Minimal web.xml for authenticated webapp on WAS 8.5.5.x

I was doing a simple servlet based web application that should on WebSphere Application Server the other day. The servlet should require authentication. I really wanted to avoid using web.xml and go annotation based but it turned out that it wasn’t possible – at least for me. Servlets are secured using the @ServletSecurity and you specify required role(s) and HTTP constraints e.g. is HTTPS required etc.

I added the following annotations:

@WebServlet(urlPatterns={"/"}, initParams={@WebInitParam(name="foo", value="bar")})

The “users” role turned up just fine in WAS ISC but I couldn’t make the authentication kick in when I accessed the resources. Changing settings and values for the @ServletSecurity annotation e.g. explicitly mentioning GET didn’t do anything for me. For some reason the annotation wasn’t enough. To make the authentication kick in I had to add the following web.xml which is pretty much a standard web.xml you would do without annotations. You might be able to get away with a little less but at least I got it working… Oh well…

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<web-app xmlns:xsi=""
  xmlns="" xmlns:jsp=""
  id="WebApp_ID" version="3.1">

      <web-resource-name>Protected Area</web-resource-name>



Reserved characters in WebSphere Application Server passwords… Really!?

Had somewhat of a surprise today when IBM Support informed us that the issue our customer was experiencing could be due to unsupported characters in the password of the user mapped to the connectionsAdmin J2C alias. Say what!? But apparently there are restrictions on the different characters one can use. The password we were using had exclamation point (!) in it which is a no no. The customer is currently on WebSphere Application Server and support suggested we try and upgrade to Funny thing is that the customer has been using that password for years so it must have worked previously.

IBM Connections wiki: Special characters in password

WebSphere Application Server 8.5.5 InfoCenter: Characters that are valid for user IDs and passwords

Fixing an IBM Connections Social Mail CPU spike problem

The other day we did a test upgrade of our internal IBM Connections 4.5 environment from CR3 to CR4 before doing the real upgrade. After the upgrade the CPU of the WebSphere Application Server node (we are in a single node architecture) would spike to a 100%. After some digging and perusing of log files we narrowed the problem down to IBM Social Mail and that component being loaded. Actually even more specifically to the Discovery Servlet which is used to discover the mail service for a particular user. The issue appeared to be a hung thread as indicated by the below stacktrace. See highlight in bold.

[4/30/14 13:39:51:534 CEST] 00000040 ThreadMonitor W WSVR0605W: Thread "WebContainer : 5" (0000014b) has been
active for 770854 milliseconds and may be hung. There is/are 1 thread(s) in total in the server that may be hung.
at org.eclipse.osgi.internal.baseadaptor.DefaultClassLoader.getBundle(
at org.apache.aries.jndi.Utils.getBundleContext(
at org.apache.aries.jndi.Utils.doGetBundleContext(
at org.apache.aries.jndi.Utils.access$100(
at org.apache.aries.jndi.Utils$
at org.apache.aries.jndi.Utils$
at org.apache.aries.jndi.Utils.getBundleContext(
at org.apache.aries.jndi.OSGiInitialContextFactoryBuilder.getInitialContext(
at javax.naming.spi.NamingManager.getInitialContext(
at javax.naming.InitialContext.initializeDefaultInitCtx(
at javax.naming.InitialContext.getDefaultInitCtx(
at javax.naming.InitialContext.internalInit(
at javax.naming.InitialContext.(
at javax.servlet.http.HttpServlet.service(
at javax.servlet.http.HttpServlet.service(

We dug around a little without success so I reached out to a friend at IBM and the answer came back. This is an issue that has been seen before and is solved by fixpack 8 of IBM WebSphere Application Server so we upgraded to and sure enough we are back up and running. Apparently fixpack 8 is now supported and actually reading through the detailed system requirements lists that (“IBM Connections 4.5 CR4 and above recommends WAS WAS with required fixes is still supported (see the detailed report for CR3) .”)

Thanks to friends at IBM.

Terminology is the most important thing to know when when starting out with WebSphere Application Server

Over the last few weeks I’ve done a fair amount of consulting on IBM Connections – not so much the install and technical stuff but more simply talking to customers about WebSphere Application Server (WAS) and how it works. The single thing that people new to WAS seems to struggle the most with is the terminology and getting the overall architecture in place. Once that’s done most people actually like the platform and find it nice to work with. A while back I linked to a PDF containing a nice graphics on slide 4 (Overview of IBM WebSphere Application Server Concepts for IBM Lotus Connections Administrators) but it’s hard to find so I’m reproducing it below.

The first thing and single most important piece to understand about WAS is that a “server” is usually not what you think! 🙂 Or at least not what it meant to be being namely a physical thing. With the advent of virtual machines the WAS definition is getting easier to understand I think. Below is an attempt to explain the WebSphere terminology to someone starting to deal with IBM Connections.

I find that it makes the most sense to start from the physical/operating system layer (Windows server / Linux server). Each machine/operating system instance with an IP address or hostname is a “node“. The list of nodes in your WebSphere environment may be seen in the ISC under “System Administration/Nodes”. On a node there may be one or multiple servers. A server is a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) process meaning that it may be controlled individually and it may have memory assigned to it and have specific JVM parameters set if required. Please note that having multiple servers on a single node is very common in WebSphere Application Server.

When a server is created in WebSphere Application Server it is created using a profile which basically is a template for the server. There are two main profiles to worry about – “default” which is an server to run applications and “dmgr” which is the deployment manager. In an architecture with multiple nodes the deployment manager is the administration server that controls the nodes it knows about including making sure that the configuration is synchronized between the nodes. The nodes belonging to a single deployment manager belongs to the same cell. In other words there is a single deployment manager per cell.

Looking back at the nodes a node may be managed or unmanaged. A managed node is a WebSphere node that the deployment manager can talk to and send commands. An unmanaged node is the opposite. WebSphere knows about the node but cannot communicate with it on a WebSphere protocol. Something like an IBM HTTP Server (IHS) is therefore an unmanaged node. If a node is managed it will have a nodeagent installed. The nodeagent is a separate Java process which is started and stopped individually and separate from any server. The nodeagent can be used to synchronize the configuration to the node and to start and stop “stuff” on the node. The nodeagent may be configured to start all the servers running on it when ever it starts. On servers the administrator may install applications which run on the server. The applications may be started and stopped individually but usually all applications start and stop with the server.

For high availability you may choose to create a cluster of servers. Servers in a cluster runs the same applications and can take over from one another. Note that you cluster servers and not nodes so you could have a cluster of three servers on a single node.


If you have an IBM Connections installation where everything is installed on the same Linux or Windows box and you chose the “small deployment” which puts all applications into the same server you will have the following:

  • A single cell
  • A single deployment manager controlling your cell
  • Three (3) nodes. One for the deployment manager, one for the server running the IBM Connections applications (managed node) and one for the IBM HTTP Server (IHS) (unmanaged node).
  • A single nodeagent
  • A single server running all the applications
  • A single cluster with the server
  • Three (3) JVM processes running – one for the deployment manager, one for the nodeagent and one for the server

Trusting certificates in WebSphere Application Server

If you make SSL connections from a WebSphere Application Server based application the server (or rather the cell) needs to trust the certificate of the server you are connecting to. This is very easy to do in WAS and is easily done using the Integrated Solutions Console (ISC). The way to establish the trust is as follows:

  1. Log into the WebSphere Application Server Integrated Solutions Console (ISC)
  2. From the lefthand navigator select Security/SSL certificate and key management
  3. In the list of related items on the right click “Key stores and certificates”
  4. Click “CellDefaultTrustStore”
  5. In the list of “Additional properties” on the right click “Signer certificates”
  6. Click “Retrieve from port”
  7. Fill out the form with the hostname of the server and the SSL port (usually 443) of the you want WAS to trust. Also supply an alias to know the trust by in the list of trusted certificates.
  8. Click the “Retrieve signer information” button to validate the input and retrieve and trust the certificate
  9. Click OK and then save the changes to the master configuration.

On the IBM Connections SPI’s

Earlier this week I had a requirement to interact with the IBM Connections user storage from a servlet running within WebSphere Application Server meaning that I needed to obtain the currently logged in users email address from the username (i.e. the principal name in JEE speak). As I saw it there were three options – 1) reproduce the entire Federated Repositories configuration in the servlet config, 2) use an IBM Connections API if available or 3) try and figure out if there was a WebSphere API for doing it. Option 1 was a clear no-go so I started persuing option 2. Looking into the wiki for IBM Connections I quickly found the User SPI (IBM Connections SPIs) and the description sounded promising: “You can use the IBM® Connections User SPIs to access information about the users in your IBM Connections deployment.”

Wow! Exactly what I needed so I located the lc.spi.jar and added it to my classpath and started coding. An excellent API and easy to understand documentation made it very easy and in a matter of minutes I had the code done. I packaged everything up and deployed the code to WAS and ran the code. Bummer!! All I saw was an Error 500:

Error 500: java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError:

Hmmm. Some kind of unsatisfied dependency but which? And an internal one at that… As you know IBM Connections is made up of about a gazillion different JARs but I digged around a bit but after wasting a lot of time on that and being frustrated I gave up I emailed a friend on the IBM Connections product management team. As it turns out the SPI’s (there are multiple: Event, Seedlist, Service and User) is only meant to be used from event handlers where they run in the context of IBM Connections. Bummer. I will try and get that into the documentation as soon as possible to avoid others wasting time on this.

I did find another way which I’ll share later today or tomorrow.

Elusive IBM Connections 4.5 CR2 upgrade issue solved

We’ve had a lot of problems trying to upgrade one of our internal test environments
from IBM Connections 4.5 CR1 to CR2. The only symptom was the we were unable to move
past the screen in the update wizard ( / updateWizard.bat) where we select
to install or remove fixes. The UI would simply refuse to move past this screen –
no message, no log, no nothing. To try “something else” I got the idea to try and run
the update installer in silent mode (updateSilent.bat / and here we got
something – a stacktrace on the console (see at the end of the post). The stacktrace referenced
“org.xml.sax.SAXParseException: Premature end of file.” so it had to be something to do
with parsing an XML file.

The stacktrace also came when just trying to list the list of installed fixes.

Looking at the stacktrace there was a reference to trying to parse the history of the
Websphere installation so I started to look into the IBM Connections installation and
found some interesting difference between the installed applications. All the applications
(e.g. profiles) has a config/includes directory (profiles/profiles/profiles/config/includes)
which holds information about installed fixes. For some applications there were not mention
of CR1 being installed. Hmmmm… The stacktrace also mentioned “premature end of file” so
I started looking for empty files (e.g. files of 0 bytes) and there I found it.

In the version/history directory (C:/IBM/Connections/version/history) I found a file called
event.history of 0 bytes. Looking at another install I saw this was indeed, or should be,
be an XML file with information about installed fixes. On this system the file was empty. Maybe
the update process when installing CR1 failed to update or add it. Simply making it an
empty “event history” file solved it! (see below for template)

<!DOCTYPE event-history SYSTEM "eventHistory.dtd">


Now when we ran the updateSilent.bat to list the installed fixes we got the expected result
back (CR1). Now running the update wizard worked and we could install CR2.

I guess the lesson really is that if you parse a file that may be empty then treat the
absence of the file (or an empty file of 0 bytes) to mean the same.

C:IBMConnectionsupdateInstaller>updateSilent.bat -fix -installDir "c:ibmConnections"
Start of [ updateSilent.bat ]
Build 20130909_1034

Attempting to locate setupCmdLine.bat.

Setting permissions on c:IBMCONNEC~1version
  [1]: -fix
  [2]: -installDir
  [3]: c:ibmConnections
System file encoding: Cp1252
Set encoding: console
Console encoding set; checking file encoding.
File encoding is Cp1252; updating to Cp850.
Updating encoding
Locating target class:
Locating main method
Building proper arguments
Invoking main method
Der er angivet en rettelsesopdatering
Målbibliotek for produkt: c:ibmConnections
Copyright (c) IBM Corporation 2002, 2013; All rights reserved.
IBM Connections
Version af installationsprogram til opdateringer:, dato: 09-09-13

Der er opstået en fejl under visning af installerede rettelser:
org.xml.sax.SAXParseException: Premature end of file.
   at org.apache.xerces.util.ErrorHandlerWrapper.createSAXParseException(Unknown Source)
   at org.apache.xerces.util.ErrorHandlerWrapper.fatalError(Unknown Source)
   at org.apache.xerces.impl.XMLErrorReporter.reportError(Unknown Source)
   at org.apache.xerces.impl.XMLErrorReporter.reportError(Unknown Source)
   at org.apache.xerces.impl.XMLScanner.reportFatalError(Unknown Source)
   at org.apache.xerces.impl.XMLDocumentScannerImpl$PrologDispatcher.dispatch(Unknown Source)
   at org.apache.xerces.impl.XMLDocumentFragmentScannerImpl.scanDocument(Unknown Source)
   at org.apache.xerces.parsers.XML11Configuration.parse(Unknown Source)
   at org.apache.xerces.parsers.XML11Configuration.parse(Unknown Source)
   at org.apache.xerces.parsers.XMLParser.parse(Unknown Source)
   at org.apache.xerces.parsers.AbstractSAXParser.parse(Unknown Source)
   at Source)
   at Source)
   at Source)
   at Source)
   at<init>(Unknown Source)
   at<init>(Unknown Source)
   at Source)
   at Source)
   at Source)
   at Source)
   at Source)
   at Source)
   at Source)
   at Source)
   at Source)
   at sun.reflect.NativeMethodAccessorImpl.invoke0(Native Method)
   at sun.reflect.NativeMethodAccessorImpl.invoke(
   at sun.reflect.DelegatingMethodAccessorImpl.invoke(
   at java.lang.reflect.Method.invoke(
   at Source)
   at Source)
UpdateInstaller.puiReturnCode is 9

End of [ updateSilent.bat ]