Thursday, June 19, 2008

ODTUG Kaleidoscope 2008 : Day 2 - You can(’t) do THAT in a browser!

The first session of this day was APEX Development: Watch it live! by Bill Holtzman of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. He built a Grievance Control system for the NATCA used by hundreds of users. Now he showed live how to build a football betting system in only 45 minutes (using some prefab SQL scripts). Another nice example how quick application development in APEX can be!

After that Scott Spendolini came on stage with his presentation You can't do THAT in a browser! Although APEX contains a lot of really nice features, like Flash based charting, Export to PDF/Word./Excel and Tree Reports, sometimes you have the need to go a little bit further than that. He demoed how you can achieve MS Outlook integration for your Address Book (vCard) and Calendar (iCal). Then he showed how some third party products seamlessly integrate with APEX:

  • DHTLMX Tree (DHTML eXtensions) : Consists of JS libraries to manage all aspects and uses an XML file as data source. You can create his XML file you can using PL/SQL procedures
  • FusionGadgets & FusionMaps: To create Gantt Charts, Gauges., Pyramids and Process Flow Diagrams. These plugins also use XML file as a datasource, which can be generated from PL/SQL.
  • PLPDF : To generate PDF documents, charts, barcodes using PDF-templates.

These extensions have only got one drawback: They cost ‘some' money ($ 50 - $ 600)...

In the afternoon there was as session on Writing a Customized Authentication Scheme for APEX by Raj Mattamal. Raj is very enthusiastic and energetic and fun to listen to (and look at). APEX has a couple of components concerning security. Two of these components are Authentication (who are you? can you log in?) and Authorization (once you are logged in, what are you allowed to do). APEX offers a couple of standard ways to authenticate a user: LDAP, SSO, APEX's own security scheme, open door and database authentication. You would preferably use one of those. If the requirements in your organization demand that you should use another way to authenticate a user - for instance using an Oracle database table containing usernames and passwords, you can easily custom a standard authentication scheme and call your own function for validating usernames and passwords.

Another thing that may arise is that you would like the users to switch easily between applications, without re-entering their usernames and passwords. For applications within the same workspace this can be done by entering the same cookie name in the authentication scheme on both sides.

Alas this doesn't work when your applications are in different workspaces. Then you have to create your own Page Sentry Function. This function is checked on every page view to make sure that the user and session is still valid, and will redirect you to a login page if you aren't authenticated yet or (re-)instantiate the APEX session using APEX API calls. There is a great example on OTN on NTLM Authentication to start with.

Another thing to deal with is Single Sign-Out. Just expiring the Suite Cookie isn't enough, you have to log out of every application, otherwise your session information will still be in the database. You need to built a procedure for that manually.

For the next session I was an ambassador Explore and Benefit the APEX Repository by Michiel Jonkers of AMIS. He pointed out the differences between the Designer and APEX repository views. The main difference is that Designer offers the possibility to update the data in the repository using the API, APEX doesn't have an API for that (yet).

The best part of the day is that I could demonstrate our APEX showcase, containing a very good looking drag & drop feature, to some of the APEX guru's (Dimitri Gielis and John Scott of APEX Evangelists and David Peake and Carl Backstrom of Oracle APEX Product Development). And they all were very impressed by what I showed them! We already knew we built something awesome, but now other experts know that too! (Nice work Rutger!)

So you really can do THAT in a browser!

Carl strongly emphasized that I should blog about this drag & drop feature - probably so he can use it in a next version of APEX ;-) - so I will do that somewhere in the next weeks. Keep an eye on this blog if you're interested.

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