Wildfire Enterprise launches..

For the last couple weeks I’ve been working on the ‘Deep, Real-time Reporting’ features of Wildfire Enterprise, which officially launched today (if you’ve ever thought about messing around with instant messaging / XMPP / Jabber, I’d highly recommend checking it out and that’s the last corporate pitch you’ll hear out of me). Herewith (as Tim Bray likes to say) are some notes about the tools we used to develop said features.

  • Prototype / script.aculo.us: Before I started working at Jive in April, I had done enough JavaScript to get by but my general attitude toward it was disdain. It seemed like it was always safer and easier to do things on the server. Prototype and script.aculo.us changed all that for me. If you haven’t worked with either: get started now. For whatever reason, the prototype website doesn’t contain a lick of documentation, so head on over to this site and this site once you’re ready to dive in. If nothing else, get rid of all your document.getElementById('thisAndthat') code and replace it with $('thisAndThat'), you’ll feel cleaner afterward. Also, make sure you get the latest version of prototype by downloading the latest version of Script.aculo.us because there’s a nasty bug with prototype 1.4 which I’ve written about before.

    Which leads me to script.aculo.us. Go ahead, be amazed at the drag and drop shopping cart, the ‘sortable elements with AJAX callback’ and the sortable floats. Now, put all that useless stuff aside and look at the core library, called Visual Effects, which include the ability to do just about anything, but make it really easy to do things like slide elements in and out, show and hide elements, and highlight elements. You can see some of the cool effects in action by watching this movie our marketing team made ofthe dashboard in action.

  • DWR: I didn’t mention anything about AJAX in the previous two paragraphs because all of the AJAX work is being done by DWR, which takes away all the hassle of binding the objects that exist on your server to the logic on the client and back again. You don’t have to deal with JSON, XML or HTTP requests. On the server you create a class, expose one or more methods and point your DWR config file at the class. On the client, you include a couple DWR JavaScript files and write JavaScript to call methods on the server. It’s drop dead simple. I highly recommend trying it out if you’re using a Java servlet container as your platform. We used DWR in a couple different places, but notably on the dashboard to create a digg.com/spy-esque view of the conversations on the server.
  • JRobin: Before working on this project I had never seen JRobin or heard about RRD. In short, it’s a way of keeping statistics about your system over time without having to maintain giant log files or large databases. So if you ever find yourself in a situation where you want to keep track of oh, let’s say the number of database connections to a server, over a period of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years, take a look at JRobin. It’s fast, can record just about anything you want and the size of the log file(s) it generates will be the same on day one as it is on day 323.
  • JFreeChart: I’ve used JFreeChart on a number of projects in the past, but I used it more on this project than any other. It is not the easiest tool in the world to use. There are about 600 different knobs you can turn, which makes it tedious to make something look exactly like you want it too and the full documentation costs $40, but the product itself is free.
  • iText: Last but not least, we used iText to produce some pretty nifty looking reports in PDF format, which includ the graphs created by JFreeChart. I hadn’t ever used iText for anything more than messing around in ColdFusion back in the day, but it was still relatively easy to get something working quickly. It would be fantastic to be able to hand iText an HTML document and say ‘create a PDF’, but you can’t have everything in life.

And that’s the story! Send me an email if you have any questions about how we integrated the above tools, I’d be happy to help.