Monthly Archives: March 2012

Friday Fixes

It’s Friday, and time again for some Friday Fixes: selected problems I encountered during the week and their solutions.

This week’s challenges were all over the place, but I’ll focus in on just a couple of fixes in one popular category: Spring Security.

Filters : MVC :: Oil : Water

The web app I’m currently working on has some unique functions that occur at login.  Sure, it all starts with a login form, but it goes far beyond the simplified functions of standard Java EE form authentication.  Good news is, Spring MVC makes implementing these login functions nice, while Spring Security provides many of the protections we need. Bad news is, Spring Security and Spring MVC don’t play together at all.

A key reason is that Spring Security’s access control and authentication mechanisms are called upstream in the filter chain (before the controllers) and can’t access the controller’s state, session, and request.  With forms authentication (LoginUrlAuthenticationEntryPoint, UsernamePasswordAuthenticationFilter, and the like), you get one monitored post URL for authentication (by default,  j_spring_security_check) with no means for the controller to do sophisticated validation or page flow.

If I could lock myself into the strict confines of form authentication, then Spring Security’s implementation would be helpful: outside a bit of XML namespace configuration, all I’d need is a simple UserDetailsService DAO.  But I couldn’t, and trying to force it just convinced me that I really didn’t want Spring Security’s forms authentication after all.  What I really wanted was a Spring MVC login process which passed authentication details to Spring Security when done.

That part was very easy.  I just wrote a small utility class which, after it authenticated the user and retrieved his authorities, simply set them in Spring Security’s context.  Like so:

 * Notify Spring Security that we've logged in and initialize
 * authorities for downstream filtering.
public void login(MyUser myUser, HttpSession session) {
	List<GrantedAuthority> authorities = new ArrayList<GrantedAuthority>();	
	for (String str : myUser.getAuthorities()) {
		authorities.add(new SimpleGrantedAuthority(str));
	UsernamePasswordAuthenticationToken auth = new UsernamePasswordAuthenticationToken(
				myUser.getUserId(), myUser.getPassword(), authorities);	   
	SecurityContext securityContext = SecurityContextHolder.getContext();
	session.setAttribute("SPRING_SECURITY_CONTEXT", securityContext);		

To update Spring Security at logoff, I just did this:


This made Spring Security and me both happy, with no need to mix the oil of Spring MVC controller flow with the water of Spring Security authentication filters.

Casting Custom SPeLs

Among its many uses, the Spring Expression Language (SpEL) allows for flexible URL filter (intercept-url) expressions.  And custom expressions can be used to support unique access control requirements through simple configuration.

The T(my.package.Class).myMethod(whatever) syntax was one option, but that’s ugly, limited, and prone to error.  Further, by stepping through the code, I learned that the expression handlers called in Spring Security have access to all sorts of useful information to make authorization decisions.  So building my own custom expression evaluator was just the ticket.

But plugging in a custom expression handler took some maneuvering.  Turns out, you can’t just add a new SecurityExpressionRoot directly in the security configuration; you have to swap in a custom SecurityExpressionHandler and have it instantiate the evaluator, like so:

public class MySecurityExpressionHandler extends DefaultWebSecurityExpressionHandler {
	protected SecurityExpressionRoot createSecurityExpressionRoot(
				Authentication authentication, FilterInvocation fi) {
		WebSecurityExpressionRoot root = 
				new MySecurityExpressionRoot(authentication, fi);
		return root;

To round out the example, here’s a template for the custom evaluator and security context configuration.

public class MySecurityExpressionRoot extends WebSecurityExpressionRoot {
	public MySecurityExpressionRoot(Authentication a, FilterInvocation fi) {
		super(a, fi);
	public boolean canIDoThis() {
		// Your clever authentication here.
		// 'this' has access to the authentication token, request, and other goodies.
		// If conditions are satisfied, return true; otherwise...
		return false;
<http use-expressions="true" ... >   	
	<intercept-url pattern="/public/stuff/**" access="permitAll"/>  
	<intercept-url pattern="/private/stuff/**" access="denyAll"/>  
	<intercept-url pattern="/members/only/stuff/**" access="isAuthenticated()"/>  
	<intercept-url pattern="/conditional/stuff/**" access="canIDoThis()"/>        
	<expression-handler ref="mySecurityExpressionHandler" />
	... other configuration ...
<beans:bean id="mySecurityExpressionHandler"

Note that using expression-handler under http requires Spring Security 3.1 or higher, or at least an XSD patch.


Some useful / interesting links that came up this week:

Friday Fixes

It’s Friday, and time again for some Friday Fixes: selected problems I encountered during the week and their solutions.

Hashes Make for Poor Traces

SQL and parameter tracing  is covered well by most ORMs like Hibernate, but you’re on your own when using JDBC directly.  It’s helpful to funnel JDBC access through one place with a common wrapper or utility class, but if all you get is the PreparedStatement, there are no public methods to get the SQL text and parameter array from it for tracing.  Unbewiebable.  PreparedStatement.toString sometimes includes useful information, but that depends entirely on the JDBC driver.  In my case, all I got was the class name and hash.  So I just went upstream a bit with my calls and tracing hooks so I could pass in the original SQL text and parameter array.

Samy Isn’t My Hero

You’d think URL rewriting went out with the Backstreet Boys, but unfortunately, JSESSIONID is alive and well, and frequenting many address bars.  This week, I’ve been focused on hack-proofing (counting down the OWASP Top Ten) so I should be a bit more sensitive to these things.  Yet I inadvertently gave away my session when emailing a link within the team management system I use (does it count as a stolen session if you give it away?)  Not only does this system include the direct sessionguid in the URL, it also doesn’t validate session references (like by IP address) and it uses long expirations.

At least this system invalidates the session on logout, so I’ve resumed my habit of manually logging out when done.  That, and attention to URL parameters is a burden we must all carry in this insecure web world.  Site owners, update your sites.  Until then, let’s be careful out there.

Virtual Time Zone

While directing offshore developers last year, thinking 9 1/2 or 10 1/2 hours ahead finally became natural.  Having an Additional Clock set in Windows 7 provided a quick backup.  Amazingly, some software still isn’t timezone-aware, causing problems such as missed updates.  I won’t name names or share details, but I opted for a simple solution: keep a VM set in IST and use it for this purpose.  Virtual servers are cheap these days, and it’s easy enough to keep one in the cloud, hovering over the timezone of choice.

SQL1092 Redux

Yes, bugs know no geographical boundaries.  A blog reader from Zoetermeer in the Netherlands dropped me another note this week, this time about some SQL1092 issues he encountered.  Full details are here; the quick fix was the DB2_GRP_LOOKUP change.

This DB2 issue comes up frequently enough that DB2 should either change the default setting or also adopt WebSphere MQ’s strategy of using a separate limited domain ID just for group enumeration.  Those IBM’ers should talk.

Those Mainframe Hippies

I traditionally think of mainframe DB2’ers as belt-and-suspenders codgers who check your grammar and grade your penmanship, while viewing DB2 LUW users as the freewheeling kids who sometimes don’t know better.  That changes some with each new version, as the two platforms become more cross-compatible.

So I was surprised this week to find that DB2 for z/OS was more flexible than DB2 LUW on timestamp formats.  Mainframe DB2 has long accepted spaces and colons as separators, but unlike DB2 LUW, you can mix and match ’em.  For example, DB2 z/OS 9 and higher will take any of the following:

‘2012-03-16 19:20:00’



‘2012-03-16 19.20.00’

DB2 LUW (9.7) will reject the last two with SQL0180 errors.

Knowing the limits is important when writing code and scripts that work across multiple DB2 platforms and versions.  The problem could get worse as DB2 LUW adds more Oracle compatibility, but as long as the DB2 kids and codgers stay in sync, we can enjoy some format flexibility there.

Friday Fixes

It’s Friday, and time again for some Friday Fixes: selected problems I encountered during the week and their solutions.

It’s a Big World After All

I got the complaint again this week: “DB2 is so stupid; why does it sometimes take two bytes for a character?”  I’ve answered that before, and the best solution is: if you’re storing truly binary data, use a binary type (like for bit data).  But if it really is text, I usually just send a link to Joel Spolsky’s classic article on character encodings.  And here’s a quiz – let me know what the following says:

אם אתה יכול לקרוא את זה, אתה תגרוק קידודים

The counterpoint to Joel’s article, or at least to blindly applying Postel’s Law to web apps, is that it can open the door to all kinds of security vulnerabilities: SQL injection, cross-site scripting, CSRF, etc.  So it’s common to have a blacklist of disallowed characters or a white list specifying the allowed character set.  The point is to be deliberate and think about what should be allowed: both the extent and limits.  Don’t treat binary data as text and don’t pretend there’s only one character encoding in the world.

Different, Not Better

Having endured VMWare’s product gyrations through the years, I’ve learned that upgrading it isn’t always best: sometimes I just get different, not better.  I feel the same way about Windows 8.

In this latest case, I found my beloved but now-obsolete VMWare Server can’t host the new Windows 8 CP edition, so I considered switching to VMWare Workstation 8.  But the latest VirtualBox (4.1.8) works, so I downloaded that, installed Windows 8 from ISO, and quickly had it running in a VM.  Glad I didn’t have to play a pair of 8s.

I suppose that’s a side benefit when leading players like VMWare and Microsoft make revolutionary changes to their incumbent products.  Major (often costly) upgrades create good opportunities to try out competing alternatives.

That Other Browser

I’ll always need the latest Windows and Internet Explorer (IE) versions running in some mode (VM or otherwise) just to test and fix IE browser compatibility issues.  This week, I ran into an “Access denied” JavaScript error in IE 8 – Intranet zone, Protected Mode.  As is often the case, my code worked fine in Firefox, Chrome, and other browsers.

I wanted to pin down exactly which IE setting was causing the problem, so I tweaked some likely suspects in custom Security Settings but could never nail it down to just one.  There was nothing in the Event Log to really help, just red herrings.  And apparently neither Protected Mode nor IE ESC was the root cause.  Switching zones (such as adding to trusted sites) didn’t work either, and extreme measures only made things worse.  Ultimately, doing a Reset all zones to the default level resolved the issue.

IE has far too many obscure and non-standard security settings that don’t work as expected.  And there’s no direct way to get a consolidated dump of all current settings.  Microsoft continues to work on fixing this, so I’m hopeful things will improve; they really can’t get worse.  Until then, the solution may continue to be “switch browsers” or “take one reset and call me in the morning.”

Jasper Variability

Jasper Reports (iReport) variables and groups are useful features.  But they can be frustrating at times because of documentation limits (yes, even with The Ultimate Guide) and differences between versions and languages (Groovy v. Java).  Sometimes the answer must be found by stepping through the code to determine what it wants.  That was necessary for me to get my group totals working.

For example, imagine a sales report grouped by region where you want group footers totaling the number of Sprockets sold for each region.  Standard variable calculations won’t work, and the Variable Expression must handle anything that comes its way, including null values from multi-line entries.  So, rather than using a built-in Counter variable with an Increment Type, I had to use a counter-intuitive variable, like so:

Property Value
Variable Class java.lang.Integer
Calculation Nothing
Reset type Group
Reset group regiongroup
Increment type None
Variable Expression ($F{TYPE} != null && $F{TYPE}.equals(“Sprocket”)) ? new java.lang.Integer($V{sprtotal}+1) : $V{sprtotal}
Initial Value Expression new java.lang.Integer(0)

In JRXML, that comes to:

	<variable name="sprtotal" class="java.lang.Integer" resetType="Group" resetGroup="regiongroup">
		<variableExpression><![CDATA[($F{TYPE} != null && $F{TYPE}.equals("Sprocket))?new java.lang.Integer($V{sprtotal}+1):$V{sprtotal}]]></variableExpression>
		<initialValueExpression><![CDATA[new java.lang.Integer(0)]]></initialValueExpression>


Some useful / interesting links that came up this week:

Friday Fixes

It’s Friday, and time again for some Friday Fixes: selected problems I encountered during the week and their solutions.

CSS – Space Matters

Guess you could say I was “lost in [a] space” wondering why my browser didn’t pick up my div’s CSS class.  Turns out, I wrote the selector as #myid .myclass (descendent selector) but really meant #myid.myclass (combined selector). Thank you, 2.5x reading glasses and Chris Coyier, for the quick save.

Point of No Return

JavaScript and jQuery iterator functions are awfully convenient, but it’s easy to overlook scope.  While refactoring some code today, I wrapped a function around some iterator code for reuse and broke it. Here’s a simplified example to demonstrate the problem:

     function myFunction() {
        $.each(['a', 'b', 'c'], function(idx, ea) {
           if (ea === 'b') {
              return ea;

At a glance, you’d think myFunction returns b, but since the inner function’s result is never passed out, it returns undefined.  And jQuery’s each method just returns the collection, so adding a return in front doesn’t help.  jQuery does have some alternatives (like filter) that can help, but those aren’t as flexible as each.

The simple solution is to just carry the value to the outer scope, like so:

     function myFunction() {
        var result;
        $.each(['a', 'b', 'c'], function(idx, ea) {
           if (ea === 'b') {
              result = ea;
              return false;
        return result;

Adding the “return false” stops the iteration at the first match.

Is this Thing Used?

My current project has this DB2 LUW fan coding against a DB2 for z/OS database.  While I give up a some things, I also gain a lot.  For example, while working on a DAO, I had questions about a particular table’s indexes.  Fortunately, DB2 for z/OS has SYSINDEXPLANSTATS which, among other things, keeps track of the last time an index was used (even for dynamic SQL) to help determine its merits.  So I first checked to see if this was at least version 9:

select getvariable('SYSIBM.VERSION') from sysibm.sysdummy1;

… and then answered my questions with a simple query like the following:

select, i.tbname, i.creator, i.uniquerule, i.colcount, i.clustering, s.lastused
from sysibm.sysindexes i, sysibm.sysindexspacestats s
where =
and i.creator = s.creator
and i.dbname = 'MYDB'
and i.tbname like 'MYPREF%'
order by s.lastused

Can’t wait for this to make its way to DB2 LUW.


Yes, I presently have to use Microsoft Visual SourceSafe (VSS).  I’m over it now.  When using this “lock first” VCS against a deep project hierarchy, I often need to see a quick list of my check-outs.  I can use View->Search->Status Search (with subprojects selected) from the VSS GUI, but that’s often too slow over a remote VPN connection.  So I cooked up a quick script to run over an ssh command line from a server that is “local” to the repository:

cd /d "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual SourceSafe"
set SSDIR=\\myserver\VSS\myvssshare
ss STATUS $/MyProject -R -Umyusername

Flexigrid Echo

Imitation isn’t always flattering; it’s often annoying.  Having two Flexigrids on one page, both with pagers enabled (usepager: true) yielded some weird mocking behavior.  For example, paging forward on one grid caused both grids to show the same “Page X of Y” message.  After debugging, I found that similar bugs had been reported and fixed in the latest release.  Upgrading Flexigrid resolved that one.