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# Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Several years ago we have started a new project. We do not like neither hate any particular language, thus the decision what language to use was pragmatical: xslt 2.0 fitted perfectly.

At present it's a solid volume of xslt code. It exhibits all the virtues of any other good project in other language: clean design, modularity, documentation, sophisticationless (good code should not be clever).

Runtime profile of the project is that it deals with xml documents with sizes from a few dozens of bytes to several megabytes, and with xml schemas from simple ones like a tabular data, and to rich like xhtml and untyped. Pipeline of stylesheets processes gigabytes of data stored in the database and in files.

All the bragging above is needed here to introduce the context for the following couple of lines.

The diversity of load conditions and a big code base, exposed xslt engine of choice to a good proof test. The victim is Saxon. In the course of project we have found and reported many bugs. Some of them are nasty and important, and others are bearable. To Michael Kay's credit (he's owner of Saxon) all bugs are being fixed promtly (see the last one).

Such project helps us to understand a weak sides of xslt (it seems sometimes they, in WG, lack such experience, which should lead them through).

Well, it has happened so that we're helping to Saxon project. Unintentionally, however! :-)

P.S. About language preferences.

Nowdays we're polishing a COBOL generation. To this end we have familiarized ourselves with this language. That's the beatiful language. Its straightforwardness helps to see the evolution of computer languages and to understand what and why today's languages try to timidly hide.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 7:56:04 PM UTC  #    Comments [0] -
Thinking aloud | xslt
# Friday, January 15, 2010

We have updated There are many fixes in cobolxom (well, cobolxom is new, and probably there will be some more bugs). Also we have included Xml Object Model for the SQL, which in fact has appeared along with jxom.

SQL xom supports basic sql syntax including common table expressions, and two dialects for DB2 and Oracle.

Friday, January 15, 2010 4:20:41 PM UTC  #    Comments [2] -
# Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Recently W3C has published new drafts for xquery 1.1 and for xpath 2.1. We have noticed that committee has decided to introduce inline functions both for the xquery and for the xpath.

That's a really good news! This way xquery, xpath and xslt are being approached the Object Oriented Programming the way of javascript with its inline functions.

Now we shall be able to implement tuples (a sequence of items wrapped into single item), object with named properties, trees (e.g. RB Tree), associative containers (tree maps and hash maps, sets).

Surely, all this will be in the spirit of functional programming.

The only thing we regret about is that the WG did not include built-in implementations for trees and associative containers, as we don't believe that one can create an efficient implementation of these abstractions neither in xquery nor in xslt (asymptotically results will be good, but coefficients will be painful).

See also: Tuple and maps

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 1:13:16 PM UTC  #    Comments [0] -
# Monday, January 4, 2010

Not sure how things work for others but for us it turns out that Saxon 9.2 introduces new bugs, works slower and eats much more memory than its ancestor v9.1.

See Memory problem with V9.2.

We hope all this will be fixed soon.

Update: By the way, Saxon 9.2 (at the moment 2009-01-04) does not like (despises in fact) small documents and especially text nodes in those documents. It loves huge in memory documents, however. :-)

Update 2009-01-05: case's closed, fix's commited into svn.

Monday, January 4, 2010 1:39:47 PM UTC  #    Comments [0] -
# Friday, January 1, 2010

Today, I've tried to upgrade our projects to Saxon 9.2. We have a rather big set of stylesheets grinding gigabytes of information. It's obvious that we expected at least the same performance from the new version.

But to my puzzlement a pipeline of transformations failed almost immediately with en error message:

XPTY0018: Cannot mix nodes and atomic values in the result of a path expression

We do agree with this statement in general, but what it had in common with our stylesheets? And how everything was working in 9.1?

To find the root of the problem I've created a minimal problem reproduction:

<xsl:stylesheet version="2.0"
  exclude-result-prefixes="xs t">

  <!-- Entry point. -->
  <xsl:template match="/">
    <xsl:variable name="p" as="element()">
      <p l="1"/>

    <o l="{$p/t:d(.)}"/>

  <xsl:function name="t:d" as="item()*">
    <xsl:param name="p" as="element()"/>

    <xsl:apply-templates mode="p" select="$p"/>

  <xsl:template match="*" mode="p">
    <xsl:sequence select="concat('0', @l)"/>


Really simple, isn't it? The problem is in a new optimization of concat() function, introduced in version 9.2. It tries to eliminate string concatenation, and in certain cases emits its arguments directly into the output as text nodes, separating whole output with some stopper strings. The only problem is that no such optimization is allowed in this particular case (which is rather common, and surely legal, in our stylesheets); result of <xsl:template match="p" mode="p"> should not be a node, but of type xs:string.

Saxon 9.2 is here already for 3 month, at lest! Thus, how come that such a bug was not discovered earlier?

Update: the fix is commited into the svn on the next day. That's promptly!

Friday, January 1, 2010 10:17:47 PM UTC  #    Comments [0] -
# Sunday, December 27, 2009

We've added a new language to the set of Xml Object Model schemas and stylesheets.

The newcomer is COBOL! No jokes. It's not a whim, really. Believe it or not but COBOL is still alive and we need to generate it (mainly different sorts of proxies).

We've used VS COBOL II grammar Version 1.0.3 as a reference. Implemented grammar is complete but without preprocessor statements. On the other hand it defines COPY and EXEC SQL constructs.

Definitely, it'll take a time for the xml schema and xslt implementation to become mature.

Now language XOM is:

  • jxom - for java;
  • csharpxom - for C#;
  • cobolxom - for COBOL.

Sources can be found at languages-xom.

Sunday, December 27, 2009 5:00:07 PM UTC  #    Comments [0] -
Announce | xslt
# Monday, December 21, 2009


  • an xml defining elements and groups;
  • each element belongs to a group or groups;
  • group may belong to another group.


  • groups, a given element directly or inderectly belongs to;
  • a function checking whether an element belongs to a group.


  <group name="g1">
    <element ref="e1"/>
    <element ref="e2"/>
    <element ref="e3"/>
    <group ref="g2"/>
  <group name="g2">
    <element ref="e5"/>
  <group name="g3">
    <element ref="e1"/>
    <element ref="e4"/>

There are several solutions depending on aggresiveness of optimization. A moderate one is done through the xsl:key. All this reminds recursive common table expressions in SQL.


Monday, December 21, 2009 5:19:32 PM UTC  #    Comments [0] -
# Saturday, December 19, 2009

In spite of the fact that our last projects are being developed in Java, the .NET is definitly our favorite platform.

In a twitter I saw the phrase: "Java the language is a stagnant mess". It's said in favour of C#. It's true that C# significantly affects now even on Java (let's remember generics, jaxb, web services, etc.), but in my opinion, the C# won't be the leading language for worldwide enterprise applications in the nearest future.

One of causes is that the main platform for .NET still is Windows. The situation could be changed by Mono project, but I think there are yet not enough projects on platforms other than Windows.

My guess is confirmed by some of observations that I did as a software engineer of an IT company. Our company performs different software porting projects from legacy programming languages like COBOL, ADSO, Natural etc. into up to date languages like Java, C# etc. It worth to say that clients rarely select to migrate to .NET despite to our advices.

The main reason of such choice, according to most of our clients, is that they want to be platform independent and only Java gives them this choice.

It worth for Microsoft to think about cooperation with Mono in order to make .NET really platform indpendent, otherwise C# will always be a step behind Java despite apparent advantages of C# as a programming language.

Saturday, December 19, 2009 5:08:23 PM UTC  #    Comments [1] -
Thinking aloud
# Friday, December 11, 2009

A client asked us to produce Excel reports in ASP.NET application. They've given an Excel templates, and also defined what they want to show.

What are our options?

  • Work with Office COM API;
  • Use Office Open XML SDK (which is a set of pure .NET API);
  • Try to apply xslt somehow;
  • Macro, other?

For us, biased to xslt, it's hard to make a fair choice. To judge, we've tried formalize client's request and to look into future support.

So, we have defined sql stored procedures to provide the data. This way data can be represented either as ADO.NET DataSet, a set of classes, as xml, or in other reasonable format. We do not predict any considerable problem with data representation if client will decide to modify reports in future.

It's not so easy when we think about Excel generation.

Due to ignorance we've thought that Excel is much like xslt in some regard, and that it's possible to provide a tabular data in some form and create Excel template, which will consume the data to form a final output. To some extent it's possible, indeed, but you should start creating macro or vb scripts to achieve acceptable results.

When we've mentioned macroses to the client, they immediately stated that such a solution won't work due to security reasons.

Comparing COM API and Open XML SDK we can see that both provide almost the same level of service for us, except that the later is much more lighter and supports only Open XML format, and the earlier is a heavy API exposing MS Office and supports earlier versions also.

Both solutions have a considerable drawback: it's not easy to create Excel report in C#, and it will be a pain to support such solution if client will ask, say in half a year, to modify something in Excel template or to create one more report.

Thus we've approached to xslt. There we've found two more directions:

  • generate data for Office Open XML;
  • generate xml in format of MS Office 2003.

It's turned out that it's rather untrivial task to generate data for Open XML, and it's not due to the format, which is not xml at all but a zipped folder containing xmls. The problem is in the complex schemas and in many complex relations between files constituting Open XML document. In contrast, MS Office 2003 format allows us to create a single xml file for the spreadsheet.

Selecting between standard and up to date format, and older proprietary one, the later looks more attractive for the development and support.

At present we're at position to use xslt and to generate files in MS Office 2003 format. Are there better options?

Friday, December 11, 2009 9:28:32 AM UTC  #    Comments [4] -
Tips and tricks | xslt
# Saturday, December 5, 2009

Did you ever hear that double numbers may cause roundings, and that many financial institutions are very sensitive to those roundings?

Sure you did! We're also aware of this kind of problem, and we thought we've taken care of it. But things are not that simple, as you're not always know what an impact the problem can have.

To understand the context it's enough to say that we're converting (using xslt by the way) programs written in a CASE tool called Cool:GEN into java and into C#. Originally, Cool:GEN generated COBOL and C programs as deliverables. Formally, clients compare COBOL results vs java or C# results, and they want them to be as close as possible.

For one particular client it was crucial to have correct results during manipulation with numbers with 20-25 digits in total, and with 10 digits after a decimal point.

Clients are definitely right, and we've introduced generation options to control how to represent numbers in java and C# worlds; either as double or BigDecimal (in java), and decimal (in C#).

That was our first implementation. Reasonable and clean. Was it enough? - Not at all!

Client's reported that java's results (they use java and BigDecimal for every number with decimal point) are too precise, comparing to Mainframe's (MF) COBOL. This rather unusuall complain puzzles a litle, but client's confirmed that they want no more precise results than those MF produces.

The reason of the difference was in that that both C# and especially java may store much more decimal digits than is defined for the particualar result on MF. So, whenever you define a field storing 5 digits after decimal point, you're sure that exactly 5 digits will be stored. This contrasts very much with results we had in java and C#, as both multiplication and division can produce many more digits after the decimal point. The solution was to truncate(!) (not to round) the numbers to the specific precision in property setters.

So, has it resolved the problem? - No, still not!

Client's reported that now results much more better (coincide with MF, in fact) but still there are several instances when they observe differences in 9th and 10th digits after a decimal point, and again java's result are more accurate.

No astonishment this time from us but analisys of the reason of the difference. It's turned out that previous solution is partial. We're doing a final truncation but still there were intermediate results like in a/(b * c), or in a * (b/c).

For the intermediate results MF's COBOL has its, rather untrivial, formulas (and options) per each operation defining the number of digits to keep after a decimal point. After we've added similar options into the generator, several truncations've manifested in the code to adjust intermediate results. This way we've reached the same accurateness as MF has.

What have we learned (reiterated)?

  • A simple problems may have far reaching impact.
  • More precise is not always better. Client often prefers compatible rather than more accurate results.
Saturday, December 5, 2009 1:17:42 PM UTC  #    Comments [0] -
Tips and tricks | xslt
# Thursday, December 3, 2009

Recently we were visiting Ukraine, the capital city, and a town we've come from.

Today's Ukraine makes a twofold impression.

On the one hand it's a childhood places and relatives, an enormous pleasure of meeting university and school friends, a good surprise of meeting university chancellor who was already hoary with age when we were studying.

On the other hand it's already a very different country from what the memory draws. I must be wrong but my impression was that it's a country of traders and endless political battles. It's neither bad nor good but a point of history. Unfortunately we cannot think ourselves now living in Ukraine.

On the question where is our home now, we have the only answer it's in Israel.

Thursday, December 3, 2009 7:32:18 AM UTC  #    Comments [0] -

# Friday, November 13, 2009

For some reason C# lacks a decimal truncation function limiting result to a specified number of digits after a decimal point. Don't know what's the reasoning behind, but it stimulates the thoughts. Internet is plentiful with workarounds. A tipical answer is like this:

Math.Truncate(2.22977777 * 1000) / 1000; // Returns 2.229

So, we also want to provide our solution to this problem.

public static decimal Truncate(decimal value, byte decimals)
  decimal result = decimal.Round(value, decimals);
  int c = decimal.Compare(value, result);
  bool negative = decimal.Compare(value, 0) < 0;

  if (negative ? c <= 0 : c >= 0)
    return result;

  return result - new decimal(1, 0, 0, negative, decimals);

Definitely, if the function were implemented by the framework it were much more efficient. We assume, however, that above's the best implementation that can be done externally.

Friday, November 13, 2009 2:31:26 PM UTC  #    Comments [0] -
Tips and tricks
# Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A natural curiosity led us to the implementation of connection pooling in Apache Tomcat (org.apache.commons.dbcp).

And what're results do you ask?

Uneasiness... Uneasiness for all those who use it. Uneasiness due to the difference between our expectations and real implementation.

Briefly the design is following:

  • wrap every jdbc object;
  • cache prepared statements wrappers;
  • lookup prepared statement wrappers in the cache before asking original driver;
  • upon close return wrappers into the cache.

It took us a couple of minutes to see that this is very problematic design, as it does not address double close of statements properly (jdbc states that is safe to call close() over closed jdbc object). With Apache's design it's safe not to touch the object after the close() call, as it returned to the pool and possibly already given to an other client who requested it.

The correct design would be:

  • wrap every jdbc object;
  • cache original prepared statements;
  • lookup original prepared statement in the cache before asking original driver, and return wrappers;
  • detach wrapper upon close from original object, and put original object into the cache.

A bit later. We've found a confirmation of our doubts on Apache site: see "JNDI Datasource HOW-TO ", chapter "Common Problems".

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 11:20:00 AM UTC  #    Comments [0] -
Tips and tricks

In a twitter I've found a conversation:

michaelhkay: @fgeorges [XSLT 2.1 - Still nothing public?] Afraid not. Why don't you join the WG and help to speed things up?

I think it's a tendency.

WGs are a very different world. There people think of eternity... There a pace of time is less important than final words. But developers who're busy with their projects, and have no enough spare time to help to WGs, cannot wait for years for good specs and implementations. On the other hand good designers succeed dealing with existing technologies.

Looking into the future I see different perspectives regarding WGs. The one I think the most is that eventually WG'll run out of its enthusiasm, which I suspect happens after the second generation of members, and a technology'll go either to a museum, become a legacy but sill used one, or hopefully to a university community.

At present I'm calm about Xslt/XQuery WGs, as they're only approaching to the second generation. My fears're about C++ WG, which is on its third decade...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 9:21:25 AM UTC  #    Comments [0] -

# Saturday, October 10, 2009

It's not a secret that we don't like JSF (something is very wrong with whole its design), however we have no choice but to work with it. But at times to lift hands up is only wish we have working with it.

The last pearl is with check box control: selectBooleanCheckbox. It turns out that when you disable the control on a client and assume that its value won't be databound on a server, you're wrong. Browser does not send the value as you would expect, but JSF (reference implementation at least) works like this:

private static String isChecked(String value) {
  return Boolean.toString("on".equalsIgnoreCase(value)
    || "yes".equalsIgnoreCase(value)
    || "true".equalsIgnoreCase(value));

where value is null, which means that JSF thinks checkbox is unchecked.

Saturday, October 10, 2009 10:06:52 AM UTC  #    Comments [0] -
JSF and Facelets
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