Web2 with Java:Struts2, Spring MVC, Flex, JavaFX and Google Web Toolkit

Originally posted on the O’Reilly Books OnJava blog. 

My fellow Java Developers. Two years ago I wrote an article on ‘Web 2.0 and Enterprise Java – move over Struts‘ looking at what was likely to replace Struts 1 (then and now a de facto web standard). How did our predictions fare?

Remember that article (and this one) isn’t looking for technical best, but which is going to be a best investment of your time to learn (in a mercenary commercial sense). And if you’re deciding which to use in a project , which framework is going to be easiest to support in 5 or 10 years time?

Broadly speaking, the frameworks we talk about break into two types: those that treat the web as a set of pages, and those that treat the web as a set of components (think Visual Basic, Delphi or Oracle Forms act-a-likes).

So , what has changed in the last 2 years:

  1. The rise of Spring. Not only has it gone mainstream, but the Spring MVC, Spring Webflow and Spring-JavaServerFaces are very powerful and widely used web frameworks. A sign of how things have changed is that for Sruts 1 the Spring guys wrote the integration for the (then) bigger Struts framework. For Struts 2 , the integration was provided by the Struts community. With the forthcoming Spring 3 release the framework is increasing momentum; More annotations and less XML in Spring MVC; Rest Web Services out of the box, support for Dynamic languages like Groovy and Spring Webflow becoming a more ‘just use it where you need it’ solution.
  2. Adobe Flex and OpenLaszlo – Flash graphical interfaces on the Web, built using Java. I don’t think these will be *the* mainstream choice but I do think the will be more than a just a niche. And for design led companies, nothing else (not even Microsoft Silverlight) can come close in terms of a user ‘wow’ factor.
  3. JavaFX and Applets done right (Jim Weaver has a good article on this). More of a competitor to Adobe Flash as both are rich content in the browser using an easily obtainable plugin. JavaFX will appeal to developers because of it’s Java like syntax. I hope I’m wrong, but for rich web content, would you put your money on Sun (an Engineering led company) or Adobe (an almost apple-like design led one)?
  4. Frustration with JSF (Java Server Faces). For the last 3 years I’ve thought that ‘*this* is the year of JSF. I’m still waiting not because of lack of demand (as web apps become more complicated and use more Ajax they become more like the JSF component based model). It’s now uphill for JSF as I (and a lot of other Developers) have given up. I’m still waiting for the ‘EJB 3′ moment when JSF becomes more simple and more usable. Remember , we ‘re not talking about technically best, but which is going to be in widespread use.
  5. Google Web Toolkit (GWT). Looking at it one way , GWT is JSF done right – a component based web framework , but one that is fast and has a lot of community support. Even then it took me a long while to warm to GWT – I’ve bad memories of web-components that hide their internals (remember Microsoft Interdev 10 years ago?) . What got me over the hump was thinking of GWT as a compiler not to Assembly or bytecode , but to Javascript and HTML.

How has Struts 2 got on in the meantime? I’m not sure. Remember , Struts 2 is very different from Struts 1. Conceptually it’s very similar to Spring MVC (Simple Java Beans based with configuration); Slightly easier to learn and maybe slightly less powerful than Spring (although both are more than capable for most Enterprise web applications.

The ‘I’m not sure’ bit comes from two (non technical) factors:

  1. Struts 2 hasn’t achieved the massive Enterprise developer mind share that Struts 1 did. It’s a better framework, but it’s got more competition.
  2. If you’re using Spring in the middle tier, why not have one less framework and use Spring MVC (instead of Struts 2) in the presentation layer as well?

Back to the previous predictions , how did we get on?

Scenario 1: Adding Ajax to existing Struts Applications. Use AjaxAnywhere – closest to the approach taken in the article Sprinkle Some Ajax Magic into your Struts Web Application. Despite writing this article , I see the frameworks evolving rapidly to the point where you would only take such an approach for adding Ajax to ‘Legacy’ applications.

How did we do? I’d maybe widen the choice of Ajax Libraries (to include DWR , Dojo, Prototype and others) but the basic idea of evolving rather than replacing your Struts 1 app still holds true.

Scenario 2: Need Ajax Now for a new Java Application. Use Appfuse as it gives Struts, Ajax (with DWR) and the possiblity of JSF integration now, all ‘out of the box’.

How did we do? I still recommend AppFuse, as it combines (name-your-web-framework) with Spring Hibernate(and other ORM) and Maven. However I’d now tend towards choosing Spring MVC (unless you’ve a reason to use Spring 2), given that you’re probably already using Spring in the mid tier.

Scenario 3: Medium Term. Use an implementation of JSF (either MyFaces or whatever Appfuse promotes – probably Struts Shale). Struts Shale (JSF) has so far released only ‘overnight’ builds. Apache MyFaces (JSF) tool support and Ajax capabilities are likely to improve over time. Both Struts-Shale and MyFaces are likely to play well with AppFuse , making it a safe bet for investing your time checking it out.

How did we do? Struts2 and Spring both still give you migration route to JSF. But do you want it?

So out of the creative ajax-induced chaos of 2 years ago, I see 4 or 5 clear choices in Enterprise web frameworks: Struts 2 (as a follow on from Struts 1). Spring MVC, due to the huge mindshare Spring has on the mid-tier. Google Web Toolkit , both as a natural home of frustrated JSF developers , and because who’s going to argue with the people who gave us maps and mail? Flex, because Flash apps done well just look so good. And JavaFX, because Applets-haven’t-gone-away-you-know.

In my view, we would have been delighted to have any of these framworks 5 years ago. And each (for different reasons) is likely still to be popular in 5 years time. Your missions now is to pick the one that suits your project needs.

JRuby – Web 2.0 in the Enterprise Java world

On a recent project , the choice was between Enterprise Java (using frameworks such as DWR and Struts) , or Oracle Forms. The newest latest Java technology , versus a 15 year old technology that Oracle is comitted to phasing out (and moving to ADF / Oracle fusion). No contest , you think , until you hear that the decision was made (and rightly so) to us Oracle Forms.

‘What?!’ I hear you say – how could this happen? The project in question was fairly simple – get information and store it in a database. The problem is , despite being mainstream for the last 6 years, there is no standard, easy ‘drag and drop’ method of doing these applications in Java. C# does it in Visual Studio. Oracle does it with Forms. With Java (and despite having doing 10 or so of these projects), there is still too much plumbing that the developer needs to know.

I’m expecting a deluge of ‘have you tried project X’ on this post. And yes, I expect that an Eclipse based tool will probably fill the gap. But for these simple applications , there is no standard way of doing this (standard being a solution that dominates the market in the way Struts did the Web App framework space, until recently). But we’ve been waiting 6 long years!

ruby on rails logo

All of which brings me to Ruby. Ruby on Rails’ sweet spot is exactly these kind of simple, ajax enabled , no frills ‘get info from web and store it on database’ applications. Enterprise Java’s sweet spot is the heavy lifting workflow , Rules , Calculations, Integration with Legacy and other systems , web services and basically anything to do with Business logic. The two are a perfect complement to each other, which is why the news that JRuby now runs Ruby on Rails is especially interesting.

JRuby is a version of Ruby that runs in the Standard Java Virtual Machine (JVM). It means that (1) You don’t have to install Ruby, which might meet resistance in a corporate environment. It also means (2) that all the methods you have available in Java you have available in Ruby. The O’Reilly Ruby site and this Javaworld Article are good places to start learning more about Ruby and linking it into Java.

Ask Tom – Oracle is from Mars, Java is from Venus

Sometimes Java people (who do the pretty websites, as well as the ‘ugly bits’) and Oracle people (who hang round in server rooms storing the data) exist on two paralell worlds. The normal conversation goes like this:

Java Person

Where do I get the information from?

Oracle Person

That Table there.

Java Person


And that’s it , until the next month or so. And that’s before we get into words such as ADF , Oracle Forms, Fusion , 10g or OAS, all of which appear on a regular basis on JobServe, but to most Java people may as well be an exotic plant just discovered in the Jungles of Indonesia.

The solution? Ask Tom. More Oracle stuff than our caffine-addled little brains can handle.

Tom Kyte (the Tom above that works for Oracle) , also has his own blog for Oracle related stuff.