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VisualVM failing to find plugins/updates? Solving the 503 error with an updated URL

Have you tried to update or simply see the available plugins for VisualVM (the Java monitoring tool built into the JDK), and found that it fails to respond right away (the progress bar will show "checking") and then it reports:

Unable to connect to the Java VisualVM Plugins Center because of Server returned HTTP response code: 503 for URL: http://www.oracle.com/splash/java.net/maintenance/index.html

There is a solution.

TLDR: the quick answer is to change the URL used by the tool (Tools>Plugins>Settings) to use a new URL, such as https://visualvm.github.io/uc/8u131/updates.xml.gz.


For those who'd appreciate more detail, read on.

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Four free tools I (nearly) always install on a new machine and use everyday

I'd like to recommend four free tools that I think everyone (running Windows) should consider installing on their machines, as they can help with day to day tasks that many (certainly I) hit every day.

They don't run in the background, only doing their job when you ask them to, so I find them safe to install and use on production servers, though of course any tool can be abused. I've never seen these to cause a problem in many thousands of uses.

I was reminded to share this list today as I was helping a customer, as I got on their server with them to help them solve a problem. I recommended we install these as I do on nearly all my engagements (and indeed on all my own machines). I think they really are fundamental tools, as I'll explain below.

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Tracking ColdFusion sessions within FusionReactor, by way of FREC logging

Someone asked on the FusionReactor mailing list (a Google Group) whether FusionReactor tracked CF sessions. I started to write a reply, with the good news/bad news in answer to that, and as sometimes happens, it became long enough that I thought it might be better suited as a blog entry that I could point to from the list instead, and which may also help those not on the list (which is a great resource, as a low-volume list with a high signal to noise ratio.)

Anyway, here is the answer I wanted to offer to that question...

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How to tell what, if any, hotfixes have been applied to ColdFusion (9 and earlier)

I often see people struggling with confusion over what hotfixes have been applied to CF. They may wonder "which have we applied?", or worse, they may not have applied any and just don't know "how to know" whether they have. I have good news, but it may not be the answer most would suspect.

The common answer offered is that one should use the "system info" page in the CF Admin, and its available "update level" field.

But I will assert that's not the "right answer" after all, or certainly not the "best answer" to really know what hotfixes (plural) have been applied. Know why? If not, I'll explain here, and I'll show what I would say is the "right" answer to "what hotfixes have you applied?"

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Need to solve browser problems? Did you know most modern browsers now have built-in developer tools?

When you're trying to understand why something's not working in your browser (page not rendering as expected, feature not working as expected, page content failing to load), it's useful to use of many any available tools which can show you what's going on, whether with respect to the HTML, CSS, or Javascript that may be running, or perhaps the communications between the browser and server.

For years, experienced developers have recommended client-side proxy tools like Firebug, Fiddler, Charles, and such. I list these and many others as a category in my CF411 site listing over 1800 tools and resources for CFers, in the category, HTTP Debugging Proxies/Sniffers/Web Client Test Tool.

I recently updated the list, though, to point out these "built-in" forms of these tools, now available in most browsers. If you may be in a place where you are "not allowed" to install new software (or are simply disinclined), knowing that the browser may have such a valuable tool built-in can be a real discovery, thus this entry.

Here's the content that I've added to that section:

  • In Chrome, see the Dev Tools, available under the "Customize and control Google Chrome" icon at the top right (the monkey wrench), then Tools>Developer Tools.
  • In Firefox 6 and above, see the "Web Console" feature in the "Web Developer" tools, available under the Tools menu.
  • In Internet Explorer, see the Developer Toolbar which is an ad-on for IE 6 and 7, and the f12 Developer Tools that are built into IE 8 and 9 (in the Tools menu).
  • In Opera, see the Developer Tools in Opera DragonFly, available in the Edit>Developer Tools menu in Windows, and Tools>Advanced on Mac.
  • In Safari, see the "Web Inspector" feature of the Develop menu.
  • I welcome additions/corrections/feedback.

The links I've given for each of these often have friendly introductions to using such tools. I can also commend an old but classic discussion of such tools, here.

Have you used these sort of tools? How have they helped you. Are you surprised to learn that the browsers now have such tools built-in? Chime in and share your thoughts. I may do a later blog entry or talk introducing using these tools for some common problems working with CF.

Need to look at large files? Consider free Universal Viewer

If you have any reason to look at large files (especially log files) on Windows, don't use NotePad (it doesn't like large files)! Sure, you can perhaps use WordPad, or you may be using a favored editor like TextPad, UltraEdit, NotePad++, and so on. But those are editors: they generally presume you want to change the file.

If you just want to look at a file, there's a great free tool to do it: UniversalViewer.

It can open a 1GB file as fast as a 1kb file (because it only pulls in what it needs to show the screen full of text you're looking at.) And there are times when you may well need to look at some very large files, especially when troubleshooting CF servers, like I do.

And actually, as its name implies, UniversalViwer can view far more than just text files, including images and more.

I've just only ever used it for looking at log files, for which it excels (and yes, you can search within the file, set it to tail files, and more.)

I've been touting the tool for years in classes and presentations, and I was about to mention it in another blog entry, but then I realized I'd not blogged about it on its own. Rather than have the reference lost in another blog entry, here's its moment to shine!

And yes, I do realize there are several other tools that can do this. I list this one and several others in a category of my CF411 list: Generic File View/Log Analysis Tools. (Note that there are some nifty tools in that category there for looking specifically at CSV files, as well as other entire categories for specific kinds of logs, like CF logs, web server logs, windows event logs, etc.)

Still suffering from spam/junk email? If using Outlook or Thunderbird, consider CloudMark

Are you still suffering from spam or junk mail in your email inbox? If you're using Outlook or Thunderbird, you should consider CloudMark, a service I've used for years. I'd like to share a bit about it, for those who may benefit.

Before proceeding though, let me say that I realize there are many spam solutions, including ones based on your mail server instead (that you or your host might implement).

And yes, of course I do realize that folks using Gmail will want to say that they never have to worry about this at all!

Let me please just speak to those who do choose to (or have to) receive email from other mail servers, and perhaps can't control spam handling on the server, or still favor a client solution.

Background

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Some code to throttle rapid requests to your CF server from one IP address

Some time ago I implemented some code on my own site to throttle when any single IP address (bot, spider, hacker, user) made too many requests at once. I've mentioned it occasionally and people have often asked me to share it, which I've happily done by email. Today with another request I decided to post it and of course seek any feedback.

It's a first cut. While there are couple of concerns that will come to mind for some readers, and I try to address those at the end, it does work for me and has helped improve my server's stability and reliability, and it's been used by many others.

Background: do you need to care? Perhaps more than you realize

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Free tools for SAN monitoring, VM Monitoring and more...and their educational site

Folks know that I like to share news of tools (see my CF411 site), but I want to point out here a couple of free ones in particular that may address problems people are having in new/modern configurations: one is a tool for monitoring a SAN, and the other is for monitoring VMs.

It also gives me a chance to offer some props for the site of the company behind the tools, SolarWinds, which again many may find valuable in educating not only about the tools but the topics that the tools help with.

The free SAN and VM monitoring tools

The two tools (and one more for bonus) are:
  • SolarWinds Free SAN Monitor - keep a close eye on the performance & capacity of your storage arrays and become a storage superhero!
    Note also:
  • VM Monitor - continuously monitor a VMware® ESX Server and its virtual machines with at-a-glance virtualization health statistic
    Note also:
  • WMI Monitor - monitor your Windows® apps and servers in real time, using built-in, community-sourced, and customizable application templates!
    Note also:

I haven't yet used them myself, so this isn't so much a recommendation of the tools but rather a recommendation that you consider them if you are interested in what they have to offer.

The company offers still more free tools, as well commercial ones of course.

A company that gets how to educate you about their products

You may have noticed above that I offered as well links to videos about each product. SolarWinds has really done a great job offering educational resources, especially videos, and organizing them into categories such as tech talks, webcasts, and more.

Indeed, if you may be new to network management (which can be a broad and/or deep subject, appealing variously to generalist IT geeks and hard-core network admins), they offer lots of compelling introductory resources, including their geek guides and even certification training . Of course they also have a helpful blog and twitter feed.

Just as I previously praised the Mura folks as a "company who got it right" in terms of setting up a compelling, informative web site for IT folks, I really have to say the same for the SolarWinds folks. Congrats, and thanks.

Better file searching (on Windows) with a powerful, fast, easy tool

Ever need to do a search for files with give text (or of a given name) in Windows? Whether you use a favored editor to do it, or (worse) rely on the anemic/slow Windows find, I'd like to point you to an awesome and free alternative.

For years I've used a great freeware tool, FileLocator Lite (formerly known as Agent Ransack ), and I (as well nearly everyone I show it to) love FLL for several reasons. Beyond fast, effective, and easy searching, it also has a cool regular expression building wizard that may be reason enough to use the tool when you need to create a RegEx quickly. It's the freeware version of a commercial product, File Locator Pro, and can be found at www.mythicsoft.com/filelocatorlite/.

(Update in 2010: Originally, the free version was only packaged under the name AgentRansack, which was a little scary-sounding for some tastes. The makers finally offered a rebranding of the tool under the name File Locator Lite, though they still also offer it as AgentRansack, being the same product. The makers just seem to have a fondness for the "old" name so are going with both.)

(Update in 2013: While I still most highly recommend FLL, I do want to add that if you're ONLY searching for files or folders by name, not content, there is a potentially better tool to consider. See the added section at the end of this entry.)

BTW, I do realize that the Windows File Find feature can be enhanced by using its available Indexing Service. I've never been a fan of that for various reasons, and many won't enable such (for good reason) on production servers. Yet you may need to search for files on such a server. This tool can do it with little overhead. And I realize also that later versions of Windows do offer better text file searching, but it's still not as simple as it could be (if the first search doesn't find files, you're offered a chance to do a deeper search). This tool is incredibly simple to use.

Sadly, some people may not ever do searching for files by name or content (or suffer productivity) simply because the available tools are so poor. This one will change your mind!

Definitely favored over other search tools/editors

Since learning of it in about 2004, I no longer use the find feature within editors like Eclipse, DreamWeaver, CF Studio, or various notepad alternatives to search across multiple folders anymore. AgentRansack is so much faster than those in my experience, whether searching tens, hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of files. (I've even used it to search millions of files and it did not take hours to do the search.)

And when compared to the Windows File Search feature, it's not only far faster but also DOES search for content in ALL file types. Have you ever used Windows find to search text in CFM files, and found that it never finds files you know it should? The problem is that it has an internal list of file types it will search, and all others it will simply ignore. It also ignores files marked with the hidden and system attributes, which may not be expected. (By Windows Find I'm referring to the feature available from the Start menu or via WindowsKey-F).

And unlike using your editor to search, it doesn't lock up your editor while it's searching away. And even then, it's really FAST! I find it can search gigs of content in just a few moments--yet it DOES NOT rely on indexing the content in any way.

Another great benefit it has over the other more traditional search approaches is that while the left pane is showing the files it found in its search, a right pane shows (for any file you select on the left) the lines WITHIN the file that matched the search. Yes, in some other search tools the search results pane allows you to click a result to open the given file at the given location where the search result was found, but this approach in AR is just much simpler and more effective, I think.

Perhaps most powerful, it also integrates with the Windows Explorer interface, so it's easily reached by a right-click on any folder to search that folder and its children.

Bonus Regex Feature

As I hinted above, beyond searching, AR is also great for its really nifty regular expression feature, to help build regex's declaratively (with a wizard-like interface). I find myself opening it just to create a RegEx when needed. More than that, there is also a useful "test" menu option where you can enter a RegEx, and some text against which to search, and it will show what the regex would find in that text. Very handy.

Check it out

Everyone I've shown it to has been impressed. Check it out.

You can see screenshots of 3 main parts of the interface in use (including the regex wizard and results viewing aspect) at the site.

Other tools

I should also mention that this is indeed just one of dozens of such file/find tools that exist, for Windows, *nix, etc. (yes, including grep tools for both OS's). I do list dozens more in a category for these tools at my CF411 site, which lists over a thousand tools and resources of interest to CFers.

Enjoy.

One more update

Here's one more update I'd like to make: if you may be searching ONLY for files (or folders) by name and NOT by file content, then there's a still-better free tool for Windows that I'd recommend: Ultrasearch, from jam-software.com, the same people who make the also excellent and powerful TreeSize tool for analyzing your disk space usage, per folder.

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