Java and Web GUIs
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I still believe that Java is ideal for the back end portion of a web site or Internet application. When I say “back end”, I am referring to the data manipulation including the use of business rules and data persistence.

Its the use of Java on the front end, the web gui, that I’m not so sure I’m convinced of at this point. When JSP first came out, it seemed so simple, but then we began to get so concerned over separating roles and markup, content, and logic. Now creating a web site is just too much work. Lately, I’ve been using Word Press to do my blogs, and using Open Reports to create a reporting web site. Both of these are great examples of the simplicity in creating web sites. Open Reports creates forms to fill out with a simple web gui interface. Both of them require no “coding” in order to add further pages, change the look and feel, etc. They aren’t as custom as would be needed for most of the web applications I’ve worked on, but, I think we should be able to get to a point where the web front end is as simple as using Word Press, Open Reports, or any of the other CMS type web tools.

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CMS/Portals: Java vs PHP
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You’ll probably notice an emerging theme over the next few weeks of comparing PHP to Java. Please understand, that I know very little PHP. I am a Java Architect and Developer. But that said, there are a lot of problems in the Java industry right now, and I’m finding it very interesting to compare it to PHP. Perhaps, at the very least the Java community can learn some valuable lessons from PHP.

The Server Side has an article about comparing CMS/Portals in Java and PHP. They found what I have found in comparing many other apps, and that is that PHP generally offers more choices and more functionality. You can read more here.

One of the replies to the article was by Dave C, and I just have to put the text of his comment here. Its has some truth in it. Java can of course, be as simple as he is describing PHP, but as he says, “Java programmers tend to overengineer everything”. I have a gut feeling that he is right, and that in the past, I may well have done that myself.

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JasperReports and OpenReports
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The most recent project I have been working on involved creating a large number of reports for the company’s extranet/intranet. In the past, I have usually done reports using some form of JSP and JDBC. But in this case, there is a large number of reports to be developed, and so I was tasked with researching some of the open source solutions for reporting, in hopes we could find a solution that would allow us to get the reports done faster, and be provided to the user with more functionality, and with less custom code.

In the end we compared Crystal reports with JasperReports, and JasperReports was picked. JasperReports is not only free, but also is proven in the Java world, and has a lot of users. It is customizable, since its Java and open source, and has support for using Collections or Lists of Business Objects, such as those populated via Hibernate.

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JSPs with HTML extension
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Currently my hirebrianburridge.com web site is hosted without JSP functionality. However, I’ve written the entire web site in JSP and XML, so that I can simply edit two xml documents (one for the presentation at the beginning and one for the the main resume site). But since I can’t run those JSPs on my web site, I run them locally, and save all the pages (I use an app that does it for me) and ftp them to my hosted site. The only trouble is that I have to alter the links from having the .jsp extensions, and in some cases there is one jsp that takes a page name and produces the content. That link looks like this: index.jsp?slide=pagename. So that’s a lot of editing I have to do to the static html files before ftp’ing them to the live site.

So tonight I looked to see if I could make the .html extension run jsp pages, so that all my links would be correct without having to modify them. I found this helpful Filter which does exactly that. The filter looks at the URL requested, for example index.html, and translates it to index.jsp. I renamed all of my jsps on my local server to the html extension, and now when I run them to get static versions all the links work.

Java-Killers
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There is a lot of talk going on about replacements to Java, or “java-killers”, like another of the many Ruby Rails comparisons to Java. I doubt there’s much chance of Java being killed off. We still have Fortran, Cobol, and Ada out there, and when it comes to Internet development, PHP has been around for a long time, and provides many of the utilities used by web hosting companies. Perhaps a day will come when Java is no longer the most used Internet development platform, but if that happens, it won’t be because Java couldn’t have been the best, it will be because Sun and other Java contributors didn’t pay attention to the complaints of developers as they turned to other options.

I remember when I first got into using Java for Internet development. It was with the JSP .92 spec, and I fell in love with it. Previously, I had written a few servlets and applets, but was using Perl for web development. JSP seemed like such a huge step forward and was so much fun, but I can honestly say now, that much of Java development just isn’t as much fun.

In many ways its become overly complex, and I’m not talking about core Java but the J2EE additions. Its happened many times, and with 3rd party Java solutions as well. The pattern is the same each time. A technology will emerge as a good solution. As it is used, its found to address 95% of the use cases that occur in development. But, the other 5% of the use cases cause more complexity to be added. Unfortunately, 95% of the complexity is there only for 5% of the use cases. I wonder if sometimes, instead of trying to write the perfect solution, and thereby making the simple complex, perhaps we should deal with those situations in other ways.

Java is powerful and its still my preferred method of developing. However, its most certainly not the only tool for all situations, and I think that a large number of development teams are using it when they shouldn’t be, or, more troubling, using it how they shouldn’t be. More on that topic in another post.

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