Fear Driven Development – Enterprise Induced Worst Practices (part 0)

The Internationalization Antipattern

Some years ago I was still working for Big Time Consulting but I was not even a proper employee. I was a contractor from a company owned by BTC. Well, you figure out the real names. I was sort of an in shore indian developer. We had this huge system built upon Liferay. The system was composed of hundreds of portlets, scattered across tens of WARs. The portal was heavily customized. The language strings for every portlet were all defined in a single Language.properties file at the portal level. That’s right: WARs did not have their own Language file: everything was defined centrally. That meant that if you needed to change the label of a button, you had to modify the portal Language file, build an artifact that belonged to the architectural sector of the system (i.e. it impacted ALL the portlets) and then, once deployed, restart the servers involved in the process.

Nowhere along this path there was an automated test.

As you might imagine, quite often things went wrong. The less severe issue that you could get was the total replacement of the Language strings with their corresponding keys (that was the default behavior in that version of Liferay: if the string was not found, it was simply set to its key). So, after the reboot, everything on every page looked something like “add.user.button.text”, “customer.list.title”, “user.not.found.error.message” and so on. Everywhere. In every single application. The default reaction in the team was “The Strings have been fucked up. Again.”

On the extreme end of the spectrum there was a funny set of poltergeist bugs. Mysterious NoClassDefFoundError, ClassCastException, Liferay showing a bare white page, Liferay showing every graphical component in the wrong place, portlets not deploying, etc…

After being forced to spend a couple of looong evenings to fix this issue (Did I mention that the entire process of compiling, packaging and deploying was excruciatingly long?) I learned my lesson: never mess with the strings again. I decided to apply my personal internationalization antipattern: always include a default value for every string with

LanguageUtil.get(Locale locale, String key, String defaultValue)

and don’t even try to package the architectural artifact (AA, from now on). Just modify and commit the Language file. Then deploy the WAR: the next day the strings magically appear on the screen, and nobody will ever notice that they are hardcoded. Wait until the next release cycle of the AA to have the strings file available. Luckily you won’t be the one needing to deploy it so, if something goes wrong, you can blame someone else and save your evenings.

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