Seam and AJAX

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by David Salter | April 2009 | Open Source

With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, users have demanded more interactive web applications. Typically, AJAX technologies are used to provide a high level of interactivity within web applications. In this article by David Salter, we will discuss how AJAX can be used with Seam applications using both Seam Remoting and AJAX4JSF. In particular, we'll pay attention to:

  • Seam Remoting
  • Configuring applications to use Seam Remoting
  • Developing Seam Remoting clients and servers
  • Debugging Seam Remoting applications
  • AJAX4JSF

What is AJAX?

AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is a technique rather than a new technology for developing highly interactive web applications. Traditionally, when JavaScript is written, it uses the browser's XMLHttp DOM API class to make asynchronous calls to a server-side component, for example, servlets. The server-side component generates a resulting XML package and returns this to the client browser, which can then update the browser page without having to re-render the entire page. The result of using AJAX technologies (many different technologies can be used to develop AJAX functionality, for example, PHP, Microsoft .NET, Servlets, and Seam) is to provide an appearance similar to a desktop, for web applications.

AJAX and the Seam Framework

The Seam Framework provides built-in support for AJAX via its direct integration with libraries such as RichFaces and AJAX4JSF. Discussing the AJAX support of RichFaces and AJAX4JSF could fill an entire book, if not two books, so we'll discuss these technologies briefly, towards the end of this article, where we'll give an overview of how they can be used in a Seam application.

However, Seam provides a separate technology called Seam Remoting that we'll discuss in detail in this article. Seam Remoting allows a method on Seam components to be executed directly from JavaScript code running within a browser, allowing us to easily build AJAX-style applications.

Seam Remoting uses annotations and is conversation-aware, so that we still get all of the benefits of writing conversationally-aware components, except that we can now access them via JavaScript as well as through other view technologies, such as Facelets.

Seam Remoting provides a ready-to-use framework, making AJAX applications easier to develop. For example, it provides debugging facilities and logging facilities similar to the ones that we use everyday when writing Java components.

Configuring Seam applications for Seam Remoting

To use Seam Remoting, we need to configure the Seam web application to support JavaScript code that is making asynchronous calls to the server back end. In a traditional servlet-based system this would require writing complex servlets that could read, parse, and return XML as part of an HTTP GET or POST request. With Seam Remoting, we don't need to worry about managing XML data and its transport mechanism. We don't even need to worry about writing servlets that can handle the communication for us—all of this is a part of the framework.

To configure a web application to use Seam Remoting, all we need to do is declare the Seam Resource servlet within our application's WEB-INF/web.xml file. We do this as follows.

<servlet>
<servlet-name>Seam Resource Servlet</servlet-name>
<servlet-class>
org.jboss.seam.servlet.SeamResourceServlet
</servlet-class>
</servlet>
<servlet-mapping>
<servlet-name>Seam Resource Servlet</servlet-name>
<url-pattern>/seam/resource/*</url-pattern>
</servlet-mapping>

That's all we need to do to make a Seam web application work with Seam Remoting. To make things even easier, this configuration is automatically done when applications are created with SeamGen, so you would have to worry about this configuration only if you are using non-SeamGen created projects.

Configuring Seam Remoting server side

To declare that a Seam component can be used via Seam Remoting, the methods that are to be exposed need to be annotated with the @WebRemote annotation. For simple POJO components, this annotation is applied directly on the POJO itself, as shown in the following code snippet.

@Name("helloWorld")
public class HelloWorld implements HelloWorldAction {

@WebRemote
public String sayHello() {
return "Hello world !!";
}

For Session Beans, the annotation must be applied on the Session Beans business interface rather than on the implementation class itself. A Session Bean interface would be declared as follows.

import javax.ejb.Local;
import org.jboss.seam.annotations.remoting.WebRemote;

@Local
public interface HelloWorldAction {
@WebRemote
public String sayHello();
@WebRemote
public String sayHelloWithArgs(String name);
}

The implementation class is defined as follows:

import javax.ejb.Stateless;
import org.jboss.seam.annotations.Name;

@Stateless
@Name("helloWorld")
public class HelloWorld implements HelloWorldAction {
public String sayHello() {
return "Hello world !!";
}
public String sayHelloWithArgs(String name) {
return "Hello "+name;
}
}

Note that, to make a method available to Seam Remoting, all we need to do is to annotate the method with @WebRemote and then import the relevant class. As we can see in the preceding code, it doesn't matter how many parameters our methods take.

Configuring Seam Remoting client side

In the previous sections, we've seen that minimal configuration is required to enable Seam Remoting and to declare Seam components as Remoting-aware. Similarly in this section, we'll see that minimal work is required within a Facelets file to enable Remoting.

The Seam Framework provides built-in JavaScript to enable Seam Remoting. To use this JavaScript, we first need to define it within a Facelets file in the following way:

<script type="text/javascript" src='//dgdsbygo8mp3h.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/blank.gif' data-original="/HelloWorld/seam/resource/
remoting/resource/remote.js">
</script>
<script type="text/javascript" src='//dgdsbygo8mp3h.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/blank.gif' data-original="/HelloWorld/seam/resource/
remoting/interface.js?helloWorld">

To include the relevant JavaScript into a Facelets page, we need to import the /seam/resource/remoting/resource/remote.js and /seam/resource/remoting/interface.js JavaScript files. These files are served via the Seam resource servlet that we defined earlier in this article.

You can see that the interface.js file takes an argument defining the name of the Seam component that we will be accessing (this is the name of the component for which we have defined methods with the @WebRemote annotation).

If we wish to use two or more different Seam components from a Remoting interface, we would specify their names as parameters to the interface.js file separated by using an "&", for example:

<script type="text/javascript" src='//dgdsbygo8mp3h.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/blank.gif' data-original="/HelloWorld/seam/resource/
remoting/interface.js?helloWorld&mySecondComponent&
myThirdComponent">

To specify that we will use Seam components from the web tier is straight-forward, however, the Seam tag library makes this even easier.

Instead of specifying the JavaScript shown in the preceding examples, we can simply insert the <s:remote /> tag into Facelets, passing the name of the Seam component to use within the include parameter.

<ui:composition
xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"
xmlns:s="http://jboss.com/products/seam/taglib"
xmlns:ui="http://java.sun.com/jsf/facelets"
xmlns:f="http://java.sun.com/jsf/core"
xmlns:h="http://java.sun.com/jsf/html"
xmlns:rich="http://richfaces.org/rich"
template="layout/template.xhtml">

<ui:define name="body">
<h1>Hello World</h1>
<s:remote include="helloWorld"/>

To use the <s:remote /> tag, we need to import the Seam tag library, as shown in this example. When the web page is rendered, Seam will automatically generate the relevant JavaScript.

Seam and AJAX

If we are using the <s:remote /> tag and we want to invoke methods on multiple Seam components, we need to place the component names as comma-separated values within the include parameter of the tag instead, for example:
<s:remote include="helloWorld, mySecondComponent, myThirdComponent" />

Invoking Seam components via Remoting

Now that we have configured our web application, defined the services to be exposed from the server, and imported the JavaScript to perform the AJAX calls, we can execute our remote methods.

To get an instance of a Seam component within JavaScript, we use the Seam.Component.getInstance() method. This method takes one parameter, which specifies the name of the Seam component that we wish to interact with.

Seam.Component.getInstance("helloWorld")

This method returns a reference to Seam Remoting JavaScript to allow our exposed @WebReference methods to be invoked. When invoking a method via JavaScript, we must specify any arguments to the method (possibly there will be none) and a callback function. The callback function will be invoked asynchronously when the server component's method has finished executing. Within the callback function we can perform any JavaScript processing (such as DOM processing) to give our required AJAX-style functionality.

For example, to execute a simple Hello World client, passing no parameters to the server, we could define the following code within a Facelets file.

<ui:define name="body">
<h1>Hello World</h1>
<s:remote include="helloWorld"/>
<p>
<button onclick="javascript:sayHello()">Say Hello</button>
</p>
<p>
<div id="helloResult"></div>
</p>
<script type="text/javascript">
function sayHello() {
var callback = function(result) {
document.getElementById("helloResult").innerHTML=result;
};
Seam.Component.getInstance("helloWorld").
sayHello(callback);
}
</script>
</ui:define>

Let's take a look at this code, one piece at a time, to see exactly what is happening.

<s:remote include="helloWorld"/>

<p>
<button onclick="javascript:sayHello()">Say Hello</button>
</p>

In this part of the code, we have specified that we want to invoke methods on the helloWorld Seam component by using the <s:remote /> tag. We've then declared a button and specified that the sayHello() JavaScript method will be invoked when the button is clicked.

<div id="helloResult"></div>

Next we've defined an empty <div /> called helloResult. This <div /> will be populated via the JavaScript DOM API with the results from out server side method invocation.

<script type="text/javascript">
function sayHello() {
var callback = function(result) {
document.getElementById("helloResult").innerHTML=result;
};
Seam.Component.getInstance("helloWorld").
sayHello(callback);
}
</script>

Next, we've defined our JavaScript function sayHello(), which is invoked when the button is clicked. This method declares a callback function that takes one parameter. The JavaScript DOM API uses this parameter to set the contents of the helloResult <div /> that we have defined earlier.

So far, everything that we've done here has been simple JavaScript and hasn't used any Seam APIs. Finally, we invoke the Seam component using the Seam.Component.getInstance().sayHello() method, passing the callback function as the final parameter.

When we open the page, the following flow of events occurs:

  1. The page is displayed with appropriate JavaScript created via the<s:remote /> tag.
  2. The user clicks on the button.
  3. The Seam JavaScript is invoked, which causes the sayHello() method on the helloWorld component to be invoked.
  4. The server side component completes execution, causing the JavaScript callback function to be invoked.
  5. The JavaScript DOM API uses the results from the server method to change the contents of the <div /> in the browser, without causing the entire page to be refreshed.

This process shows how we've developed some AJAX functionality by writing a minimal amount of JavaScript, but more importantly, by not dealing with XML or the JavaScript XMLHttp class.

The preceding code shows how we can easily invoke server side methods without passing any parameters. This code can easily be expanded to pass parameters, as shown in the following code snippet:

<s:remote include="helloWorld"/>
<p>
<button onclick="javascript:sayHelloWithArgs()">
Say Hello with Args
</button>
</p>
<p>
<div id="helloResult"></div>
</p>
<script type="text/javascript">
function sayHelloWithArgs() {
var name = "David";
var callback = function(result) {
document.getElementById("helloResult").innerHTML=result;
};
Seam.Component.getInstance("helloWorld").
sayHelloWithArgs(name, callback);
}
</script>

The preceding code shows that the process for invoking remote methods with parameters is similar to the process for invoking remote methods with no parameters. The important point to note is that the callback function is specified as the last parameter.

When our simple application is run, we get the following screenshot.

Seam and AJAX

Clicking on either of the buttons on the page causes our AJAX code to be executed, and the text of the <div /> component to be changed.

Seam and AJAX

If we want to invoke a server side method via Seam Remoting and we want the method to be invoked as a part of a Seam conversation, we can use the Seam.Remoting.getcontext.setConversationId() method to set the conversation ID. This ID will then by used by the Seam Framework to ensure that the AJAX request is a part of the appropriate conversation. Seam.Remoting.getContext().setConversationId(#{conversation.id});

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Debugging Seam Remoting

When writing Seam Remoting applications, it can be useful to see the AJAX conversations that are being carried out between the browser and the server.

Seam enables a debug window that shows all of the Remoting communications to be turned on. Debugging is turned off by default, but can be enabled by editing the WEB-INF/components.xml file.

Debugging can be enabled within this file in two ways:

  • Setting the debug property of the org.jboss.seam.remoting.remoting component to true.
  • Setting the debug property of the remoting:remoting component to true.

The org.jboss.seam.remoting.remoting component

The simplest way to enable Seam Remoting debugging is to set the debug property to true on the org.jboss.seam.remoting.remoting component. This is achieved by specifying the following code within the WEB-INF/components.xml file.

<component name="org.jboss.seam.remoting.remoting">
<property name="debug">true</property>
</component>

However, if this mechanism is used for enabling debugging, the XML within the components.xml cannot be validated fully against the XML schema, because the component name cannot be validated. The following technique allows better control, and helps to ensure that the components.xml file can be validated against its schema.

The <remoting:remoting> component

Seam Remoting debugging can also be enabled by using the <remoting:remoting> component. To enable debugging, insert the following code into the WEB-INF/components.xml file.

<remoting:remoting debug="true" />

It's evident from this code that the component name can be fully validated against the XML schema, which will help to reduce errors within the configuration.

To use this type of configuration, we must first specify the namespace and schema location for the Seam Remoting component. This is achieved within the <components /> element of the WEB-INF/components.xml file, as shown in the following code snippet.

<components xmlns="http://jboss.com/products/seam/components"
xmlns:core="http://jboss.com/products/seam/core"
xmlns:persistence="http://jboss.com/products/seam/persistence"
xmlns:drools="http://jboss.com/products/seam/drools"
xmlns:bpm="http://jboss.com/products/seam/bpm"
xmlns:security="http://jboss.com/products/seam/security"
xmlns:mail="http://jboss.com/products/seam/mail"
xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
xmlns:remoting="http://jboss.com/products/seam/remoting"
xsi:schemaLocation=
"http://jboss.com/products/seam/core
http://jboss.com/products/seam/core-2.1.xsd
http://jboss.com/products/seam/persistence
http://jboss.com/products/seam/persistence-2.1.xsd
http://jboss.com/products/seam/drools
http://jboss.com/products/seam/drools-2.1.xsd
http://jboss.com/products/seam/bpm
http://jboss.com/products/seam/bpm-2.1.xsd
http://jboss.com/products/seam/security
http://jboss.com/products/seam/security-2.1.xsd
http://jboss.com/products/seam/mail
http://jboss.com/products/seam/mail-2.1.xsd
http://jboss.com/products/seam/remoting
http://jboss.com/products/seam/remoting-2.1.xsd
http://jboss.com/products/seam/components
http://jboss.com/products/seam/components-2.1.xsd">

From this XML fragment, we can see that we define the XML namespace remoting as http://jboss.com/products/seam/remoting. We then define the schema location as http://jboss.com/products/seam/remoting-2.1.xsd.

Once debugging is enabled via either of the two methods described earlier, whenever a Remoting method is executed, all of the data that is passed between the server and the web browser is displayed within a popup browser window, as shown in the following screenshot.

Seam and AJAX

For our simple HelloWorld method, let's see what the HTML exchanges between client and server are.

Seam and AJAX

In the request packet, we can see that the sayHelloWithArgs method on the helloWorld component is being invoked, passing the parameter value "David". This is being invoked with a conversation handle of "5".

In the response packet, we can see that the value "Hello David" is returned as the response.

Logging

To help debug Remoting applications, the Seam Framework provides a logging component that can be used from within JavaScript.

The Seam.Remoting.log method can be used to output debug information into the Remoting debug window, including text messages or variable values.

Seam.Remoting.log("This is a debug message");
Seam.Remoting.log("Value:"+name);

Seam and AJAX

Changing the Please wait message

When Seam Remoting is being performed and the JavaScript in the browser is invoking a server side method, a message is displayed on the upper-right of the browser window, stating Please wait…. This text is displayed until the AJAX call is complete, and is intended to show the user that communication is being performed between the browser and the server.

Seam and AJAX

The Please wait… text can be customized to display any value (message) that is required by setting the Seam.Remoting.loadingMessage property from within client side JavaScript, as shown in the following code sample.

function sayHello() {
Seam.Remoting.log("setting the loading message");
Seam.Remoting.loadingMessage = "Hold on a moment...";
// .. rest of code removed for brevity.
}

 

AJAX4JSF

AJAX4JSF allows, as the name suggests, AJAX functionality to be added and used within JSF applications. AJAX4JSF provides Facelets tags both to, provide AJAX functionality via new tags, and to enable AJAX functionality in existing standard Facelets tags.

In early 2007, RedHat and Exadel announced a partnership and an intention to open source AJAX4JSF. The process of open sourcing AJAX4JSF moved quickly, and by the end of 2007, AJAX4JSF became part of the RichFaces project and was fully hosted by RedHat.

Configuring an application for AJAX4JSF

Because AJAX4JSF is now a part of the RichFaces library, no additional configuration over configuring an application to use RichFaces is required to enable AJAX4JSF. Fortunately, as we've seen in the previous sections, if we are using SeamGen, then all of the configuration is automatically done for us when we create a new project.

Because AJAX4JSF is implemented as a separate tag library to RichFaces, and in order to use AJAX4JSF within a Facelets page, we need to include the tag library into our pages. This is typically done by referencing the a4j namespace within a page, as shown in the following code snippet.

<ui:composition
xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"
xmlns:s="http://jboss.com/products/seam/taglib"
xmlns:ui="http://java.sun.com/jsf/facelets"
xmlns:f="http://java.sun.com/jsf/core"
xmlns:h="http://java.sun.com/jsf/html"
xmlns:rich="http://richfaces.org/rich"
xmlns:a4j="http://richfaces.org/a4j"
template="layout/template.xhtml">

In order to stop concurrency issues when accessing conversationally scoped components from AJAX requests, Seam serializes access to conversations. An AJAX request will access the current long-running conversation if it is able to access the conversation within a specified timeout. If the conversation cannot be accessed within the specified timeout, then a temporary conversation will be used. The timeout period for concurrent requests is specified within the components.xml file by using the concurrent-request-timeout attribute of the <core:manager /> element.
<core:manager concurrent-request-timeout="500" /> For further information on the concurrent-request-timeout attribute, check out the Seam documentation at :http://seamframework.org/Documentation/GetTheConversationEndedTimedOutOrWasProcessingAnotherRequestWithAJAX

AJAX4JSF tags

AJAX4JSF provides tags to provide new AJAX functionality and also tags to enable AJAX functionality in existing JSF tags. Let's take a look at some of the more common tags. Because most of these tags function in a similar way to RichFaces tags, we'll provide a brief outline of some of the more important tags in the library.

<a4j:commandButton />

The <a4j:commandButton /> tag is considered to be similar to the standard <h:commandButton /> tag used within JSF pages, except that clicking the button can cause sections of a page to be redrawn in an AJAX fashion rather than requesting the entire page to be redrawn.

The <a4j:commandButton /> tag is used in a way similar to the standard <h:commandButton /> tag, but has an additional reRender attribute. The reRender attribute specifies which section of a page is to be re-rendered when the AJAX request is performed.

<!DOCTYPE composition PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"
"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">
<ui:composition
xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml"
xmlns:s="http://jboss.com/products/seam/taglib"
xmlns:ui="http://java.sun.com/jsf/facelets"
xmlns:f="http://java.sun.com/jsf/core"
xmlns:h="http://java.sun.com/jsf/html"
xmlns:rich="http://richfaces.org/rich"
xmlns:a4j="http://richfaces.org/a4j"
template="layout/template.xhtml">
<ui:define name="body">
<h1>Hello World</h1>
Current Time:
<script>
var today=new Date()
document.write(today.toString())
</script>
<h:outputText value="#{forName.time}" />
<a4j:form>
<h:inputText value="#{foreName.name}" />
<a4j:commandButton value="Reverse" reRender="results"
action="#{helloWorld.reverse}" />
</a4j:form>
<h:panelGroup id="results">
<h:outputText value="#{foreName.reverse}" />
</h:panelGroup>
</ui:define>
</ui:composition>

Here, we can see that the current date and time is included in the HTML page so that we can verify that the entire page is not refreshed when we perform an AJAX request using the a4j:commandButton tag. In this code, we display an input box, which is bound to the #{forename.name} Seam component. When the button is clicked, the reverse method is executed on the Seam helloWorld component and the results panel grid is re-rendered. All of the Seam components that we are using here are standard components.

When the page is first rendered, the current date and time are displayed, along with the edit box and button implemented by the <a4j:commandButton /> tag.

Seam and AJAX

If we enter our name in the edit box and click on the Reverse button, the Seam component reverses the name and binds it to the #{foreName.reverse} property, which is displayed underneath our input, as shown in the following screenshot.

Seam and AJAX

The important thing that we can see here is that the current time is the same as before the button was clicked, showing us that only the panel grid was updated, and not the entire page.

<a4j:commandLink />

The <a4j:commandLink /> tag works in the same way as the <h:commandLink /> tag, except it provides a reRender attribute that specifies a section of page to be rendered, in exactly the same way as the <h:commandLink /> tag.

<a4j:form>
<h:inputText value="#{foreName.name}" />
<a4j:commandLink value="Reverse"
reRender="results"
action="#{helloWorld.reverse}" />
</a4j:form>

To ensure that the AJAX functionality works correctly with the <a4j:commandLink /> and <a4j:commandButton /> tags, it is recommended that they are embedded within an <a4j:form /> tag rather than a <h:form /> tag.

<a4j:poll />

The <a4j:poll /> tag allows a section of a page to be rendered periodically using AJAX technologies. Again, as with the previous tags, only a portion of the page is rendered each time the Seam server side components are polled.

<a4j:poll action="{helloWorld.countLetters}
interval="5000"
reRender="results"
/>
<h:panelGroup id="results">
...
</h:panelGroup>

With the <a4j:poll /> tag, the extra attributes interval and reRender are used to define the AJAX functionality. The interval attribute specifies the time period in milliseconds between pollings of the Seam component specified by the action attribute. As in the previous examples, the reRender attribute specifies which area of the page to re-render.

<a4j:support />

The <a4j:support /> tag is slightly different to the other AJAX4JSF tags—it enables AJAX functionality to be added to standard JSF tags such as <h:inputText /> and others, rather than defining a new component with AJAX functionality.

To use this tag, it is embedded within other standard JSF tags, as shown in the following code fragment.

<h:inputText value="#{foreName.name}"
action=#{helloWorld.select} >
<a4j:support reRender="results"
event="onselect" />
</h:inputText>
<h:panelGrid id="results">
...
</h:panelGrid>

The <a4j:support /> tag requires the reRender and event attributes to be specified. The reRender attribute specifies which part of the page is to be re-rendered when an AJAX event occurs. The event attribute specifies which standard JavaScript event causes an AJAX event to occur. In the preceding example, when anything within the input text box is selected, the select() method on the helloWorld Seam component is invoked, and the results panel grid is updated accordingly.

Full details of all of the AJAX4JSF components, and all of their attributes (and all of the RichFaces components), can be found at:http://www.jboss.org/file-access/default/members/jbossrichfaces/freezone/docs/devguide/en/html/RichFacesComponentsLibrary.html

Summary

In this article, we've looked at AJAX and how it can be applied to Seam applications.

We've seen that there are two different AJAX technologies within the Seam framework: Seam Remoting and AJAX4JSF.

Seam Remoting allows methods to be defined such that they can be executed remotely via JavaScript. These methods are annotated with the @WebRemote annotation. We looked at how these methods can be invoked easily from within JavaScript by using the Seam.Component.getInstance() JavaScript method.

Debugging JavaScript can often be a tedious operation. However, we saw that Seam provides us with debugging tools to allow us to see what XML is passed between the server (Seam components) and the client (browser-based JacaScript). The Seam Remoting library also allows us to insert ad hoc debugging code into JavaScript in a similar fashion to how JDK logging or Apache Log4J does for Java code.

Finally, we took a brief look at AJAX4JSF and saw how it's an integral part of the RichFaces library and as such is easily used within Seam applications—particularly when we use SeamGen to generate them.

We looked at a few of the more common AJAX4JSF components such as <a4j:commandLink />, <a4j:poll />, and <a4j:support /> and saw how these provide new AJAX enabled controls and also enable us to add AJAX functionality to standard JSF controls.

Seam 2.x Web Development Build robust web applications with Seam, Facelets, and RichFaces using the JBoss application server
Published: April 2009
eBook Price: $23.99
Book Price: $39.99
See more
Select your format and quantity:

About the Author :


David Salter

David Salter is an enterprise software architect who has been developing software professionally since 1991. His relationship with Java goes right back to the beginning, using Java 1.0 for writing desktop applications and applets for interactive web sites. David has been developing Enterprise Java Applications using both the J2EE standards and open source solutions for the last five years. David runs the Java community web site Develop In Java, a web site for all levels of Java developers.

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