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Session Notes - Grails for the Enterprise

Presenter: Robert Fischer

What you'll be getting for your time

  • j2ee friendly intro to grails
  • tour of grails functionality
  • practical day-to-day insights on using grails
  • live coding demo
  • argument for a single assertion: all enterprise web app development should be in grails
    • stunningly simple development
    • succinct code using a superset of java
    • sane defaults, straight-forward configuration
      • all the stuff you always use is pre-bundled
    • typing as deemed useful by developer
    • standard java deployment approach
    • springsource backed and here to stay
      • no need to worry about it going away
      • big community behind it that was around even before springsource acquisition

What is Grails?

  • web app dev framework and environment leveraging java and groovy
    • environment is often overlooked
    • easy to do development with vi and bash--need for IDE isn't all that huge
  • convention-based mvc development framework
    • ruby on rails really introduced the idea of convention over configuration
    • grails takes this idea and applies it in the java space
    • powerful command-line tools
  • powered by pre-configured and pre-integrated spring, hibernate, sitemesh, junit, etc.
    • all the technologies you are or should be using

How would you like your grails?

  • conceptually think dynamic mvc framework
    • dynamic, succinct domain and controllers
    • view technology works naturally with html
    • run from source code check-out
    • new features via extensible plugin architecture
      • even the stuff built into grails is based on plugin architecture
  • actually approachable best-of-breed java stack
    • prepackaged java build system
    • builds a war to plug into existing deployments
    • hooks for existing spring and hibernate configs
    • support for other enterprise technologies

How does Grails fit the Enterprise?

  • what is the enterprise?
    • some people see this as "established, extensible, dependable"
    • some people see this as "bloated"
  • unique qualities of enterprise dev
    • large-scale apps with application ownership flux
      • people coding and gathering requirements on app will change over time
    • existence of user-developers
      • people who want/need to use your code but don't want to know how the code works internally
      • google "robert fischer free toilet" to see his rant
    • out-of-control infrastructure
      • literal meaning: infrastructure I the developer don't have control over
        • don't have access to production databases, etc.
      • can also mean out-of-control in terms of there being a lot of different systems that the app needs to tie into

How does Grails fit in?

  • large-scale and ownership flux
    • conventional development
      • common style so doesn't matter who wrote the code originally
    • built-in testing
      • strongly encourages writing of tests--major way to deal with ownership flux
    • groovy
      • more succinct language, easier to read
  • existence of user-developers
    • plugin architecture
      • "experts" can build plugins that "users" can leverage
    • direct java lib interaction
      • don't have to think about how grails deals with the java class you just imported--it's java
  • out-of-control infrastructure
    • big win here is Spring

Architecture of Grails

  • groovy
  • Model
    • GORM
    • Hibernate
      • can plug in other persistence mechanisms (JPA, Hadoop, CouchDB, etc.)
    • JDBC
  • View
    • GSP/Taglibs
      • taglibs are nice, straight-forward way to extend the codebase--much simpler than Java taglibs
    • sitemesh
  • Controller
    • Grails controllers
    • Spring MVC
  • pervasive
    • spring DI
    • spring transactions
    • servlet api
    • junit
    • ant (gant)
    • log4j
    • web.xml


  • if you want other technology than listed above, there's probably a plugin that does what you want
  • functional testing
    • G-Func, Canoo Webtest, Selenium, Fitnesse
  • RIA
    • Grails-UI, RichUI, GWT, Flex, YUI, IUI (for iPhone)
  • Database Management
    • autobase -- runs database migrations
    • rails migrations plugin (you don't want rails migrations!)
  • background tasks
    • BackgroundThread, Quartz
  • tons more --
    • rating system but don't put too much credit in it


  • manages database state using a non-linear collection of database change sets
    • Rails migrations are a linear path
      • assumes developer who made previous changes will be making future changes
  • leverages existing grails database automation to minimize effort
    • uses HBM -> DDL
    • HBM -> DDL assumes everything will be non-destructive
    • autobase handles destructive changes
    • uses embedded dsl in groovy; allows for things like dropColumn(), renameColumn()


  • provides a spring bean that executes arbitrary closures in the background
  • handles some awkwardness with hibernate sessions, provides thread logging and pooling


  • transactional actions in controllers
    • services are transactional
  • .query -- shorthand for .executeQuery
  • aggregate properties on domain classes
  • property errors on nested domain classes
  • human-readable messages

SubLog and Testing Labs

  • SubLog = Sublime Logging
    • static 'log' properties
      • by default logging is available only on instances of objects
    • dynamic 'log' properties
    • strips off slf4j and gives more direct access for log4j
  • testing labs
    • controller integration test case support

Your Grails Adoption Plan

  • start with a roughly green-field proof of concept web application
    • grails for reporting on an existing database is a great avenue for this
  • replace/supplement a service with grails
    • making grails an endpoint for an ESB
  • use GRAG on SourceForge to generate a db front-end
  • wrap an existing Java or PHP web app in grails and use web.xml (installed via "grails install-templates") to map existing URLs to servlets
    • use url mappings to add new functionality in grails (e.g. http://myapp/g/newStuff)
    • PHP plugin gives you a PHP engine as a servlet--runs existing PHP code
  • do it and don't tell anyone
    • ends up as a WAR
    • ask forgiveness later


  • live open source apps
    • Grails Crowd
    • Groovy Blogs
    • Groovy Tweets
  • media
    • Groovy, Grails, Griffon podcast
    • GroovyMag

Live Coding/Q&A

  • anything you want to use in multiple apps, write as a plugin
    • grails generate-plugin PluginName
    • a plugin IS a grails application
      • only difference is it has a XXXGrailsPlugin.groovy file
    • plugin sizes are minimal addition to WAR files
    • once you're done, do grails pacakge-plugin
      • creates a zip file containing the plugin
      • can do grails install-plugin zipfilename
    • need to set up a repository for plugins
    • when you go to production, it bundles the plugin into the war
    • note that plugins aren't included in your application's source--so need to point to a repository or figure out how to include those in source control
  • existing ant tasks can be plugged straight into gant
  • taglibs
    • easy to create and use
    • grails create-tag-lib taglibName
    • can take in attributes and the body between the opening and closing tag
      • e.g. def mytag = { attrs, body -> ... do stuff ... }
    • by default taglibs go into g prefix, e.g. <g:myTag/>
      • define a namespace in the tag library to give it a prefix other than g (static namespace = "whatever")


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