Saturday, November 11, 2006

Centralized Configuration Management for JBoss

NOTE 12-MAY-2009: This particular post is driving a lot of traffic on my blog. Even if the JBoss Properties Service is still worth using, nowadays, I would not advocate the management of properties in SVN, as it is problematic security wise and requires the need of an HA repository. I would rather embed default properties values in my project and allow the overriding of some values (passwords...) via a simple file created in a well known location on the server.

Managing configuration of application servers and the applications they host in a centralized and rationalized way is a requirement for any corporate doing its own hosting. Not only configuration differs between server instances and the applications they host but also between the different environments they exist in (ie. development, integration, QA, pre-production and production).

JBoss 4 user guide shows how to leverage the Service Binding Manager to handle server configuration in a central way. This is a great approach but I think we can go further by leveraging Java system properties in conjunction with two other features of the server: the Properties Service and the fact that JBoss parses all XML configuration files (including J2EE deployment descriptors) and resolves ${references} to system properties. Moreover, if you use the Spring Framework in your application, you can also leverage its PropertyPlaceholderConfigurer to retrieve configuration information from Java system properties.

As shown above, the main idea is to store configuration information as properties files in a Subversion repository and have the different JBoss Application Server retrieve these configurations through HTTP and thanks to this kind of configuration of the Properties Service (in properties-service.xml):

These system properties will then be loaded at JBoss startup time (or on any modification, like a touch, of the properties-service.xml file) and will be available for use in many different places like:

  • XML server configuration files that configure ports and host names (for web server, invokers, JNDI tree...),

  • J2EE deployment descriptors to avoid hardcoding of parameters (like user name and password used to connect an MDB to a remote JMS destination),

  • application parameters provided they are read from Java system properties (which is easy and nice to do if you use Spring).
Of course, there should be a way to find the right configuration in the SVN repository. As you surely have noticed it in the previous configuration fragment, since the Properties Service is configured by an XML that is parsed, it is possible to use a system property to configure it (now this is eating your own dog food!). The system property used to select the proper configuration can be either ad hoc (a custom one added in the startup script or run.conf of the particular JBoss instance) or standardized (for example, if each JBoss instance is run with a specific user, the system property can then be

Another interesting feature of the Properties Service to leverage is the fact you can provide a list of URLs: all the properties will be loaded from these URLs, the latest ones having the precedence on the first ones. This can be used to organize configuration in a hierarchy, with global settings, server specific settings and application level settings loaded from a common place and mixed together in the Java system properties. Here is an example of such a configuration:

As you can see, not only is JBoss a versatile application server, but it is also an extremely configurable one that can be easily tuned to fit the needs of large companies with complex deployment constraints.