Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Repeated lesson: always distrust 3th party code generators

Warning: rant follows!

I am usually try to avoid generation tools. But I fell for it again. I thought that using Wicket Web Beans would speed up development of the administration screens in my current project. Indeed, the first screens were shown very quickly. But a few weeks later, it did not turn out to be so smooth as expected.

Here are some of my pain points:

  • You must explicitly exclude properties you do not want to see. So when you add the method boolean isPersisted() in the base class of all your entities, you must visit the meta data for each entity and add "-persisted".
  • Writing new types of input fields for specific properties works, but is a little clumsy.
  • I have no clue how to add validation. Especially when you consider the excellent vlidation support in Wicket has for this, it is kind weird that it is not clear how to do this with Wicket Web Beans.
  • When you have a recursive data structure, Wicket Web Beans crashes during the render phase with a StackOverflowException!
  • Somehow I failed to get custom input fields for collection properties.
Some positive points:
  • Support is good though the wwb user e-mail list. Unfortunately, I failed to provide the correct input (which is source code) as we changed the code constantly in an attempt to work around to shortcomings mentioned above. Secondly I did not want to sent our domain objects to a public list.
  • For simple domain models you are probably quickly set up and done.

Okay, we could have worked on Wicket Web Beans itself. After all it is open source. The code quality seems quite alright though I expect you need some time to get into it. Due to project dynamics and considering the excellent Wicket form support, I decided to pull out.

Unfortunately its now 2 days before the end of the sprint. So in 2 days we will shame ourselves in the demo before the customer with almost nothing working. Hopefully we can do better next week with regular Wicket forms.

Note: 'me too' comments are likely to be removed. I am also very interested in success stories!

Update, a couple of hours later: I reworded the article a bit as I found the first version too harsh.