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.

What you missed at the Dublin Java Meetup

15 people turned up to talk about Java yesterday evening in the Forum Bar Dublin. Actually we talked about the World Cup (Ireland didn’t make it , but we had the choice of 6 other teams, including Jakub who was very selfish and had two!), Ruby (which is going to eat Java’s lunch in some areas), PHP, Naked Objects (write in Java, deploy in .Net), JavaKicks (a Digg like service, targetted at Java), .Net, Enterprise and Financial software, Spring , EJB 3.0, Apache, Blogging , Web 2.0 , Ajax , Service Orientated Architecture, Government Tenders, the Dublin Contract market and a little bit about Java.

Can’t make it along in person? We’re going to do a 2nd Java meetup, but in a ‘virtual pub’ for people who find it hard to get to Dublin. We’ll still carry on with the existing (face to face) meetups. As an extra, at 7.30pm the last Tuesday of the month we’ll have an open chat session (We’ll setup chat software on this or another website).

So, for 7.30pm on Tuesday 25th July I’ll be online. We’ll start with ‘What technologies should I be learning in the next 12 months?’ and let things develop from there.

Java Market Trends

Below is an extract of a report Distributed by Computer People. It’s a breakdown of all the Java Job Adverts for the last 6 months in the London Contract / Permanent Market. While it should be treated with caution as (a) it’s sales and marketing material and (b) the London / UK market will differ substiantially from Dublin. For example , I would not expect to see as many Sybase roles in Dublin as London, due to the use of Sybase in the London Financial markets.

Example from the figures: Of all java jobs advertised in the UK , 36,86% were also looking for J2EE (Enterprise Java) Skills.

  • 22504 (36.86 %) J2EE
  • 17476 (28.62 %) Oracle
  • 16045 (26.28 %) UNIX
  • 15510 (25.40 %) XML
  • 15321 (25.10 %) SQL
  • 15269 (25.01 %) C++
  • 12815 (20.99 %)  Finance
  • 12370 (20.26 %) Banking
  • 11152 (18.27 %) Graduate/Degree/BSc
  • 10069 (16.49 %) OO
  • 9465 (15.50 %) .NET
  • 8413 (13.78 %) CSharp
  • 8188 (13.41 %) JSP
  • 7529 (12.33 %) Sybase
  • 7340 (12.02 %) HTML
  • 6940 (11.37 %) Investment Banking
  • 6740 (11.04 %) UML
  • 6606 (10.82 %) Front Office
  • 6479 (10.61 %) Windows
  • 6343 (10.39 %) SQL Server
  • 5991 (9.81 %) Linux
  • 5533 (9.06 %) Perl
  • 5047 (8.27 %) WebLogic
  • 4940 (8.09 %) JavaScript
  • 4685 (7.67 %) Struts
  • 4547 (7.45 %) EJB2
  • 4456 (7.30 %) Servlets
  • 4435 (7.26 %) Microsoft
  • 4136 (6.77 %) VB
  • 3892 (6.37 %) Fixed Income

Web 2.0 and Enterprise Java – move over Struts

A while back I wrote an article for an O’Reilly sister site, Java.net , on Sprinkle Some Ajax Magic into your Struts Web Application. I’m going to repeat one thing I said in this article: while coding Ajax is cool, you really want to use a framework if you have the choice. If you don’t believe me , check out some of the podcasts on Ajaxian.com. When you listen to the problems that the frameworks have overcome (What if the ActiveX XmlHttpRequest Object is turned off? What if you want to do local storage? What if the user hits the back button?), you’ll be a convert to the ‘Frameworks are better’ approach. So which Ajax enabled framework should you use as an Enterprise Java developer?

Pre Ajax, the answer to ‘which Java presentation framework should I use?’ would have been Apache Struts. Not because it was technically better than any of the other frameworks (although feel free to leave your comment!) but because everybody else is using it. This meant
(a) using Struts is good for your client, as they can replace you if you get run over by a bus and
(b) using Struts is good for you, as you can take your Struts skills to your next piece of work.

However , in this strange new Ajax and Web 2.0 world, things are beginning to change. Javascript gone from ‘has been kiddie scripting language’ to ‘coolest thing on the planet’. User expectations about what Enterprise Web applications can are going through the roof as Web 2.0 enters the mainstream. What Java framework are you going to use to deliver these expectations?

With this in mind, I did some research on the Ajax Enabled Java frameworks that are currently (Feb 06) available. I tried to pick out the best ones (best for your career, and hopefully technically best) based on the following criteria:

  • Java – Web development frameworks with Ajax capability.
  • Rating based on technical capabilites, and which is most likely to be the ‘next Struts’ (i.e. become the defacto standard for Java-Web Development).
  • Rating is based partly on downloading and running the projects and partly on evaluation of what the websites / other people say.
  • Products must be available (at least partly) in open source form with a recognised open source licence – as these are most likely to get community traction.

Before we get into the list, there a couple of items that you may think are missing:

  • Whatever you may think of non-Java frameworks (e.g. Ruby on Rails, PHP with Ajax), these are not included here. The notion of Java being replaced by Language / Framework ‘X’ is an entirely different article.
  • The list also does not include several excellent ‘server neutral’ frameworks such as BackBase, Dojo, Prototype, or JSON. While these frameworks are included with some of the toolsets listed below, we’re aiming to get an ‘out of the box’ toolkit for the Web tier of Enterprise Java applications.
  • You’ll also probably note that there are 3 implementations of the Java Server Faces (JSF) standard on this list – MyFaces , Ajax JSF and Struts (Shale).

Think we got the evaluation wrong? Leave your comments at the bottom of this post.

Ajax Java Web Presentation Frameworks

AjaxAnywhere Independent of Java framework (e.g. Struts, JSF or Spring). Closest in approach to Java.net Struts-Ajax Article. Good interim solution based on existing frameworks, but can’t see this being the main framework long term.
Apache Myfaces Apache implementation of JSF, including technology donated by Oracle from ADF / Oracle Fusion. Being Apache, will become one of the main JSF implementations in use. But is JSF the best way of doing your website?
App Fuse combines a lot of the leading frameworks (Struts, Dwr, Spring with JSF as an option) into one easy to use package. Already a very good ready to go package (for web , mid and business tiers) and the Appfuse team have a good track record in integrating the latest, most widely used frameworks.
Ajax JSF Ajax implementation of the Java Server Faces Specification. Good indication of what a full JSF Ajax implemention would be like, but implemented by only one brave developer!
Echo 2 Evolution of original Echo Framework, can run in any Servlet container. Original has cult following, but doubt if it will become the number 1 web framework.
DWR – Direct Web Remoting Acts as a proxy so that you can call Java Objects transparently from Javascript. Good solution, seems to have traction, even though it still forces you to write Javascript and keep objects in Synch with Java. Several other frameworks (e.g. Appfuse and Webwork (soon to be in Struts) integrate this.
JSP Controls Aims to be drop in (Ajax enabled) replacement for JSP Tags. Can be used both with simple JSP and other frameworks, but at the time of writing has less than 1000 downloads
JWIC Dynamically add Ajax to Java class based application – similar to Velocity concepts. A good simple framework, based on POJO’s but doesn’t (yet) seem to have much traction on sourceforge.
Struts The original, and to many, still the best. Many changes are afoot in the next version, including the integation with WebWork (which already has Ajax capabilities) and the move to the JSF compatible (‘Shale’) Struts aims to be backwards compatible, and the forthcoming JSF and Ajax capabilities look good. Pity there is no ‘offical’ milestone release yet.
Struts Layout Struts Tags, but with Ajax capabilities. Another good interim solution based on Struts, but is the Struts Event model suited for the Ajax world? (e.g. multiple events being raised from the ajax web page, instead of just the one (GET or POST) in the standard HTML model)
Swato Integration with Java Servlets through use of Servlet filters.Not a lot of documentation, nor a demo to encourage me to invest more time in it.
Tacos aimed at providing Ajax for Tapestry
Tapestry is technically a good framework, just didn’t seem to get the traction Struts did. Not sure if adding Ajax is going to change that.
Webwork Will integrate with next version of Struts (as Model – called the ‘struts action framework’). Strong contender, gives Ajax functionality through (integrated) DWR and Dojo.
WidgetDev Hybrid (Open-source/ commercial) Framework. (In my opinion) Not enough maturity / features to justify open source version with reduced features
zk8 XUL / XAML type framework , capable of being rendered in either Swing or HTMLGood Framework, might attract people who are familiar with extending Firefox using XUL, but can’t see XUL (no matter who much I think it is a good idea) being mainstream without a visual designer.

Conclusion
The New Struts is …. Struts. Some other framework may overtake Struts to become the new standard, but I would recommend the following Struts-related frameworks based on the following scenarios

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.

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’. This fits in well with …

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.

Enterprise Java Workshop in Dublin

Link to Enterprise Java Workshop, to be led by Dr. Bruce Martin in Dublin on the 6th – 9th March.

Is anybody going? Is it worth $1995 USD for 4 days? (and I’m not going to get sniffy about us using Euro over here 🙂 ) Who is this course aimed at? In some ways this course is like Corba: very relevant to the very small niche that use these technologies, but the broader line of ‘best practice’ has moved on.

An extract from the Agenda is below. It seem to broadly match what Sun looks for in it’s Enterprise Java Architect Certification. As such it shares the plus and minus of this approach : You get the Orthodox Entreprise Java Approach, or at least the approach being plugged by Sun about 3 years ago.

The trouble with this approach is that the Enterprise Java world has moved on. Hibernate has pushed aside Entity Beans , so much so that Enterprise Java Beans 3.0 is a complete turnaround it it’s direction. Spring has got a lot of traction as an EJB-Lite (and I mean that with the most positive connotations). Enterprise Java Patterns are much better understood (just search the IBM site), if not more widely understood.

Where’s the Ajax and the impact of multiple, small , web requests on application scalability? The JSON (as part of the Web Services)? Does it cover Java Server Faces and the emerging Ajax enabled Java Presentation Frameworks? What about workflow and rule engines and Java Messaging Services (JMS)? How about the tool integration to make your teams life easier when building the designs that you , as an Architect , have come up with? I don’t see Security in there , nor any of the other JSR (Java Specification Requests) that have come out of the broader Java community in the last 3 years.

And that’s before I go on about the only ‘technology alternative’ being offered is .Net – the PHP , Ruby and Oracle guys will have something to say about that! All have strong cases to make on a project by project basis. What about off the shelf products (both open source and commercial) that could , depending on the project, give you most of the functionality you need and you just have to customise the remaining 20%?

Maybe I’m being unfair, and the above is not the aim of the course.

For info, it’s on in the Gresham hotel on Dublin’s O’Connell Street from the 6th to the 9th of March. If you want a good solid foundation in Enterprise Java, and if somebody else is paying for it then it’s probably to be recommended. It might even help you get certified as a ‘Sun Enterprise Java Architect’. But unless you’re in an outstanding group, don’t expect it to be cutting edge.

Are you going – prove me wrong and leave a comment!

Project Module

  • Introduction
  • The Value Propositions of J2EE and EJB
  • J2EE vs..NET
  • Requirements of the Auction Application
  • Group Discusssion: J2EE or not, EJB or not
  • Activity: Identify the Auction Objects
  • Vertical Slices
  • Activity: Identify Vertical Slice
  • Communicating Architectures

Persistence Module

  • Pros and cons of JDBC
  • Object Relational Mapping
  • Java Data Objects (JDO)
  • EJB 2.x CMP Model and Relationships
  • EJB 3
  • Other O-R mapping solutions
  • Group Discussion: Persistence Matrix
  • Activity: Persistence Strategy for the
    Auction
  • Advanced Transaction and Concurrency
    Control topics
  • Activity: Identify the Transactions

Scalability Module

  • Principles of Scalability and Fault
    Tolerance
  • Application Server Clustering solutions
  • Activity: Scaling the Auction

Integration Module

  • Messaging
  • Activity: Messaging in the Auction
  • Connectors
  • XML, Web Services and SOA
  • Activity: Enterprise Application
    Integration
  • Activity: B2B Integration

Application Design Module

  • Top Ten J2EE Design Patterns
  • Activity: Design patterns or not
  • Activity: Complete the design
  • Group Discussion: Custom Consulting