it. On top of that, we have the horrible build scripts that go into Mulgara, making the whole notion of re-creating the build system a little daunting. All the same, I've learned about creating a pom.xml, along with modules and inheritance, but I still need to read more docs on the topic. I'd like to get to this soon, but there are so many other pressing things.

So working with SAIL isn't an out-of-the-box distribution yet, which is an impediment to using SPARQL. At this stage I think the Mulgara SAIL API is more of an advantage to Sesame than it is to us. Another reason why it would be good to get SPARQL going is because people are always asking me for it. So even if I don't get 100% conformance, I should try to get it close. Anyone who needs it perfect can use the SAIL API.

Web Services

The best way to get SPARQL compliance is to run the test suite. That means you need some way to issue the queries and check the results. Now, I could write the code to do this, but I know that other systems for running the test suite exist out there, and it would be better to use one of those if I could. However, those systems will all be using the SPARQL protocol for issuing queries, and that's one part I hadn't really touched yet.

Fortunately, the protocol is just a web service, and Mulgara is already running web services. The response is just in XML, and I've written some code to do that already (though it's not checked in anywhere yet). I just need to glue it to a web service.

Looking at it, the protocol is so simple that the service should be implementable with a relatively straightforward servlet. Servlets are quite easy to write, but deploying them is system dependent, so I thought I'd get the deployment part going first. I built a simple "hello world" servlet with the intent of expanding it into the real thing once it was integrated correctly.


To start with, I followed the directions given for deploying a servlet in the Quick Start guide, and it all worked fine. Then I went to Mulgara to see how this would work.

Now I'd been aware that Jetty hadn't been updated in Mulgara for a while, and I thought that this would be a good chance to update it. However the existing version was 4.2.19, while the latest (released) version is 6.1.19. Some of the APIs appeared to be completely incompatible, and while there was an upgrade guide from Jetty 5 to Jetty 6, there was nothing about Jetty 4. Obviously this task had been left for too long.

So the first order of the day was not to get a servlet deployed in Mulgara, but rather to upgrade Mulgara to use the latest Jetty. This also dovetailed with another task I've been wanting to do for some time, which was to clean up the file where all of the Jetty configuration happens: EmbeddedMulgaraServer.


I eventually want to completely remove EmbeddedMulgaraServer and replace it with a lightweight program that loads up configurable modules. This will give us the benefits of having those modules ready for other types of deployment (another request I often get) as well as letting people customize the server, which is currently monolithic and unwieldy. I don't have time to get all of that done right now, but at least I got to tidy the code up to the point where this will be less intimidating. It also gave me a better view of what was going on in there (it regularly confuses developers who look at it).

Mulgara had been deploying two sets of static pages and 2 web services in Jetty. The static pages included the documentation that is both obsolete (to be replaced by the gradually expanding Wiki), and available on the website. The other pages are all data files, which I believe are used for example scripts. I think it's a terrible idea to have these in the system, so I ripped them out. Moments later I thought better of it, and so I emailed the list to see what people thought. I was bemused to see that not only was this a welcome move, people wanted to get rid of the HTTP server altogether! (These people obviously want to access those individual modules I mentioned earlier). So then I created both an option in the config file, and a system property which can both disable the server (the system property takes precedence).

That just left me with the 2 web applications in Web ARchive files to deploy. This is where I came unstuck.

WAR Files

I could not find any documentation on how to deploy a WAR file using the APIs in Jetty. So I muddled through the JavaDocs, picking up anything that looked promising. After an entire night of this, I eventually got something I thought might work, replacing WebApplicationContext class with the WebAppContext and trying to translate the differences in their APIs. I immediately got back an IllegalStateException that occurred while the system was accessing the WAR file. While trying to work it out I delved into the Java libraries, and discovered that something had closed off the archive file while it was still in the process of reading it. It seemed too far down in the system to be anything I could have caused (or prevented), so I went searching online to see if anyone knew about it.

It didn't take me long to see people mentioning this bug in relation to Jetty 5 about 2 years ago. It seemed strange that there wouldn't be a more recent reference, but that was the best I could get. Unfortunately, the response at the time was that the problem was indeed a bug with some of the Apache libraries that were used for this, which meant I was out of luck (sure, I could fix it, but that won't get me a deployed version of those libs any time soon).

I saw Brian online (apparently traveling as a passenger in a car) and he told me that he'd heard of the problem, and suggested that I "expand" the archive to deploy it. I did this by manually pulling the WAR files into a temporary directory before pointing the WebAppContext at it. This avoided the IllegalStateException.

Class Paths

The deployment of these WAR files into Jetty 4 had a few things that didn't translate so well. The first was the configuration of something called a SocketListener, which I figured out was replaced a Connector. The second was in setting up the class paths. The code for this used to be:
  HttpContext contexts[] = httpServer.getContexts();
for (int i = 0; i < contexts.length; i++) {
This seemed reasonable, though I wasn't sure why it was being done. I was about to learn.

Jetty 6 no longer has the Context.setParentClassLoader() method, though it is now possible to set the actual class loader for the context. However, the class loader I had available in that context (this.getClass().getClassLoader()) was the same one that was already being used by that class. So I wasn't sure what to replace this with. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of choosing to set the class loader here anyway.

When I tried running the program again, I was immediately being told of missing classes. Of course, neither these classes, nor any code for them existed on my system. I eventually worked out that these were classes that were generated from Java Servlet Pages (JSPs), which took me into the configuration for generating these pages.

I hadn't realized we had JSPs in the system (will the cruft never end?!?) and I'd eventually like to get rid of these, even if I keep the web applications they're a part of. But for the moment, I had to upgrade those libs, and then update various build scripts which were trying to refer to the libs by name, and not with a generic variable (which we do for everything else - this lets us change versions relatively easily). I also discovered a "Tag" library for accessing Mulgara from JSPs. We don't seem to use it anywhere ourselves, and it just seems to be provided as a utility for users. The presence of this has me feeling reluctant to remove JSPs, but I'm still considering it.

Embedded JARs

Once the JSPs were running, I started getting errors about missing libraries that I expected were already in the class path. However, when I checked, I found that those libraries had NOT been included. It used to work, so I kept searching, and it didn't take me long to find them in the WAR file.

So this was the reason for the fancy classloader stuff. The classloader was supposed to find these JARs in the WAR file, and include them in its search. Only there was no such class loader in place. Hence my error.

The Javadoc mentions a class called WebAppClassLoader, which looked like an obvious candidate. However, the documentation made it appear that this class may not do very much, as it just extended the standard library class URLClassLoader. All the same, I tried it, but it didn't seem to do anything. (This was my big mistake).

I finally started adding the sources for all my libraries into my Eclipse environment, so I could debug it and see exactly what was happening. While time-consuming, it finally got me over the line. I also had a nice side benefit of learning just how the architecture of Jetty 6 works.

Deployed At Last

Tracing through the program, I found that a WebAppContext calls configureClassLoader on a WebInfConfiguration that it creates. This explicitly checks if the class loader is a WebAppClassLoader, and if it is, then it goes through the lib/ directory of the application, and adds any JAR files that it finds into its classpath.

Since the configuration is checking for this specific class loader, then this is obviously the only way to do it, unless you write a class loader for yourself. The application never creates one for you, which seems strange. The creation of the object is also strange in that it needs to be provided the web application that it works on (so it knows where to find the classes and libs), and it has to be explicitly set as the class loader for that application. So you need to say something like:
  webapp.setClassLoader(new WebAppClassLoader(webapp));
I'm confused why WebAppContext doesn't create automatically create a WebAppClassLoader for itself, giving it a this reference. You can always override it, but it would be rare to need to.

Anyway, I now knew what to do, and so I did it. Of course, it still didn't work. More debugging. That was when I ran headlong into that class loader code I wrote back at the start of this process. After setting the class loader for the WebAppContext this code was setting it back to the normal system class loader. That'll teach me for including code blindly.


So now everything was running "error free". I decided to throw a web browser at the WebUI application. Only, it wouldn't respond at all. I got a connection to the server, but it just sat there doing nothing.

Finally, I tried duplicating what I was doing in a short application using a simple servlet. It all looked OK, so I wen through step by step, making sure I had it exactly the same... and it locked up there too. So then I started changing settings one at a time until I found the one that was causing the problem.

On Jetty 4, two of the options we were setting on the SocketListener were minThreads and maxThreads, however neither of these were options for Connector. So I decided to make do with AbstractConnector.setAcceptors(int), which does a similar thing. However, I made the mistake of setting the number of acceptors to our previous madThreads value, which was 255.

If the number of acceptors is set this high, then the server is guaranteed to lock up. So I looked for the threshold at this this occurred. It turned out that the maximum value I could use was 24. It consistently works fine right up to this level, but any more and the system just blocks indefinitely. I checked out the source code, and discovered that all the acceptors are Runnable objects that get invoked by threads in a thread pool, but there is nothing about the size of that pool or anything else I could see that would create this limit of 24.

It also doesn't seem to matter what kind of Connector I'm using either, as the Acceptors are always the same.

A New Servlet

I'm finally at a point where the system works as well as it did at the beginning of the week, only now it's doing it with Jetty 6. It needed to happen, but I wish it hadn't been so painful.

I have other things to get to now, but I'll be trying to write this new SPARQL servlet soon. At least I have a modern framework to do it with now.

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