Tuesday, October 17, 2017

If you're in Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil or Argentina, Oracle APEX is coming to you!


In the first part of November, my colleague David Peake and I are taking the Oracle APEX & Oracle Database Cloud message to a number of Oracle user groups and communities who are graciously hosting us as part of the Oracle Developer Tour Latinoamérica.  These are countries for which there is growing interest in Oracle Application Express, and we wish to help support these groups and aid in fostering their growing APEX communities.

The dates and locations are:
  1. Panamá, November 1, 2017
  2. Colombia, November 2-3, 2017
  3. Ecuador, November 7, 2017
  4. Paraguay, November 8, 2017
  5. Brasil, November 9-10, 2017
  6. Argentina, November 13-14, 2017
You should consider attending one of these conferences if:

  • You're a CIO or manager, and you wish to understand what Oracle Application Express is and if it can help you and your business.
  • You're a PL/SQL developer, and you want to learn how easy or difficult it is to exploit your skills on the Web and in the Cloud.
  • You come from a client/server background and you want to understand what you can do with your skills but in Web development and Cloud development.
  • You're an Oracle DBA, and you want to understand if you can use Oracle Application Express in your daily responsibilities.
  • You know nothing about Oracle Application Express and you want to learn a bit more.
  • You're experienced with Oracle Application Express and you want to learn what's in the future for Oracle APEX.

If you have any interest or questions or concerns (or complaints!) about Oracle Application Express, and you are nearby, we would be very honored to meet you in person and assist in any way we can.  We hope you can make it!

P.S. I couldn't make it to Panamá, but David will be there, so please join him.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

A Great APEX Developer is.....a Full Stack Developer!



I've heard these phrases from customers:

  • Where can I find Oracle APEX developers?  
  • I'm having a tough time filling a vacancy for an APEX developer.  
  • I'm getting pushback from my own management because they say Java developers are much easier to find than APEX developers.

The last comment was from Peter, a potential customer, who recently posted this on Twitter.

Make no mistake about it.  If you go to indeed.com or dice.com or monster.com, you're going to find far more openings for .NET or Java developers than Oracle APEX developers.  But I would like to take a step back and ask - what makes a really great Oracle APEX developer?  Well, a great APEX developer is competent in:

  1. The Oracle Database (installation, setup, tuning, monitoring)
  2. Data modeling
  3. SQL (and SQL tuning)
  4. PL/SQL
  5. User Interface Design
  6. Responsive Design
  7. HTML
  8. CSS
  9. JavaScript
  10. Web applications
  11. Web servers
  12. Web security
  13. Network security
  14. Server administration
  15. Continuous integration
  16. Unit testing
  17. Application Express (APEX) development

...and probably a few more not even listed here.  It's an amazing list of very specific and relatively complicated technologies.  Don't be alarmed if you consider yourself a rockstar developer with APEX and you are competent in less than half of these areas.  I can't really think of anyone on our own Oracle APEX Development team who is intimately familiar with all of these technologies.  A few experts in the APEX community can truly claim to be proficient in all of these areas, but they're finite in number.  If you look at this list of technology areas, you will quickly conclude:

If you're looking for a great APEX developer, you're really looking for a full-stack developer

...and those are pretty rare in the industry.  Let's look at a couple examples.

It's easier to find Java developers than it is APEX developers.  Sure, I agree.  But it's a common misconception that because someone knows .NET or Java (or PHP or Python or Ruby or JavaScript or whatever) that they are competent in elegant and attractive user interface design.  Just because you know a programming language that is commonly used in Web applications has no correlation to you having the ability to create rich and elegant UI.  This is a very rare skill, and one I see even some experienced APEX developers wrestle with.

As another example, I heard a manager say that he was going to pursue building an application with Oracle JET because it's easier to find JavaScript developers.  We on the APEX team love Oracle JET and want Oracle JET to succeed (so much so, that we've integrated Oracle JET to produce the data visualizations in APEX 5.1!).  But this manager's statement was a bit misguided, because 1) your knowledge of JavaScript doesn't mean you'll immediately know how to use Oracle JET, you'll need to learn it, and 2) what about the rest of the stack?  Is a JavaScript developer good at data modeling?  Are they competent in authoring and tuning SQL?  Do they know when it's preferable to use PL/SQL in their SQL and when not to?  Or is that someone else's job?

My advice when you're looking for APEX developers - determine what is most important to you, and what skills and technologies you need the most assistance with.  APEX development is ultimately Oracle Database development (Smart DB development, as some would say), and experience with SQL and PL/SQL and data modeling is always relevant.  If you have a subpar data model and poor SQL, your application will suffer regardless of front-end technology.  If you have no knowledge of Web applications and you are rich in Oracle Database development talent, then focus instead on those who bring Web application development experience to the table.  I've found that the customers who "get it" the most are those who have done large-scale Web app development in another language or technology.  They are the ones who can appreciate the framework of APEX and how it enables them to focus on the business problem at hand, instead of focusing on all of the necessary minutiae typically associated with modern Web app development.

When reviewing potential candidates, don't focus exclusively on APEX experience.  APEX can be on the wish list of skills, but someone adept at database development or Web development can usually pick up APEX relatively quickly.

Oracle Database application development with APEX and Oracle REST Data Services (ORDS) continues to grow, for both on-premises applications and the cloud.  Industry analysts are responding to more and more inquiries about APEX than ever before.  Countless colleges and universities are taking advantage of the free Oracle APEX curriculum and the free offering by Oracle Academy, helping to familiarize thousands of students on appdev with the Oracle Database & APEX.  The Oracle APEX community is vibrant and growing.  There's a reason why APEX skills are in high demand.

P.S.  If you've stumbled upon this blog post and have no idea what Oracle APEX even is, I suggest you review the Simple Guide to Oracle Application Express.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Insurance of Oracle APEX - Can Your Low Code Framework Do This?

Oracle Application Express (APEX) runs wherever the Oracle Database runs.  I've said these words to thousands of customers and partners for the last 15 years.  So why should you care?  Simple.  Peace of mind.

Last evening, Amazon Web Services tweeted the following announcement:

"Use Amazon RDS for Oracle with Oracle APEX versions 5.0.4 & 5.1.2 to build applications within your web browser."


Now, one might think I'm daft for even mentioning AWS on my blog, but I think this presents an opportunity to emphasize two very important points about Oracle APEX:

  1. While I believe that Oracle Cloud is superior for running your Oracle APEX applications, if for some reason you need to not run it on the Oracle Cloud at some later date, you have that choice.
  2. Oracle APEX is not exclusively a cloud-only solution.  You can run it in the Oracle Cloud (my preference), you can run it on AWS, you can use a number of other hosting providers, you can run it with other infrastructure providers, but you can also choose to run it on-premises.  And you can change your mind among these options whenever you wish.  This is very powerful.

Oracle Application Express is a part of every Oracle Database Cloud Service from Oracle, including:

There are other cloud services coming from Oracle later this year which will also include and feature Oracle APEX.

If you think that the Oracle Database is only good for storing data (i.e., a "bit bucket"), you'd be wrong.  If you're unfamiliar with Oracle APEX, please check out this Simple Guide to Oracle APEX.  From bespoke applications in the Oracle Cloud & on-premises to Oracle ERP Cloud PaaS Extensions using Oracle APEX, our customers and partners are really killing it with the Oracle Database and Oracle APEX.


P.S.  Kudos to Amazon for referencing it as Oracle APEX and not Oracle Apex!

Friday, September 01, 2017

Emails That I Do Not Like to Receive

There have been numerous articles and blog posts about how to properly write an email, or how to properly ask a technical question. These seem to be rarely read or they are simply misunderstood.  So let me tell you about the types of emails I receive with seemingly greater frequency, and which I completely abhor.


Message Body: +Joel

What they're saying:  Rather than provide a clear and succinct explanation why I'm including you in this email thread, it's my expectation that you will read the 15 messages and replies below and discern the issue being discussed.  You are to also guess why I'm including you in this thread, and if there is an action item for you in the message below, it's expected that you will find it and take action immediately.

Sentiment implied:  My time is more important than yours.


Message Body: +[someone I don't know]

What they're saying:  Rather than provide a clear and succinct explanation why I'm including this new person in this email thread, it's my expectation that they will read the 15 messages and replies below and discern the issue being discussed.  They are to also guess why I'm including them in this thread, and if there is an action item for them in the message below, it's expected that they will find it and take action immediately.  Additionally, I am choosing to subject everyone else to a barrage of followup emails in the near future, as this new recipient will surely reply all, and ask numerous questions about this topic and why they were included on the email in the first place.

Sentiment implied:  My time is more important than the person's whom I've added to this email thread.  And everyone else's, for that matter.


Message Body: Joel, since [one member of your team] is on vacation, can you please help with the issue below?

What they're saying:  It's possible that you don't have any context in the long-running issue which is discussed in the 15 messages and replies below.  I was too busy to provide a succinct explanation or even ask if you're familiar with the issues below, so can you please read all of the messages below and guess at what further information may be required?

Sentiment implied:  My time is more important than yours.


Any time I receive emails like this in the future, I'll respond back to the authors with a link to this succinct and lucid blog post.  Maybe I'll even include an explanation why I'm sending the link!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

An Important Change Is Coming for Application Express 5.2 (if you use the Mobile User Interface)

An important change is coming in Oracle Application Express 5.2.  The mobile user interface (based upon jQuery Mobile) will be deprecated.  The deprecation announcement will be included with the forthcoming Application Express 5.1.3 patch set release.

What this means for you

  • If you have applications developed with the mobile user interface based upon jQuery Mobile, they will continue to function in a supported fashion in Application Express 5.1.x.  Premier Support of Oracle Application Express 5.1.x continues until December 2021.
  • New mobile applications should be created using the Desktop User Interface and Universal Theme (Theme 42) and not the Mobile User Interface & jQuery Mobile-based theme (Theme 51).
  • Existing mobile applications should be migrated to the Universal Theme if you want to run them on Oracle Application Express 5.2 and later.

Why is this happening?

The last stable version of the jQuery Mobile library was released on October 31, 2014, and it only provides support for jQuery versions 1.8 through 1.11, and jQuery 2.1.  Patches are no longer provided for these versions of jQuery.  Application Express 5.2 will ship with jQuery 3.2 (necessary for us to adopt the latest Oracle JET libraries).  jQuery Mobile will not function properly with jQuery 3.2.

While we will make every effort to devise a way to include the necessary libraries for jQuery-mobile based applications in Application Express 5.2, that may not solve all problems entirely, especially when we try to include the data visualizations via Oracle JET, which have different dependencies.  We do truly strive to ensure backward compatibility of APEX applications across upgrades.  It's of paramount importance to us, and we spend a lot of time and energy ensuring that stability, operation, look and feel remain constant across APEX version upgrades.  But in this specific case, there doesn't appear to be a practical solution.  We're in a box.

There has been some recent activity in a new version of jQuery Mobile, namely 1.5alpha.  But given the fact that there was a very long hiatus on jQuery Mobile for an extended period of time, and it's unlikely that jQuery Mobile 1.5 will be stable enough by the time Application Express 5.2 is released, we collectively decided to announce depreciation of the Mobile User Interface based upon jQuery Mobile.  We literally spent months researching and contemplating this dilemma.  It's unfortunate.  The positive angle, though, is that we're in complete control of the Universal Theme and should not encounter similar issues with Universal Theme-based applications in the future.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

How do I share a URL to my APEX application?

What is the URL for my APEX application?  If I want to provide a URL to my APEX application to others, what URL do I give them?

Great questions!  I see this done incorrectly all the time inside of Oracle.  A person new to Application Express (APEX) will create an application or install a Productivity Application, run it, copy the full URL, and include the full URL in an email.  I encountered this today in an email, for me to complete a Global Tax Survey via an APEX application (let the good times roll!).  The URL provided was:

https://server/ords/f?p=23828:2:113570213685366:::::

Wow, that sure looks complex!  However, it's unnecessarily complex.

The syntax for the entry points into the APEX engine is well documented.  Interpreting the above URL and the colon-separated arguments, it means:

  • 23828 - Application ID
  • 2 - Page ID
  • 113570213685366 - APEX Session ID
  • ::::: - null values for the rest of the arguments in the URL

However, let's evaluate each one of these values in reverse order and assess their necessity:

  • ::::: - Utterly not necessary.  The argument values will default to null anyway.
  • 113570213685366 - Also utterly not necessary.  Assuming the application requires authentication, the APEX Session ID is specific to you, and only you, and only at a specific moment in time.  You'll notice that if you give this URL to someone else, they'll be prompted to authenticate, and then get an entirely new APEX Session ID.  Why include it if it's going to change anyway?
  • 2 - There is a Home URL to every application, so if you're including the starting Page ID in the URL, then it's redundant to include the Page ID again.  It's not necessary.  Additionally, if this is not the same Page ID which is specified in the Home URL, and you have Deep Linking disabled (the default), your end users are going to end up accessing your application via the Home URL anyway.  This is another reason not to include the Page ID in the URL which you share with others.
  • 23828 - This is the only value that is absolutely necessary.  This is the ID of the application you wish to share.

Thus, the URL that I received in email could have been provided simply as:

https://server/ords/f?p=23828


I don't fault new users to APEX for doing this.  It's not obvious.  But now, hopefully it is!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Easy Dashboard using nothing but APEX, Font APEX and SQL!

A customer from Tennessee recently asked for help in creating a simple dashboard in their Oracle APEX application.  In the PHP system they were coming from, they had a dashboard that looked like the following:



Most people think of dashboards as a nice cockpit panel containing charts and graphics.  While this example doesn't perfectly fit that description, it can be classified as a report that is summarized, and any elements which need attention are presented in a different color.

I've implemented similar solutions in the past, selecting an image reference in the SELECT clause of my report query, and then referencing this image reference as the column value.  But this time, I first solicited the opinion of Shakeeb Rahman, the Design Lead for Oracle APEX, and he provided me a better solution.  Using a simple combination of SQL and Font APEX, this can be easily and elegantly solved!

For this example, I created a new table CITY_STATUSES

create table city_statuses (
    city_name varchar2(100) primary key, 
    status1   number, 
    status2   number, 
    status3   number);

I populated it with data, and then I created a new application with an Interactive Report on the table.  The query of the Interactive Report was simply:

select city_name,
       status1,
       status2,
       status3
  from city_statuses

and my initial report looked like:



In my example, 1 is a good condition, 0 is a warning, and -1 indicates that an action must be taken.

Universal Theme


Universal Theme is a responsive, versatile, and customizable user interface for your Application Express apps.  The Universal Theme in Oracle APEX 5.1 includes Font APEX, a drop-in replacement for Font Awesome, but with better graphics and more of them (courtesy of master graphic artist Bob Daly).  You can learn more about the Universal Theme at https://apex.oracle.com/ut, and you can learn more about Font APEX at https://apex.oracle.com/fontapex.

Shakeeb recommended I use Font APEX and the Universal Theme helper classes to solve this problem.  The helper classes can be used to set the colors on any custom component.  You can find these Universal Theme helper classes at https://apex.oracle.com/ut -> Reference -> Color and Status Modifiers.  What's nice about these colors is that they are coordinated with the Theme Roller in APEX.  If you change the global success color in Theme Roller, the icon color will also be updated.

To solve this specific problem for the dashboard, I selected two additional columns in the SELECT clause for each STATUS column:
  1. status_icon - String representing the icon class and modifier class
  2. status_description - Description of the status icon, for accessibility purposes.  This is very important, because we are changing from a discrete value in the report to an icon and a color.  Without the description column, this information will be inaccessible.
For the icons and modifiers, I used:
  • Success: fa-check-circle-o u-success-text
  • Warning: fa-exclamation-triangle u-warning-text
  • Error: fa-exception u-danger-text

The Solution

For each status column in my SELECT clause, I added a corresponding icon and description column:


 select city_name,
        status1,
        status2,
        status3,
        case status1 
            when 1  then 'fa-check-circle-o u-success-text'
            when 0  then 'fa-exclamation-triangle u-warning-text'
            when -1 then 'fa-exception u-danger-text'
        end status1_icon,
        case status1 
            when 1  then 'OK'
            when 0  then 'Warning'
            when -1 then 'Danger'
        end status1_description,        
        case status2 
            when 1  then 'fa-check-circle-o u-success-text'
            when 0  then 'fa-exclamation-triangle u-warning-text'
            when -1 then 'fa-exception u-danger-text'
        end status2_icon,
        case status2 
            when 1  then 'OK'
            when 0  then 'Warning'
            when -1 then 'Danger'
        end status2_description,                
        case status3 
            when 1  then 'fa-check-circle-o u-success-text'
            when 0  then 'fa-exclamation-triangle u-warning-text'
            when -1 then 'fa-exception u-danger-text'
        end status3_icon,
        case status3 
            when 1  then 'OK'
            when 0  then 'Warning'
            when -1 then 'Danger'
        end status3_description
  from city_statuses

After saving the updated query for the Interactive Report, I edited these columns in Page Designer and changed the property Type from Plain Text to Hidden Column.

Then, for the columns STATUS1, STATUS2 and STATUS3, in Page Designer I changed the property HTML Expression to:

<span class="fa #STATUS1_ICON#" title="#STATUS1_DESC#"></span>

Obviously, replace STATUS1 with the correct corresponding column name. I adjusted the heading and column alignment of each column to center, and voila!  It couldn't be easier.



If for some reason you want to make the icons even larger, no problem!  Simply add the fa-2x modifier in the HTML expression (after #STATUS1_ICON#).

Experiment with the modifiers of Font APEX at https://apex.oracle.com/fontapex.  Choose your icon, vary the size, animation, modifier, and status.  Just don't go crazy - we don't want to see the world's APEX apps introduce the equivalent of the <marquee> tag again.

Shakeeb presented the Universal Theme, these modifiers, and much more in a recorded Webinar from ODTUG.

P.S.  While you might be tempted to simplify the query and use an inline PL/SQL function in the WITH clause of the query, you most likely will encounter error "ORA-32034: unsupported use of WITH clause".  This is because the Interactive Report will enclose your original query in a subquery, and in general, inline PL/SQL functions in subqueries are intentionally prohibited by the Oracle Database.  However, the solution above also works with a Classic Report, and in that case, you could use an inline PL/SQL function in the WITH clause of the query.