Monday, February 27, 2023

Restrict access to APEX Builder based on client IP when using Apache and ORDS

 When running Oracle Application Express (APEX) in production, the best practice is to deploy the "Runtime-Only" environment, instead of a "Full Development" environment:

From the docs:

As with any software development life cycle, Oracle strongly recommends that you have different environments for development, testing/QA, and production. For testing and production instances, Oracle APEX supports the ability to install just a runtime version of Oracle APEX. This runtime environment minimizes the installed footprint and privileges and improves application security since in a runtime instance developers cannot inadvertently update a production application.

An Oracle APEX runtime environment enables you to run production applications, but it does not provide a Web interface for administration. A runtime environment only includes the packages necessary to run your application, making it a more hardened environment. You administer the Oracle APEX runtime environment using SQL*Plus or SQL Developer and the APEX_INSTANCE_ADMIN API.

If you DO NOT follow this best practice, and for whatever reason decide to install a full development environment in production, at least you can harden it somewhat by restricting access to the APEX Builder and internal administration apps to your own IP address.

You can do this by setting the APEX instance parameter "RESTRICT_IP_RANGE". Again, according to the docs:

To restrict access to the APEX development environment and Administration Services to a specific range of IP addresses, enter a comma-delimited list of IP addresses. If necessary, you can use an asterisk (*) as a wildcard, but do not include additional numeric values after wildcard characters. For example, 138.*.41.2 is not a valid value.


However, the above will not work if you are using a proxy (such as Apache HTTPD) in front of ORDS. The reason is that your real client IP (for example is not forwarded from Apache to ORDS, so to APEX the "REMOTE_ADDR" appears as the server's address (typically "" if Apache and ORDS are on the same machine), and not the real client IP.

To work around this, there is another option available from APEX 20.1: The instance parameter "RESTRICT_DEV_HEADER". Note that this instance parameter is undocumented at the time of this writing, but Christian Neumuller on the APEX team has confirmed that this is a doc bug that will be fixed soon.

RESTRICT_DEV_HEADER works by setting a custom header in your Apache setup, which is then forwarded to ORDS and APEX. If this header is present (the actual value does not matter), the APEX Builder and internal administration apps are blocked and return a "403 Forbidden" error if you try to access them.

To get this working, you have to modify your Apache configuration, check the real client IP, and set the header accordingly:


Remember to restart Apache to pick up the new settings.

Then set up the following in APEX:

Then try to access your APEX Builder from a non-trusted IP, and you should get a "403 Forbidden" error.





Monday, December 19, 2022

Dynamic Content Region in Oracle APEX 22.2

There's a new version of Oracle Application Express (APEX) in town, and one of the new "features" is a new region type called "Dynamic Content" that allows you to output content using PL/SQL.

What happened to the existing "PL/SQL Dynamic Content" region type that does exactly this, you might ask? It's still there, but now it's marked as "Legacy" and requires an extra mouse click just to be able to select it, and to make you feel bad for using it.

So why a new region type to replace the old one? The stated reason is to allow the region to be refreshed, but as readers of my blog will know, there are already ways of doing that, as demonstrated in this region plugin that I released in 2012.

In order to make the region refreshable, the APEX team had to change the way you use it. You no longer call the "HTP" package to add your content to a global output buffer. Instead, you have to concatenate and return your content as a string (varchar2 or clob). The way it's suggested in the online help is like this:

There are several things I don't like about this:

  • You have to declare a local variable
  • You have to clutter the code with concatenation
  • You cannot split your code into subroutines unless you pass around your local variable holding the final result
  • You have to rewrite every piece of existing code (if you want to use the new region type)

Instead, I want to be able to (continue to) write code like this:

Notice the use of "apex_htp" in the above code; this is a package that does not (yet) exist, but read on!

Or, to give a more complex and real-world example which uses several subprocedures that all write out to the global buffer:

What I think the APEX team should have done

When the APEX team decided that they needed a new region type with a different architecture, instead of just throwing the existing region type into the murky "legacy" territory, they should have made the transition as smooth as possible, by offering a drop-in replacement to the existing HTP package.

I immediately suggested this when I saw the latest APEX version, and as I said on Twitter I think it's a strange decision to hide away the existing method as "legacy" when you are replacing it with a worse dev experience that is not yet fully baked.

To fix this, I've submitted an idea to the APEX Ideas app, to suggest that the APEX team include a new package in the next APEX version that can be used as a drop-in replacement for the HTP package. Using this package with existing code should be as easy as replacing "htp.p" with "apex_htp.p" and adding a single RETURN statement at the end of the region process code.

The spec for such a package could look like the below image. I've already made a working prototype for myself, calling it "xtp", and with a (temporary) synonym I can also call it using "apex_htp", but the point of this blog post (and the submitted idea) is to get this included in APEX itself, where it should have been from day 1 of APEX 22.2. Go and vote today for this idea if you are using PL/SQL Dynamic Content regions!

For those interested in the (just a quick prototype) package body, here it is on GitHub.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Joel Kallman Day 2022: APEX Caching #joelkallmanday

 I'm writing a short blog post today as part of the Joel Kallman Day.

"Server-Side Caching" is probably an under-utilized feature of Oracle APEX. It's very easy to use, and can have an amazing impact on the performance of your APEX application, and make it (even) more scalable.


What is APEX Server Caching?

Here's how the help text explains it:

"Select how the Oracle APEX engine can cache HTML text on the server side. If caching can be used, it emits the cached result instead of computing it again. This cuts down on expensive computation time on the server. This feature is unrelated to the browser's caching capabilities."

In other words, if you have a report, or a chart, or some content generated dynamically by PL/SQL, the APEX engine can store the final result (the HTML text) of that content and just display that instead of having to re-run a query or execute your code.

What can be cached?

You can cache whole Pages, or individual Regions.


Cache settings

You can choose how to cache (by session, by user, or for everyone) and how long to cache. You can also select one or more items; if the value of these items change, the cache will automatically be invalidated and refreshed on the next view. You can also combine this with a more complex Condition.

APEX API packages related to caching

The following packages are related to caching:

APEX Dictionary View

The view APEX_APPLICATION_CACHING gives you information about caching, useful for debugging and monitoring.

Bonus: Tip

On pages where you use caching, create a button to clear the cache immediately (and perhaps conditionally display the button for admins/developers). This will make your life as a developer easier. Remember that any changes you as a developer make to reports, etc. will no longer be immediately visible if they are cached!

Monday, October 11, 2021

Joel Kallman Day 2021: Oracle Database Express Edition (XE) 21c

The "Oracle Tech Network Appreciation Day" has been renamed to "Joel Kallman Day" in honor of Joel Kallman, who along with Mike Hichwa was one of the original developers of Oracle Application Express (APEX). Joel suddenly and tragically passed away during the pandemic earlier this year.

Joel at APEX World in Rotterdam, 2019


The "Joel Kallman Day" is about appreciating some piece of Oracle tech. In 2016, I wrote about the free Oracle Express Edition (XE) database. It just so happens that the latest Oracle XE version, 21c, was released for Linux a month ago, and for Windows just a few days ago.

Therefore, my blog post for Joel Kallman Day 2021 is about Oracle Express Edition, a great (and free!) way to get started with Oracle, PL/SQL, APEX and databases in general. You can download the software from and there's also docs and videos showing how to install and get started.

To give the new version a test drive, I created a Windows Server VM on Microsoft Azure, and then downloaded and installed XE 21c along with APEX and the Thoth Gateway for IIS.

The Azure VM size I selected for this test was "Standard B2s (2 vcpus, 4 GiB memory)". In Azure it costs about USD 40 per month.

Just for fun, here are some timings:

Time to...
... provision new VM in Azure: 5 minutes
... first login to VM: 2 minutes
... download a real browser: 1 minute
... download 21c XE: 30 seconds
... unzip 21c XE: 30 seconds
... install 21c XE: 15 minutes

... download APEX 21.1: 1 minute
... unzip APEX 21.1: 3 minutes
... install APEX 21.1: 8 minutes

... install IIS: 2 minutes
... install Thoth Gateway: 1 minute

... first login in APEX (total time): 39 minutes

Here's a screenshot showing APEX 21.1 in action on Oracle Database XE 21c on Windows Server 2019 with IIS and Thoth Gateway. The page rendering time is not too shabby! :-)

So, a big thanks to Oracle for providing a great, free database, and thanks to Joel and everybody on the APEX team for their excellent work. #letswreckthistogether

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Ten years since Mythbusters: Stored Procedures Edition

Today it's exactly ten years since I published my blog post called Mythbusters: Stored Procedures Edition

Using "stored procedures" (ie storing and executing code in your database, next to the data, instead of in a middle tier or client) is a practice that is provably both efficient and secure, yet it is often dismissed as "wrong".

My original blog post looks at the usual reasons given against the use of stored procedures for "business logic" (or for anything at all, really) and explains why they tend to be myths (or outright lies), repeated so many times that they are taken as the truth. Take a moment to read the article now.

Publishing the article proved that advocating for the use of stored procedures, which had gone out of fashion already by 2011, was controversial. It caused an immediate spike in my blog traffic, receiving almost 20 000 page views in a single day (at the time, my blog had perhaps a few hundred page views per day on average). The article was picked up by Hacker News and generated a lively discussion there.

So, where are we in 2021, ten years later?

Mainstream development (still) uses imperative, object-oriented 3GL languages (Java, .NET, etc) running in the middle tier or client, dragging data out from the database to process it, with data access usually abstracted through an ORM. Which, predictably, results in suboptimal performance.

The myths about stored procedures are still prevalent. Ask a random Java/.NET developer today, and I bet he will claim that it's impossible to version control stored procedures (myth #1). In that case, please send him a link to that 10-year old article...



Sunday, November 8, 2020

New version of Quick PL/SQL, a code generator for PL/SQL

I've released a new version of Quick PL/SQL, the code generator for PL/SQL based on the same concept as QuickSQL in APEX, but for PL/SQL code. The initial version was released in August 2018.

The online version is available (as before) here:

The source code is available on my GitHub.

This release (version 1.2) has a few improvements. The first is syntax highlighting of the generated code (right hand side of the page). This relies on the CodeMirror library which is bundled with APEX. Unfortunately it only supports SQL, not PL/SQL, so not all code is properly highlighted, but it's better than nothing.

The second improvement is a "Quick CRUD" button which opens a dialog that allows you to specify a table name (and optionally the name of the primary key column and the package name):

Based on this it creates the markup required for a complete "CRUD package" in the Input section, which saves you from remembering the markup syntax, and saves you from typing a lot of boilerplate markup as well.

Then, as before, just click on "Generate" to have the final PL/SQL generated for you.

Enjoy! :-)

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Translation enhancements in APEX 18 and 19

The Oracle Application Express (APEX) documentation summarizes the translation process thus:

"To translate an application developed in App Builder, you must map the primary and target language, seed and export text to a translation file, translate the text, apply the translation file, and publish the translated application."

When you go to Shared Components and then click "Translate Application", this process is illustrated by a list:

So the "default" approach is to download the XLIFF file and use a third-party tool to do the translation by editing that file.

However, it is also possible to edit the translations directly from within APEX. Click on "Translation Repository" under Translation Utilities to access this editor.

A few simple, but very useful enhancements have been made to the Translation Repository pages in the last couple of APEX versions.

 In APEX 19, there is now a new column available called "Translated" which indicates whether the original string has been translated or not. Using this column it is easy to filter out the strings already translated.

The popup edit window for the translation has a checkbox, added in APEX 18, that allows you to update all existing occurrences of the source string with a new translation. This is useful if you have, for example, 100 buttons with the label "Save Changes" because you only need to do the translation once.

Also in APEX 18, a "Grid Edit" page was added so you could edit the translations using a tabular form. In APEX 19, this tabular form was replaced with an interactive grid.

This interactive grid also includes the "Translated" column that can be used to filter out the translations which are already done.

Note that sorting by the "Translate From" or "Translate To" columns in the interactive grid is not possible (if you try you'll get an "ORA-00932: inconsistent datatypes: expected - got NCLOB" error). But the list of available columns include "Translate From (Partial)" and "Translate To (Partial)" which extracts the first part of the string as a regular varchar2 (usually the strings to translate are not that long so you'll see the full string in the "Partial" column). If you need to sort the strings (I find it useful to sort alphabetically by the source string in order to find identical strings and use copy/paste to update the translation), use these "Partial" columns to set up the sorting.

Thanks to Joel Kallmann for taking the time to add these small but very useful enhancements into APEX based on my feedback.