Monday, May 19, 2014

ORCLAPEX NOVA Update - Columbus Brings It

For the upcoming inaugural ORCLAPEX NOVA MeetUp on May 29th, not only will we have Mike Hichwa, Shakeeb Rahman and David Gale from the Reston-based Oracle APEX development team present, but we will also have the entire Columbus, OH based APEX team in attendance, as well: both Joel Kallman and Jason Straub will be in town and have RSVP’ed to the MeetUp!

Outside of major conferences such as KScope or OpenWorld, there is no other public forum that will have the same level of APEX expertise from the team that develops the product present!  So what are you waiting for?  Join the rest of us who have already RSVP’ed to this event, as it’s 100% free, and you’re sure to learn a bunch about APEX 5.0 and other exciting happenings in the Database Development world at Oracle.

Note: you have to be a member of MeetUp (which is free to join) and RSVP to the event to attend (which is also free), as a list of people needs to be provided to Oracle the day before the event occurs.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

BLOBs in the Cloud with APEX and AWS S3


Recently, I was working with one of our customers and ran into a rather unique requirement and an uncommon constraint. The customer - Storm Petrel - has designed a grant management system called Tempest.  This system is designed to aid local municipalities when applying for FEMA grants after a natural disaster occurs.  As one can imagine, there is a lot of old fashioned paperwork when it comes to managing such a thing.

Thus, the requirement called for the ability to upload and store scanned documents.  No OCR or anything like that, but rather invoices and receipts so that a paper trail of the work done and associated billing activity can be preserved.  For APEX, this can be achieved without breaking a sweat, as the declarative BLOB feature can easily upload a file and store it in a BLOB column of a table, complete with filename and MIME type.

However, the tablespace storage costs from the hosting company for the anticipated volume of documents was considerable.  So much so that the cost would have to be factored into the price of the solution for each customer, making it more expensive and obviously less attractive.

My initial thought was to use Amazon’s S3 storage solution, since the costs of storing 1GB of data for a month is literally 3 cents.  Data transfer prices are also ridiculously inexpensive, and from what I have seen via marketing e-mails, the price of this and many of Amazon’s other AWS services have been on a downward trend for some time.

The next challenge was to figure out how to get APEX integrated with S3.  I have seen some of the AWS API documentation, and while there are ample examples for Java, .NET and PHP, there is nothing at all for PL/SQL.  Fortunately, someone else has already done the heavy lifting here: Morten Braten & Jeffrey Kemp.

Morten’s Alexandria PL/SQL Library is an amazing open-source suite of PL/SQL utilities which provide a number of different services, such as document generation, data integration and security.  Jeff Kemp has a presentation on SlideShare that best covers the breadth of this utility.  You can also read about the latest release - 1.7 - on Morton’s blog here.  You owe it to yourself to check out this library whether or not you have any interest in AWS S3!

In this latest release of the library, Jeff Kemp has added a number of enhancements to the S3 integration piece of the framework, making it quite capable of managing files on S3 via a set of easy to use PL/SQL APIs.  And these APIs can be easily & securely integrated into APEX and called from there.  He even created a brief presentation that describes the S3 APIs.

Configuring AWS Users and Groups

So let’s get down to it.  How does all of this work with APEX?  First of all, you will need to create an AWS account.  You can do this by navigating to and clicking on Sign Up.  The wizard will guide you through the account creation process and collect any relevant information that it needs.  Please note that you will need to provide a valid credit card in order to create an AWS account, as they are not free, depending on which services you choose to use.

Once the AWS account is created, the first thing that you should consider doing is creating a new user that will be used to manage the S3 service.  The credentials that you use when logging into AWS are similar to root, as you will be able to access and manage and of the many AWS services.  When deploying only S3, it’s best to create a user that can only do just that.

To create a new user:

1) Click on the Users tab

2) Click Create New User

3) Enter the User Name(s) and click Create.  Be sure that Generate an access key for each User is checked.

2014 05 08 10 49 18
Once you click Create, another popup region will be displayed.  Do not close this window!  Rather, click on Show User Security Credentials to display the Access Key ID and Secret Access Key ID.  Think of the Access Key ID as a username and the Secret Access Key ID as a password, and then treat them as such.

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For ease of use, you may want to click Download Credentials and save your keys to your PC.

The next step is to create a Group that your new user will be associated with.  The Group in AWS is used to map a user or users to a set of permissions.  In this case, we will need to allow our user to have full access to S3, so we will have to ensure that the permissions allow for this.  In your environment, you may not want to grant as many privileges to a single user.

To create a new group:

1) Click on the Groups tab

2) Click on Create New Group

3) Enter the Group Name, such as S3-Admin, and click Continue

The next few steps may vary depending on which privileges you want to assign to this group.  The example will assume that all S3 privileges are to be assigned.

4) Select Policy Generator, and then click on the Select button.

5) Set the AWS Service drop down to Amazon S3.

6) Select All Actions (*) for the Actions drop down.

7) Enter arn:aws:s3:::* for the Amazon Resource Name (ARN) and click Add Statement.  This will allow access to any S3 resource.  Alternatively, to create a more restricted group, a bucket name could have been specified here, limiting the users in this group to only be able to manage that specific bucket.

8) Click Continue.

9) Optionally rename the Policy Name to something a little less cryptic and click Continue.

10) Click Create group to create the group.
The animation below illustrates the previous steps:

Next, we’ll add our user to the newly created group.

1) Select the group that was just created by checking the associated checkbox.

2) Under the Users tab, click Add Users to Group.

3) Select the user that you want to add and then click Add Users.

The user should now be associated with the group.

2014 05 08 11 55 45
Select the Permissions tab to verify that the appropriate policy is associated with the user.

2014 05 08 11 56 15
At this point, the user management portion of AWS is complete.

Configuring AWS S3

The next step is to configure the S3 portion. To do this, navigate to the S3 Dashboard:

1) Click on the Services tab at the top of the page.

2) Select S3.

You should see the S3 dashboard now:

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S3 uses “buckets" to organize files.  A bucket is just another word for a folder.  Each of these buckets have a number of different properties that can be configured, making the storage and security options quite extensible.  While there is a limit of 100 buckets per AWS account, buckets can contain folders, and when using the AWS APIs, its fairly easy to provide a layer of security based on a file’s location within a bucket.

Let’s start out by creating a bucket and setting up some of the options.

1) Click on Create Bucket.

2) Enter a Bucket Name and select the Region closest to your location and click Create.  One thing to note - the Bucket Name must be unique across ALL of AWS.  So don’t even try demo, test or anything like that.

3) Once your bucket is created, click on the Properties button.

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I’m not going to go through all of the properties of a bucket in detail, as there are plenty of other places that already have that covered.  Fortunately, for our purposes, the default settings on the bucket should suffice.  It is worth taking a look at these settings, as many of them - such as Lifecycle and Versioning - can definitely come in handy and reduce your development and storage costs.

Next, let’s add our first file to the bucket.  To do this:

1) Click on the Bucket Name.

2) Click on the Upload button.

3) A dialog box will appear.  To add a file or files, click Add Files.

4) Using the File Upload window, select a file that you wish to upload.  Select it and click Open.

5) Click Start Upload to initiate the upload process.
Depending on your file size, the transfer will take anywhere from a second to several minutes.  Once it’s complete, your file should be visible in the left side of the dashboard.

6) Click on the recently uploaded file.

7) Click on the Properties button.

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Notice that there is a link to the file displayed in the Properties window.  Click on that link.  You’re probably looking at something like this now:

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That is because by default, all files uploaded to S3 will be secured.  You will need to call an AWS API to generate a special link in order to access them.  This is important for a couple of reasons.  First off, you clearly don’t want just anyone accessing your files on S3.  Second, even if securing files is not a major concern, keep in mind that S3 also charges for data transfer.  Thus, if you put a large public file on S3, and word gets out as to its location, charges can quickly add up as many people access that file.  Fortunately, securely accessing files on S3 from APEX is a breeze with the Alexandria PL/SQL libraries.  More on that shortly.

If you want to preview any file in S3, simply right-click on it and select Open or Download.  This is also how you rename and delete files in S3.  And only authorized AWS S3 users will be able to perform these tasks, as the S3 Dashboard requires a valid AWS account.

Installing AWS S3 PL/SQL Libraries

The next thing that needs to be installed is the Alexandria PL/SQL library - or rather just the Amazon S3 portion of it.  There is no need to install the rest of the components, especially if they are not going to be used.  For ease of use, these objects can be installed directly into your APEX parse-as schema.  
However, they can also be installed into a centralized schema and then made available to other schemas that need to use them.

There are eight files that need to be installed, as well as a one-off command.

1) First, connect to your APEX parse-as schema and run the following script:
create type t_str_array as table of varchar2(4000)
2) Next, the HTTP UTIL & DEBUG packages needs to be installed.  This allows the database to retrieve files from S3 as well as provides a debugging infrastructure.

To install these packages, run the following four scripts as your APEX parse-as schema:
Before running the S3 scripts, the package body of AMAZON_AWS_AUTH_PKG needs to be modified so that your AWS credentials are embedded in it.

3) Edit the file amazon_aws_auth_pkg.pkb in a text editor.

4) Near the top of the file are three global variable declarations: g_aws_id, g_aws_key and g_gmt_offset.  Set the values of these three variables to the Access Key ID, Secret Key ID and GMT offset.  These values were displayed and/or downloaded when you created your AWS user.  If you did not record these, you will have to create a new pair back in the User Management dashboard.
Here’s an example of what the changes will look like, with the values obfuscated:
g_aws_id     varchar2(20) := 'XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX'; -- AWS Access Key ID
g_aws_key    varchar2(40) := 'XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX'; -- AWS Secret Key
g_gmt_offset number       := 4; -- your timezone GMT adjustment (EST = 4, CST = 5, MST = 6, PST = 7) 
It is also possible to store these values in a more secure place, such as an encrypted column in a table and then fetch them as they are needed.

5) Once the changes to amazon_aws_auth_pkg.pkb are made, save the file.

6) Next, run the following four SQL scripts in the order below as your APEX parse-as schema:
If there are no errors, then we’re almost ready to test and see if we can view S3 via APEX!

: The S3 packages in their current form do not offer support for SSL.  This is a big deal, since any request that is made to S3 will be done in the clear, putting the contents of your files at risk as they are transferred to and from S3. There is a proposal on the Alexandria Issues Page that details this deficiency.

I have made some minor alterations to the AMAZON_AWS_S3_PKG package which accommodate using SSL and Oracle Wallet when calling S3. You can download it from here.  When using this version, there are three additional package variables that need to be altered:
g_orcl_wallet_path constant varchar2(255) := 'file:/path_to_dir_with_oracle_wallet';
g_orcl_wallet_pw   constant varchar2(255) := 'Oracle Wallet Password';
g_aws_url_http     constant varchar2(255) := 'https://'; -- Set to either http:// or https:// 
Additionally, Oracle Wallet will need to be configured with the certificate from  Jeff Hunter has an excellent and easy to follow post on configuring Oracle Wallet here that will guide you through configuring Oracle Wallet.  

Configuring the ACL

Starting with Oracle 11g, an Access Control List - or ACL - restricts which outbound transactions are allowed to occur.  By default, none of them are.  Thus, we will need to configure the ACL to allow our schema to access Amazon’s servers.
To create the ACL, run the following script as SYS, replacing it with your specific values:
acl         => 'apex-s3.xml',   
description => 'ACL for APEX-S3 to access Amazon S3',   
principal   => 'APEX_S3',    
is_grant    => TRUE,    
privilege   => 'connect'   
acl         => 'apex-s3.xml',   
host        => '*',   
lower_port  => 80,   
upper_port  => 80   
IMPORTANT NOTE: When using SSL, the lower_port and upper_port values should both be set to 443.

Integration with APEX

At this point, the integration between Oracle and S3 should be complete.  We can run a simple test to verify this.  
From the SQL Workshop, enter and execute the following SQL, replacing apex-s3-integration with the name of your bucket: 
SELECT * FROM table (amazon_aws_s3_pkg.get_object_tab(p_bucket_name => 'apex-s3-integration'))

This query will return all files that are stored in the bucket apex-s3-integration, as shown below:

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If you see the file that you previously uploaded, then everything is working as it should!
Now that the configuration is complete, the next step is to build the actual integration into APEX so that we can upload and download BLOBs to/from S3.  In this example, we will build a simple APEX form & report that allows the user to upload, download and delete content from an S3 bucket.  This example uses APEX 4.2.5, but it should work in previous releases, as it uses nothing too version specific.

To create a simple APEX & S3 Integration application:
1) Create a new Database application.  Be sure to set Create Options to Include Application Home Page, and select any theme that you wish.  This example will use Theme 25.
2) Edit Page 1 of your application and create a new Interactive Report called “S3 Files”.  Use the following SQL as the source of the report, replacing apex-s3-integration with your bucket name:
p_bucket_name => 'apex-s3-integration',
p_key => key,
p_expiry_date => SYSDATE + 1
) download,
key delete_doc
table (amazon_aws_s3_pkg.get_object_tab(p_bucket_name => 'apex-s3-integration')) 
The SQL call the pipeline function get_object_tab from the S3 package, and return all files in the corresponding bucket.  Since the AWS credentials are embedded in the S3 package, they do not need to be entered here.
Since the bucket that we created is not open to the public, all access to it is restricted.  Only when a specific Access Key ID, Signature and Expiration Date are passed in will the file be accessible.  To do this, we need to call another API to generate a valid link with that information included.  The get_download_url API takes in three parameters - bucket_name, key and expiry date.  The first two are self-explanatory, whereas the third will determine how long the specific download link will be good for.  In our example, it is set to 1 day, but it can be set to any duration of time.  
Once the report is created, run and login to your application. The first page will display something similar to this:
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Upon closer inspection of the Download link, the AWSAccessKeyId, Expires and Signature parameters can be seen.  These were automatically generated from the S3 API, and this link can be used to download the corresponding file.  
3) Edit the KEY column of the Interactive Report.  Enter #KEY# for the Link Text, set the Target to URL and enter #DOWNLOAD# for the URL and click Apply Changes.
Create a Download Link on the KEY Column
Next, since we no longer need to display the Download column in the report, it should be set to hidden.
4) Edit the Report Attributes of the Interactive Report.
5) Set Display Text As for the Download column to Hidden and click Apply Changes.
Set the Download column to Hidden
When running Page 1 now, the name of the file should be a link.  Clicking on the link should either display or download the file from S3, depending on what type of file was uploaded.
To delete an item, we will have to call the S3 API delete_object and pass in the corresponding bucket name and key of the file to be deleted.  We can handle this easily via a column link that calls a Dynamic Action.
Before we get started, we’ll need to create a hidden item on Page 1 that will store the file key.
6) Create a new Hidden Item on Page 1 called P1_KEY.
7) Make sure that the Value Protected attribute is set to Yes, take all the defaults on the next page, and create the item.
Next, let’s edit the DELETE_DOC column and set the link that will trigger a Dynamic Action which will in turn, delete the document from S3.
8) Edit the DELETE_DOC column.
9) Enter Delete for the Link Text and enter the following for the Link Attributes: id="#KEY” class=“deleteDoc”  Next, set the Target to URL and enter # in the URL field and click Apply Changes.
Set the Link Attributes of the DELETE_DOC Column
Next, let’s create the Dynamic Action.
10) Create a new Dynamic Action called Delete S3 Doc.  It should be set to fire when the Event is a Click, and when the jQuery Selector is equal to .deleteDoc
Definition of the Delete S3 Doc Dynamic Action
11) Next, the first True action should be set to Confirm, and the message “Are you sure that you want to delete this file” be entered into the Text region.
Add the Confirm True Action
12) Click Next and then click Create Dynamic Action.
At this point, if you click on the Delete link, a confirmation message should be displayed.  Clicking OK will have no impact, as additional True actions need to be first added to the Dynamic Action.  Let’s create those True actions now.
13) Expand the Delete S3 Doc Dynamic Action and right-click on True and select Create.
14) Set the Action to Set Value, uncheck Fire on Page Load, and enter the following for JavaScript;  Next, set the Selection Type to Item(s) and enter P1_KEY for the Item(s) and click Create.
Create the Set Value True Action
15) Create another True action by clicking on Add True Action.
16) Set the Action to Execute PL/SQL Code and enter the following for PL/SQL Code, replacing apex-s3-integration with the name of your bucket:
  p_bucket_name => 'apex-s3-integration',
  p_key => :P1_KEY

Enter P1_KEY for Page Items to Submit and click Create.

Create Execute PL/SQL Code True Action

17) Create another True action by clicking on Add True Action.
18) Set the Action to Refresh, set the Selection Type to Region, and set the Region to S3 Files (20) and click Create.
Create a Refresh True Action
At this point, if you click on the Delete link for a file in S3, you should be prompted to confirm the deletion, and if you click OK, the file will be removed from S3 and the Interactive Report refreshed.  A quick check of your AWS S3 Dashboard should show that the file is in fact, deleted.  
The last step is to create a page that allows the user to upload files to S3.  This can easily be done with a File Upload APEX item and a simple call to the S3 API new_doc.
19) Create a new blank page called Upload S3 File and set the Page Number to 2.  Re-use the existing tab set and tab and optionally add a breadcrumb to the page and set the parent to the Home page.
20) On Page 2, create a new HTML region called Upload S3 File.
Next, we’ll add a File Browse item to the page.  This item will use APEX’s internal table WWV_FLOW_FILES to temporarily store the BLOB file before uploading it to S3.
21) In the new region, create a File Browse item called P2_DOC and click Next.
22) Set the Label to Select File to Upload and the Template to Required (Horizontal - Right Aligned) and click Next.
23) Set Value Required to Yes and Storage Type to Table WWV_FLOW_FILES and click Next.
24) Click Create Item.
Next, we’ll add a button that will submit the page.
25) Create a Region Button in the Upload S3 File region.
26) Set the Button Name to UPLOAD, set the Label to Upload, set the Button Style to Template Based Button and set the Button Template to Button and click Next.
27) Set the Position to Region Template Position #CREATE# and click Create Button.
Next, the PL/SQL Process that will call the S3 API needs to be created.
28) Create a new Page Process in the Page Processing region.
29) Select PL/SQL and click Next.
30) Enter Upload File to S3 for the Name and click Next.
31) Enter the following for the region Enter PL/SQL Page Process, replacing apex-s3-integration with the name of your bucket and click Next.
FOR x IN (SELECT * FROM wwv_flow_files WHERE name = :P2_DOC)
 -- Create the file in S3
p_bucket_name => 'apex-s3-integration',
p_key => x.filename,
p_object => x.blob_content,
p_content_type => x.mime_type
-- Remove the doc from WWV_FLOW_FILES
DELETE FROM wwv_flow_files WHERE name = :P2_DOC;
The PL/SQL above will loop through the table WWV_FLOW_FILES for the document just uploaded and pass the filename, MIME type and file itself to the new_object S3 API, which in turn will upload the file to S3.  The last line will ensure that the file is immediately removed from the WWV_FLOW_FILES table.
32) Enter File Uploaded to S3 for the Success Message and click Next.
33) Set When Button Pressed to UPLOAD (Upload) and click Create Process.
One more thing needs to be added - a branch that returns to Page 1 after the file is uploaded.
34) In the Page Processing region, expand the After Processing node and right-click on Branches and select Create.
35) Enter Branch to Page 1 for the Name and click Next.
36) Enter 1 for Page, check Include Process Success Message and click Next.
37) Set When Button Pressed to UPLOAD (Upload) and click Create Branch.
Now, you should be able to upload any file to your S3 bucket from APEX!
One more small addition needs to be made to our example application.  We need a way to get to Page 2 from Page 1.  A simple region button should do the trick.
38) Edit Page 1 of your application.
39) Create a Region Button in the S3 Files region.
40) Set the Button Name to UPLOAD, set the Label to Upload, set the Button Style to Template Based Button and set the Button Template to Button and click Next.
41) Set the Position to Right of the Interactive Report Search Bar and click Next.
42) Set the Action to Redirect to Page in this Application, enter 2 for Page and click Create Button.
That’s it!  You should now have a working APEX application that has the ability to upload, download and delete files from Amazon’s S3 service.
Finished Product
Please leave any questions or report any typos in the comments, and I’ll get to them as soon as time permits.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Announcing the ORCLAPEX NOVA Meetup Group

Following in the footsteps of a few others, I’m happy to announce the formation and initial meeting of the ORCLAPEX NOVA (Northern Virginia) group!  

As Dan McGhan and Doug Gault have mentioned in their blogs, a bunch of us who are regular APEX users are trying to continue to grow the community by providing in-person meetings where we can meet other APEX developers and trade stories, tips and anything else.  Each of the groups is independently run by the local organizers, so the formats and topics will vary from group to group, but the core content will always be focused around Oracle APEX. Groups will also be vendor-neutral, meaning that the core purpose of the group is to provide education and facilitate the sharing of APEX-related ideas, not to market services of products.

Right now, there are a number of groups already formed across the world: 

I’m happy to announce that the first meeting of the ORCLAPEX NOVA group will be Thursday, May 29th, 2014 at Oracle’s Reston office in Reston, VA at 7:00 PM.  Details about the event can be found here.  We will start the group with a bang, as Mike Hichwa, VP of Database Development at Oracle, will be presenting APEX 5.0 New Features for the bulk of the meeting.  You can guarantee that we’ll get to see the latest and greatest features being prepared for the upcoming APEX 5.0 release.  Here’s the rest of the agenda:

 7:00 PM Pizza & Sodas; informal chats 

 7:15 PM Welcome - Scott Spendolini, Enkitec 

 7:30 PM APEX 5.0 - Mike Hichwa, Oracle Corporation 

 9:00 PM Wrap Up & Poll for Next MeetUp

IMPORTANT: In order to attend, you must create a account, join the group and RSVP.  You will also have to use your real name, as it will be provided to Oracle Security prior to the event, and if you’re not listed, you may not be able to attend.  All communications and announcements will be facilitated via the site as well.

Also, not all meetings need to be at the Oracle Reston facility; we’re using it because Mike & Shakeeb were able to secure the room for free, and it’s relatively central to Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun Counties.  Part of what we’ll have to figure out is how many smaller, more local groups we may want to form (i.e. PW County, DC, MD, etc.) and whether or not we should try to keep them loosely associated.  One thought that I had would be for the smaller groups to meet more locally and frequently, and for all of the groups to seek out presenters for an “all hands” type meeting that we can move around the region.  All options are on the table at this point.

I look forward to meeting many of you in person on the 29th!