What To Do With All This XSP Markup? Redux

Feb 17, 2022, 2:53 PM

Tags: jsf xpages

About a year ago, I wrote a post discussing what I saw as potential future options for all the XPages code we've collectively written over the years. That post was written with the assumption that the future life of an XPages app isn't XPages as it exists today - while that's still a possibility, it's a lot less fun to speculate about.

As it has been for years, this remains on my mind, but my recent addition of JSF to the XPages Jakarta EE project caused it to bubble back to the top of my musings.

Conceptual Tools

Before getting into some speculative specifics, I'd like to first take a step back and assess the concepts we're working with.

In that post, and as I frequently do, I referred back to an old post of mine discussing how an XPage is best thought of as a tree of components, one most-commonly described by way of the XSP markup language. The critical concept there is that there's nothing that inherently ties an XPage to the specific thing that sends HTML to the browser, and all the moreso when you're talking about the XML. While "XPages" as an entity on Domino encompasses an entire stack that starts just barely above the bottom of nHTTP, "an XPage" as such is almost always just XML that describes what you want to happen on the page. There are parts of it that are more specific than others, for sure: <xp:inputText/> has equivalents in a million other languages, but value="#{javascript: ...}" starts getting into some gnarly implementation specifics. Still, the point is that anything that can successfully interpret XSP markup can be considered functionally "XPages" for most uses.

The next handy concept to keep in mind is related, and that's that code is data. This is most apparent with an XML-based language like XSP, but it applies to everything. SSJS code is absolutely data: it's just strings that happen to be parsed out at runtime as ASTs and then executed. For SSJS, there's no explicit guarantee that facesContext refers to an instance of javax.faces.context.FacesContext or one of its com.ibm.xsp subclasses. Heck, there's no specific requirement that even referring to the class by name would reference the same thing. It's just data and can be interepreted as the runtime seems fit.

And that goes further: Java bytecode is just data too. OSGi has a mechanism to alter classes at load time that already exists and works great on Domino. Also pertinently, Eclipse Transformer is a tool that translates code (source or compiled) that references javax.* JEE classes to jakarta.* classes, and is used commonly now by webapp runtimes to support both legacy and new apps with the same codebase. Fancy stuff, that.

The Musing

So back to what I've been pondering. I think I did mostly a good job covering the bases in my original post, but time and experience has given me further perspective.

JSF Driver For XSP

When I first mentioned it, I brushed the concept of writing a driver for JSF off a bit - not fully, but I did give it a shorter shrift than it deserved.

To begin with, this concept exists in JSF: the view declaration language. Now, it's not actually used for this sort of "transplant" thing, mind you: in practice, it's a concept that was used to transition from JSP as the language to write JSF pages to Facelets and not much else. Still, there's no inherent reason why one couldn't write a VDL driver for JSF that would interpret XSP markup and create components based on it. This is especially true because XSP itself doesn't really contain any real curveballs: it's a pretty basic mapping of tags to component names and attributes to bean properties, with the main hiccup being <xp:this.action>-type complex properties.


I've also given some thought to that tag-to-component mapping. One way to do that would be to make an interpreter that sees <xp:inputText/> and, instead of translating it to com.ibm.xsp.component.UIInputText, would instead translate it to a newer stock component. I thereby brushed it off as being properly too complex to be workable, as XPages's nature as a hard fork of JSF meant that things like the java.faces.component.UIComponent#_xspGetStateId method would prove intractable.

I'm less sure of this difficulty now, though. The switch from javax.faces to jakarta.faces means there's room for coexistence on the same classpath, as I now have in the JEE project. This means there's a lot of room for adapting older code unchanged by way of using wrapper objects and proxies.

For the former, what I mean is that, while a JSF 4.x implementation like MyFaces 4 now has no knowledge of what a javax.faces.component.UIInput is, it doesn't have to: all it needs is a subclass of jakarta.faces.component.UIComponent that can fit into a tree and respond to normal JSF calls like processUpdates. The "real" JSF stack in front could pass in incoming form data from the client just the same as it does now, and a wrapped legacy XPages class could handle it exactly as it does now. Things get more complicated than that, but not impossibly so.

This is similar to all the Servlet-object wrapping and unwrapping I do in the JEE support project. These wrappers interpret and route equivalent method calls to the delegates they're wrapping, and so Servlet 5 code doesn't care that it's working with a Servlet 2.4 request, and similarly the Servlet 2.4 code can continue to know nothing at all about Servlet 5. The glue code handles the simple wrapper-based translations between the layers.

So, in this way, the XPages fork of JSF could remain essentially untouched. As long as the runtime does things like inserting an appropriate old-style FacesContext object into javax.faces.context.FacesContext and the like, no one needs to be the wiser.

And this is where Java object proxies could come into play. Where I've above said things like "an instance of javax.faces.context.FacesContext" or "an... object", that doesn't even need to be a real class that you construct with new Foo(). While Java's built-in proxies only work with interfaces, libraries like Javassist can generate proxy objects for true classes as well. One could have a proxy object that checks to see if an incoming method is compatible with the new style and use that one, or otherwise route to a wrapped class, and yet remain class-cast compatible with old code. I'm not sure this would be required if wrapping was done fully, but it's good to know as an option.


Then there's user code. I was going to have a bunch of stuff to say in this section, but it's actually all largely covered by the steps that would be necessary for keeping runtime code compatible, if that were the route to take. If user code calls javax.faces.context.FacesContext#getCurrentInstance, then it'd get a legacy object; if it calls jakarta.faces.context.FacesContext#getCurrentInstance, then it'd get the new-era one. That'd be the same as the work necessary to keep the old parts chugging along.

Now, if the old parts were to change - were the task to be to make it so that the com.ibm.xsp classes are based on JSF 4.x - then there'd be some fiddling to do for user code. But, again, it'd be largely the same idea. You could either translate the code as it's loaded (for Java) or executed (for SSJS) or you could pass wrapper objects around. So all the same ideas apply.


I've also been thinking a lot about the notion of an "XPages 2" or the like existing alongside XPages as it is now. For example, you could imagine a variant of "XPages" that is indeed a JSF view definition language that interprets XSP markup, but which doesn't attempt to guarantee pure compatibility with existing code. Maybe it'd get 80% of the way there - it'd interpret components in largely the same way, but wouldn't guarantee that every little bit of code that dives down into the runtime implementation would work identically, and wouldn't guarantee that every fiddly detail of the XPages lifecycle and its optimizations would execute in the exact same way.

In such a scenario, there wouldn't be any particular need to remove or change the old stuff. This is the scenario that JEE app servers all faced with the jakarta.* move: you can't realistically expect every app to be transformed (automatically or otherwise) to work with the new versions, especially because old apps may target even-older specs that have since had other breaking changes.

In Domino, there are a few ways one could go about accomplishing this. One way would be to do kind of like what I do for JSP and JSF: tell NSFService to handle a given extension and then write a factory to handle it. In this way, you could declare a new extension, say ".xspx" (note: please do not use this extension), and then route incoming requests to a handler that's like normal XPages but not 100% compatible.

Alternatively, you could do something I've pondered for a while, which is to make another HttpService implementation that would check for a flag in the database referenced in incoming .nsf-containing URLs to see if it's set to "new mode" and, if so, interpret the request however which way it would like. Such a service could disregard all old rules for URL handling if it wanted, and could worry much less about the potential of cross-contamination between request types. It'd be more work, but is an intriguing possibility.


So is any of this the right way to go about dealing with our dear old friend XPages? I don't know - maybe. This is all pretty off-the-cuff, and I haven't necessarily thought through all the implications, but I do feel like there's more wiggle room here than I'd originally assumed. It's interesting to think about, at the very least.

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