Wicket needs a component catalog

I’m a big fan of Apache Wicket, but there’s an urgent need for a better-organized component-ecosystem around Wicket. To write a real web application you need a framework (that’s Wicket) and visual components (that’s JQuery, YUI, Recaptcha etc) and you need the two to work together smoothly.

A newcomer to Wicket should be impressed by the clean, component-oriented approach to producing the GUI for his application, but a production web application needs more than just HTML. So, inevitably, the next step is to try to find the stuff which will make your web-application look like all those other web 2.0 sites out there. However, very few of the Wicket components referenced from the Wicket home pages are “best-of-breed” and a certain amount of disappointment soon sets in.

Take the wicket example captcha implementation for example. There are two problems here: (a) the implementation produces a captcha image which is not only difficult for robots to read, but also pretty impossible for humans and (b) everybody else is already using recaptcha so why even bother distracting developers with yet-another home-spun implementation.

The Wicket community might react by saying “well, there are enough blogs describing how to use recaptcha with Wicket, so where’s the problem?”. Well the problem is that these blogs typically provide their description in a way which reflects their own expertise rather than that of the reader, which means that a novice Wicket programmer may or may not be able to follow the instructions to successfully integrate recaptcha into his application.

Or to put it another way, developers blogs are not a substitute for organized, tested and documented component libraries.

What could help, on the other hand, is a catalog of components, with ratings and a compatibility matrix indicating tested interoperability with other components/browsers etc.

By the way what prompted me to write this post was that yesterday I finally used a few of the Visural Wicket components (based on JQuery) and they are fantastic – well thought out APIs, styling etc. What I don’t understand is that mediocre-to-lousy versions of equivalent components (such as the Wicket extensions modal window or the wicketstuff lightbox) feature much more prominently on the Wicket sites, so the novice programmer is far more likely to use them (and be bitterly disappointed) than to use Visural Wicket (and be delighted).

Wicket adoption would likely be accelerated if the end-to-end experience of producing the first production web application involved a bit less trial-and-error and a bit more delight.

Shadowed variables in inner classes

Yesterday we had a bug caused by the following situation: a class X had a variable “user”. Class X had an inner, anonymous class extending class Y. Inside the inner class a reference was made to the “user” variable from the enclosing class X. Somebody then added a protected variable “user” to class Y. The java compiler silently updated the reference to “user” within the inner class from X.user to Y.user.

This is pretty nasty and I hoped that some of the code-checking tools would warn about about it, so I checked the code with PMD, Findbugs and Checkstyle. Unfortunately, none of them flagged the issue.

Deciphering anonymous class references like MyPage$1$1$2

If you work with anonymous classes a lot (as Wicket applications do), you sometimes get confronted with compiler/tool messages referring to anonymous (inner) classes with names like MyPage$1$1$2 (for instance in FindBugs reports). Its pretty tedious to figure out which class is meant. Maybe there’s a better way, but what I do is go to the target directory and call “javap MyPage$1$1$2.class”. This produces a decompiled version of the class which makes it pretty clear which class it is.

Wicket 1.4 and browser tabs

We had an amazingly annoying problem in a Wicket application. A specific user was continuously having problems with ajax controls on pages (search fields, auto-complete fields etc). The problems were caused by PageExpiredExceptions. We couldn’t understand why only this one user had these problems. This went on for ages, until today I found out that Wicket 1.4 sets a default limit of 5 page maps per session. This specific user typically worked with multiple browser tabs on the application and once he went over 5, some of the page maps got evicted and the ajax stuff started failing.

The solution was to call “getSessionSettings().setMaxPageMaps(100)” to allow up to 100 page maps per session.