WebSocket push notifications with Node.js

The Node.js website describes it as having “an event-driven, non-blocking I/O model that makes it lightweight and efficient”. Sounds lovely, but what’s it actually for?

Modulus’s excellent blog post – An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Node.js provides some rather tasty examples. After covering the trivial examples (Hello world! and simple file I/O), it gets to the meat of what we’re about – an HTTP server. The simple example demonstrates a trivial HTTP server in Node.js in 5 lines of code. Not 5 lines of code compiled to an executable or deployed into an existing web server. 5 lines of code that can be run from a simple command. It then goes on to describe the frameworks and libraries that let you do really useful stuff.

This looks just the thing for implementing a new feature in the Spanners demo app: push notifications to all logged-in users when a spanner is changed.

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Hashing and Salting passwords with Spring Security PasswordEncoder

Getting the details right when implementing password storage is critical. Some hash algorithms are vulnerable or just not suited to password hashing. If the salt is too short or predictable, it may be possible to retrieve the password from the hash. Any number of subtle bugs in coding could result in a password database that is vulnerable in one way or another. Fortunately, Spring Security includes password hashing out of the box. What’s more, since version 3.1, Spring Security automatically takes care of salting too.

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Docker Part 4: Composing an Environment Stack

This series of articles on Docker has so far covered a number of examples of creating and running individual Docker containers. We’ve also seen an example of how multiple Docker containers can be linked together using the –link command line flag.

Best practice for containerization suggests that each container does exactly one job. A full environment stack for a complex application may comprise many components – databases, web applications, web/micro services – each requiring its own container. Setting up the full working environment stack may require several lines of docker run commands, run in the right order, with just the right flags and switches set.

An obvious way to manage this is with a startup script. A neater solution is to use Docker Compose. Docker Compose allows multi-container applications to be defined in a single file and then started from a single command.

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Docker Part 3: Disposable Containers

The previous posts in this series on Docker have looked at running containers to run services, specifically a web server and database server. However, Docker allows containers to be created, run, stopped and destroyed so cheaply that they can be used to run a single job. This job could be a script or even a single command. Unlike a service, a job will stop running when it’s complete. A container running a short lived job can be set to automatically stop and remove itself once the job is complete. If the job needs to be run again, it is reasonably efficient for Docker to start up a brand new container as required.

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Docker Part 2: Building Images

The previous post in this series on Docker looked at starting up containers built from predefined images provided by Docker Hub. In this, the second in the series, I’ll look at creating customized images tailored to my specific requirements. I’ll also look at how my custom image can be pushed to Docker Hub for others to use.

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Docker Part 1: Running Containers

Docker is a containerization technology that’s been getting quite a bit of attention over the last year or two. It offers a more lightweight, flexible and repeatable solution to creating and running Virtual Machines (VMs). In this, the first in a series of posts on Docker, I’ll look at how to run an application inside of a pre-built container image.

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User Impersonation with Spring Security SwitchUserFilter

A common requirement for secured applications is that admin / super users are able to login as any other user. For example, it may be helpful for a customer support analyst to access a system as if they were a real specific customer. The obvious way to do this is for the admin user to ask for the customer’s password or look it up in the password database. This is usually an unacceptable security compromise – no one should know a customer’s password except for the customer. And if the password database is implemented correctly it should be technically impossible for anyone – not even a system admin or DBA – to discover a user’s password.

An alternative solution is to allow admin users to login with their own unique username and password but allow them to then impersonate any other user. After the admin user has logged in, they can enter the username of another user and then view the application as if they were logged in as that user. Implementing user impersonation in this way also has the advantage that the system knows who has really logged in. If the system has an audit log, we can audit actions against the real admin user, rather than the impersonated user.

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Testing with mock users in Spring / Spring MVC

A common unit test scenario for Spring / Spring MVC applications is to verify behavior when logged in as a particular user. The new spring-security-test library available with Spring Security version 4 makes testing user access controls in Spring and Spring MVC applications far simpler.

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Building Unit Test Data

In the book Growing Object-Oriented Software, Guided by Tests, authors Steve Freeman and Nat Pryce suggest a neat pattern for cleanly creating test data for unit tests. They suggest using the builder pattern to build test objects which are as simple or as complicated as necessary for the test. The builder can set default data in fields meaning that only data significant to the result of the test needs to be set.

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ZeroTurnaround, the smart kids behind JRebel, have launched a new product: XRebel. And boy, it’s a good one! It’s described as “X-Ray glasses for your webapp”. It’s a performance profiler with features previously only seen in serious application performance monitoring (APM) solutions such as AppDynamics and New Relic.

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