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Look Mom, No Application Servers, Look...MOM!

'What do you think of application servers?' The most popular answer was, 'I don't need no stinkin' application server.'

In the unlikely event that you're not familiar with my gas station, you can find my previous essays at http://java.sys-con.com/general/gasstation.htm Recently, I've conducted a small survey among my truck drivers. I asked them just one question: "What do you think of application servers?" The most popular answer was, "I don't need no stinkin' application server." And truck drivers usually know what they're talking about!

You may think that now I'll start selling one of the popular application frameworks. Wrong! The idea of these frameworks was nice: get back from complex containers to programming POJOs. But while trying to provide alternatives to container services, each of these frameworks ran into the short-blanket syndrome: something is always sticking out. XML is sticking out big time!

To simplify Java programming, developers are paying the high price of adding unmanageable amounts of XML descriptors, mappings, wirings, and other plumbing. Twenty years ago .ini files were widely used, 10 years ago .properties replaced them, and after the Y2K problem was solved, people were bored and started investing their time in XML.

It started quite innocently: XML is better than HTML, then DTD came about, XSLT, XPATH, XQuery, XML farms, XML processing hardware, and on, and on, and on. Basically, the proper way to name today's POJO is XPOJO. You know what I mean. Hopefully, Java annotations will slow down the X-hype. I'm already using Java 5 in my agile business, and as soon as Mustang is released, big corporations will switch to Tiger.

Let's return to the main subject. One of my readers asked if I was planning to write a piece on how to select an application server. I answered, "No, because I'm not sure if they're needed."

I believe that at least a half of today's business applications don't need one. In my gas station, I'm going to implement a set of client/server applications with rich clients talking to each other using Java messaging, and most likely, I'll need to implement an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) to communicate with a couple of old applications that I inherited from the former owner of my gas station.

My newly developed applications will use rich application clients living in a Web browser, but they'll run in their own virtual machines (no AJAX by the pumps!). I've already started working on a more serious manuscript on RIA (see http://theriabook.com). To make a long story short, I'm planning to use/implement SOA, RIA, MXML , JWS, JMS, MOM, JNDI, ESB, JTA, DAO, JDBC, DBMS, and a Web Server. Raise your hand if you know how to spell out each of the acronyms used in this article so far.

I know, I know. Ten years ago, people who could spell out VB and SQL were able to find a nice paying job in a heartbeat. Forget about it. I can recommend a handy Web site called acronymfinder.com. In some cases it gives you too many versions for your acronym, but key in JTA and you'll find that it stands for Java Transaction API (it's right above Japan Toilet Association). Since I'm not going to use the J2EE application server, I have to find transaction support somewhere else.

Consider the use case of a typical business application without an application server. The front-end reacts to various events by putting messages (Java value objects or key-value pairs) into a remote message queue (orders, requests, etc.). A server-side JMS listener picks them up from the queue and starts business processing the messages received. This is where transaction support comes in handy. For example, from a business perspective saving a customer's order in a database and making a JMS call for further processing can be considered one unit of work, which has to be rolled back if any of these actions fails. That's why a JMS listener has to be able to begin, commit, and roll back transactions.

Communicating with the database can be done using a simple DAO/JDBC combo. Create a tiny .properties file with a dozen parameters (the data source to use, maybe some external URLs, and a couple of others). That's it. This is what I call real POJO programming. Did I miss anything? Oh yeah, JMS is just an API, so we need a transport/storage for our messages, and this is what Message-Oriented Middleware (MOM) is for.

While there are several Open Source JMS/MOM implementations on the market, I'm planning to use ActiveMQ from Logic Blaze. The product has been on the market for years, has good reputation, supports JTA/XA, and has a large user community. Look at the ActiveMQ list of features, and you'll see that it offers more than any small business needs. Another pro is that the same vendor offers an Open Source JBI-based ESB implementation called ServiceMix. But this is a topic for future discussions. And the best part is that this middleware is available for free.

Not everyone may like this architecture, but let me remind you, we're talking about a small business here. One of my readers sent me an e-mail asking, "What if this application is supposed to be used by thousands users?" I wish... This is just a gas station! When you're architecting your next application, try not to get into a Google/Amazon state of mind unless you work for them. If you're not dealing with thousands of users, just use a simple Data Access Object, write a couple of SQL statements here and there, and make a dozen JDBC and JMS calls. And MOM will be a good, reliable foundation for creating loosely coupled applications with robust transactions, persistence, and failover support.

More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a Java Champion and a co-founder of the IT consultancy Farata Systems and the product company SuranceBay. He wrote a thousand blogs (http://yakovfain.com) and several books about software development. Yakov authored and co-authored such books as "Angular 2 Development with TypeScript", "Java 24-Hour Trainer", and "Enterprise Web Development". His Twitter tag is @yfain

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