An important lesson in consumer protection (for small businesses owners)

I recently bought a desktop computer from Dell and by the time it arrived I was wondering if it was powerful enough, so, I took it for a spin and found out that my suspicious were correct. It was not powerful enough for my needs. We’ll, no big deal, all I had to do was give them a call to arrange for a return and a refund. Dell told me I had 14 days to return it.

When I started the process they asked me if I bought it as an individual or a business. Well, it was for business and it was paid by my business. I didn’t know it at that point, but that meant that the European Union laws for consumer protection didn’t apply.

The EU has a cool off period on online purchases of 14 days. Within those 14 days you can return an item without having a reason. This is for people, not companies. I was exempt of that protection and the terms of service of Dell is: no returns. I got so used to be able to return whatever I want, that this really surprised me. It was surreal.

Did you notice that Dell return policy is the absolute minimum that the EU requires? 14 days for consumers, no return for businesses. I thought most companies were accepting returns because keeping customers happy it’s good for business. Certainly some are, for example, Amazon never refused a return no matter whether it was a business or personal purchase.

This made me wonder: how many other companies look good because the EU is making them and not because they are good. What will happen when the UK leaves the EU? I bet many of these battles will have to be fought again, some will be lost, some will be won.

After a lot of whining and protesting, Dell accepted to take the computer back, but from now on I’ll think twice about buying things from Dell. Even when buying Dell products.

For example, for my new workstation I need a monitor and my research pointed me to one that Dell offers. If you I went to Dell’s web site, and clicked “For Work”, the monitor was 20% cheater than if I clicked “For Home”. Maybe that’s the cost of accepting returns, maybe it’s just dynamic pricing. Thankfully I found the monitor on Amazon, cheaper than the cheapest price Dell was charging, on prime, so delivery was even faster. I obviously ordered them on Amazon.

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Using Oracle’s JDK in CircleCI (with Gradle)

I’m evaluating re-writing Dashman in Java (instead of Electron). It’s too early to tell, but so far all the experiments and the early re-write are going well and it’s solving the issues I was having with Electron. This short post is about CircleCI.

Because now I’m using common, boring technologies, I decided setting a CI was going to be easy enough that I didn’t mind doing it and I chose CircleCI, mostly because of their free plan.

Sadly, my project didn’t work out of the box. JavaFX was nowhere to be found. The reason was that CircleCI uses OpenJDK instead of the Oracle’s JDK by default. I guess that’s enough for the vast majority of people. Switching to Oracle’s JDK was not hard, but I couldn’t find a straightforward post, so, this is it.

CircleCI gives you a configuration example that contains something like this:

version: 2
        # specify the version you desire here
        - image: circleci/openjdk:8-jdk

I’m not very familiar with Docker and how CircleCI uses, all I know is that it’s a container system for, essentially, operating system images. CircleCI has a repo of Docker images and the one that include’s Oracle’s JDK is called circleci/jdk8. What comes after the colon in the config is the version of the Docker image (I think) which Docker calls tags and for this one, at the time of this writing, there was 0.1.1 but you can easily check the latest one here:

With that in mind, the config should now look like this:

version: 2
        # specify the version you desire here
        - image: circleci/jdk8:0.1.1

And that’s it… well, unless you are using Gradle. That image doesn’t provide Gradle, so, you need to replace all the mentions of gradle with gradlew and use the wrapper that should be part of your repo. But before that will work, you need to make that file executable on the CircleCI server by calling chmod +x gradlew on it. The resulting config file for me looks like this:

# Java Gradle CircleCI 2.0 configuration file
# Check for more details
version: 2
      # specify the version you desire here
      - image: circleci/jdk8:0.1.1

      # Specify service dependencies here if necessary
      # CircleCI maintains a library of pre-built images
      # documented at
      # - image: circleci/postgres:9.4

    working_directory: ~/repo

      # Customize the JVM maximum heap limit
      JVM_OPTS: -Xmx3200m
      TERM: dumb

      - checkout
      - run: chmod +x gradlew

      # Download and cache dependencies
      - restore_cache:
          - v1-dependencies-{{ checksum "build.gradle" }}
          # fallback to using the latest cache if no exact match is found
          - v1-dependencies-

      - run: ./gradlew dependencies

      - save_cache:
            - ~/.m2
          key: v1-dependencies-{{ checksum "build.gradle" }}

      # run tests!
      - run: ./gradlew test

And that’s it, that worked.

Setting (database) credentials on a Spring Boot project, the right way

Searching online for how to set up the credentials to access the database (or any other service) while in development leads to a lot of articles that propose something that works, but it’s wrong: putting your credentials in the file that you then commit to the repository.

The source code repository should not have any credentials, ever:

  • You should be able to make your project open source without your security being compromised.
  • You should be able to add another developer to your team without them knowing any credentials to your own development machine.
  • You should be able to hire a company that does a security analysis of your application, give them access to your source code and they shouldn’t gain access to your database.
  • You should be able to use a continuous integration service offered by a third party without that third party learning your database credentials.

If you want to see what happens when you commit your credentials to your repo, check out these news articles:

That’s probably enough. I hope I convinced you.

In an effort to find a solution for this, I asked in Stack Overflow and I got pointed in the right direction.

Leave where it is, in your resources of code folder, commit it to the repository. Instead, create a new file in ${PROJECT_ROOT}/config/ and also add it to your version control ignore file (.gitignore, .hgignore, etc). That file will contain the credentials and other sensitive data:

# This should be used only for credentials and other local-only config.
spring.datasource.url = jdbc:postgresql://localhost/database
spring.datasource.username = username
spring.datasource.password = password

Then, to help onboard new developers on your project (or yourself in a new computer), add a template for that file, next to it. Something like ${PROJECT_ROOT}/config/ that will contain:

# TODO: copy this to and set the credentials for your database.
# This should be used only for credentials and other local-only config.
spring.datasource.url = jdbc:postgresql://localhost/database
spring.datasource.username = 
spring.datasource.password = 

And voila! No credentials on the repo  but enough information to set them up quickly.

Disclaimer: I’m new to Spring Boot, I only started working with it a few days ago, so, I may be missing something big here. If I learn something new that invalidates this post, I’ll update it accordingly. One thing I’m not entirely sure about is how customary it would be to have ${PROJECT_ROOT}/config/ on the ignore list. Please, leave a comment with any opinions or commentary.

My take on an AJAX re-frame effect handler

There’s already an AJAX re-frame effect handler provided by Day8, the same guy who made re-frame and there’s nothing wrong with it. From the documentation, this is how you use it:

(re-frame/reg-event-fx ::http-post
  (fn [_world [_ val]]
    {:http-xhrio {:method          :post
                  :uri             ""
                  :params          data
                  :format          (ajax/json-request-format)
                  :response-format (ajax/json-response-format {:keywords? true})
                  :on-success      [::good-post-result]
                  :on-failure      [::bad-post-result]}}))

That felt a little to verbose for my taste, so I made my own that you use like this:

(re-frame/reg-event-fx ::http-post
  (fn [_world [_ val]]
    {:ajax {:post            ""
            :params          data
            :on-success      [::good-post-result]
            :on-failure      [::bad-post-result]}}))

If you are familiar with cljs-ajax, you’ll notice the pattern. Day8’s solution uses the raw cljs-ajax API, while I use the higher level one. Day8’s is more versatile, mine is more compact.

This is my solution:

(ns ajax-fx-handler
  (:require [ajax.core :as ajax]
            [re-frame.core :as re-frame]
            [clojure.set :as set]))

(re-frame/reg-fx :ajax
  (fn http-effect [request]
    (let [request-verb (set/intersection #{:get :post :put :patch :delete :head :options :trace :purge}
                                         (set (keys request)))]
      (if (not= 1 (count request-verb))
        (throw (js/Error (str "When specifying an AJAX request, one and only one verb should be specified. Found: " request-verb)))
        (let [request-verb (first request-verb)
              url (get request request-verb)
              request (if (contains? request :on-success)
                        (assoc request :handler #(re-frame/dispatch (conj (:on-success request) %)))
              request (if (contains? request :on-failure)
                        (assoc request :error-handler #(re-frame/dispatch (conj (:on-failure request) %)))
              request (-> request
                          (dissoc request-verb)
                          (dissoc :on-success)
                          (dissoc :on-failure))
              ajax-fn (cond
                        (= request-verb :get) ajax/GET
                        (= request-verb :post) ajax/POST
                        (= request-verb :put) ajax/PUT
                        (= request-verb :patch) ajax/PATCH
                        (= request-verb :delete) ajax/DELETE
                        (= request-verb :head) ajax/HEAD
                        (= request-verb :options) ajax/OPTIONS
                        (= request-verb :trace) ajax/TRACE
                        (= request-verb :purge) ajax/PURGE)]
          (ajax-fn url request))))))

Feel free to use it, but, is it worth releasing it as a library? does anybody want that?

Pre-signed S3 URLs with Clojure and ClojureScript

Dashman uses S3 for storing the encrypted screenshots. They can go directly from the renderer application to S3 and from there to the displayer application as there’s no need for the server application to ever see them. They are end-to-end encrypted anyway.

My needs in this regard were a bit unique. I have a server component that can generate whatever tokens and signatures are needed and then send it to both applications. The applications are written in ClojureScript, so, essentially, JavaScript, but unlike most direct-to-S3 upload solutions, I don’t have a web site with a form, so, I don’t need to fiddle with CORS or forms.

The two libraries

I found two libraries that could have helped me. The big one is amazonica, a Clojure library to interact with AWS. It looks very complete but when I tried to use the function, I got this error:

The authorization mechanism you have provided is not supported. Please use AWS4-HMAC-SHA256.

There are two versions of signatures, version 2 and 4. Version 2 is deprecated, it might or might not work on some data centers but it definitely doesn’t work on all. I refused to believe it at first because I was using very recent version of all libraries, but yup, it was generating version 2 of the signature with signed URLs that look something like this:

Digging further I found this snippet of code:

(System/setProperty SDKGlobalConfiguration/ENFORCE_S3_SIGV4_SYSTEM_PROPERTY "true")

But for me, it made no difference in my case. For the record I reported the issue and it is supposed to work, but it doesn’t for me.

Then there’s s3-beam, that looked promising, but it seems targeted towards forms, not just plain PUT requests from the clients. On top of that, I didn’t want to mess with async, I didn’t need it and it would be over-engineering for my case. Lastly, it uses it’s own custom way of creating the signatures instead of Amazon’s SDK and that code looks like it’s generating the old signatures (sha1 instead of sha256). I ended up not even trying it.

Instead, I decided to do my own custom option, which was not hard and worked straight away. This post is about sharing that code.

Custom solution using the AWS Java SDK

Starting on the server/Clojure side of things, I added the dependency:

[com.amazonaws/aws-java-sdk "1.11.126"]

With only that I was getting this unexpected error when trying to use the AWS SDK:

ERROR com.fasterxml.jackson.databind.ObjectMapper.enable([Lcom/fasterxml/jackson/core/JsonParser$Feature;)Lcom/fasterxml/jackson/databind/ObjectMapper;
java.lang.NoSuchMethodError: com.fasterxml.jackson.databind.ObjectMapper.enable([Lcom/fasterxml/jackson/core/JsonParser$Feature;)Lcom/fasterxml/jackson/databind/ObjectMapper;
ERROR Could not initialize class com.amazonaws.partitions.PartitionsLoader
which I resolved by adding these other dependencies as well (mostly about getting the latest version):
[com.fasterxml.jackson.core/jackson-core "2.8.8"]
[com.fasterxml.jackson.core/jackson-databind "2.8.8"]
[com.fasterxml.jackson.core/jackson-annotations "2.8.8"]

I wrote a function to generate the S3 client:

(defn aws-s3-client []
  (let [region (Regions/fromName (config/env :aws-s3-region))
        credentials (BasicAWSCredentials. (config/env :aws-access-key-id)
                                          (config/env :aws-secret-access-key))]
    (-> (AmazonS3ClientBuilder/standard)
        (.withRegion region)
        (.withCredentials (AWSStaticCredentialsProvider. credentials))

config/env just fetches configuration values, powered by cprop and mount. This is just standard stuff from Luminus. With

(defn- pre-signed-url [key & [verb]]
  (let [expiration (tc/to-date (-> 24 t/hours t/from-now))
        generate-presigned-url-request (doto (GeneratePresignedUrlRequest. (config/env :aws-s3-bucket-name) key)
                                         (.setMethod (if (= verb :put)
                                         (.setExpiration expiration))]
    (.toString (.generatePresignedUrl (aws-s3-client) generate-presigned-url-request))))

The function generates either a URL for reading, :get, or for writing, :put, depending on the parameter verb. key is just the path part of the URL (remember, S3 is actually a key/value storage). All URLs will last for 24hs, something you can tweak as well.

And that’s it, generating the URL is done, now we have to use it.

Reading and writing from ClojureScript

If you have a form, then, you might need to deal with CORS and other issues. I suggest you look at s3-beam at least for inspiration. For me, it was just a matter of generating the requests from the ClojureScript app, which uses cljs-ajax. Reading was straightforward enough:

(ajax/GET get-url
          {:handler (fn [value]
                      (do-something value))})

although the handler might have to deal with encoding issues. Writing is similar, but again, you may need to fiddle with encoding issues. Since what I was sending is a JSON payload (an encrypted screenshot), this worked for me:

(ajax/PUT put-url 
          {:format :json
           :params payload})

If you are uploading binary data, I recommend you play with :format :raw and the :body attribute.

How to work with a private library in ClojureScript

Dashman is composed of many components  including three desktop apps written in ClojureScript using Electron that share code through a private library (as in, it’s not open source).

To have continuous integration and a set up that is easy to boostrap, that library should be deployed to a private repository. I achieved that using the plug in s3-wagon-private so that the project.clj of the common library looks like this:

:repositories [["private" {:url           "s3p://s3-bucket-for-my-project/releases/"
                           :username      "not-telling-you"
                           :passphrase    "not-telling-you-either"
                           :sign-releases false}]]

:plugins [;...
          [s3-wagon-private "1.3.0"]]

You should never have production or even staging credentials on your source code repository; but those credentials are neither. They allow to compile the project so, pretty much everybody that has access to the source code also needs access to that private repository. Having them in project.clj simplifies CI, on-boarding developers, etc.

One you have that you can deploy the library by executing:

lein deploy private

The project of the apps using the common library look similar:

:repositories [["private" {:url           "s3p://s3-bucket-for-my-project/releases/"
                           :username      "not-telling-you"
                           :passphrase    "not-telling-you-either"
                           :sign-releases false}]]
:dependencies [;...
               [tech.dashman/clientcommon "0.1.0-SNAPSHOT"]]

:plugins [;...
          [s3-wagon-private "1.3.0"]]

Yes… very similar.

The next issue is compiling and re-loading code. You could modify the common library, install it, re-compile the apps, and re-run the apps. And you could do it while wearing a mullet and watching MacGyver (the original one). This is not the 80s! You want code reloading and all the goodies.

If you are using Clojure, you should look into checkouts and maybe lein-checkout. In ClojureScript you can just add the path of the source code to your project even if it’s outside the project, with one gotcha. You might be used to a config like this:

:cljsbuild {:builds {:app {:source-paths ["src/app"]}}}

which would imply this might work:

:cljsbuild {:builds {:app {:source-paths ["src/app" "../clientcommon/src"]}}}

It might on non-Windows platforms, on Windows it doesn’t. On Windows you want this:

:cljsbuild {:builds {:app {:source-paths ["src/app" "..\\clientcommon\\src"]}}}

Since you should probably never commit that anyway, it’s not a big deal.