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Visual Cafe Enterprise Edition for WebLogic

Visual Cafe Enterprise Edition for WebLogic

When I started working with Java, I mentioned my move to a colleague of mine, a Microsoft devotee. He wasn't willing to move to the Java platform until supporting integrated development environments (IDEs) were as powerful and easy to use as Visual Basic. Although at the time nothing in the Java world was as simple or configurable as Visual Basic, I bit the Java bullet - and the bullet tasted like VisualCafé. Originally from Symantec Corp. (www.symantec.com) but now owned by an independent company created by Warburg, Pincus and BEA Systems, VisualCafé was the closest Java IDE in the industry that could compare to VB, and it remains on the bleeding edge of support for new Java technologies. This month in EJB Home I'll discuss what to look for in an IDE that supports EJB, as well as the support for Enterprise JavaBeans development that has been integrated into the VisualCafé Enterprise Edition for WebLogic.

What Does an EJB IDE Look Like?
An IDE is just that - an integrated development environment. It's a seamless, interoperable toolset that takes you through development, debugging and deployment without leaving the familiar confines of your development product of choice. When looking for an IDE for EJB development there are four items to keep in mind:

  1. An open API to encourage integration with other EJB tools
  2. Support for rapidly developing components
  3. Easy deployment of these components
  4. Robust distributed debugging facilities to test your components
Essentially, you should never have to leave your development environment to perform the necessary steps of coding, deploying and debugging an enterprise bean.

Other things to look for in an IDE include integrated source code control for team development and support for multiple JDKs for testing your components (which won't be covered here).

Why Use VisualCafé Enterprise Edition for WebLogic?
A problem that continues to hinder Java development is the lag between the introduction of a new technology and the IDE support for rapid application development with the technology. Examples of this lag have been seen in product support for each JDK release as well as Swing, JavaBeans and, most recently, Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB). As previously mentioned, VisualCafé has always been a front-runner in the race to support new Java technologies, and its first-generation effort to integrate support for EJB technology is no different. Currently, VisualCafé provides an integrated development environment for building EJB applications with the WebLogic Server. While the product could be expanded to support other application servers, I doubt this will come to fruition. The new owners of VisualCafé will most likely orient this tool toward an even tighter integration with the WebLogic Server.

The following sections show how the VisualCafé Enterprise Edition for WebLogic supports the key features of an EJB IDE, and why this product combination may be a good fit for your next EJB effort.

Open API
VisualCafé has an open API to allow vendors to integrate their products and tools into its environment. The open API encourages vendors to build tools that seamlessly interact with VisualCafé to offer you a more positive experience. Today numerous EJB products have been integrated into VisualCafé, including InLine Software Corporation's InLine Standard product (www.inlinesoftware.com), various UML modeling/ code generation plug-ins and third-party-distributed debugging software. For instance, Inline's UML Bridge product performs real-time code generation and reverse engineering between Rational Rose models and VisualCafé's code editor.

While many application servers have proprietary development environments integrated closely with their server, VisualCafé and WebLogic have stood by their best-of-breed approach toward tool integration.

EJB Code Generation
VisualCafé for WebLogic offers two project templates for EJB component development (see Figure 1). One is an empty EJB project into which you can import existing EJB components, while the second is for developing new EJB components in rapid fashion utilizing code generation.

The enterprise bean for the WebLogic project template actually consists of two projects: a server project for the enterprise bean component and a client project containing a generated test client for the bean. The template prompts you to use the enterprise bean for WebLogic Wizard to enter information about the enterprise bean you wish to create. Afterwards, the wizard generates the appropriate EJB classes and VisualCafé XML descriptor for your component. (Note: The XML descriptor is not the EJB 1.1 format, but a proprietary format for internal use only.) If you choose to create a session bean, the remote and home interfaces would be generated as well as a stubbed skeleton of the enterprise bean. Choosing to create an entity bean will generate these classes, plus the primary key class for the bean.

Code generation of your beans reduces errors in coding your component classes to the EJB specification and speeds development through the automation of mundane coding. Likewise, a generated test client facilitates the testing process of your EJB component, allowing you to focus your efforts on developing business components - not the harnesses that test them!

Deployment of EJB Components
VisualCafé for WebLogic allows you to configure an enterprise bean, deploy it to a WebLogic Server and start the server without leaving the VisualCafé environment. It even supports hot deploy capabilities into a running WebLogic server.

The auto-deploy process is as follows: upon selecting Configure Bean Descriptor (see Figure 2), VisualCafé configures an XML descriptor to hold deployment descriptor information in a portable fashion. This XML descriptor is used by VisualCafé's configuration tool to create a serialized deployment descriptor for WebLogic and to generate the EJB container classes needed by WebLogic to support the enterprise bean.

Figure 2
Figure 2:

With the container classes and serialized descriptor generated, you can deploy the bean to the server from within VisualCafé. Choosing Deliver Enterprise Bean to WebLogic Server from the Project menu will JAR the necessary files and add the JAR file to the weblogic.properties file, thereby deploying the bean to the server.

Start WebLogic Server and Shutdown WebLogic Server manage the WebLogic Server without the need for the WebLogic Console or command-line start-up scripts, or even the need to double-click a shortcut to launch it. The deployment process never forces you to leave the VisualCafé environment.

Distributed Debugging
Most early adopters of distributed Java and EJB can tell endless fireside stories about the thousands of printlines they had to code in order to solve the simplest of coding errors. Now, with VisualCafé, you can say good-bye to printlines! VisualCafé has advanced support for debugging distributed objects, including enterprise beans in the WebLogic Server.

Distributed debugging increases your efficiency by allowing you to step through code in a running EJB container as if the code executed locally on the same virtual machine as the VisualCafé's client program. VisualCafé displays all debugging information from a single console for easy tracking of application statistics during execution.

.   .   .

As you've seen, the VisualCafé Enterprise Edition for WebLogic has four qualities important in an IDE for developing EJB applications. Despite its new product features, however, it's not without faults, so let's take a look at some areas where it can be improved.

Improving VisualCafé for WebLogic
The first thing I noticed while using the Enterprise Edition for WebLogic was that the stability of VisualCafé is still questionable. Ever since I started working with the product, it has had problems with crashing at the most inopportune times. I call a certain type of VisualCafé crash a ghost shutdown. This is when VisualCafé eats a ton of CPU on your machine, then disappears without a trace! Because VisualCafé allows you to plug in different virtual machines, I always ensure that my compiler, client VM and server VM all match the JDK version. Read the Readme file for information on your development environment before wasting time trying to resolve a known incompatibility.

Second, VisualCafé only allows EJB component generation through the enterprise bean for WebLogic Wizard after creating a new project template. There's no way to go to the wizard from an existing project, and a new server project per bean results in an explosion of VisualCafé projects to manage (remember - it actually creates two per bean: a server and a client project). I believe VisualCafé forces you to create a server project per bean because it made it easier for them to auto-deploy the bean's JAR file to the server. When the product becomes EJB 1.1 compliant, it'll have to support deploying multiple beans in a single JAR, but in the near term this is an inconvenience.

Third, when creating a new enterprise bean with the wizard, if you decide to change the name of any bean classes, you'll have major headaches finding all of the references to the old name that were generated by VisualCafé. For instance, changing the home interface name will force you to update the bean's XML descriptor manually. For those of you accustomed to VisualCafé's automatic change notification, this will be a sore spot, especially if you're new to EJB and not sure where to make the changes yourself.

Fourth, in release 3.1 a number of distributed debugging limitations still exist, especially around the Java 2 pluggable VM. For instance, some debugging features are disabled because VisualCafé doesn't support the functionality. Also, you can't define an application project that automatically executes remotely for VisualCafé's pluggable Java 2 VM. To do so you must manually transport files to the remote machine, start the remote process, attach to it and debug. This is a problem that needs to be addressed since many EJB developers are looking to use the JDK 1.2 and J2EE APIs, and conform to the latest EJB specification (1.1).

Last, VisualCafé Enterprise Edition for WebLogic is a memory hog! You'll experience slow performance from running VisualCafé and WebLogic Server simultaneously on your development machine. For development hardware I recommend at least a Pentium 450 MHz with 128MB RAM.

Conclusion
The widespread adoption of Enterprise JavaBeans as a server-side component model has led to the demand for advanced EJB development and deployment tools. VisualCafé Enterprise Edition for WebLogic met the demand with a powerful set of functionality focused on making EJB development easy. It has:

  • An open API for customizing your environment
  • Code generation wizards to speed development of your EJB components
  • An auto-deploy feature that shelters you from the nuances of deploying components to the WebLogic Server
  • Sophisticated, single-view debugging of distributed EJB components
Despite some growing pains, the VisualCafé Enterprise Edition for WebLogic is a good start for your team if WebLogic is your application server of choice.

More Stories By Jason Westra

Jason Westra is the CTO of Verge Technologies Group, Inc. (www.vergecorp.com). Verge is a Boulder, CO based firm specializing in eBusiness solutions with Enterprise JavaBeans.

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