Welcome!

Java Authors: Cynthia Dunlop, Bob Gourley, Carmen Gonzalez, Jim Kaskade, Aater Suleman

Related Topics: Java

Java: Article

ExtenXLS Java/XLS Toolkit 2.1 by Extentech Inc.

ExtenXLS Java/XLS Toolkit 2.1 by Extentech Inc.

For the business people of the world, Excel is like mother's milk. I'm convinced that my neighbor, a financial planner for an investment bank, does our homeowner's reconciliation for fun: a showcase for his Excel prowess. It's a sickness. Excel is powerful, simple to use, and ubiquitous in virtually every market. The problem is that those of us tasked with Excel integration know that at the binary level, Excel is a gory mess and, as a rule, does not play well with anything but COM.

Extentech offers an intuitive, pure Java API for Excel integration. Under pressure from an anxious project manager, I evaluated it side-by-side with two other Java-based Excel integration tools available on the Web: POI (Apache Software Foundation) and JExcel. The requirements were for a fast, reliable tool that could push data from a Java-based application server to heavily formatted Excel templates in either Windows or Solaris operating systems.

Extentech packages its product thoughtfully, so I was reading and writing cells within a half-hour of the download. The object model is clean, the Javadocs are fully commented, and the concise manual provides ample information about how to work through common problems. My first 30 minutes using ExtenXLS were productive and reassuring. POI, while powerful and easy on the budget, has a significantly steeper learning curve. POI's online documentation, while amusing and voluminous, is comparatively arcane. Extentech got me started much faster - a huge plus when you're strapped for time.

ExtenXLS works by first ingesting the Excel spreadsheet from either a byte array, file path, or InputStream, then parsing the binary spreadsheet and providing an API for accessing Workbook, Spreadsheet, Row, Cell, Formula, and other normal Excel objects. Once changes are written in memory through the API, the spreadsheet can then be stored back in its original form.

//Construct a workbook from a path string
String str_fileNameIn = "simple.xls";
WorkBookHandle book = new WorkBookHandle(str_fileNameIn);
WorkSheetHandle sheet = wbh_bookIn.getWorkSheet("Sheet1");
CellHandle cell = sheet.getCell("A1");

//Reading the value of an existing cell by ID
String s = (String) cell.getStringVal();
System.out.println("Cell G8: " + s);

//Writing the value of a cell
cell.setVal("Hello Darlin' ...");

//writing back to file
byte foo[] = book.getBytes();
File file_Out = new File(str_fileNameIn);
FileOutputStream fileOS_fileoutputstream = new FileOutputStream(file_Out);
fileOS_fileoutputstream.write(foo);
fileOS_fileoutputstream.close();

Code Sample 1: A very simple example of opening, reading, and writing to/from a file on disk

The key differentiator that sold us on ExtenXLS was its ability to write to spreadsheets that contained macros. All other Excel integration products that I've seen truncate macros and VBA code, no matter how simple, and write only data back to the spreadsheet, rendering it useless and/or corrupt! With POI, I found that files with macros would decrease in size after write operations by about the same number of bytes as I had macro code. Subsequent attempts to open the file would generally fail. ExtenXLS hiccupped on only the most Byzantine spreadsheets I tried, and was polite enough to throw a comprehensible exception.

When I first evaluated ExtenXLS in Q4 2002, I had two complaints: no InputStream constructor (only files and byte arrays) and no support for named ranges. The InputStream constructor was provided as a patch release within days of our enhancement request, and named range support was recently announced as a new feature.

For our purposes, these two improvements have been huge. The InputStream allows us to take spreadsheets directly from the application server document store, manipulate them without any disk I/O, and stream them back to the document store. Named range support abstracts spreadsheet data from its location within the spreadsheet - our customers are free to change their spreadsheet layout without impacting the application server integration. If the customer wants to put the task percentage complete field in D8 rather than D9, the application integration is not impacted.

Performance improvements have been noticeable as well. ExtenXLS version 1.4 took up to 30 seconds to ingest our larger spreadsheets, whereas version 2.0 does the same job in under three. Virtually all of the overhead now comes from our own business logic.

The chief criticisms I have now are bugs, not feature deficiencies. Occasionally I find that template formatting, such as boxes around certain regions, colored regions, etc., is destroyed by writes to adjacent cells. We surmounted these problems by laying out the templates more strategically, and by educating our users on some of the fussy details.

Customer licensing is simple to understand - being based on the number of CPUs in the deployment at $1,145 per CPU. Deployment licenses come with installation support (not that you would need it), and one developer seat per CPU. Developer licenses can be purchased independently, and are also reasonably priced at $150.

In my view, ExtenXLS faces two challenges going forward. First, the Apache Software Foundation produces excellent products that are widely adopted in the Java community. Luckily for Extentech, customers are still willing to pay a premium for dedicated support, and the ExtenXLS product is easily as good as POI, and in my view, even better.

More important, however, Extentech, like any software vendor, needs to look carefully at its Microsoft strategy. Following Sun's lead with an all XML-based office suite in StarOffice 6, Microsoft has used XML under the covers in Office 2003, making the novelty of a Java Excel parser much less novel. Nevertheless, the release of Office 2003 and the adoption of it in the enterprise are two very different things. Extentech has the interim to formulate new, fast, reliable, feature-rich, and well-packaged ways of bridging the .NET and Java worlds.

SIDEBAR

Extentech Inc.
1032 Irving Street #910
San Francisco, CA 94122-2200
Phone: 415.759.5292
Fax: 800.787.6849
Web: www.extentech.com

Test Environment

  • Sun 420R, Quad 450MHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB Mounted SAN, Solaris 8
  • Dell Latitude C610, Pentium 3, 833MHz, 20GB Disk, 320 MB RAM, W2K Pro SP2
  • JDK 1.3.1 as well as Jython 2.1 in both cases
  • *Excel 2000 (9.0.4402 SR1)

    SIDEBAR

    Snapshot
    Target Audience:
    Developers, architects, and analysts
    Level: Beginner to intermediate

    Pros:

  • Intuitive, flexible, well-documented API
  • Can read/write spreadsheets that contain macros and VBA
  • Timely, thorough support
  • Fast, reliable

    Cons:

  • Some difficulty with extremely complicated spreadsheets
  • Occasional formatting problems
  • More Stories By Peter Curran

    Peter Curran, a Software Architect for Intraspect Software of Brisbane, California, builds collaborative applications for high-tech vendors, investment banks, and systems integrators. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily endorsed by employer.

    Comments (3)

    Share your thoughts on this story.

    Add your comment
    You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

    In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


    @ThingsExpo Stories
    SYS-CON Events announced today that AgilePoint, the leading provider of Microsoft-centric Business Process Management software, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 2nd International @ThingsExpo which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. AgilePoint is the leading provider of Microsoft-based Business Process Management (BPM) software products, has 1,300+ on-premise and cloud deployments in 25+ countries and provides the same advanced BPM feature set as J2EE vendors like IBM and Appian for the Microsoft .NET native environment. AgilePoint customer...
    The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, will discuss how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money! Speaker Bio: Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, has spent 16 years as a marketing, product management, and busin...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that TeleStax, the main sponsor of Mobicents, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TeleStax provides Open Source Communications software and services that facilitate the shift from legacy SS7 based IN networks to IP based LTE and IMS networks hosted on private (on-premise), hybrid or public clouds. TeleStax products include Restcomm, JSLEE, SMSC Gateway, USSD Gateway, SS7 Resource Adaptors, SIP Servlets, Rich Multimedia Services, Presence Services/RCS, Diame...
    Samsung VP Jacopo Lenzi, who headed the company's recent SmartThings acquisition under the auspices of Samsung's Open Innovaction Center (OIC), answered a few questions we had about the deal. This interview was in conjunction with our interview with SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson. IoT Journal: SmartThings was developed in an open, standards-agnostic platform, and will now be part of Samsung's Open Innovation Center. Can you elaborate on your commitment to keep the platform open? Jacopo Lenzi: Samsung recognizes that true, accelerated innovation cannot be driven from one source, but requires a...
    Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, will address the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. How important are public, private, and hybrid cloud to the enterprise? How does one define Big Data? And how is the IoT tying all this together?
    We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
    SYS-CON Events announces a new pavilion on the Cloud Expo floor where WebRTC converges with the Internet of Things. Pavilion will showcase WebRTC and the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices--computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors – connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades.
    The only place to be June 9-11 is Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo 2015 East at the Javits Center in New York City. Join us there as delegates from all over the world come to listen to and engage with speakers & sponsors from the leading Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data companies. Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo are the leading events covering the booming market of Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data for the enterprise. Speakers from all over the world will be hand-picked for their ability to explore the economic strategies that utility/cloud computing provides. Whether public, private, or in a hybrid form, clo...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in software-defined storage (SDS) purpose-built for Windows Servers and Hyper-V, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Gridstore™ is the leader in software-defined storage purpose built for virtualization that is designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Using its patented Server-Side Virtual Controller™ Technology (SVCT) to eliminate the I/O blender effect and accelerate applications Gridsto...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
    As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP’s Printing and Personal Systems Group, will discuss how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, senso...
    The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
    Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, will examine three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics...
    Internet of @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley announced on Thursday its first 12 all-star speakers and sessions for its upcoming event, which will take place November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California. @ThingsExpo, the first and largest IoT event in the world, debuted at the Javits Center in New York City in June 10-12, 2014 with over 6,000 delegates attending the conference. Among the first 12 announced world class speakers, IBM will present two highly popular IoT sessions, which will take place November 4-6, 2014 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif...
    The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., will show what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. He will discuss opportunities and challenges ahead for the IoT from a market and tec...
    From a software development perspective IoT is about programming "things," about connecting them with each other or integrating them with existing applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Yakov Fain, co-founder of Farata Systems and SuranceBay, will show you how small IoT-enabled devices from multiple manufacturers can be integrated into the workflow of an enterprise application. This is a practical demo of building a framework and components in HTML/Java/Mobile technologies to serve as a platform that can integrate new devices as they become available on the market.
    SYS-CON Events announced today that O'Reilly Media has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption by amplifying "faint signals" from the alpha geeks who are creating the future. An...
    SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.
    The Transparent Cloud-computing Consortium (abbreviation: T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data processing High speed and high quality networks, and dramatic improvements in computer processing capabilities, have greatly changed the nature of applications and made the storing and processing of data on the network commonplace.
    The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.