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Review all item help texts

The business analyst or QA wants to check all the help texts for all items in your apex application – don’t force them to navigate to each page and click on the labels, one by one; instead, give them a spreadsheet to review at their leisure.

Method 1: use the apex data dictionary viewer

1. Open your application in the Apex application builder

2. Utilities -> Application Express Views

3. Choose APEX Application Page Items

4. Include PAGE_ID, PAGE_NAME, REGION, ITEM_NAME, LABEL, DISPLAY_AS, ITEM_HELP_TEXT

5. Click Filter >

6. Select APPLICATION_ID = <your app id>

7. Select ITEM_HELP_TEXT IS NOT NULL

8. Click Results >

9. Click Download

Method 2: query the data dictionary directly using your tool of choice

select page_id, page_name, region, item_name, label, display_as, item_help_text
from apex_application_page_items
where application_id = :my_app_id and item_help_text is not null
order by page_id, region, display_sequence;

Custom html for an Apex generated item? jQuery to the rescue

The apex application I’m working on has a search filter on a report page that looks like this:

transaction-search-checkboxes

The list of values is based on a user-defined “ref codes” table, which includes an option “Show By Default”. This option is currently set on the “Closed” and “Deleted” status and means that transactions with that status will not normally be listed in the report, unless the user explicitly selects either of those statuses, e.g.:

transaction-status-closed

If no checkboxes are selected, the report shows all transactions by default, except for Closed or Deleted transactions.

To indicate this behaviour, I added an asterisk (*) next to the label on those checkboxes. I also wanted some hover text so that a user who has forgotten what the asterisk means can get an idea, e.g.:

<td>
<input type="checkbox" id="P23_FTS_STATUS_7" name="p_v05" value="CLOSED">
<label for="P23_FTS_STATUS_7" title="* not shown by default">Closed*</label>
</td>

transaction-status-hover

However, the default apex Checkbox item doesn’t support putting extra attributes on the generated html labels – so I need to add the hover text by running some javascript after the page is loaded. jQuery to the rescue!

To add the hover text I simply add this to the Execute when Page Loads page attribute:

$("label[for*='P23_FTS_STATUS']:contains('*')")
  .attr("title","* not shown by default")

This searches for all label nodes where the “for” attribute contains my item name (“P23_FTS_STATUS”), where the text contains a “*”. It then adds the “title” attribute with my desired value.

Calculate Age in Javascript

I had a registration form in Apex which asks the applicant to enter their Date of Birth in a date item; I then needed to calculate how old they would be at the start of the event, which determines a number of rules, such as whether we need to obtain their parent’s permission.

In my first release I implemented this with a Dynamic Action which ran SQL something like this:

select round(months_between(start_date
                           ,to_date(:P1_DATE_OF_BIRTH,'DD-MON-YYYY'))
             / 12,1)
from events
where event_id = :P1_EVENT_ID;

This worked fine – it takes advantage of Oracle’s builtin support for date arithmetic. However, it was rather slow, because it needs to do a roundtrip to the database to run the query and return the result.

I wanted a pure javascript implementation to avoid the roundtrip, but my initial searches came up with a number of sub-par solutions involving extracting the year and month portions and applying simple arithmetic which did not take into account leap years.

Instead, I’ve gone with an easier solution taking advantage of the moments javascript package.

  1. Add the path to moment.min.js in the File URLs attribute of the page. You could get your own local copy or point to the relevant file from a cdn: http://cdnjs.com/libraries/moment.js/
  2. Add a function to the Function and Global Variable Declaration attribute of the page, which uses the moments object to convert the strings into date objects, and then call the diff method to get the number of years as a floating-point number, e.g.:
    function getAge() {
      var e = moment($v("P1_EVENT_DATE"),"YYYYMMDD")
         ,dob = moment($v("P1_DATE_OF_BIRTH"),"DD-MMM-YYYY");
      return e.diff(dob,'years',true).toFixed(1);
    }
  3. Add a Dynamic Action to the Date of Birth item which calls getAge() and sets the value of the Age display item.

The result is a much quicker response and less load on the database. This is an intentionally simple example, you could do it in different ways to suit your situation (e.g. if you have multiple date items you need to handle on the same page, you might pass them as parameters to the function).

The moments javascript package has an impressive list of features, including pretty-formatting a duration (e.g. a client-side version of the SINCE format e.g. “3 years ago”) documented here.

Why Kyte Tolerates Poor Questions

I have Tom Kyte’s “Ask Tom” in my feed reader, and every now and then it opens for questions and the flood pours in. Quite often there is an interesting question, but more often than not there are quite a lot of “poor” questions: some just poorly worded, some too-easily-googleable, others are could-have-answered-from-the-docs questions. It’s not dissimilar to StackOverflow, which doesn’t suffer so much because of the army of people who work together to either improve or close these types of questions. Sometimes I think “Why did you waste Tom’s time with that? You could have googled it, searched the docs, or opened SO and you’d probably find a good answer there without even having to ask it.”

However, my impression is wrong, I think, because my feed reader only shows me the initial question, and not the detailed follow-up by Tom and others. I was reminded today of how a poor question can still lead to enlightenment, by this excellent quote by Tom:

As things grow and change over time – engineers need to use different approaches. The planes I fly in have wings that go straight out from the plane. That is because I fly at about 500 mph. A fighter jet at mach 2 would be going 1,500 mph. The wings on a fighter jet are significantly different in their architecture – because if they weren’t it wouldn’t work. We have different types of bridges in order to cross different types of chasms. We have different building styles for different types of builds (stick and brick for a 2 story house, steel girders in a frame for 30 story buildings).

As you scale up, the solutions that worked for trivial amounts of data will not necessarily work for large amounts of data.

If you are in a place that says “make it work but do not change code” – expect to have a bad day.

(Source)

And, if you’re wondering how he keeps up with all this:

After 14 years on asktom and 20 years total (usenet news groups last century) answering tens of thousands of questions, I took a break from social media stuff.

(Source)

We could all do with a break from time to time, I think :)

Sample TAPI Apex Application

If you attended my presentation at AUSOUG Perth earlier this month, or if you’ve had a peek at the slides, you may be interested in a more concrete demonstration of the ideas presented. So if you’d like to install and play with a sample application that includes a TAPI generator, feel free to download this (EDIT: updated, see below).

Disclaimer: this is provided for information (and entertainment) purposes only.

Prerequisites:
Oracle Application Express 4.2.2 or later

Read the README file for installation instructions.

appimage

If you’re only interested in the schema-level TAPI and not the Apex application, the zip file includes the DDL script that you can run directly in a schema without requiring Apex.

EDIT (18/11/2014): updated sample code to do the right thing in WHEN OTHERS triggers.

EDIT (20/11/2014): updated sample code with a further example for a FK to a table, which doesn’t use a surrogate key. Also added an exception handler to the Apex application.

EDIT (2/12/2014): added Grid Edit for event types, as an example of how a tabular form might work with a TAPI; added deployment package; moved code to Bitbucket.

More updates and improvements will be added in the future – watch this space.

Help for your keyboard users

Apex’s Blue Responsive Theme 25 is a great theme for building a user-friendly website, and unlike many other themes which make the item labels clickable to get help, it renders little question-mark icons to the right of each item that has a help message defined.

theme-25-help-icon

One issue with this design, however, is that a keyboard-savvy user (such as myself) hates to switch between keyboard and mouse – so they Tab between each field as they fill in a form. With this theme, however, those little question-mark icons are in the tab order, so the user has to Tab twice between each field. If they’re not looking at the page they might forget; and if one item doesn’t happen to have a Help icon, they have to remember to only Tab once. All of this adds up to a poor user experience.

To fix this, we simply tell the browser to move the Help icons out of the tab order – and yet again, jQuery comes to the rescue as we can simply pick out all the elements with the class itemHelpButton and set their tabindex to “-1″:

$(".itemHelpButton").attr('tabindex',-1);

Put this code in the page attribute Execute when Page Loads – when the page loads, this will set the tabindex on all the help icons on the page, so now the user can tab through the page without interruption.

AUSOUG Conference Perth, November 2014

What a great conference – there’s been a lot of praise for the organisers and all the speakers. I haven’t missed a conference since I started 15 years ago, and I hope it keeps going (in one form or another) for a long time to come.

This year I attended the following sessions (some titles changed for effect):

Björn Rost – 12c for DBAs and Developers; FDA (time to drop those journal triggers)

Scott Wesley – CSS & JQuery hands-on lab; 5 Security & Performance Techniques

Branka NjegichCraig Purser – a Case Study about building a very slick Tablet app in Apex

Martin Power – how to recover from data block corruption (where I realised it’s about time I learned this “rman” thing)

Connor McDonald – 12c for Developers in only 1,000,000 slides

Penny Cookson – OHarmony (or, how to find a tall, dark DBA…)

Tim Hall – Performance Mistakes; PL/SQL Function Call Performance

Gavin Soorma – How to Migrate your Data to 12c

If you are interested, you can review the slides from my presentation here: Building Maintainable Applications in Apex. Whether or not you agree with all my points, I hope it at least makes you think :)

Next/Previous buttons from Interactive Report results

What could be simpler than a set of "Next" and "Previous" buttons?

What could be simpler than a set of “Next” and “Previous” buttons?

I love Interactive Reports, they make it easy to deliver a lot of power to users for very little development effort. However, with that power comes some complexity for building certain features not available in the base Apex toolset.

I had an IR with a fairly costly and complex query behind it, linked to another screen to view the details for a record. The users wanted to be able to view each record from the search result without having to click each record, go back to the Search, and click the next record, etc. Instead, they wanted “Next” and “Previous” buttons on the Single Record screen which would allow them to navigate the search results.

There are a few ideas on the web around how to implement this, and I considered two of them:

1. On the Single Record screen, run the query to determine what the next and previous records are in relation to the currently viewed record.

2. On the Search screen, instead of querying the tables/views directly, call a database procedure to store the query results in a collection; then, both the Search and the Single Record screens can query the collection.

Some problems with solution #1 include (a) the query might be quite expensive, so the Single Record screen may be too slow; and (b) if the data changes, the user might get unexpected results (“that record didn’t appear in my search results?”).

Another problem that both of these solutions share is that if the user has used any of the IR features such as custom filters, sort orders, etc. we won’t necessarily pick these up when determining what the Next/Previous records are. Certainly, the collection approach won’t pick these up at all.

Instead, I’ve gone for a different approach. Firstly, I’ve simplified the problem by dictating that the Next/Previous buttons will only allow the user to navigate the list of records they most recently saw on the search screen; therefore, if the results are paginated, we’ll only navigate through that page of results. If the user wants to keep going, they’ll go back to the Search screen and bring up the next page of results.

The solution is quite simple in concept but was a bit tricky to implement. The basic idea is that I encode the record IDs in the HTML generated by the report, and use some Dynamic Actions to grab the resulting list of record IDs, store them as a CSV in a page item, which can then be parsed by the View/Edit screen.

Here it is in detail, ready for you to try, critique or improve (in this example, my record’s id column is called ft_id, my Search screen is p23, and the Single Record screen is p26):

Part A: Save the IDs shown on the Interactive Report

1. In the Link Column on the interactive report region, add class="report-ft-id" to the Link Attributes.

2. In the Link Icon, add data-ft-id=#FT_ID# into the img tag.link_column
I added this to the img bit because the Link Column field doesn’t do the #FT_ID# substitution, unfortunately.
3. Add the following javascript function to the page’s Function and Global Variable Declaration:

function ft_id_list() {
  return $(".report-ft-id >img")
         .map(function(){return $(this).attr("data-ft-id");})
         .get()
         .join(",");
}

This function searches for any records shown on the page by searching for the report-ft-id class, extracts from each one the img node’s data-ft-id attribute, maps these into an array, and then squashes that array down to a comma-separated list.

4. Create a hidden item P23_FT_ID_LIST which will store the resulting list.

5. Create an application item FT_ID_LIST which will be read by the Single Record page.

6. Create a Dynamic Action triggered by the event Page Load, which saves the list of IDs into session state by performing two actions:
(a) Set Value based on a JavaScript Expression, ft_id_list();, assigned to the item P23_FT_ID_LIST
(b) Execute PL/SQL Code which runs the code :FT_ID_LIST := :P23_FT_ID_LIST;. Make sure to set Page Items to Submit to P23_FT_ID_LIST and set Page Items to Return to FT_ID_LIST.
This dynamic action will only fire when the page is initially loaded.

7. Copy the Dynamic Action, but this time set the event to Custom and the Custom Event to apexafterrefresh. This way, whenever the user changes the rows shown in the report (e.g. by paginating, or changing filters or sort order, etc.), the list will be refreshed as well.

Part B: Add the Next/Previous buttons

8. Create some procedures on the database (e.g. in a database package) which take a list of IDs and a “current” ID, and return the next or previous ID in the list:

FUNCTION next_id
  (id_list IN VARCHAR2
  ,curr_id IN VARCHAR2
  ) RETURN VARCHAR2 IS
  buf     VARCHAR2(32767) := ','||id_list||',';
  search  VARCHAR2(100) := ','||curr_id||',';
  pos     NUMBER;
  new_id  VARCHAR2(32767);
BEGIN
  pos := INSTR(buf, search);
  IF pos > 0 THEN
    -- strip out the found ID and all previous
    buf := SUBSTR(buf, pos+LENGTH(search));
    -- chop off the first ID now in the list
    IF INSTR(buf,',') > 0 THEN
      new_id := SUBSTR(buf, 1, INSTR(buf,',')-1);
    END IF;
  END IF;
  RETURN new_id;
END next_id;

FUNCTION prev_id
  (id_list IN VARCHAR2
  ,curr_id IN VARCHAR2
  ) RETURN VARCHAR2 IS
  buf     VARCHAR2(32767) := ','||id_list||',';
  search  VARCHAR2(100) := ','||curr_id||',';
  pos     NUMBER;
  new_id  VARCHAR2(32767);
BEGIN
  pos := INSTR(buf, search);
  IF pos > 0 THEN
    -- strip out the found ID and all following
    buf := SUBSTR(buf, 1, pos-1);
    -- chop off all but the last ID in the remaining list
    IF INSTR(buf,',',-1) > 0 THEN
      new_id := SUBSTR(buf, INSTR(buf,',',-1)+1);
    END IF;
  END IF;
  RETURN new_id;
END prev_id;

9. Add two hidden items to the Single Record screen: P26_FT_ID_NEXT and P26_FT_ID_PREV.

10. On P26_FT_ID_NEXT, set Source Type to PL/SQL Expression, and set Source value or expression to next_id(:FT_ID_LIST,:P26_FT_ID), and similarly for P26_FT_ID_PREV to prev_id(:FT_ID_LIST,:P26_FT_ID).

11. Add buttons Next and Previous, with Action set to Redirect to Page in this Application, pointing back to the same page, but setting the P26_FT_ID to &P26_FT_ID_NEXT. and &P26_FT_ID_PREV., respectively.

This method means that it doesn’t matter if the query behind the report changes, or if the user adds filters or uses different saved reports; the Single Record screen doesn’t need to know – it just needs to know what the list of IDs the user most recently saw on the Search screen were.

Some downsides to this approach include:

  • Server load – the dynamic actions on the report refresh, which causes it to do an ajax call to the database on every refresh of the IR. But at least it saves the View/Edit screen re-executing the query on every page load.
  • Rows Per Page limitation – since we save the list of IDs as a CSV in a single string variable, we may have issues if the user sets Rows Per Page to “All” with a large result set – so we need to limit the Maximum Rows Per Page to about 3,000 (this assumes that all the IDs will be less than 10 digits long) to fit in the 32,767 char limit. YMMV.
  • Duplicate records – this method assumes that the IDs shown in the report will always be distinct. If this is not true, the next/previous functions will not allow the user to navigate through the whole list.

Code can be scary when you simplify it

Disclaimer: I’m not posting to make me look better, we’ve all written code that we’re later ashamed of, and I’m no different!

This is some code I discovered buried in a system some time ago. I’ve kept a copy of it because it illustrates a number of things NOT to do:

FUNCTION password_is_valid
  (in_password IN VARCHAR2)
-- do NOT copy this code!!! ...
  RETURN VARCHAR2 IS
  l_valid VARCHAR2(1);
  l_sql VARCHAR2(32000);
  CURSOR cur_rules IS
    SELECT REPLACE(sql_expression
                  ,'#PASSWORD#'
                  ,'''' || in_password || ''''
                  ) AS sql_expression
    FROM password_rules;
BEGIN
  FOR l_rec IN cur_rules LOOP
    l_valid := 'N';
    -- SQL injection, here we come...
    l_sql := 'SELECT ''Y'' FROM DUAL ' || l_rec.sql_expression;
    BEGIN
      -- why not flood the shared pool with SQLs containing
      -- user passwords in cleartext?
      EXECUTE IMMEDIATE l_sql INTO l_valid;
    EXCEPTION
      WHEN NO_DATA_FOUND THEN
        EXIT;
    END;
    IF l_valid = 'N' THEN
      EXIT;
    END IF;
  END LOOP;
  RETURN l_valid;
END password_is_valid;

I am pretty sure this code was no longer used, but I couldn’t be sure as I didn’t have access to all the instances that could run it.

Submit from jQuery modal causing session state protection violation

Don’t you hate those nagging issues where you attempt a few fixes in vain, waste hours of your life, and then suddenly the issue just resolves itself? What’s worse than an issue that won’t go away is one that just resolves itself and you don’t know why. You don’t know if it is just hiding, waiting to reappear at some inconvenient time later (e.g. when the app goes live in Production).

I added the first modal popup on a page in my application running on Apex 4.2.4 and immediately hit the problem described here: Jquery modal causing page protection violation error.

I’d used the simple popup modal using the builtin jQuery dialog widget as described here: Oracle APEX 4.2 – Creating a modal window – Helen’s example works but doesn’t include submitting the page. Side note: I found it only worked if I put it in one of the page body regions, not in the After Header region.

The purpose of my popup is to accept additional input from the user, then submit the page. If I removed the page submit, the popup worked fine. On submit, it raises this error for the first item on the page:

“Session state protection violation: This may be caused by manual alteration of protected page item P1_ID. …”

If I turn off session state protection on the item, the same error is then raised on the next item on the page. Plus, I require session state protection to be enabled so disabling it is not an acceptable solution.

I didn’t want to import another plugin to the application because I wanted to keep it dead simple. The default jQuery dialog should just work, dammit! (I don’t mind importing plugins if the plain vanilla features provided by Apex are just not sufficient for the need; but the basic jQuery dialog is perfectly fine.)

In the end on a hunch I tried doing the submit after a timeout, i.e. instead of:

function popupSubmit() {
  $("#myPopup").dialog('close');
  doSubmit('SAVE');
}

I changed it to:

function popupSubmit() {
  $("#myPopup").dialog('close');
  setTimeout( function() { doSubmit('SAVE'); }, 1);
}

This workaround seemed to have done the trick, but I wasn’t happy – it just felt “hacky”.

I tried adding a similar popup to another page that was far simpler and it didn’t experience the problem. So submitting from a popup dialog should work.

I reverted the code to remove the timout and tried disabling all the Dynamic Actions on the original page, and the problem disappeared. So I figured the problem was caused by some interaction with a Dynamic Action. I gradually re-enabled the DAs one by one, retesting the page between each one. Finally I re-enabled the last Dynamic Action – and the problem still didn’t reoccur. So the problem has resolved itself, but apparently not because of any particular thing I’ve fixed, and I can no longer reproduce the problem. Aarrgh.

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