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Building Pure Java Apps Using Visual Studio

How to mix cats and dogs

We all know and love the Microsoft Visual Studio IDE, but did you know that you can use it to create Web and server applications that run on open systems such as Solaris or Linux? Urix, a predictive modeling software company and Mainsoft customer since 2005, is doing just that.

Urix
In January 2005, Urix migrated the development of its RiskSmart calculation engine from C to C#. RiskSmart consists of 150,000 lines of C# code and executes as a set of .NET assemblies, with no user interface, as part of a comprehensive solution for analyzing health care risks and associated costs.

However, according to Atul Mistry, vice-president of technology at Urix, the product's reliance on Windows and .NET effectively limited its market potential. "Our business partners have standardized on Unix, and virtually all of our largest health care insurance customers have Unix-only requirements in their datacenters, running on AIX, HP-UX, or Solaris. We figured we could convince some of the insurance companies to use Windows and .NET, but this wouldn't solve the significant sales barrier we faced. We also considered delivering RiskSmart as a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering, but the healthcare industry is not yet ready for this type of approach. Bottom line is we would lose significant business opportunities if we didn't deliver a Unix deployment."

Mistry considered rewriting RiskSmart in Java and maintaining two source bases. He estimated the rewrite would take two person-years for the initial port to Java, plus two Java developers on an ongoing basis to support ongoing maintenance and enhancement costs. "This approach would cost on the order of $200,000 annually," he explains.

Instead, Mistry chose Mainsoft's cross-compilation software, Mainsoft for Java EE. The software plugs into the Visual Studio development environment and compiles Microsoft's Common Intermediate Language (CIL) into Java bytecode. It also supports a long-term single source code development strategy across .NET and Java.

"The initial port of RiskSmart to Java using Mainsoft took about two person-weeks," Mistry said. "The port was exceptionally easy in part because the ported Java code ran directly on a Java VM. Because there was no user interface component to RiskSmart, there were no complexities associated with an application server. There were only a couple of things we had to do manually," he explained. "We used log4net, an Apache project, as our logging utility, and we simply had to switch that to log4j during the port. The second thing was that we used a lot of XML, and there are some inconsistencies between Microsoft XML and other implementations. Mainsoft's support team helped us resolve both these issues very quickly."

According to Mistry, "There's no apparent performance difference between the .NET and Java versions of the application. We take a minor performance hit in our current Java release because .NET 1.1 doesn't support generics and requires us to use boxing (or casting) in our code, which can have a negative effect on Java performance. We expect the minor performance gap will be eliminated when we upgrade to .NET 2.0 and take full advantage of generics, which is supported by Mainsoft, in lieu of boxing."

RiskSmart is currently in its third Java release and is now in production at virtually all of its largest health insurance customers' data centers, supporting 70% of all lives that are analyzed by the RiskSmart calculation engine. The development team builds the application nightly, and then executes Mainsoft to build the Java port. "Most product testing occurs on the .NET version, with some testing done on the Java side to assure its integrity. When RiskSmart for .NET is ready to ship, so is RiskSmart for Java."

Starting in .NET 2.0
If you're a Visual Studio developer, you can start with Mainsoft's Grasshopper to explore how to cross-compile and debug Java EE applications from Visual Studio. Grasshopper 2.0 is Mainsoft's freely available Developer Edition that includes a plug-in to Visual Studio 2005 and the open source Tomcat servlet engine for executing Java JSP and EE applications on a single CPU. You'll find that if you know C# or Visual Basic, you're on your way to becoming a Java EE developer!

One example to get you started is a Web-based accounting application with membership and role-based security using ASP.NET 2.0. The application uses Master Pages and the Login, Wizard, and Gridview controls and was originally developed by Paolo de Nictolis for JavaDay 2006 in Rome (http://roma.javaday.it ). The application relies on Mainsoft's full implementation of the ASP.NET 2.0 Membership, Role, and Profile providers based on Apache Derby (http://db.apache.org/derby/), an embedded database that offers a pure Java runtime alternative to MS SQL Express. Paolo shows you how to access application data, which remains stored in MS SQL Express 2005 (www.microsoft.com/sql/editions/express/default.mspx); how to take advantage of the integrated debugger, based on open standard JPDA (Java Platform Debugger Architecture, http://java.sun.com/products/jpda/); and how to create a deployment package that can be used over multi-platform application servers.

Let's take a deeper look at implementing this accounting application using Mainsoft's Grasshopper 2.0.

The Preliminaries
You'll have to download a few files from several places first. The setup file for JD Expenses is available at http://dev.mainsoft.com/JDExpensesDemo. It assumes you have Visual Studio 2005 with Service Pack 1 (SP1) installed.

The next thing you'll need to download is Grasshopper 2.0, which is available at http://dev.mainsoft.com/Default.aspx?tabid=117. Installation instructions along with release notes, feature limitations, and known issues are there as well. Basic requirements include a Windows XP SP2 machine, a Windows 2003 Server, or Windows Vista Ultimate or Business.

Note: If you choose to install Grasshopper on Windows Vista, you must launch Visual Studio from an administrator command prompt and launch the Tomcat application server as an administrator.

Starting with a Database
There's no denying it. Creating a well-designed application database can help make application development proceed much faster. JDExpenses, our imaginary accounting application, allows conference speakers to input their expenses, and the administrator to view each person's balances, while role-based authentication is provided out-of-the-box by the ASP.NET 2.0 Membership and Role API. Balance is defined as a BigInteger to demonstrate how Grasshopper handles a native Java type.

Database structure is shown in Figure 1. For us to use the SQL Server from a Grasshopper application, we have to configure it: we'll log in using SQL Server authentication and enable Mixed Mode Authentication in the database Properties. To do this, you can use Microsoft's SQL Server Management Studio Express (SSMSE) tool freely available for download from Microsoft at www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=C243A5AE-4BD1-

4E3D-94B8-5A0F62BF7796&displaylang=en.

Launch SSMSE, sign in, select the database, and right-click. From the context menu, select Properties. You'll see the SQL Server Properties dialog. Select Security and make sure that the SQL Server and Windows Authentication mode radio button is selected.


More Stories By Philippe Cohen

Philippe Cohen is the vice president of products for Mainsoft Corporation, where he is responsible for overseeing product management, R&D, and support teams for Mainsoft's product suite.

More Stories By Paolo de Nictolis

Paolo de Nictolis is an Italian Web developer, a technical contributor to MSDN and UGI.NET, and a freelance IT journalist.

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