Eclipse Authors: David H Deans, Liz McMillan, JP Morgenthal, Mano Marks, Yeshim Deniz

Related Topics: Eclipse, Java IoT

Eclipse: Article

Lockdown My Tool Stack? You’re Kidding, Right?

Eclipse gives developers the option and ability to create a development environment that is suited to their needs

Eclipse Platform on Ulitzer

When I first started asking Eclipse developers about provisioning and lockdown - do we need it, what did they think about it, etc. - several things became clear very quickly. First, there are two distinct camps - people who manage people using Eclipse and people who use Eclipse. The people who manage developers and projects using Eclipse expressed great interest in being able to manage the Eclipse tool stack running on the developers' desktops. On the other hand, the developers actually using Eclipse expressed not just a lack of interest, but an actual dislike and resentment for anyone having control or lockdown of their Eclipse configuration.

The second observation, which is really derived from the first, is that using the term "lockdown" when talking to developers about provisioning and managing an Eclipse tool stack is certain to alienate many developers. In fact, when asked what he thought about locking down his Eclipse environment, one developer responded, "That would really, really [make me angry]. I can't imagine anyone who uses Eclipse actually being happy about that."

Furthermore, most developers would quickly point out, almost as though issuing a challenge, it is nearly impossible to completely lockdown an installation and prevent a user from adding, removing or updating plug-ins from their Eclipse environment.

In the interest of getting you to read past the first few paragraphs of this article, let me be very clear, this article is not about Eclipse lockdown. I have no persuasive arguments, customer data, analyst research, or even anecdotal evidence that suggests anyone really, truly wants to create a tool stack based on Eclipse and then have it cast in stone never to change again. This article is, however, about provisioning, managing, and maintaining the integrity of an installed Eclipse-based development environment.

Coincidently, the same developer mentioned earlier went on to say this about lockdown, "I could see it being a useful capability to set a baseline within a company. Providing managed, certified builds and a central repository for them - cool idea... but really you can do the same thing from a Wiki". And that is really the point here. Even the act of posting information to a Wiki can be problematic. Why not take it a step further and just make it possible to capture and upload/download the profile directly from the development environment?

For our purposes, let's define the notion of a development environment to include:

  • The Eclipse-based tool stack
    -The base IDE (Eclipse, JBuilder, MyEclipse, IBM RAD, etc.)
    -All additional Eclipse add-ons (Subversive, Mylyn, etc.)
    -All selected add-ons (commercial, open source, internal, third-party, etc.)
  • Relevant projects in the workspace
  • Including versions, branches and working sets
    -Workspace preferences
  • Source code formatting and style preferences
    -Boilerplate copyright notice comments
    -Other company standards

One of the biggest challenges faced by many organizations that use an Eclipse-based tool stack as part of their software development process is how to deal with the growing number of variants of "the standard development environment" that show up within their development teams. One of the greatest strengths and benefits of Eclipse is that it gives developers the option and ability to create a development environment that is perfectly suited to their needs. If you are a team of one this rarely causes an issue, although there is still a case to be made for provisioning even for one person, but more on that later.

What happens when you are part of a team working on a project, and you update a plug-in because you found a newer version that fixes a bug, or you change a workspace property to point to a different JRE than everyone else is using? Yes, you could send out an email or post something on the project Wiki. More often then not once you have something working, which usually means you were distracted from your main development task to begin with, you just go back to what you were doing and ultimately forget to share this information or knowledge with your team members. Eventually, they'll stumble across the same issue with the plug-in you already dealt with, and have to repeat all the work you've already done to find the updated plug-in, install it, verify that it works in your environment, and then hopefully remember to tell the other developers so that this pattern isn't repeated across the team.

There's got to be a better way. What is really needed is a solution that provides centralized management of these configurations including creating, updating, validating, synchronizing and, most important, sharing of profiles. Think of it as a provisioning cloud - either public or private - for your Eclipse-based tools. Now, I'm sure many of you are thinking, "Doesn't Eclipse already provide provisioning with Equinox/p2 or even Buckminster?" and the short answer is "it depends on how you define provisioning." Some things to consider are how much of the stack and development environment can be provisioned by the system, what granularity does the provisioning system support, can you update or version provisioned profiles, does the provisioning system support incremental (e.g., deltas) updates or only complete reinstalls, can you create your own profiles or are you limited to a set of predefined profiles, and so on.

Some examples of open source and commercial provisioning solutions available today are Eclipse Equinox/p2, Eclipse Buckminster, Genuitec Pulse, EclipseSource Yoxos, and OpenLogic Exchange (OLEX). While each of these tools positions themselves as a way to provision Eclipse, it is clear that they all do something very different. Common differences include what is being provisioned, how it is provisioned, and the extent the user can update or manage provisioned profiles. For instance, Equinox/p2 is targeted at refreshing the client-side provisioning infrastructure in Eclipse and replaces the Update Manager as a mechanism for managing your Eclipse install, searching for updates, and installing new functionality. Buckminster on the other hand is a set of frameworks and tools for automating the build, assemble & deploy (BA&D) development processes in complex or distributed component-based development. Pulse, Yoxos, and OLEX offer verified or certified Eclipse plug-in bundles. In short, each system has its own bells and whistles.

I think it is worth mentioning that even with the improvements that have been made with p2, and there have been many, there are still some limitations. According to the Equinox p2 Getting Started Wiki page, if you manually remove a plug-in installed by p2, or attempt to replace it with a different version, p2 will not detect this and may end up broken. This issue is partially overcome with the new drop-ins folder that is more powerful and allows separation of content managed by p2 from content managed by other means. However, this just means there is another directory of content that has to be managed by someone, somewhere, somehow if that content is to be shared with the development team.

At this point you're probably asking yourself, so what does it take to make a good provisioning system? I think we can safely assume and agree that there are already solutions available that provide a way to create an initial tool stack comprised of certified, validated bundles. What we really want to focus on is how to create a snapshot of a defined development environment including both the complete tool stack and workspaces that can then be easily managed, maintained and shared with other members of the development team. Here are some key capabilities to look for when considering such a provisioning solution:

Quick and Easy Eclipse Installation
A designated person typically spends days downloading, installing, configuring, and testing different combinations/versions of the Eclipse IDE and additional plug-ins from multiple sources (open source, proprietary, internal). Once he or she gets all the ducks to line up, they produce a Wiki page documenting the procedure so that it can be replicated by the entire team.

Having a quick and easy way to capture the certified configuration and then make it available to others as a single pre-packaged install eliminates the redundancy of each person doing this work by hand and minimizes the chance for error.

Quick and Easy Workspace Provisioning
After you install your IDE, the next step is to set up your workspace. The workspace setup typically includes:

  • Workspace preferences: CheckStyle, company copyrights, etc.
  • Workspace content: The projects you need to check out from source control into the workspace, the versions and branches you need, etc.

When done manually, workspace setup is error-prone and time-consuming. The steps are posted in a document on the Wiki and every new developer is pointed to that document.

Even in the best-case scenario where the Wiki is actually kept up-to-date, the setup may take hours. If you misread or skip a step, then it takes much longer and you are very likely to go ask for help from a team mate resulting in more time lost.

Here again having a simple, automated way to capture the workspace settings and properties and then make it available from a central repository means reducing setup time and eliminating error-prone manual steps.

Automatically Detect Out-of-Date Workspace / Maintain Workspace Currency
As time goes on, the workspace content inevitably changes. Plug-ins, dependencies or preferences are added, removed or modified regularly. Even in the ideal world where the Wiki instructions are kept up-to-date and e-mail notifications are sent out regularly by the team, you can still easily fall behind by not keeping up with the latest changes. When you come back to work after a week of vacation, it is not uncommon to see that your workspace does not compile anymore. You try to get out of the broken state by doing incremental updates. Sometimes that works, other times it doesn't. You decide after a few hours of tinkering that starting over from scratch may be the only viable option left, so you spend half a day doing it.

If the development environment could detect or recognize when a workspace was out of date based on an established baseline, present the user with the differences and then allow him to easily reconcile those differences without having to manually compare plug-in by plug-in, workspace property by workspace property there would he a significant time savings.

Maintain the Integrity of the Tool Stack and Workspace
In an Eclipse-based product where all the plug-ins are integrated seamlessly, a single bad plug-in can destabilize the entire product by making it crash (e.g. memory hogs/system resources leakers) or become sluggish.

An unstable configuration therefore results in costly downtime.

Similarly, to ensure code consistency, companies typically have standard CheckStyle settings, company copyrights, compiler warning levels, JDK version, etc., that every developer must use. Deviations typically cause build breakage, resulting in more downtime.

Being able to maintain the integrity of the configuration and provide developers with a well-defined, well-tested configuration which can only be altered under certain circumstances could save companies and developers significant time, which in turn results in cost savings.

Extended Plug-in Configuration
Experimentation is good. If a developer independently searches for and finds a well-behaved plug-in that helps increase his productivity, he would want to share this plug-in with the rest of his team. But first, the plug-in should be evaluated by an administrator or someone overseeing the project before it gets added to a profile and deployed to the rest of the developers.

Having a mechanism in place for the developer to nominate a plug-in for inclusion and prompt the admin for evaluation would be extremely beneficial. Upon approval, the approved plug-in then gets deployed to the rest of the team.

Statistics and Reporting
Providing data on which profiles are being used and by how many users, what updates are made to each profile and how frequently, and other such statistics can he useful to managers and administrators.

Before concluding I wanted to come back to that "team of one" idea I mentioned earlier. I would submit that even as an individual developer you could realize substantial benefit from a provisioning solution to help manage and maintain either different tool stack configurations or different workspace configurations. Having the ability to install and test new plug-ins or new versions of plug-ins during development, or change workspace settings for testing purposes, and then quickly rollback to a baseline configuration can save hours of having to manually undo all the changes.

So where does this leave us? Certainly there is much more discussion that should and will take place around the concept of Eclipse provisioning. One of the biggest benefits of the Eclipse framework has led to one of biggest challenges, but also to some incredible opportunities. Software vendors such as Embarcadero Technologies and others are working on Eclipse provisioning solutions that will offer managers, administrators, development teams, or even individual developers the ability to centrally manage, validate, synchronize and share their tool stack and workspace profiles. By marrying together ideas and technologies from application provisioning, SaaS, and cloud computing there promises to be some exciting advancements in this area. Solutions that will help you create, maintain and share profiles of a known, trusted development environment without giving up the flexibility to modify and evolve the environment as necessary. It short - without locking it down.

More Stories By Jeff Anders

Jeff Anders is Senior Director of Product Marketing at Embarcadero Technologies. He is responsible for both the product marketing and product management efforts of Embarcadero’s Java products which includes JBuilder as well as for the overall product direction, creation and placement of messaging and communications, overall go-to-market strategies, and partner management related to these products. Prior to joining Embarcadero he was with SAP as a Director in the Platform Solution Marketing group. Jeff’s academic credentials include a BA in Mathematics from West Chester University, and an MS in Computer Science from Villanova University.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
21st International Cloud Expo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Me...
Recently, WebRTC has a lot of eyes from market. The use cases of WebRTC are expanding - video chat, online education, online health care etc. Not only for human-to-human communication, but also IoT use cases such as machine to human use cases can be seen recently. One of the typical use-case is remote camera monitoring. With WebRTC, people can have interoperability and flexibility for deploying monitoring service. However, the benefit of WebRTC for IoT is not only its convenience and interopera...
WebRTC is great technology to build your own communication tools. It will be even more exciting experience it with advanced devices, such as a 360 Camera, 360 microphone, and a depth sensor camera. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Masashi Ganeko, a manager at INFOCOM Corporation, will introduce two experimental projects from his team and what they learned from them. "Shotoku Tamago" uses the robot audition software HARK to track speakers in 360 video of a remote party. "Virtual Teleport" uses a...
When shopping for a new data processing platform for IoT solutions, many development teams want to be able to test-drive options before making a choice. Yet when evaluating an IoT solution, it’s simply not feasible to do so at scale with physical devices. Building a sensor simulator is the next best choice; however, generating a realistic simulation at very high TPS with ease of configurability is a formidable challenge. When dealing with multiple application or transport protocols, you would be...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Secure Channels, a cybersecurity firm, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Secure Channels, Inc. offers several products and solutions to its many clients, helping them protect critical data from being compromised and access to computer networks from the unauthorized. The company develops comprehensive data encryption security strategie...
SYS-CON Events announced today that App2Cloud will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. App2Cloud is an online Platform, specializing in migrating legacy applications to any Cloud Providers (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud).
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
Internet-of-Things discussions can end up either going down the consumer gadget rabbit hole or focused on the sort of data logging that industrial manufacturers have been doing forever. However, in fact, companies today are already using IoT data both to optimize their operational technology and to improve the experience of customer interactions in novel ways. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Gordon Haff, Red Hat Technology Evangelist, shared examples from a wide range of industries – including en...
Detecting internal user threats in the Big Data eco-system is challenging and cumbersome. Many organizations monitor internal usage of the Big Data eco-system using a set of alerts. This is not a scalable process given the increase in the number of alerts with the accelerating growth in data volume and user base. Organizations are increasingly leveraging machine learning to monitor only those data elements that are sensitive and critical, autonomously establish monitoring policies, and to detect...
To get the most out of their data, successful companies are not focusing on queries and data lakes, they are actively integrating analytics into their operations with a data-first application development approach. Real-time adjustments to improve revenues, reduce costs, or mitigate risk rely on applications that minimize latency on a variety of data sources. Jack Norris reviews best practices to show how companies develop, deploy, and dynamically update these applications and how this data-first...
Intelligent Automation is now one of the key business imperatives for CIOs and CISOs impacting all areas of business today. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Brian Boeggeman, VP Alliances & Partnerships at Ayehu, will talk about how business value is created and delivered through intelligent automation to today’s enterprises. The open ecosystem platform approach toward Intelligent Automation that Ayehu delivers to the market is core to enabling the creation of the self-driving enterprise.
"We're a cybersecurity firm that specializes in engineering security solutions both at the software and hardware level. Security cannot be an after-the-fact afterthought, which is what it's become," stated Richard Blech, Chief Executive Officer at Secure Channels, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Consumers increasingly expect their electronic "things" to be connected to smart phones, tablets and the Internet. When that thing happens to be a medical device, the risks and benefits of connectivity must be carefully weighed. Once the decision is made that connecting the device is beneficial, medical device manufacturers must design their products to maintain patient safety and prevent compromised personal health information in the face of cybersecurity threats. In his session at @ThingsExpo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Massive Networks mission is simple. To help your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions. Improve your customer's experience with outstanding connections to your cloud.
The question before companies today is not whether to become intelligent, it’s a question of how and how fast. The key is to adopt and deploy an intelligent application strategy while simultaneously preparing to scale that intelligence. In her session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sangeeta Chakraborty, Chief Customer Officer at Ayasdi, will provide a tactical framework to become a truly intelligent enterprise, including how to identify the right applications for AI, how to build a Center of Excellence to ...
From 2013, NTT Communications has been providing cPaaS service, SkyWay. Its customer’s expectations for leveraging WebRTC technology are not only typical real-time communication use cases such as Web conference, remote education, but also IoT use cases such as remote camera monitoring, smart-glass, and robotic. Because of this, NTT Communications has numerous IoT business use-cases that its customers are developing on top of PaaS. WebRTC will lead IoT businesses to be more innovative and address...
Everything run by electricity will eventually be connected to the Internet. Get ahead of the Internet of Things revolution and join Akvelon expert and IoT industry leader, Sergey Grebnov, in his session at @ThingsExpo, for an educational dive into the world of managing your home, workplace and all the devices they contain with the power of machine-based AI and intelligent Bot services for a completely streamlined experience.
Because IoT devices are deployed in mission-critical environments more than ever before, it’s increasingly imperative they be truly smart. IoT sensors simply stockpiling data isn’t useful. IoT must be artificially and naturally intelligent in order to provide more value In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Crupi, Vice President and Engineering System Architect at Greenwave Systems, will discuss how IoT artificial intelligence (AI) can be carried out via edge analytics and machine learning techn...
SYS-CON Events announced today that GrapeUp, the leading provider of rapid product development at the speed of business, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Grape Up is a software company, specialized in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market acr...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...