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# Thursday, August 2, 2012

This post attempts to summarize and clarify a lecture given at the Botzia (Israeli Java user group) meeting on May 3rd, 2012. You can view the presentation in its entirety on SlideShare:

What is Scala?

Scala is a modern, statically-typed language designed to run on the Java platform. It's commonly perceived as an "evolutionary Java" and with good reason: Scala adds powerful features while significantly reducing Java's verbosity. It is a highly practical language in that it offers a very straightforward migration path for developers on existing platforms: Java developers will feel right at home with Scala, and a .NET developers will not have to give up on a lot of the advantages C# has over Java.

For organizations with a preexisting codebase Scala offers an excellent balance between power and feature set, as well as perfect interoperability with existing Java code: although you certainly don't have to, you can freely use familiar libraries without a hitch, call into existing code and, for the most part, use your existing tool-chain with little or no impact.

Why did we pick Scala?

As mentioned above, Scala offers a very compelling migration path from an existing Java codebase. When we were setting up the new R&D center at newBrandAnalytics, we were already serving paying customers via a complex codebase. A complete rewrite was out of the question as we had contractual obligations, and we had to keep improving the existing product in order to maintain the competitive edge; it became very clear that we needed to maintain the existing codebase and refactor it incrementally.

An additional data point was that our core team members were highly experienced with Java development and quite comfortable with the platform; we also had a distinct preference for statically typed languages, which ruled several alternatives (particularly Clojure) right out. Scala seemed like a great compromise in that it allowed us to maintain and extend the existing codebase while enjoying advanced language features and improved veracity at little or no risk to the product itself.

How should I "sell" Scala to my boss?

"Safe" choice with proven track record: Scala is not an entirely new language, and has reached a maturity tipping point at 2.8; over the last two years the language has been gaining significant momentum, and has a number of strong advocates and success stories, including Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn and a whole host of others.

Scala as a better Java: You don't have to go all-in on Scala's advanced feature set, but can instead think of Scala as an improved Java with type inference, closures, advanced collection framework, traits and pattern matching; these features alone will increase your developers' happiness by an order of magnitude, and productivity will see a corresponding improvement. 

Less code ⇒ less bugs: Scala code is far more concise than corresponding Java code, an helps the developer focus on the "what" instead of the "how". The resulting code is usually much shorter, clearer and simpler, which in turn helps lower bug count.

Helps hire better engineers: Great engineers not only love working with the latest technologies, but also love practical, incremental improvements to well-respected technologies. Merely saying "we use Scala" will help attract the sort of seasoned, reliable and professional engineers that you most want to hire.

Where does Scala put you at risk?

Learning curve: Although Scala largely derives from Java, it's a whole new language with a lot of features that takes time to master. Don't expect your developers to be productive from day one; instead, provide opportunities for experimentation and encourage iterative development (and yes, give your developers time and mandate to throw away badly written early code and redo their work if necessary). There is actually a lot of material on Scala and an active and vibrant community; specifically, your developers can easily find help (and answers) on StackOverflow.

Rough edges: Scala is fairly new, and consequently a lot of things that you take for granted with Java are not as mature or robust with Scala. IDE support is a moving target: Eclipse and IntelliJ IDEA both have actively developed Scala plugins and both have occasional issues (spurious error highlighting, lackluster performance, wonky debuggers). The common build tools support Scala, but don't play as nicely; for example, only the native build tool (sbt) support incremental compilation. Even the compiler itself is not entirely bug-free, although these are getting very rare indeed. Bottom line: expect occasional problems, and be patient while working around them; even better, encourage your engineers to participate in the community, file bugs and even offer patches where possible.

Production characteristics: While it runs on the JVM, Scala is not Java; there are subtle differences that you should be aware of when maintaining large-scale or highly-available software. Scala generates a great deal of synthetic code, which puts additional pressure on the PermGen space; synthetic stack frames may also exhibit significantly increased stack usage. Scala also creates a lot of intermediate objects at runtime, which results in added eden generation churn. You may want to profile your applications and tune the GC accordingly.

What's the bottom line?

Codebase evolution

Scala is fantastic. Our team at newBrandAnalytics is remarkably happier with Scala despite the occasional hitches, and I doubt any of us will consider going back to Java given the option. As long as you keep in mind that on the bleeding edge you may get cut, I definitely recommend taking the plunge, with contractors and die-hard traditional enterprises the possible exceptions.

Thursday, August 2, 2012 9:20:42 AM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development | Java
# Wednesday, September 30, 2009


A great but oft-ignored feature of Visual Studio 2005 and up is the inherent consolidation of an important developer tool: the build system. With a Visual Studio solution you can simply run MSBuild and you get accurate, automated builds. This is an invaluable capability: continuous integration is ridiculously easy to set up, as are nightly builds and automated deployment tools.

Since I started working for Delver (now Sears) I’ve been switching back and forth between C# (2.0 and later 3.0) and Java 1.6, and though the ecosystems share many similarities there are also several glaring differences. The first of these differences is that, in the Java world, it is perfectly acceptable – even traditional – to maintain a dual project structure, one using the IDE (usually Eclipse or IntelliJ IDEA) and one using one of the build tools (commonly Ant or Maven). The build scripts need to be continuously synchronized with the project structure, and output parity between the two separate build systems is almost unheard-of.

Because I had been a complete Java newbie when I started, I had never had the time to really sit down and set up a continuous integration server for our Java codebase, a mistake I did not intent to repeat when Sears took over. The first item on my agenda was to do away with the dual project structure; we originally used Eclipse, so I built a custom Ant script (my first, actually) around ant4eclipse and managed to come up with a semi-satisfactory solution. This also gave us invaluable insight when it was time to revisit our IDE choice; the lackluster project structure offered by Eclipse, along with firm positive comments on IntelliJ IDEA from several team members, tipped the balance and led us to switch to the alternative IDE, while also creating the necessity for a revamped build system can that work on top of the IntelliJ IDEA project structure.

Out of necessity, a project was born. ant-intellij-tasks is the result of several months of all-night itch-scratching on my part. While not directly affiliated with the company, we’ve been dogfooding the project at Sears for over a month now, and while there are certainly rough edges it finally seems stable enough for release! From the project website:

ant-intellij-tasks is a self-contained build system for IntelliJ IDEA projects based around Apache Ant. In essence, ant-intellij-tasks comprises three components:

  1. An Ant task library that can extract and resolve the IntelliJ IDEA project and module files (.ipr and .iml respectively), and provides a set of tasks and conditions around the project structure;
  2. A common build script which provides the four major build targets for modules: clean, build, test and package (see the quickstart guide);
  3. A master build script which extends these targets to the entire project.

The build system is designed to be extensible (e.g. by adding targets), customizable (e.g. by overriding a target's behavior for a specific module) and self contained in that it's a drop-in solution that should not require any significant modifications to the code base.


This project is fully open source (distributed under an Apache license) and hosted at Google Code. Please report any bugs or issues on the project issue tracker.


ant-intellij-tasks makes use of, and redistributes, the ant-contrib task library.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 8:18:58 AM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development | Java | Software | ant-intellij-tasks
# Monday, August 3, 2009

Apparently Java has quite a few known but practically undocumented issues with its handling of UNC paths under Windows. I’ve specifically encountered this bug albeit in a slightly different scenario:

public void test() throws URISyntaxException {
final URI uri = new URI( "file://c:/temp/test/ham.and.eggs" );
new File( uri ); // IllegalArgumentException thrown here

Apparently the two slashes after file: are misinterpreted as the authority part of the URI; this thread on StackOverflow may give a few starting points if want to delve deeper. It seems Java implements an older RFC for URIs which has slightly different tokenization rules.
At any rate, so far the only sensible solution I’ve managed to come with is to manually remove or add (depending on your tastes…) a slash:

* Resolves the specified URI, and returns the file
* represented by the URI.
* @param uri The URI for which to return an absolute path.
* @return The {@link File} instance represented by the
* specified URI.
* @throws IllegalArgumentException <ul><li>The URI cannot
* be null.</li><li>Wrong URI scheme for path resolution;
* only file:// URIs are supported.</li></ul>
public static File getFile( URI uri )
throws IllegalArgumentException {
if ( uri == null )
throw new IllegalArgumentException(
"The URI cannot be null." );

if ( !"file".equals( uri.getScheme() ) )
throw new IllegalArgumentException( "Wrong URI " +
"scheme for path resolution, expected \"file\" " +
"and got \"" + uri.getScheme() + "\"" );

// Workaround for the following bug:
// Remove extra slashes after the scheme part.
if ( uri.getAuthority() != null )
try {
uri = new URI( uri.toString().replace(
"file://", "file:/" ) );
} catch ( URISyntaxException e ) {
throw new IllegalArgumentException( "The specified " +
"URI contains an authority, but could not be " +
"normalized.", e );

return new File( uri );

This is definitely a workaround, but according to newsgroup and forum posts these bugs have been around forever. If anyone has a more elegant solution I’d love to know.
Monday, August 3, 2009 7:00:20 AM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development | Java
# Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Because the Java language lacks delegates, anonymous classes are prevalent as a syntactic replacement. Non-static nested classes are also often used in the language, a feature which is conspicuously absent from C#, albeit far less necessary with that language.

This brings me to the following language caveat. This may seem a contrived example, but it's a simplification of an actual issue I've encountered in the last few days. Suppose you have a generic base class, call it BaseClass<U>, which you extend with an anonymous class. Lets also assume that the extended class spawns a thread that needs to access the BaseClass<U> state:

class BaseClass<U> {
    void getState() {}

class Test {
    public void test() {
        final BaseClass<String> instance = new BaseClass<String>() {
            public void invokeStatefulThread() {
                // Create our runnable
                final Runnable threadCode = new Runnable() {
                    public void run() {
                        /* 1 */ getState();
                        /* 2 */ this.getState();
                        /* 3 */ super.getState();
                        /* 4 */ BaseClass.this.getState();
                        /* 5 */ BaseClass<String>.this.getState();
                new Thread( threadCode ).start();


I'll spare you the guessing game. Here's what happens with each of the five invocations of getState():

  1. Compiles and behaves as expected.
  2. Obviously won't compile; this points to the Runnable.
  3. Obviously won't compile; the superclass of a Runnable is Object.
  4. Although this is the correct raw class, it won't compile because "No enclosing instance of the type BaseClass<U> is accessible in scope", even though the raw type should still be accessible and U can be inferred.
  5. Although this appears to be the correct fully-qualified form, this does not compile with a "Syntax error on token(s), misplaced construct(s)" error.

The Java language specification section on "qualified this" is very brief and does not mention generics at all (does "class name" include bounded type parameters?). Oddly enough, moving the class declaration outside of the test method actually lets 4 compile -- if there's a clue there, I haven't figured it out yet.

I still haven't found a syntactically-correct way to access BaseClass<string>.this, other than placing it in a temporary variable outside of the Runnable declaration. I searched yesterday for a couple of hours with no obvious solution in sight. Ideas are more than welcome!...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 10:27:45 AM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development | Java
# Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Java implementation for generics is radically different from the C# equivalent; I won't reiterate issues that have been thoroughly discussed before, but suffice to say that Java generics are implemented as a backwards-compatible compiler extension that works on unmodified VMs.

The implications of this are considerable, and I'd like to present one of them. Lets fast forward a bit and consider a relatively new language feature in Java (introduced, I believe, with J2SE 5.0): autoboxing. A thoroughly overdue language feature, autoboxing allows the seamless transition from regular value types (e.g. the ubiquitous int) to object references (Integer); before autoboxing you couldn't simply add a value to an untyped ArrayList, you had to box (wrap) it in a reference type:

ArrayList list = new ArrayList();
list.add( 3 );			// Compile-time error
list.add( new Integer( 3 ) );	// OK

Eventually Java caught up with C# (which introduced autoboxing in 2002), and with a modern compiler the above code would be valid.

With the introductions out of the way, here's a pop-quiz: what does the following code print?

HashMap<Integer, Integer> map = new HashMap<Integer, Integer>();
map.put( 4, 2 );
short n = 4;
System.out.println( Integer.toString( map.get( n ) ) );

As a long-time C# programmer I was completely befuddled when the code resulted in a NullPointerException. Huh? Exception? What? Why?

It took me a while to figure it out: because Java generics are compile-time constructs and are not directly supported by the VM, what actually happens is that the underlying container class accepts regular Object instances (reference types); the compile-time check merely asserts that n can be promoted from short to int, whereas the actual object passed to the container class (via autoboxing) is a Short! Since the container doesn't doesn't actually have a runtime generic type per se, the collection merely looks up the reference object in the map, fails to find it (I guess the Object.hashCode implementation for value types simply returns the reference value as the hash code as in C#) and returns null. Doh! *slaps forehead*

Sunday, January 6, 2008 7:15:54 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development | Java
# Wednesday, December 5, 2007

So you want a web project, a build system and a reasonable IDE to take care of the annoying details for you, right? The good news are that it's actually quite possible and there're many ways to do this. The bad news are that it's nigh impossible to get them to play along if you don't already know how to do that. It took me days to find a solution that finally seems to work, and I'd like to share it with you. I'm probably missing a few important details or did something really really stupid along the way (I'd appreciate comments!), but this process does seem to work. I'm not going into essentials of Java-based web development here -- if you want a more basic explanation of the terminology, post a comment and I'll see what I can do...

1. Goal

I want to:

  • Use a common, standard and powerful IDE to edit and debug my Java code, and preferably provide a usable GUI interface for dependency and project management;
  • Use a common, standard servlet container to host my servlet and still be able to control and debug everything from the same IDE;
  • Have a convenient way to handle internal-and-external dependencies without worrying too much about the details;
  • Be able to quickly compile, test and package my servlet for deployment;
  • Understand as little as possible about the dependency stack of the tools involved

I'm going to tell you how to achieve most of these goals, with two glaring omissions: I won't show you how to do testing (I haven't successfully managed servlet unit testing so far -- different post on that) and I can't help but delve into some of the more annoying details involved with these tools and their dependencies. Sorry about that. Additionally, some of the information here applies even if you use different tools, but you're bound to face issues not covered here; don't assume I know more than you do -- seek the answers, post them somewhere, and maybe the next person will actually find what they're looking for!

2. Tools

The tools used are:

  • J2SE JDK is an obvious must-have. Version used: JDK 6 update 3;
  • Eclipse (but please don't download it just yet) for code editing, debugging and project management;
  • Web Tools Platform: this is the Eclipse plug-in that adds web development capabilities to the IDE, including J2EE dependency management, hosting and running servlets from within the Eclipse workspace etc. This would be a good time to run along to the WTP web-site and download the Web Tools Platform All-In-One package. I only used the release version (2.0.1 at the time of writing this), so if you use another version your mileage may vary;
  • Apache Maven is the newfangled build system from Apache slated to replace ant. I've used it for the last few days and so far it appears to be quite robust and even fairly well-integrated into Eclipse (see next item). Version used: 2.0.8;
  • M2eclipse is the Eclipse plug-in for Maven integration. I've only found one problem with it so far, which I'll detail later on;
  • Apache Tomcat is a solid choice in servlet containers. It's robust, fast and open-source, and has terrific Eclipse integration. I haven't given any of the other containers a serious whirl yet though.

3. Preparations

Unlike Visual Studio, with the tools mentioned above there's no straightforward installation procedure. You'll have to designate at least a workspace directory (where your Eclipse projects, settings etc. go) and some location where the tools themselves go. For me, it's C:\Dev\Eclipse and C:\Tools respectively.

  • Setting up Java:
    • Install the JDK and remember where it was installed (nominally in %PROGRAMFILES%\Java\jdk1.6.0_03)
    • Set up a system-wide JAVA_HOME environment variable pointing to the same directory
  • Setting up Maven and Tomcat:
    • Extract both archives to your designated directory (e.g. for Maven it would be C:\Tools\apache-maven-2.0.8)
    • Add the Maven bin directory to your PATH environment variable (user- or system-wide, depending on your preference)
    • Add whichever J2EE libraries you desire from the Tomcat installation to your class-path. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you'll probably just want to set the CLASSPATH environment variable to your equivalent of c:\tools\apache-tomcat-6.0.14\lib\servlet-api.jar;c:\tools\apache-tomcat-6.0.14\lib\jsp-api.jar
  • Setting up Eclipse:
    • Extract the WTP all-in-one package (which contains Eclipse itself) to your designated directory (e.g. C:\Tools\Eclipse)
    • Load Eclipse and point it to your designated workspace location
    • Install M2Eclipse:
      • Go to Help->Software Updates->Find and Install..., select "Search for new features to install" and click Next
      • Click on New Remote Site..., use M2eclipse or whatever for the name and for the URL
      • Click on Finish and let Eclipse install the M2Eclipse plug-in
    • Set up a web server runtime for Eclipse to host your servlets in:
      • Open Window->Preferences...
      • Under Server select Installed Runtimes and click on Add...
      • Choose (from Apache) the Apache Tomcat v6.0 runtime and click Next
      • Enter the Apache installation directory (e.g. C:\Tools\apache-tomcat-6.0.14) in the appropriate location and click Finish

4. Creating a new web project

First off, you must create the actual project, directory structure etc. To do this:

  • Open a command prompt, go to your Eclipse workspace directory
  • Decide on your Maven group and artifact IDs; it's worth noting that the artifact ID is also the directory name for the project
  • Type in mvn archetype:create -DarchetypeArtifactId=maven-archetype-webapp
  • You'll notice that a new directory was created under the workspace root
  • Edit the Maven project descriptor POM.XML in the newly created directory:
    • Add (after the <url> tag, although I'm not sure the order matters) the following section:
    • Under <build>, add the following section:
  • You can now thank my colleague Aviran Mordo for finding out this bit of Voodoo. :-)
  • In the command prompt, now enter the project directory
  • Type in mvn eclipse:m2eclipse -Dwtpversion=1.5 to create an Eclipse project
  • Run Eclipse if it's not already started, then from the package explorer right click anywhere and click on Import...
  • Choose General->Existing Projects into Workspace. For root directory pick the workspace directory
  • Choose the new project and click on Finish
  • At this point you may encounter a "Java compiler level does not match the version of the installed Java project facet" error. If that's the case, just right-click on the error (in the Problems view) and select Quick Fix, which will allow you to change the Java project facet version to 6.0. If this isn't what you want, you probably know enough to resolve the issue on your own...
  • You'll need a src/main/java directory as a root source folder (as per the Maven convention). Right-click on the project, select New->Source Folder and type in src/main/java.
  • Finally, in order to execute or debug the project on an actual running server, right-click on the new project and select Properties. From there go to the Server tab and select the runtime you created in the previous chapter.

At this point you have a Maven web project with a corresponding Eclipse project ready for editing in your workspace. In practice you will have to do several things to have any meaningful results.

  1. Add your own code into the mix, such as a servlet. When adding a new servlet (via right-clicking the project, New->Other and choosing Web->Servlet) your WEB.XML file is automatically updated with the new servlet.
  2. Add your own dependencies. Maven handles dependencies quite well; for instance, in order to actually create a servlet you're going to need servlet-api.jar in your classpath; the easiest way to do this is to right-click the project, select Maven->Add Dependency and then simply type in servlet and choose javax.servlet servlet-api.
  3. When you wish to run or debug your servlet, right-click on its Java file and select Run As->Run on Server (or Debug, as appropriate). Your applet should be happily up and running.

5. Converting an existing project to Maven

I'm not sure how to go about doing this for web projects, but converting regular projects to use Maven is actually pretty straightforward; move your sources to the appropriate directories according to the Maven conventions, right-click the project in Eclipse and choose Maven->Enable Dependency Management; this will implicitly create a Maven project descriptor for you (POM.XML) and that's pretty much it. From that point on your Eclipse and Maven projects should peacefully coexist, allowing you to leverage both tools for your purposes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007 3:10:05 PM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development | Java

In case it wasn't obvious, I've been doing some Java development lately. One of the curious things about doing development in the Java world is that, whereas in the Microsoft world you get a fairly complete tool-chain direct from a commercial vendor, in the Java world you're pretty much dependant on the open-source ecosystem built around the essential Java technologies: Sun defines the APIs, the community provides the tools. In many ways this is really really cool: many Java tools like JUnit are so absolutely groundbreaking that they found their way into the common development idiom irrespective of language, and the availability of tools for just about any purpose is a tremendous advantage (being able to choose freely between Resin, Jetty, Tomcat or any other commercial container, for instance, is a huge boon).

This diversity and community-centric development ecosystem definitely comes with a price though. Java tools, even the high-profile ones such as Eclipse, are extremely difficult to work with for the uninitiated, with a learning curve somewhat like that of Linux: if you take the time to learn the tools you can do astounding things and remain in complete control of the system, but the sheer context required to do even the most trivial thing can be - and often is - daunting.

I've been battling these tools on and off for the last few weeks and often end up having to figure something out on my own. Unlike the .NET ecosystem, it's usually quite difficult to find a blog post detailing a solution to a particular problem. To that end I intend to document my successes - victories, if you will - over the tool-chain, and also the problems I encounter and haven't been able to solve, in the hope of helping others and maybe myself in the process. These posts will go under the Development->Java category, and I'd really appreciate any comments on the solutions (so that I can improve my own work) as well as the problems (so I can actually solve them). Here's to hoping :-)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007 11:48:11 AM (Jerusalem Standard Time, UTC+02:00)  #    -
Development | Java
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