apache > cocoon

Creating and Using Actions

The Actions

What is an Action?

Apache Cocoon has a rich set of tools for publishing web documents, and while XSP and Generators provide alot of functionality, they still mix content and logic to a certain degree. The Action was created to fill that gap. Because the Cocoon Sitemap provides a mechanism to select the pipeline at run time, we surmised that sometimes we need to adjust the pipeline based on runtime parameters or even the contents of the Request parameter. Without the use of Actions this would make the sitemap almost incomprehensible.

The quick and dirty definition of an Action is "a Sitemap Component that manipulates runtime parameters". Actions must be ThreadSafe and they can be as complex as you need. The Action is the proper place to handle form processing and even dynamic navigation. The Action is differentiated from the other sitemap components (Generator, Transformer, Serializer and Reader) primarily by the fact that it does not produce any display data. actions.txt contains excerpts from discussions on the cocoon-dev mailing list regarding Actions.

When to use an Action instead of XSP

Sometimes it is going to be quicker for you to create and handle logic in XSP, because Cocoon recognizes if there have been any changes. However, many times it is more desirable to have a separation between the logic and the display. For instance, we will use a multipage form. In XSP the logic to handle the results for one page have to be implemented in the following page.

  // handle the previous page's values.
  String name = <xsp-request:get-parameter name="name"/>;
  String password = <xsp-request:get-parameter name="password"/>;
  int userid;

      <esql:query>SELECT userid FROM users
        WHERE name=<esql:parameter>name</esql:parameter>
        AND password=<esql:parameter>password</esql:parameter></esql:query>
          userid = <esql:get-int column="userid"/>
          <xsp-response:send-redirect url="/home"/>

This can get very messy, as you will invariably have alot of processing for things that don't even belong in the context of this page. When you come back later to add features or someone else starts to maintain the code, you have a mess on your hands.

The alternative is to use Actions. Actions handle the pure logic handling portions of your site. This allows you to create each page in the multipage form to handle any logic it needs to for display purposes only. Your form handling information is kept separate and can even predictably change the pipeline used in the sitemap.

Actions at Work

Actions are components that allow two way communication between the Sitemap and the Action. This section describes how to define them in the sitemap and create one in real life. We are going to write an Action that is our version of "Hello World".

The problem domain is this: we "need" a component that will create an HTTP request parameter named "hello" with a value of "world" and it will create a sitemap parameter named "world" with a value of "hello". Why? So we can show you the two manners in which the Action can be used and let your imagination go from there.

Creating the Action

There is nothing like a little sample code to get your feet wet. We are performing something very simple here, but you can get more complex examples from the Cocoon code-base.

package test;

import org.apache.avalon.framework.parameters.Parameters;
import org.apache.cocoon.acting.AbstractAction;
import java.util.Map;
import java.util.HashMap;
import org.apache.cocoon.environment.ObjectModelHelper;
import org.apache.cocoon.environment.Redirector;
import org.apache.cocoon.environment.Request;
import org.apache.cocoon.environment.SourceResolver;
import org.xml.sax.EntityResolver;

public class HelloWorldAction extends AbstractAction {
  public Map act (Redirector redirector, 
                  SourceResolver resolver, 
                  Map objectModel, 
                  String source, 
                  Parameters params) {
    Map sitemapParams = new HashMap();
    sitemapParams.put("world", "hello");

    Request request = ObjectModelHelper.getRequest(objectModel);

    request.setAttribute("hello", "world");

    return sitemapParams;

Using the Action

In order to use the Action we just created, we need to define it in the sitemap. After it has been defined, we must use it in the sitemap.

Defining the Action

  <map:action name="hello-world" src="test.HelloWorldAction"/>

Using the Action

<map:match pattern="file">
  <map:act type="hello-world">
    <map:generate type="serverpages" src="{world}_world.xsp"/>

Using this approach, we will generate the file named hello_world.xsp because the value of the Sitemap parameter {world} is hello. Also, the file hello_world.xsp can use the request attribute hello to produce the value world.

<para>Hello <xsp-request:get-attribute name="hello"/>.</para>

Communication between Sitemap and Action

As stated previously there is a two way communication between the Sitemap and the Action. The Sitemap can pass the parameters and the source attribute to the Action and the Action can return a Map object with new values which can be used in the sitemap.

<map:match pattern="file">
  <map:act type="hello-world" src="optional src">
    <!-- and here come the parameters: -->
    <map:parameter name="first parameter" value="test"/>

    <map:generate type="serverpages" src="{world}_world.xsp"/>

This Map object does not replace the previous Map object, but is stacked on top of it. The other Map objects are still accessible through a path expression.

<map:match pattern="*">
  <map:act type="validate-session">
    <map:generate type="serverpages" src="{../1}.xsp"/>

The above example shows how to access the next to last map by prefixing the key with ../.

Flow Control

In addition to delivering values to the Sitemap, the Action can also control the flow. If the action returns null all statements inside the map:act element are not executed. So, if in the example above the hello world action would return null the server page generator would not be activated.

In other words: The statements within the map:act element are only executed if the action returns at least an empty Map object.

Action Sets

You can arrange actions in an action set. The sitemap calls the act method of those actions in the sequence they are defined in the action set. It is possible to signal to the sitemap to call an action only if the Environment's getAction method returns a String identical to the value supplied with an action attribute. In the current implementation of the HttpEnvironment the value returned by the getAction method is determined by a http request parameter. The Environment looks for a request parameter with a prefix "cocoon-action-" followed by an action name.

<input type="submit" name="cocoon-action-ACTIONNAME" value="click here to do something">
The orginal "cocoon-action" syntax is deprecated but still supported!

Above we have seen that a successfully executed action returns a Map object that can be used to communicate with the sitemap. In case of an action set this is similar. With action sets all returned Map objects are merged into a single Map. Of course a Map can contain only one value per key so that if multiple actions within an action set use the same key to communicate to the sitemap, only the last one "survives".

So far let's have a look at at possible action set definition:

  <map:action-set name="shop-actions">
    <map:act type="session-invalidator" action="logoff"/>
    <map:act type="session-validator"/>
    <map:act type="cart-add" action="addItem"/>
    <map:act type="cart-remove" action="removeItem"/>
    <map:act type="cart-remove-all" action="removeAll"/>
    <map:act type="cart-update" action="updateQty"/>
    <map:act type="order-add" action="addOrder"/>
    <map:act type="order-verify" action="verifyOrder"/>
    <map:act type="screen-navigator" src="{1}"/>

And this is a possible pipeline snipped which uses this action set:

   <map:match pattern="*">
    <map:act set="shop-actions">     <--- HERE -->
     <map:generate  type="serverpages" src="docs/xsp/{nextpage}.xsp"/>
     <map:transform src="stylesheets/page2html.xsl"/>
     <map:serialize type="html"/>

Let me explain some of those actions in the set first.

The "session-invalidator" action gets called when an action of logoff is requested (ie. a html submit button named "cocoon-action-logoff" was pressed).

The "session-validator" action is called on every request. It assures that an http session is created and available to the other sitemap components (other actions and xsp pages selected for resource production).

The other actions in the set with an action attribute do specific things like adding an item to the cart, removing one or all items from the cart, etc. They are called depending on the value returned by the getAction method of the HttpEnvironment object passed to the sitemap engine as described above (see "session-invalidator" action).

The screen-navigation action is always called because it has knowledge about the flow/sequence of pages and it knows how/where the preceding actions stores their execution status (ie. as an request attribute). Depending on those stati the screen-navigation action sets up a Map with an element called "nextpage" with the value of the page that produces the next "view".

However, one is not limited to specify distinct values at the action attribute. It is possible and I think useful to mark several actions with the same action attribute value which will then be called in sequence. This allows you to choose a granularity of your actions at will.