Friday, 22 August 2014

OTech Magazine Issue 4 - APEX 5 and much more

Well it's the second half of August and this is my first real post for the month. There are two very good reasons for this:

1) We've just completed a major implementation at one of our clients - a tablet based application using APEX, which completely changes the face of a major arm of the business. It's a groundbreaking application with only one peer in the industry - which users are already claiming superiority to and it's had years to mature. It's been a very enjoyable project with a glowing success story - kudos to my Sage colleagues and the entire team.

2) Douwe Pieter van den Bos from OTech Magazine asked if I would like to contribute to their next quarterly issue, but with a catch - it had to be submitted pretty soon as they were already finalising the content. I hadn't actually heard of it until I received a LinkedIn request from Douwe. This is only the fourth issue so I don't feel too bad. I browsed through the previous issues and read what the magazine is all about and it was something to which I was more than happy to contribute.

I think Douwe had seen my series of blog posts on APEX 5 and asked if I would like to add something on that. I also recently presented on the topic in Perth, so I figured my Prezi was something I could quickly adopt into prose. It was a bit of a rush job and I feel it shows a little, but I plan to do the presentation again as an ODTUG webinar, so stay tuned if you want to hear the original format.

OTech Magazine #4
OTech Magazine is free, independently produced, well polished, digitally formatted for Oracle professionals. The editors carefully select authors & articles in efforts to obtain high quality content. My APEX 5 (EA2) article is in the just released "Summer 2014" issue. Yep, I quoted that because I'm not sure that global products should relate to a season - especially since I'm currently living in a "winter" climate. Yep, I quoted that too because we're enjoying mostly 22C sunny days - I blame climate change.

It confuses the heck out of me when I see a movie advertised for release in Winter 2015 - what range of months is that?!

Anyway, check out the OTech Magazine - you'll find yourself wanting to read the past issues.

Demystifying Oracle Unpivot

A couple of years ago I posted a simple example using PIVOT, converting rows to columns with the classic example of figures by months.

Oracle 11g R1 also introduced the UNPIVOT function, allowing columns to be converted into rows.


I've created an example that lists cities by row, but two attractions as two columns, with pairing attributes describing the reason for the attraction.
create table aus_attractions(id  number, city varchar2(50)
  , attraction1 varchar2(50)
  , attraction2 varchar2(50)
  , reason1 varchar2(50)
  , reason2 varchar2(50)
insert into aus_attractions values (1, 'Perth','weather','beaches','sunny','white sand');
insert into aus_attractions values (2, 'Sydney','bridge','blue mountains','climb','scenic');
insert into aus_attractions values (3, 'Melbourne','culture','aussie rules','activities','crowds');

select id, city
      ,reason1, reason2
from aus_attractions;

Not optimal relational data design

I'd like to see each attraction by row - 6 rows instead of 3.

You could solve this with a UNION ALL, and/or a WITH - but one day "they" will ask for 5 options, might as well unpivot.


Then we can turn our original statement into an inline view, serving the unpivot function.
select id, city, attraction, reason, rec_nbr
from ( -- original query:
     (select id, city
         ,reason1, reason2
   from aus_attractions
 unpivot               -- the magic operator
 ((attraction, reason) -- names of replacement columns
  for rec_nbr in (     -- new column defining data source in literal alias below
   -- split each group of fields in here
   (attraction1, reason1) as 'REC1' 
  ,(attraction2, reason2) as 'REC2'

ID      CITY       ATTRACTION        REASON       REC_NBR
------  ---------- ----------------- ------------ -------
1       Perth      weather           sunny        REC1
1       Perth      beaches           white sand   REC2
2       Sydney     bridge            climb        REC1
2       Sydney     blue mountains    scenic       REC2
3       Melbourne  culture           activities   REC1
3       Melbourne  aussie rules      crowds       REC2

6 rows selected
Unpivoted data

Simple, once you've done it the first time...


Oracle SQL Language Reference
Oracle Data Warehousing Guide - SQL for Analysis and Reporting

Other great examples of varying depth

OTN - Arup Nanda
Oracle-Base - Tim Hall
Oracle FAQ - Unpivot - Adrian Billington
AMIS - Lucas Jellema
SQL Snippets: Columns to Rows - UNPIVOT (11g)

If you're not already using the above sites for good reference material, you're missing out.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Case sensitivities and making JavaScript more like PL/SQL

Yesterday the Anti-Kyte (a.k.a. Mike) published a great post on coding styles. I started to post a comment but ended up rambling to I thought I'd put my thoughts here.

I can't be one to comment on tangential intros (just look at any of my presentations), but he almost lost me when I thought the entire post was going to be soccer jokes I didn't get but switched in time to three controversial topics:
  1. Uppercase keywords
  2. Camel case
  3. ANSI joins
To add my 5 cents - I still tend to uppercase keywords - partially out of habit and sometimes standards are a client site. I still like the concept of the brain finding lower case easier to interpret than upper case - now with extra help thanks to syntax highlighters. I don't mind all lower case, though I feel a little naughty when doing so. I know Connor does it all the time, and it looks raw & simple - which is not a bad thing.

He scared me a little when he started to provide PL/SQL examples using camel case - I can't stand camel case.
My identifier naming conventions in JavaScript tend to match up with my PL/SQL preferences, though sometimes I find it to be a hybrid in occasions where the name might harmonise with other jQuery functions.
function p42_show_info (t) {
  theRow = $(t).closest('tr').addClass('highlight');
  l_order = theRow.children('td[headers=ORDER_NO]').text();
I should probably stick with one way or the other since bugs thanks to tolerated case sensitivity are the worst kind of bugs - parasites, if you will.

I have no problems using ANSI syntax when used explicitly (no natural joins), but I tend to only use them for outer joins and when readability would benefit. There are scenarios where ANSI outer joins are the best solution to a query.


Friday, 25 July 2014

APEX Printer Friendliness using CSS Media Queries

In the projects I've been involved with I've rarely seen it used, but there is a ninth argument in the f?p= syntax that toggles Printer Friendly mode.

Side note - being the space geek I am this reminded me of the hubhub over Pluto being the ninth planet.

The APEX documentation on Printer Friendly mode states
When referenced, the Application Express engine does not display tabs or navigation bars, and all items are displayed as text and not as form elements.
You also need to take care with the construction of your theme's Printer Friendly page template to help make this happen. This template is included in the theme by default and should have the namely template class.

However, there is another method you may like to consider to prepare your pages for printing - without needing to re-open the page - CSS Media Queries.

Here I have a print button on a demo page which invokes the browser's printer dialog box using window.print();

Basic report with Print button
Trouble is all my menus and sidebars are included in the print preview.

Printer preview including expanded menu / sidebar

CSS Media Queries aren't just for making your website respond to the gamit of screen sizes that exist, but also allow you to interrogate the media type. We can use this to identify components on our page that should not be displayed when printed.
@media print {
  #navwrap, #blog_posts, #p31_detail, #p31_notes, .uButton
You could either identify the page components in the CSS media query - here I've identified my menu bar, side bars, second region at the bottom of the page and any buttons.

Alternatively you could apply a class to all components you don't want printed - eg: .noPrint.

The HTML shown in the print preview is now much cleaner when I click the printer button.

This HTML document is ready to kill a tree

Of course if you have various form elements you may still want to consider a combination of media queries and the use of the Printer Friendly mode. While looking for documentation links I also stumbled across this example by Andrew Tulley.

Run the demo to see it in action.
Try view the print dialog before pressing the 'Apply Media Query' button


CSS Media Queries
W3Schools Media Type
APEX Documentation - Printer Friendly mode
Grassroots Oracle - f?p syntax mnemonic
Andy's Blog - hybrid example

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Order APEX column based on hidden data

An occasional question in the forums relates to issues ordering a particular column. It's one of those things that will probably keep coming up, so it's worth having another reference out here on the web.

The basic example stems from the need to order data that might contain characters.

with data as
  (select '1'  vc from dual union all
   select '11' vc from dual union all
   select '2'  vc from dual union all
   select 'a'  vc from dual)
select vc
from data
order by vc;


Most of the time people would want this ordered numerically as 1,2,11, then characters before or after the numerics. There are a few SQL solutions, but we need something for APEX so when you click on the column heading - it orders as you expect.

Other sample use-cases might also be found
  • in ealier versions of APEX where LOV sourced column order by return value, not display value
  • any place where data is formatted in some way
  • any occasion where you want to order data conditionally
So another example is the blob file size supplied format mask mentioned in last week's post. Here data was ordered by data values - not logically from our human perspective.

One solution offered here by Arie Geller is to prefix the column value with a hidden column
'<input type="hidden" value="'||(estimate-actual)||'" />'||abs(estimate - actual) AS variance
I found another example from Denes Kubicek back in 2008.

The solution can be even simpler & lightweight than that - use HTML comments as a prefix.

And typically we'll need to left-pad our character data to the same length - this ensures ordering compares apples to apples.

I've applied this prefix on my blob file size format mask example, to allow ordering on the column I said wouldn't order so well. The prefix is essentially the untrimmed output of filesize_mask(), with the leading spaces replaced with zeroes - and the suffix removed.


Both solutions require the column to be displayed as "Standard Report Column". So if you are using text data it's best to also escape your content in the query using apex_escape.html()

Run the demo to see it in action.
Try ordering using "Size Mask" vs "Bad Order" and see where +1MB files go

The file names are scrambled using much simplified scrambling technique demonstrated here by Joe Lipman.
My full SQL can be seen at the bottom of the demo page.

-- Update: Be sure to read the comments on the post regarding Patrick Wolf's elegant solution of just putting the display version of the column in the column's HTML Expression.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Returning BLOB file size

Occasionally I'll want some form of report noting file sizes of blobs in a database.

The solution is relatively simple, and I thought I'd write it up here for a place to copy syntax each time.

APEX users also have a handy table to verify this against (apex_application_files). Well, a synonym/view that ultimately maps to the core table wwv_flow_file_objects$.

It contains a doc_size column, which is no doubt evaluated at some point during upload of the file. For blobs in your own table you can use the supplied package DBMS_LOB to get the length of the file in bytes.

Multiply that by 3 orders of magnitude and you have it roughly in kilobytes - a digestable figure for most files dealt with these days (calc_size).
Add some pretty formatting and you have how Windows Explorer shows file sizes (calc_fmt).

Inside an APEX report you might consider the format mask "999G999G999G999G990" on 'calc_size' - without any trailing suffix so you can still order the results.
select id, filename
  ,round(dbms_lob.getlength(blob_content)/1000,2) calc_size 
  ,to_char(dbms_lob.getlength(blob_content)/1000,'999,999')||' kb' calc_fmt
  ,apex_util.filesize_mask(dbms_lob.getlength(blob_content)) size_mask
from apex_application_files
order by doc_size

/* UPDATE 2014-07-11 */
Carsten (@czarski) pointed out on twitter that an API that's available that returns a rounded off relative size with the appropriate trailing KB/MB/GB/TB.

It's not shown in the current 4.2 documentation - but I think it's probably just been missed rather than it not being supported. The APEX_UTIL package is pretty large should probably be broken up so little nuggets like this don't get missed.

He also mentioned a "FILESIZE" format mask, which isn't shown in the format popup (you just type it in) and also behaves differently to the API. Values under 1MB returned just numbers to 3 decimal places, and a 10MB file was labeled as 10KB - this was on

The only downside to the API formatting is as per calc_fmt, the ordering is impaired - by ordering on this column you will get results like:

So in my sample results run in APEX SQL Workshop I can see tiny files to progressively larger files - up to an APEX application export of about 1.6 mb & a PDF over 3mb.

Filenames redacted to protect the guilty

Note, this view can't be queried from SQL Developer (or your tool of choice) since the current workspace is part of the view. Martin has an interesting post to get around this sort of thing by defining an APEX session using PL/SQL.


Thursday, 3 July 2014

Thursday Thought - History & Creativity

My sister sent me this video not long after my daughter was born earlier this year - I finally watched it while cleaning up e-mails and I'm glad I did - I highly recommend you all take 2 minutes aside and just let these images of history wash through your brain.

If you think the first half had an air of familiarity, you might be thinking of this video from Carl Sagan - I certainly was.

Now consider this was a project by a 17 year old at high school. This is the kind of creativity technology kids are creating at school now - awesome.

Note in the about section of the video he states he doesn't own rights to the images or song - if you think laws can sometimes strangle creativity then you might be interested in this TED talk by Larry Lessig.

If you like the video, and like the concept of looking back through time as life on this planet evolved - there is a great segment in one of my favourite fiction books that explores this concept - The Light of Other Days, by two science fiction greats Arthur C Clarke & Stephen Baxter.