Some notes about the Windows installer for Grails

This isn’t really a problem, but I don’t think it’s documented anywhere, so I thought I’d record it here.

(And by the way, if your reaction to my Windows-based comments is going to be “why not use something other than Windows,” my answer is (1) at least one of my machines is always running Windows, but more importantly (2) my clients overwhelmingly use Windows in their training rooms, so I can’t get away from it even if I wanted to.)

Like Groovy, the Grails downloads page includes a special installer for Windows. You don’t have to use it — it’s still fine to just download the zip file, unpack it, set the GRAILS_HOME variable and go on, but if you do decide to use the Windows installer you should know that a few details have changed.

First of all, when the installer runs, it creates a different directory structure than that found in the regular zip file. The installer creates a structure like:

… other files ..

which means the GRAILS_HOME variable needs to point to “c:\grails-1.0.2\grails” rather than “c:\grails-1.0.2” as the User Guide says. That also means that if you want to put Grails in your path for all command prompts, you need the “bin” directory under “grails”, not the one under “grails-1.0.2”. Personally, I assigned GRAILS_HOME to “c:\grails-1.0.2\grails” and put “%GRAILS_HOME%\bin” in my path, just be sure.

This also comes up if you’re using the JetGroovy plug-in for IntelliJ IDEA. The plug-in requires you to specify where the root of the Grails distribution is, which again is the “grails” subdirectory.

In principle, a lot of this isn’t even necessary. The installer creates a desktop shortcut called “Grails Environment” which is a configured command prompt. When I fire it up on my machine and check the path, I see that the directories


have all been prepended (i.e., they appear at the beginning, rather than the end) to my path. The first one is very likely just my “%JAVA_HOME%\bin”, which was already in there, but again that’s not really a problem.

The other interesting characteristic about the “Grails Environment” window is that inside it, you don’t need to type the word “grails” in front of each command. You can just type “create-domain-class myclass” or whatever, and it works automatically. The Grails command line interface is already running.

For the create-* commands to work correctly, of course, you need to be in the root of your Grails application. The environment prompt looks like this:


at it starts, which is in the root of the Grails distribution. I needed to change directories to my own application, so after a couple of “cd”s I wound up with


The environment supports all the normal DOS commands, like “dir” or “cd”.

Incidentally, there’s no problem firing up more than one instance of the “Grails Environment”. It creates a separate command window for each case.

There has also been a change to the documentation. In earlier versions, the User Guide (an excellent resource, getting better all the time) was stored in HTML form, and was basically a copy of the documentation found here. Now, using the installer, the documentation has been bundled inside a Windows help file, which has the file extension *.chm.

Finally, the installer adds entries under “Start->All Programs->Grails 1.0.2”. Those entries are:

API Documentation (a link to the included JavaDocs for Grails)
Grails Environment (discussed above)
Grails References (a link to the Windows help file)
Grails Web site (a link to http:\\
Uninstall Grails 1.0.2 (which does what it says)

As with most things in Grails, it’s very forgiving. You can use it, or not. If you prefer the older (or should I say, “classic”?) style, just download the zipped distribution and go from there. If you want the installer to do that extra work for you, that’s fine too. I think, though, that including a README file of some kind containing all this information might be helpful.

Still, I tend to like these sorts of installers. I spend more time running training classes than I do on my own systems doing development, so set-up is an ongoing challenge for me. I’m tempted to tell the person setting up a training room to just download and run the Windows installer and they’re done. I may do that for my upcoming Grails class, but I haven’t quite decided yet.

By the way, Groovy also comes with a Windows installer. I really like that one. It creates the same directory structure that the zip file contains, but it also offers to create a GROOVY_HOME variable and add its “bin” directory to either your path or the system path, installs a native environment (whatever that is, but it sounded good), and downloads and installs optional components like Scriptom and the Graphics environment. Using that one is a no-brainer for me, though I’ve found it to be a bit slow.

I hope this helps someone. The creator of the installer is Chanwit Kaewkasi, who is active on the Grails users list. He was kind enough to answer my questions about it there.


Integration tests of controllers in Grails

The documentation on doing integration tests of controllers is a bit thin. I had to ask on the mailing list about how to do some of the basics, so I thought I’d make a record of the results here.

First of all, Grails distinguishes between unit tests and integration tests, in that integration tests involve functionality from the rest of the Grails environment. Running an integration test is rather like using the Grails console. All the dynamic finders are available, as well as any other properties injected by Grails. In a unit test, all of those items would have to be mocked somehow in order to isolate the class under test.

Chapter 6 of DGG discusses testing. The unit testing section is still pretty good, and there’s a section on using Mocks and Stubs which is interesting but feels a bit dated. I’m really looking forward to seeing the next edition of the book. Rumor has it that that’s already in the works.

The cool part is that according to the wiki, when you run “grails test-app”, Grails automatically injects a MockHttpServletRequest, MockHttpServletResponse, and a MockHttpSession from Spring into each integration test. The details of those classes are found in the API documentation for Spring in the org.springframework.mock.web package.

The example given in the wiki page referenced above shows what to do if controller methods end with either a render or a redirect. It turns out that the test case can use the mocked response property to check the resulting value. The sample there looks like

class FooController {
    def text = { render "bar" }

    def someRedirect = { redirect(action:"bar") }

so that the test case is

class FooControllerTests extends GroovyTestCase {
    void testText() {
        def fc = new FooController()
        assertEquals "bar", fc.response.contentAsString

    void testSomeRedirect() {
        def fc = new FooController()
        assertEquals "/foo/bar", fc.response.redirectedUrl

Those are both interesting, of course, and it’s good that they point to the getContentAsString() and getRedirectedUrl() methods in the MockHttpServletResponse classes. My problem is that since both controller methods are invoked without input parameters, neither example shows how to set them.

Here’s the situation I was trying to test, reduced to trivial form. I have a Message class:

class Message {
    String sender
    String msg

The generated controller has (among other things) a create action that looks like

class MessageController {
    // ... lots of other actions ...
    def create = {
        def message = new Message() = params
        return ['message':message]

So to test the create action, I need to send in some values in the params map.

To make a long story short (too late, I know, but so be it), there are two ways to do it. Here’s the first one:

class MessageControllerTests extends GroovyTestCase {
    void setUp() {
        new Message(sender:'me',msg:'test').save()

    void testCreate() {
        def m = Message.findBySender('me')
        def mc = new MessageController()
        mc.request.parameters = [sender:'me',msg:'test']
        def message = mc.create().message
        assertToString message, "$m"

    void tearDown() {

I needed to create a new message in setUp and save it, so that it would be accessible in my test. At the end I disposed of the message in the tearDown method.

In testCreate, I set the request parameters by invoking the setParameters(Map) method of MockHttpServletRequest. That took me a while to realize — I kept trying to set a “params” variable, since that’s what exists in the controller itself. Of course, from the request point of view, the map is a collection of parameters, not params.

The other approach is to deal with the params map directly by replacing the mc.request.parameters line above with

mc.params.sender = 'me'
mc.params.msg = 'test'

That works too and does essentially the same thing. I think I prefer the setParameters version, because I can see exactly what method is being invoked that way. Still, the difference is probably just a question of style.

(My thanks to Chris Chen,, and Burt Beckwith,, for answering my question on the Grails user’s list.)

Finally, back in March of 2007, Glen Smith (of course) wrote up a nice blog post on unit testing controllers rather than doing integration testing. That relies on mocking the request, response, session, etc. with closures. While it demonstrates an interesting usage of metaprogramming to handle all the mocks, it feels like a lot of overhead to put in for each controller. Graeme himself commented on that and suggested developing a withMockController method for GroovyTestCase that did all the overhead for you. I don’t know if that ever actually happened or not, but it looks promising.

Since the whole Grails environment doesn’t have to be bootstrapped, unit testing with those mocks is inevitably going to be faster.

At the moment, I’m quite content to do integration tests, because I’m partly doing the tests to see how the environment works.

I sometimes feel that writing tests is a lot like brushing your teeth. Dentists will tell you that there are better ways and worse ways to brush, but in all honesty, if you just do it at all you’re way ahead of the game. I’m going to try and follow that philosophy and not worry about doing tests perfectly as long as I’m doing them at all.


Using Groovy to determine Unicode characters

(Technically speaking, this post doesn’t require Groovy. You could do the same thing in Java. Still, as usual, Groovy is easier.)

I’m teaching a Groovy course this week and having a great time doing it. One of the exercises I put together is to create a concordance, which is a map relating individual words to the lines in a file on which they appear. The program is a variation on a similar one shown in Barclay and Savage’s Groovy Programming book, and is a good illustration of how easy it is to work with maps in Groovy.

A concordance needs to be based on some text somewhere, so I decided to use section 8.00 of the Official Rules of Baseball, which deals with the pitcher.

(And even after reading it again, I couldn’t really explain what a balk really is and what it isn’t, but so be it.)

I copied the text from the web page and pasted it into a text file. Then the exercise code reads the file line by line, breaks each line into words, and then adds them as keys to a map where the values are lists of line numbers. It’s a good example of using eachWithIndex, and map.get(word,[]) + 1, and so on. Once we’ve made each line lower case (so that ‘Pitcher’ and ‘pitcher’ are the same) and coerced the list values to Sets in order to eliminate duplicates, we’re pretty close to a reasonable solution.

The passage is filled with punctuation, however. Fortunately, the tokenize() method in String is overloaded to take a String argument representing the delimiters. Most of the delimiters are obvious and no problem at all (i.e., " .,;:()\'\").

It turns out, however, that the passage also includes sections like:

Pitchers are constantly attempting to “beat the rule” in their efforts to hold runners on bases and in cases where the pitcher fails to make a complete “stop” called for in the rules, the umpire should immediately call a “Balk.”

which are using so-called “smart” quotes. They don’t match the double-quotes in my delimiter string. In other places, there are also possessives which use “smart” apostrophes. How can I add those to my delimiters?

What I needed was the Unicode equivalents for the punctuation. If I know the Unicode values, I can add them as hex values to my delimiters string, like \uXXXX.

After some discussions, I decided to parse the entire passage character by character, and add all non-word characters to a map with their Unicode values. The code looks like this:

def delimiters = [:]
def data = new File('pitcherrules.txt').text
data.each { c ->
    def str = Integer.toHexString(c as int)
    if (!(c =~ /\w/)) {
        delimiters[c] = str
println delimiters

It’s pretty straightforward once you know what to look for. Java supplies the Integer.toHexString() method, which takes an int. I read the entire passage into the data variable, then iterated over it, passing each character to the toHexString method. The key was to coerce the character to an int, otherwise I get a MissingMethodException.

I originally had a different expression in the if statement. I was using (c < 'A' || c > 'z') instead. The result included the numbers 0 to 9. By matching against a regular expression consisting of \w, though, I check for all word characters, which is equivalent to [A-Za-z0-9].

The output of the code is

[" ":"20", ":":"3a", ".":"2e", "\r":"d", "\n":"a", ",":"2c",
"(":"28", ")":"29", "’":"2019", "“":"201c", "”":"201d",
"-":"2d", "—":"2014", ";":"3b"]

which tells me that the Unicode values I need are \u2019, \u201c, \u201d, and \u2014.

It’s only a small part of a larger problem, but it’s an easy, useful, interesting script that was probably as much of a learning experience as the original lab. It’s all good. 🙂

Now the real question is how much of this will actually render properly in this blog post.


Turning Java enums into Groovy ranges

It turns out that it’s easy to turn a Java enum into a type that can be used in a Groovy range.

Consider a simple enum representing the seasons:

public enum Season {

Since enums implement the Comparable interface, they have a compareTo() method. Despite that, however, you can’t use an enum with < or > in Java.

// Won't compile in Java
// if (Season.WINTER > Season.FALL) { ... }

In Groovy, though, any class that implements Comparable can be used with < and >:

// Groovy version
assert Season.FALL > Season.WINTER

That works just fine.

Since the enum already implements Comparable, turning it into a Groovy range simply requires adding in a next() and a previous() method. Here’s one way to do that, relying on the ordinal() method in enum, which returns the index of the enum in the overall collection.

public enum Season {

    Season next() {
        Season[] vals = Season.values();
        return vals[(this.ordinal() + 1) % vals.length];

    Season previous() {
        Season[] vals = Season.values();
        return vals[(this.ordinal() - 1 + vals.length) % vals.length];

Now in Groovy you can write:

(Season.WINTER..Season.FALL).each {
    println it

or even

for (s in Season.values()) {
    println (s++)

for (s in Season.values()) {
    println (s--)

To be honest, I’m not sure where I’m ever going to use that capability, but it’s interesting.

(In Java, the EnumSet.range() method returns a collection that can be used in the Java 5 for-each loop:

for (Season s : EnumSet.range(Season.WINTER, Season.FALL) { ... }

but you still can’t use the < or > operators. And the Groovy approach is still simpler.)


Nothing makes you want Groovy more than XML

I’m in Delaware this week teaching a course in Java Web Services using RAD7. The materials include a chapter on basic XML parsing using Java. An exercise at the end of the chapter presented the students with a trivial XML file, similar to:

  <book isbn="1932394842">
    <title>Groovy in Action</title>
    <author>Dierk Koenig</author>
  <book isbn="1590597583">
    <title>Definitive Guide to Grails</title>
    <author>Graeme Rocher</author>
  <book isbn="0978739299">
    <title>Groovy Recipes</title>
    <author>Scott Davis</author>

(with different books, of course) and asked the students to find a book with a particular isbn number and print it’s title and author values.

I sighed and went to work, producing a solution roughly like this:

import javax.xml.parsers.DocumentBuilder;
import javax.xml.parsers.DocumentBuilderFactory;

import org.w3c.dom.Document;
import org.w3c.dom.Element;
import org.w3c.dom.Node;
import org.w3c.dom.NodeList;

public class ParseLibrary {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        DocumentBuilderFactory factory = DocumentBuilderFactory.newInstance();
        Document doc = null;
        try {
            DocumentBuilder builder = factory.newDocumentBuilder();
            doc = builder.parse("books.xml");
        } catch (Exception e) {
        NodeList books = doc.getElementsByTagName("book");
        for (int i = 0; i < books.getLength(); i++) {
            Element book = (Element) books.item(i);
            if (book.getAttribute("isbn").equals("1932394842")) {
                NodeList children = book.getChildNodes();
                for (int j = 0; j < children.getLength(); j++) {
                    Node child = children.item(j);
                    if (child.getNodeType() == Node.ELEMENT_NODE) {
                        if (child.getNodeName().equals("title")) {
                            System.out.println("Title: "
                                + child.getFirstChild().getNodeValue());
                        } else if (child.getNodeName().equals("author")) {
                            System.out.println("Author: "
                                + child.getFirstChild().getNodeValue());

The materials didn’t supply a DTD, so I didn’t have any ID attributes to make it easier to get to the book I wanted. That meant I was reduced to continually using getElementsByTagName(String). I certainly didn’t want to traverse the tree, what with all those whitespace nodes containing the carriage-return/line-feed characters. So I found the book nodes, cast them to Element (because only Elements have attributes), found the book I wanted, got all of its children, found the title and author child elements, then grabbed their text values, remembering to go to the element’s first child before doing so.

What an unsightly mess. The only way to simplify it significantly would be to use a 3rd partly library, which the students didn’t have, and it would still be pretty ugly.

One of the students said, “I kept waiting for you to say, ‘this is the hard way, now for the easy way,’ but you never did.”

I couldn’t resist replying, “well, if I had Groovy available, the whole program reduces to:

def library = new XmlSlurper().parse('books.xml')
def book = library.books.find { it.@isbn == '1932394842' }
println "Title: ${book.title}\nAuthor: ${}"

“and I could probably shorted that if I thought about it. How’s that for easy?”

On the bright side, as a result I may have sold another Groovy course. 🙂 For all of Groovy’s advantages over raw Java (and I keep finding more all the time), nothing sells it to Java developers like dealing with XML.