OGH APEX World 2014

Last week we attended the the 5th annual APEX World event in Zeist. As every year it was very nice to meet the growing APEX community in the Benelux, combined with some excellent APEX international and dutch presentations.
The  keynote was given  by Joel Kallman about APEX 5.0 followed by 18 very interesting sessions about customer business cases, technical developments and international presentations by APEX specialist from all over the world.

APEX 5.0

The key focus in the new APEX 5.0 is improved developer productivity.oracle apex page designer
The page builder is completely new. Through this interface developers will be able to do more in less time and most important, in fewer clicks. With a properties sidebar on the right side of the screen it will be possible to quickly change elements and regions on a page, even multiple elements at the same time!  Regions and items can be created through drag and drop which increases the development speed.

Other new features

Improved tab navigation. The current tab system isn’t user friendly enough, so it’s better to use lists. Now you can create new pages and define their hierarchy in the application. When this is done, an automatic tab will be created with dropdown submenus to display the hierarchy.

Interactive reports
Two important improvements for interactive reports. First and foremost it’s possible to have multiple interactive reports on one page, something we’ve all been waiting for since APEX 4.x. And secondly there is a new format function to pivot your report. Joel Kallman presented this feature: in a couple of clicks he created a nice pivoted table on the screen.

jQuery Mobile integration
With jQuery Mobile your SQL reports will have the possibility to be responsive. You have the option to:
a) only display the most important columns on a small screen, or
b) to switch to some kind of single record view. The result is something similar to what you can see here: http://elvery.net/demo/responsive-tables/

Modal popup
Instead of using a plugin to let your pages open in a modal window, users can now set this feature as a property of the page. Whenever the user navigates to this page, it will open in a modal window.

Be sure to take a look at the APEX early adaptor: apexea.oracle.com



After the APEX 5.0 demonstration, there were 3 parallel tracks, all with very different and interesting sessions.  Read our impressions …

Going public with your APEX application
FOEX brought this presentation very well. Their problem scenario was the following one: If you want to make a public APEX application, you are always stuck with the typical APEX URL like “apex/f?p=100:1:5039230103::::”. During the demo they showed how to create a nice and readable URL like “apex/demo/customers”. To accomplish this they used aliases, REST services, PL/SQL and a few lines of javascript.

The best of both worlds: going hybrid with your mobile APEX application
Roel Hartman gave a presentation about Phonegap in combination with APEX. He showed a nice demo on how to sync the contacts from a database with the ones from his cell phone through a Phonegap App. It was surprising how easily this could be setup without too much code and in-depth knowledge. He used REST services to sync the data between APEX and his cellphone.

Using AngularJS in oracle applications express
Dan McGhan of Enkitec (USA) brought a technical session about combining AngularJS and APEX. He showed us a single page application containing a to do list with advanced calendar features. The end result was very nice and the demo illustrated the power of AngularJS, but it certainly requires some time to understand this framework. Maybe an interesting idea is to include AngularJS natively in APEX 6.0?

A B2B weboracle apex b2b webshop - tuur hendrickxshop with APEX!
iAdvise did two presentations. The first one dealt with a B2B webshop we developed in APEX for Billiet. Justine Ghekiere gave a brief introduction about the core business of her company, Biliet. Our colleague Tuur Hendrickx showed a lot of features he implemented in the webshop with APEX. Topics he show-cased were:  special advertisements, restricted products for different customers, the use of a shopping cart and a stunning layout were demonstrated.

We also attended a nice presentation of Martin Giffy D’Souza about APEX and HTML5. He showed the advantages of HTML5 and the typical use cases in APEX. During a live demo he showed how to record a video within APEX and stream the feed to another frame in the same screen. Really impressive!  Also nice to see was how easily it is to implement voice recognition by using HTML5.

Dutch immigration services (IND) monitor xml messages with oracle apex
A department of the Dutch government has built an application which provides residence permits to immigrants or refugees. Before they could start building the APEX application there was a lot of effort necessary in the Oracle database for dealing with all the XML files. It was not just a problem with the size of the XML files, but there were also issues with differences between Oracle 10.2 and 11.2 in the way the database handles XML files.

Reporting solutions for oracle APEX – choose your weapons
During this session Dietmar Aust gave us an overview of possible reporting solutions  for APEX applications. Many solutions were covered in an objective way:  BI Publisher, Jasper Reports, Apache FOP, APEX PDF printing, PL/PDF, … Dietmar even demonstrated our own tool Doxxy (www.doxxy.eu). Nice to hear that he likes Doxxy! He also showed us his own solution for typical problems related to exporting data from interactive report to MS Excel, especially regarding the proper data types: OPAL:XP (for eXPorting to MS Excel).

Single-click deployment in APEX development
One of the last tracks we visited was about single-click deployment of APEX applications in OTAP areas. They talked about the use of bamboo, in combination with GIT and APEX. It was nice to see how they solved the problem of continuous integration with APEX.

A logistic data portal with APEX!oracle apex data portaal - menno hoogendijk
In the second iAdvise customer case Robert Esseling explained why Bas Logistics needed a data portal. Those requirements where then demonstrated by Menno Hoogendijk.
The portal has an admin module to manage the data import and mapping settings. In the very straight-forward  front-end, users drill down from dashboards to detailed data.


Thanks to the organization for hosting this great event, really one of the best conferences in the benelux!
See you at APEX World 2015!

Browser and Session value in APEX

For those of us who have been developing in APEX for a while will understand that the value of an item in APEX is not always what it seems. That’s right; an item has two values in APEX. The first value is the session value that we can store in the database (server side), the second value is the value the end user sees on his screen in the browser (client side). On some occasions these values are the same. On others they are not. The difference in value can lead to some confusion, especially for the new APEX developers.

Let’s start with an example so we understand the problem. This is actually based on a real use case. I changed the item names and queries to make it more universal, but the principle remains the same. The developer in question had a page with two Select lists containing the following queries:

SELECT 1 d, 1 r
FROM dual


SELECT 1 d, 1 r
SELECT 2 d, 2 r

The second select list (called P55_SELECT_LIST_2), also had a default value of 2.

When the user selects a different value on the select list then the second select list had to change values accordingly.

In order to achieve this the developer had created a Dynamic Action. As event he had a change Event of the P55_SELECT_LIST item. The first action was a set value containing the following query (again made simple for the example):

FROM dual

And page items to submit he had selected the item P55_SELECT_LIST, and affected items he put P55_SELECT_LIST_2

The last action he set was a refresh action of our P55_SELECT_LIST_2 item.

Our page setup now looks like this:


The developer tried his application, and when he changed the first select list he saw the second select list being refreshed. Yet, instead of displaying the correct value (1), it displayed the default value.


So what went wrong?

Let’s see what exactly happened to figure that out:

  1. The page was loaded. The first select list had nothing selected, the second select list had “2” selected in the browser. Both items were empty in the session3session
  2. The value of the first select list was changed by the end user
  3. This triggered the change event defined in the dynamic action
  4. The first action “Set value” was executed. The value in the browser was changed. The session value of the item P55_SELECT_LIST  was set to one, because it was set with items to submit. An AJAX request was made to set this value. The value item P55_SELECT_LIST_2 remains NULL.4session
  5. The refresh action was executed; an AJAX request was made to get new values for the select list. Since the SELECT_LIST_2 item has no value in the session, the default value is taken, which is 2!                                                                                                                          5network

The solution was simple. Just remove the refresh action. Then the value is set in the browser correctly.  This is handled by APEX with JavaScript/jQuery. The session value of the item will remain NULL until we submit the item to the database by a page submit, a dynamic action, or by changing the value in an AJAX Callback process.


AJAX is becoming important in the world of web applications. APEX has provided us a very easy way to create an AJAX process, by using dynamic actions. Using PL/SQL Actions in Dynamic Actions to communicate with the database without submitting the page will suffice in most cases, but the downside is that the code is not very re-usable, and when you want to write a plug-in you simply don’t have access to Dynamic Actions. In this blog you will learn how to code your own AJAX process.

An AJAX process in APEX consists out of three parts

  • The JavaScript code that calls the AJAX PL/SQL Process
  • The PL/SQL Process that might or might not return a value
  • The JavaScript code that catches the return value and possibly does something with it

In APEX there are three ways to create an AJAX process from JavaScript:

  • The htmldb_get() method: undocumented but this used to be the only method available (without installing external libraries)
  • jQuery.ajax(): since jQuery was added to APEX, it has been quite common to use this method. It’s well documented on the jQuery homepage, but the downside is you need to write more code
  • apex.server: this new APEX API has been recently added (I believe at APEX 4.2). It is actually a wrapper of jQuery.ajax(), so it supports the same functionality with some additional APEX specific features. It is thoroughly documented in the APEX documentation, and this is the reason I prefer this method, and I will explain how you too can use it

The first thing we do is create a test application. In our case we have a table called “JOBS” that looks like this:


In my jobs table I just inserted one job with a salary of 2800 of an unknown currency.

In our APEX application we have an Item of the type select list where the user can select a job, and then the minimum salary will be filled in.

Our page looks like this:


Next we write our JavaScript code.  This includes our change event and the apex.server.process . Double click your page name to go to the page definition, and scroll down to “Execute when page loads”.

javascript call

  • AJAX_GET_MIN_SALARY is the name of our future AJAX process.
  • X01 is the variable we pass, in this case the value of our #P17_JOB_ID item
  • Finally we declare that our expected return type is plain text. If we don’t do this, then by default the function expects a JSON string returned. Furthermore we declare in this function what we do with this return data. The return data will be delivered asynchronous, meaning we will get this data from our AJAX Callback function as soon as the AJAX Callback process is ready.

Now we can create our AJAX_GET_MIN_SALARY Ajax Callback process. Just right click on Ajax Callbacks . Click “Create” and select PL/SQL. Here we can put our PL/SQL code:


There are two things here that are worth mentioning:

  • TO_CHAR(apex_application.g_x01): this is how we catch the variable that is passed from our JavaScript code. We use TO_CHAR to identify that it’s a character.
  • HTP.Prn(v_min_salary): here we return the minimum salary back to our page

There, all done!  Let’s test out our application, shall we? Before you do anything it’s best to open the developer toolbar in the browser. In Chrome you can do this by pressing ctrl+shift+J.  It’s  a good practice to reload the page and to check if any JavaScript errors pop up on the console. If our JavaScript code shows no errors in the console go to the ‘Network’ tab, and select a job in the application.


You will now see www_flow.show appear. Click it. There are two tabs here that are vital to investigating this function for debugging, if needed. The first is the header, it shows what data is send to our AJAX Callback function.


The second tab that’s important is our Response tab. It tells us what data is send back from the PL/SQL Process. If you remember our PL/SQL Process you will notice that we did not include an exception for when no data was found. Select “null” as job and you will get an error. If you then check out the response of the AJAX call you will see it gives our ORA error.


If you managed to read this far then you have gained some insights on how you can create your own AJAX function using the new APEX JavaScript API, how it works and how you can debug it should not everything go as planned.

Migrate your MS Access data to an Oracle database using the ETL Tool Talend

APEX is promoted as the perfect replacement for MS Access applications. One thing you should consider though is how you migrate your data to the Oracle database. In APEX there is a handy tool called the Data Workshop that can be used for this. You first export your Excel files from the MS Access database, and then follow the data upload wizard to import the data into identical tables. Since you are not always working with a 1-1 relationship, you will most likely have to write some PL/SQL to get all the data in the right tables.


The downside is that you will need to repeat this process when you go into production. This is not a big problem if you only have one table to migrate. But if you have multiple tables and/ or your users also want new data during tests and trainings, you will spend a lot of time exporting and importing Excel files.

A recent APEX project for a client required a large data migration from MS Access Databases to the Oracle database. Because we would require fresh data on several points in the development process we decided to use the ETL Open Source Tool Talend. We got impressed of how intuitive the tool is, it only took a few days before we were familiar with the tool. Once you get the hang of it, you can write (or should I say draw) migrations of tables in no time. We needed to migrate from an MS Access database but the tool supports a wide range of databases and documents to import your data from. In total we migrated around 30-40 tables to our Oracle database.

Let’s have a closer look at one of our migration jobs.


At the left we see our MS Access database. Each tAccessInput component will get data from one table. After that we join the tables in our tMap_1 component. The reason we don’t just write our joins in one component, is because this way we can really see how many rows every table returns.

On the bottom we have some Oracle Database input connections. They will join the persons of our MS Access Database with the persons in our Oracle Database based on the National registration number. After that we write our data to our Oracle Database. You may notice that we have two lines going to Excel files. This is our error logging; we use this to log the rows that did not find a match. In our first Excel for example we write persons that did not find a match in our Oracle Database.

This is just one example, in total about 20 jobs were built. During the development we also had to deal with certain calculations or convert data. For most things there was a component ready to use and if there wasn’t you could always write a Java expression in the tMap items.

I hope I convinced you of the benefits of using Talend as a migration tool for APEX projects, because we will certainly use this tool again!

Oracle Reports Generation with Docufy

In a previous blog post we explained already why we decided to build our own report generation tool. In this post we will explain the main principles and components the tool consists of.

First of all, Docufy is a tool for developers: for APEX developers … surely, but in fact for anyone who is developing against an Oracle database and who needs a printable output. In the current version, the printable document is a .DOCX file.

How does it work?
Docufy consists of two major components:
1) a front-end application (UI), used for defining the metadata that describes the documents. The actual UI is written in APEX and is available in all 4.x versions. We are also working on a Eclipse-RCP version of the UI.
2) a PL/SQL engine, which contains all the intelligence and generates the desired output

1) The APEX UI
The main objective of APEX UI is to give the developer an easy interface to configure his document. There are different screens where you can enter the metadata of your ‘printable’ report. This metadata consists of:
- one or more SQL statements
- minimal 1 Word-template (DOCX)
- and optionally input parameters

Following screenshot gives you a general idea of how the UI looks like:


2) The PL/SQL Engine
The PL/SQL Engine retrieves the metadata which is defined via the UI as input for a given document. It executes the SQL statement(s), binds them with the parameter(s) and gets the specified DOCX-template.
Thereafter, this template is unzipped. As you may know, a DOCX-document is an amalgam of different XML-files. The engine replace all data tags in the document.xml file by the corresponding business data.
At the end all XML-files are packed again in a DOCX-output-document, which is returned as a BLOB variable to the calling program.

Following picture gives a schematic overview of the concept:

So, summarizing:
Docufy is a RAD-tool for generating operational reports. With its intuitive APEX UI, you easily configure your documents by adding DOCX-templates and SQL-queries. The engine is written in PL/SQL, which makes installation, integration and maintenance a walk in the park. The tool comes as a packaged application for APEX 4.x.

Follow @docufy on twitter

Checkboxes in editable reports in APEX

We have all been there, we need to create an editable report and one of the columns contains a checkbox. So how should you handle this?

If you are using one of the recent APEX versions the easiest way is a tabular form. Just edit the column attributes of your checkbox column and at display as select “Simple Checkbox”. At the list of values definition type “Y,N”, where Y is the value the column will get when the checkbox is checked.

Tabular form checkbox

But what if you have multiple editable reports that have this requirement on one page? Then it starts to get interesting, since you can no longer use tabular forms.

With multiple editable reports we will be making our own editable report by using the API APEX_ITEM. You can read more about the APEX_ITEM API here.

We first create a report, and in our query we add our “active” column. We create two items there using the APEX_ITEM API: a checkbox and a hidden item. The parameter p_idx is the number  that apex uses to identify the items and write them in an APEX collection when the page is submitted. This has to be unique on the page. We set the value of both items to the id of the column. Why we need these will become clear later on.

SELECT APEX_ITEM.HIDDEN(p_idx =>1, p_value => id)

             ||APEX_ITEM.CHECKBOX(p_idx => 2, p_value => id , p_attributes => DECODE(active,’Y’,’checked=”checked”‘, NULL)) active


Next we go to report attributes, edit our active column and set display as Standard Report Column. This will allow APEX to render this properly.

Column attributes for APEX_ITEM API

Before we precede let me explain how checkboxes work. In HTML a checkbox that is not checked has no value it is considered NULL. This is something you will have noticed when you create a checkbox page item in APEX in a form. So if we loop over our APEX collection containing the checkboxes we will only loop over the checkboxes that have a value. This is no issue when you only need it to delete rows, but let me show you what happens if you try to use it to update rows. Let’s assume we have two columns, one contains our ID, and one contains our Checkbox with value Y.

APEX_ITEM.HIDDEN(p_idx => 1, p_value => id) APEX_ITEM.CHECKBOX(p_idx => 2, p_value => ‘Y’)
1 Checked
2 Not checked
3 Checked
4 Not checked

Assume we then loop over our first collection and do an update statement in our table:





Looks correct doesn’t it? Well it isn’t. When our process goes over the first row it will update correctly. When he tries to update the 2nd row he will update it wrongly to ‘Y’. And the 3rd row will give an error. That is because our 2nd APEX collection only contains two rows. It does not contain the rows that are not checked.

So now that I explained the problem let’s have a look at the solution.


l_yesno VARCHAR2(1);

TYPE t_checkboxes IS TABLE OF VARCHAR2(1);

l_checkboxes t_checkboxes := t_checkboxes();





l_yesno := ‘Y’;



l_yesno := NVL(l_yesno,’N’);


l_checkboxes(i) := l_yesno;

l_yesno := ‘N’;





SET ACTIVE = l_checkboxes(i)



We start by looping over our APEX collection containing our ID, inside that same loop we loop over the APEX collection with our checkboxes. Both contain as value our ID. If the values match, then the checkbox containing that ID has value ‘Y’. We insert this into a PL/SQL collection that we made for this purpose.

Lastly we do an update in our table, to set our new values. Notice how we only did one update statement using FORALL, and by doing so we limited our context switch to just one, and boosted our performance.

I now hope that everyone got a better idea of how they can deal with checkboxes rather easy, using only PL/SQL and APEX API’s.

Mobile Business Development seminar in Belgium and The Netherlands(4 and 6 June)

iAdvise organises a free seminar about Mobile Business Development on 4(Antwerp, Belgium) and 6(Breda, The Netherlands) June.

In this seminar we will discuss Mobile Development and Usability(UX – User Experience) in Mobile Development.
But we also compare different solutions, give pros and cons about: APEX Mobile, ADF Mobile and Tabris.

Of course we will also show you best practices, problems and solutions,…

More information(Dutch): http://www.iadvise.eu/seminars

Docufy: Document Generation for APEX made easy!

APEX is well known for his RAD solution and the no-extra cost factor: APEX makes it possible to build on time and within budget your database application for the web. But an application is more then building pages for CRUD operations. Very often you also need to generate well looking documents. And this is standard not possible with APEX. A pity!  Within the Oracle world, Bi Publisher is by far the best solution. But from the pricing point of view, it does not really fit in the ‘cheap’ philosophy of APEX. Further, you can also look for Open Source solutions like Jasper Reports and Birt. Both have a community version that you may use for free.

Nevertheless, we decided to build our own tool. During the presentation at APEX World of last week, organized by OgH, we explained how we came to this decision. On different projects at the Flemish Government we always had the business requirement to generate output for MS-Word (.docx). We first tried to solve this requirement with Jasper Reports. This was fine for simple letters. But the end-user also wanted to change some of those documents after generation … and that was not so easy to do with the output created by Jasper.

So the idea for an own “document generator for Oracle” was born. The main objective was trying to bring some of the better features of other tools together in one solution:

  • Separation of data retrieval and document layout.  The layout is template driven: your template is a MS Word document (.docx). This leaves the possibility open to involve business users in the design and build of the desired output.
  • Simple, easy and light: we want the solution to be as much as possible in the database, in PL/SQL, with no extra software on a middle-tier
  • Metadata driven and nice user interface to manage those data
  • Integration in your application via a PL/SQL API. This application may be developed in the technology of your choice. We use it initially in APEX projects, but it can be integrated in any tool that can do a PL/SQL call (Oracle Forms, any java solution, Formspider, …)

Our custom solution evolved well: we already used it successfully in different projects. Therefor, we decided to make it available for the world and packaged the solution in a tool with the name Docufy. You can find more information on the Docufy-site or you may always send a mail to info@docufy.be.

With Docufy,
we proceed on the APEX philosophy,
there where APEX it self stops:
easy and quick generation of operational documents.