As a software architect, some of my most interesting work doesn’t deliver any additional functionality to end-users, but reorganizes the architecture to make great things possible in future. Since mondrian is an open source project, those great things will, likely as not, be dreamt up by someone else; my job as leader of the mondrian project is to reorganize things to make that possible.

Case in point, my recent check in, change 13929. It contains three new pieces of functionality.

Make mondrian’s XMLA server run off the olap4j API

Mondrian’s legacy API (mondrian.olap.Connection, etc.) has been deprecated for some time; olap4j is the official API by which applications should speak to mondrian. Mondrian’s XMLA server, that takes incoming SOAP requests over HTTP to execute queries or retrieve metadata, processes them using mondrian, and returns the results as SOAP or JSON over HTTP, has not used the olap4j API until now.

As part of this change, I converted the XMLA server to use olap4j. In the process, I achieved some beneficial side effects. First, I discovered and fixed a few bugs in mondrian’s olap4j driver; this will make the olap4j driver more stable for everyone.

Second, I discovered a few essential pieces of metadata that the olap4j API does not return. I have not yet extended olap4j to include them: that may happen as we move towards olap4j 1.1 or olap4j 2.0, if they make sense for other olap4j stakeholders. I created the XmlaExtra interface as a loophole, to allow the XMLA server get mondrian’s legacy API; this interface serves to document what’s missing from olap4j.

Third, and most exciting, the XMLA server should now run against any olap4j driver. It needs to be repackaged a bit – it still lives within the mondrian codebase, in the mondrian.xmla package – but if you are developing an olap4j driver, contact me, and we can consider spinning it out.

Make mondrian into a real server – for those who want one

You’ll notice that I tend to refer to mondrian as an OLAP engine. I’ve always hesitated to call it a ‘server’, because a server has an independent existence (its own process id, for instance), configuration information, and services such as authentication.

This is no accident: I deliberately architected mondrian as an engine, so that it could be embedded into another application or server and inherit those services from that application. That’s why you need to tell mondrian the URI of the catalog, the JDBC information of the data warehouse, and the role that you would like mondrian to use to execute queries. It has no concept of users and passwords, because it assumes that the enclosing application is performing authentication, then mapping authenticated users to roles.

This architecture makes as much sense now as it did when I started, and it isn’t going to change. Core mondrian will remain an engine. But the XMLA server, as its name suggests, performs some of the functions that one associates with a server. In particular, it reads a datasources.xml file that contains the name, catalog URI, and JDBC information of multiple catalogs. My idea was to create an alternate olap4j driver, MondrianOlap4jEngineDriver, that extends the default driver MondrianOlap4jDriver, and move the catalog functionality from the XMLA server to the new olap4j driver.

The new driver is added as part of this change, but is not complete. In a later change, I will move the catalog functionality out of the XMLA server. I don’t have plans to add other server features, such as mechanisms to authenticate users or map user names to roles. But I’ve provided the hook where this functionality can be added, and I encourage you in the mondrian community to contribute that functionality.

Lock box

Last, I came up with an elegant (I think) solution to a problem that has been perplexing us for a while. The problem is that the JDBC API requires all parameters to be passed as strings when you are making a connection. If you are creating an olap4j connection to mondrian, and access to the underlying data warehouse is via a javax.sql.DataSource object, not a connect string, then you cannot pass in that DataSource. If you have created your own Role object to do customized access-control, you cannot pass in the object, you have to pass in the name of a role already defined in the mondrian schema (or a comma-separated list of role names).

I invented a LockBox class, that acts as a special kind of map that has some of the characteristics of a directory service. There is one lock box per server. If you have an object you wish to pass in, then you register it with the lock box, and the lock box gives you a string moniker to reference that object. That moniker is unique for the duration of the server, and near impossible for an unauthorized component guess. You can pass it to other components, and they can access the object.

The lock box automatically garbage collects unused objects. When an object is registered, the lock box returns an entry object to the caller that contains both the string moniker and the object itself. The entry is the key to a WeakHashMap, so when the client forgets the entry, the object is eligible to be garbage-collected out of the lock box. This guarantees that the lock box will not fill up over time due to clients forgetting to deregister objects.

LockBox does not purport to be a full directory service – in particular, objects are only accessible within the same JVM – but it carries out a simple purpose, efficiently and elegantly, and may be useful to other applications.