Running Java Web Applications on Heroku Cedar Stack

Update: Heroku now does support Java.

Heroku does not officially support Java applications yet (yes, it does). However, the most recently launched stack comes with support for Clojure. Well, if Heroku does run Clojure code, it is certainly running a JVM. Then why can we not deploy regular Java code on top of it?

I was playing with it today and found a way to do that. I admit, so far it is just a hack, but it is working fine. The best (?) part is that it should allow any maven-based Java Web Application to be deployed fairly easy. So, if your project can be built with maven, i.e. mvn package generates a WAR package for you, then you are ready to run on the fantastic Heroku Platform as a Service.

Wait. There is more. In these polyglot times, we all know that being able to run Java code means that we are able to run basically anything on top of the JVM. I’ve got a simple Scala (Lift) Web Application running on Heroku, for example.

There are also examples of simple spring-roo and VRaptor web applications. I had a lot of fun coding on that stuff, which finally gave me an opportunity to put my hands on Clojure. There are even two new Leiningen plugins: lein-mvn and lein-herokujetty. 🙂

VRaptor on Heroku

Let me show you what I did with an example. Here is a step-by-step to deploy a VRaptor application on Heroku Celadon Cedar:

  1. Go to Heroku and create an account if you still do not have.
  2. We are going to need some tools. First Heroku gems:
    $ gem install heroku
    $ gem install foreman
  3. Then Leiningen, the clojure project automation tool. On my Mac, I installed it with brew:
    $ brew update
    $ brew install leiningen
  4. The vraptor-scaffold gem, to help us bootstrap a new project:
    $ gem install vraptor

That is it for the preparation. We may now start dealing with the project.

  1. First, we need to create the project skeleton:
    $ vraptor new <project-name> -b mvn
    $ lein new <project-name>
    $ cd <project-name>

    The lein command is not strictly necessary, but it helps with .gitignore and other minor stuff.

  2. Now, the secret sauce. This is the ugly code that actually tries to be smart and tricks Heroku to do additional build/compilation steps:
    $ wget -P src

    Or if you do not have wget installed:

    $ curl -L > src/heroku_autobuild.clj
  3. You also need to tweak the Leiningen project definition – project.clj. The template is here. Please remember to adjust your project name. It must be the same that you are using in the pom.xml. Or you may download it directly if you prefer:
    $ curl -L > project.clj
  4. Unfortunately, Leiningen comes bundled with an old version of the Maven/Ant integration. The embedded maven is currently at version 2.0.8, which is old. The versions of some plugins configured in the default pom.xml from vraptor-scaffold are incompatible with this old version of maven.

    The best way to solve it for now is to remove all <version> tags from items inside the <plugins> section of your pom.xml. This is specific to VRaptor and other frameworks may need different modifications. See below for spring-roo and Lift instructions.

    If even after removing versions from all plugins, you still get ClassNotFoundException: org.apache.maven.toolchain.ToolchainManager errors, try cleaning your local maven repository (the default location is $HOME/.m2/repository). The pom.xml that I used is here.

  5. Now, try the same command that Heroku uses during its slug compilation phase. It should download all dependencies and package your application in a WAR file inside the target directory.
    $ lein deps

    Confirm that the WAR was built into target/. It must have the same name as defined in your project.clj.

  6. Create your Heroku/Foreman Procfile containing the web process definition:
    web: lein herokujetty

    And test with:

    $ foreman start

    A Jetty server should start and listen on a random port defined by foreman. Heroku does the same.

  7. Time to push your application to Heroku. Start editing your .gitignore: add target/ and tmp/, and please remove pom.xml. Important: The pom.xml must not be ignored.
  8. You may also remove some unused files (created by leiningen):
    $ rm -rf src/<project-name>
    # do not remove src/main src/test and src/heroku_autobuild.clj!
  9. Create a git repository:
    $ git init
    $ git add .
    $ git commit -m "initial import"
  10. Push everything to Heroku and (hopefully) watch it get built there!
    $ heroku create --stack cedar
    $ git push -u heroku master
  11. When it ends, open another terminal on the project directory, to follow logs:
    $ heroku logs -t
  12. Open the URL that heroku creates and test the application. You may also spawn more instances and use everything Heroku has to offer:
    $ heroku ps:scale web=2
    $ heroku ps:scale web=4
    $ heroku ps:scale web=0
  13. Quick tip: you do not have SSH access directly to Dynos, but this little trick is very useful to troubleshoot issues and to see how slugs were compiled:
    $ heroku run bash

spring-roo on Heroku

Once you understand the process for a VRaptor application, it should be easy for others as well. Just follow the simple step-by-step here, to create a simple spring-roo maven application.

Then, before running lein deps or foreman start, you must adjust your pom.xml, to remove plugins incompatible with the older mvn that is bundled in Leiningen. Here is the pom.xml that I am using (with some of the plugins downgraded).

You can see my spring-roo application running on Heroku here.

Scala/Lift on Heroku

The same for Scala/Lift: follow the instructions to bootstrap an application with maven. One simple change to the pom.xml is required. My version is here.

You also need to turn off the AUTO_SERVER feature of H2 DB. It makes H2 automatically starts a server process, which binds on a tcp port. Heroku only allows one port bound per process/dyno, and for the web process, it must be the jetty port.

To turn it off, change the database URL inside src/main/scala/bootstrap/liftweb/Boot.scala. I changed mine to a in-memory database. The URL must be something similar to jdbc:h2:mem:<project>.db.

My Lift application is running on Heroku here.

I hope it helps. Official support for Java must be in Heroku’s plans, but even without it yet, we’ve got a lot of possibilities.


Ruby and dependency injection in a dynamic world

It’s been many years I’ve been teaching Java and advocating dependency injection. It makes me design more loosely coupled modules/classes and generally leads to more extensible code.

But, while programming in Ruby and other dynamic languages, the different mindset always intrigued me. Why the reasons that made me love dependency injection in Java and C# don’t seem to apply to dynamic languages? Why am I not using DI frameworks (or writing simple wiring code as I did many times before) in my Ruby projects?

I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and I don’t believe I’m alone.

DI frameworks are unnecessary. In more rigid environments, they have value. In agile environments like Ruby, not so much. The patterns themselves may still be applicable, but beware of falling into the trap of thinking you need a special tool for everything. Ruby is Play-Doh, remember! Let’s keep it that way.

— Jamis Buck

Even being a huge fan of DI frameworks in the Java/C# world (particularly the lightweights), I completely agree with Jamis Buck (read his post, it’s very good!). This is a recurrent subject in talks with really smart programmers I know and I’ve tried to explain my point many times. I guess it’s time to write it down.

The whole point about Dependency Injection is that it is one of the best ways to achieve Inversion of Control for object dependencies. Take the Carpenter object: his responsibility is to make and repair wooden structures.

class Carpenter {
    public void repair(WoodenStructure structure) {
        // ...
    public WoodenStructure make(Specification spec) {
        // ...

Because of his woodwork, the carpenter often needs a saw (dependency). Everytime the carpenter needs the saw, he may go after it (objects who take care of their dependencies on their own).

class Carpenter {
    public void repair(WoodenStructure structure) {
        PowerSource powerSource = findPowerSourceInsideRoom(this.myRoom);
        Saw saw = new ElectricalSaw(powerSource);

        // ok, now I can *finally* do my real job...

The problem is that saws could be complicated to get, to assemble, or even to build. The saw itself may have some dependencies (PowerSource), which in turn may also have some dependencies… Everyone who needs a saw must know where to find it, and potencially how to assemble it. What if saw technology changes and some would rather to use hydraulic saws? Every object who needs saws must then be changed.

When some change requires you to mess with code everywhere, clearly it’s a smell.

Have you also noticed that the carpenter has spent a lot of time doing stuff which isn’t his actual job? Finding power sources and assembling saws aren’t his responsibilities. His job is to repair wooden structures! (Separation of Concerns)

One of the possible solutions is the Inversion of Control principle. Instead of going after their dependencies, objects receive them somehow. Dependency Injection is the most common way:

class Carpenter {
    private Saw saw;
    public Carpenter(Saw saw) {
        this.saw = saw;
    public void repair(WoodenStructure structure) {
        // I can focus on my job!

Now, the code is more testable. In unit tests where you don’t care about testing saws, but only about testing the carpenter, a mock of the saw can be provided (injected in) to the carpenter.

In the application code, you can also centralize and isolate code which decides what saw implementation to use. In other words, you now may be able to give the responsibility to do wiring to someone else (and only to him), so that objects can focus on their actual responsibilities (again Separation of Concerns). DI framework configuration is a good example of wiring centralized somewhere. If the saw implementation changes somehow you have just one place to modify (Factories help but don’t actually solve the problem – I’ll leave this discussion for another post).

class GuyWithResponsibilityToDoWiring {
    public Saw wireSaw() {
        PowerSource powerSource = getPowerSource();
        return new Saw(powerSource);
    public PowerSource getPowerSource() { ... }

Ok. Plain Old Java Dependency Injection so far. But what about Ruby?

Sure you might do dependency injection in Ruby (and its dynamic friends) exactly the same way as we did in Java. But, it took some time for me to realize that there are other ways of doing Inversion of Control in Ruby. That’s why I never needed a DI framework.

First, let’s use a more realistic example: repositories that need database connections:

class Repository {
    private Connection connection;
    public Repository(Connection connection) {
        this.connection = connection;
    public Something find(Integer id) {
        return this.connection.execute("SELECT ...");

Our problem is that many places need a database connection. Then, we inject the database connection as a dependency in everywhere it is needed. This way, we avoid replicating database-connection-retrieval code in such places and we may keep the wiring code centralized somewhere.

In Ruby, there is another way to isolate and centralize common behavior which is needed in many other places. Modules!

module ConnectionProvider
  def connection
    # open a database connection and return it

This module can now be mixed, or injected in other classes, providing them its functionality (wiring). The “module injection” process is to some degree similar to what we did with dependency injection, because when a dependency is injected, it is providing some functionality to the class too.

Together with Ruby open classes, we may be able to centralize/isolate the injection of this module (perhaps even in the same file it is defined):

# connection_provider.rb

module ConnectionProvider
  def connection
    # open a database connection and return it

# reopening the class to mix the module in
class Repository
  include ConnectionProvider

The effect inside the Repository class is very similar to what we did with dependency injection before. Repositories are able to simply use database connections without worrying about how to get or to build them.

Now, the method that provides database connections exists because the ConnectionProvider module was mixed in this class. This is the same as if the dependency was injected (compare with the Java code for this Repository class):

# repository.rb

class Repository
  def find(id)
    connection.execute("SELECT ...")

The code is also very testable. This is due to the fact that Ruby is a dynamic language and the connection method of Repository objects can be overridden anywhere. Particularly inside tests or specs, the connection method can be easily overridden to return a mock of the database connection.

I see it as a different way of doing Inversion of Control. Of course it has its pros and cons. I can tell that it’s simpler (modules are a feature of the Ruby language), but it may give you headaches if you have a multithreaded application and must use different implementations of database connections in different places/threads, i.e. to inject different implementations of the dependency, depending on where and when it’s being injected.

Opening classes and including modules inside them is a global operation and isn’t thread safe (think of many threads trying to include different versions of the module inside the class). I’m not seeing this issue out there because most of Ruby applications aren’t multithreaded and run on many processes instead; mainly because of Rails.

Regular dependency injection still might have its place in Ruby for these cases where plain modules aren’t enough.

IMO, it’s just much harder to justify. In my experience modules and metaprogramming are usually just enough.