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JavaServer Faces (JSF) vs Struts

A brief comparison

My JSF article series and Meet the Experts appearance on IBM developerWorks received a lot of feedback.

I would have to say, the most common question or feedback came along the lines of comparing Struts to JSF. I thought it would be a good idea to compare JSF to Struts by evaluating various features that an application architect would look for in a Web application framework. This article will compare specific features. Those on which I will focus include:

  • Maturity
  • Controller Flexibility/Event Handling
  • Navigation
  • Page development
  • Integration
  • Extensibility

Certainly, there are other places in which you might want to do a comparison, such as performance, but I'll focus on the set I just mentioned. I'll also spend more time on the Controller and Navigation sections because they are the heart of the frameworks. Performance of JSF is specific to the vendor implementation, and I always encourage people to perform their own performance tests against their own set of requirements because there are too many factors that can affect performance. A performance evaluation would be unfair. Other areas such as page layout, validation, and exception handling were also left out in the interest of saving space.

Maturity

Struts has been around for a few years and has the edge on maturity. I know of several successful production systems that were built using the Struts framework. One example is the WebSphere Application Server Web-based administrative console. JavaServer Faces(JSF), however, has been in draft for 2 years. Several companies, including IBM as well as the creator of Struts, Craig McClanahan, have contributed to the creation of JSF during that time. Nonetheless, it will take some time to see a few systems deployed.

Struts definitely has the edge in this category. With JSF, however, you can rely on different levels of support depending on which implementation you choose. For example, the JSF framework inside WebSphere Studio comes with IBM support.

Controller Flexibility/Event Handling

One of the major goals of Struts was to implement a framework that utilized Sun's Model 2 framework and reduced the common and often repetitive tasks in Servlet and JSP development. The heart of Struts is the Controller. Struts uses the Front Controller Pattern and Command Pattern. A single servlet takes a request, translates HTTP parameters into a Java ActionForm, and passes the ActionForm into a Struts Action class, which is a command. The URI denotes which Action class to go to. The Struts framework has one single event handler for the HTTP request. Once the request is met, the Action returns the result back to the front controller, which then uses it to choose where to navigate next. The interaction is demonstrated in Figure 1.

JSF uses the Page Controller Pattern. Although there is a single servlet every faces request goes through, the job of the servlet is to receive a faces page with components. It will then fire off events for each component and render the components using a render toolkit. The components can also be bound to data from the model. The faces life-cycle is illustrated in Figure 2.

JSF is the winner in this area, because it adds many benefits of a front controller, but at the same time gives you the flexibility of the Page Controller. JSF can have several event handlers on a page while Struts is geared to one event per request. In addition, with Struts, your ActionForms have to extend Struts classes, creating another layer of tedious coding or bad design by forcing your model to be ActionForms. JSF, on the other hand, gives developers the ability to hook into the model without breaking layering. In other words, the model is still unaware of JSF.

Navigation

Navigation is a key feature of both Struts and JSF. Both frameworks have a declarative navigation model and define navigation using rules inside their XML configuration file. There are 2 types of navigation: static navigation - when one page flows directly to the next; and dynamic navigation - when some action or logic determines which page to go to.

Both JSF and Struts currently support both types of navigation.

Struts
Struts uses the notion of forwards to define navigation. Based on some string, the Struts framework decides which JSP to forward to and render. You can define a forward by creating an Action as shown in the snippet below.

<action path="/myForward" forward="/target.jsp"> </action>

Struts supports dynamic forwarding by defining a forward specifically on an Action definition. Struts allows an Action to have multiple forwards.

 


<action-mappings>
		<action name="myForm" path="/myACtion" scope="request"
		 type="strutsnav.actions.MyAction">
			<forward name="success" path="./target.jsp">
			</forward>
			<forward name="error" path="./error.jsp">
			</forward>

		</action>
	</action-mappings>

Developers can then programmatically choose which forward to return.

 


public ActionForward execute(
		ActionMapping mapping,
		ActionForm form,
		HttpServletRequest request,
		HttpServletResponse response)
		throws Exception {

		ActionErrors errors = new ActionErrors();
		ActionForward forward = new ActionForward(); // return value
		MyForm myForm = (MyForm) form;

		try {

			// do something here

		} catch (Exception e) {

			// Report the error using the appropriate name and ID.
			errors.add("name", new ActionError("id"));
			forward = mapping.findForward("success");
			return (forward);
		}

		forward = mapping.findForward("success");
		return (forward);

	}

JSF Static Navigation
JSF supports navigation by defining navigation rules in the faces configuration file. The example below shows a navigation rule defining how one page goes to the next.

 


<navigation-rule>
		<from-view-id>/FromPage.jsp</from-view-id>
		<navigation-case>
			<from-outcome>success</from-outcome>
			<to-view-id>/ToPage.jsp</to-view-id>
		</navigation-case>
	</navigation-rule>

However, unlike Struts, JSF navigation is applied on the page level and can be action-independent. The action is hard coded into the component allowing for finer grain control on the page. You can have various components on the page define different actions sharing the same navigation rule.

<hx:commandExButton type="submit" value="Submit"
styleClass="commandExButton" id="button1" action="success" />

JSF also supports dynamic navigation by allowing components go to an action handler.

<hx:commandExButton type="submit" value="Submit"
styleClass="commandExButton" id="button1" action="#
{pc_FromPage.doButton1Action}" />

Developers can then code action handlers on any class to make the dynamic navigation decision.

 


public String doButton1Action() {
		return "success";
	}

Even though navigation rules don't need to specify the action in order to support dynamic navigation, JSF allows you to define the action on the navigation rule if you so choose. This allows you to force a specific navigation rule to go through an action.

 


<navigation-rule>
		<from-view-id>/FromPage.jsp</from-view-id>
		<navigation-case>
			<from-action>#{pc_FromPage.doButton1Action}</from-action>
			<from-outcome>success</from-outcome>
			<to-view-id>/ToPage.jsp</to-view-id>
		</navigation-case>
	</navigation-rule>

Both Struts and JSF are pretty flexible from a navigation stand point, but JSF allows for a more flexible approach and a better design because the navigation rule is decoupled from the Action. Struts forces you to hook into an action, either by a dummy URI or an action class. In addition, it is easier in JSF to have one page with various navigation rules without having to code a lot of if-else logic.

Page Development

JSF was built with a component model in mind to allow tool developers to support RAD development. Struts had no such vision. Although the Struts framework provides custom libraries to hook into Action Forms and offers some helper utilities, it is geared toward a JSP- and HTTP-centric approach. SF provides the ability to build components from a variety of view technologies and does it in such a way to be toolable. JSF, therefore, is the winner in this area.

Integration

Struts was designed to be model neutral, so there is no special hooks into a model layer. There are a view reflection-based copy utilities, but that's it. Usually, page data must be moved from an Action Form into another Model input format and requires manual coding. The ActionForm class, provides an extra layer of tedious coding and state transition.

JSF, on the other hand, hides the details of any data inside the component tree. Rich components such as data grids can be bound to any Java class. This allows powerful RAD development, such as the combination of JSF and SDO. I will discuss this further in future articles.

Extensibility

Both Struts and JSF provides opportunities to extend the framework to meet expanding requirements. The main hook for Struts is a RequestProcessor class that has various callback methods throughout the life-cycle of a request. A developer can extend this class to replace or enhance the framework.

JSF provides equivalent functionality by allowing you to extend special life-cycle interfaces. In addition, JSF totally decouples the render phase from the controller allowing developers to provide their own render toolkits for building custom components. This is one of the powerful features in JSF that Struts does not provide. JSF clearly has the advantage in this area.

Conclusion

In general, JSF is a much more flexible framework, but this is no accident. Struts is a sturdy framework and works well. JSF was actually able to learn a great deal from Struts projects. I see JSF becoming a dominant framework because of its flexible controller and navigation. Furthermore, JSF is built with integration and extensibility in mind. If you are starting a new project today, you'd have to consider many factors. If you have an aggressive schedule with not much time to deal with evaluating different vendors or dealing with support for new JSF implementations, Struts may be the way to go. But from a strategic direction and programming model, JSF should be the target of new applications. I encourage developers to take time to learn JSF and begin using them for new projects. In addition, I would consider choosing JSF vendors based on component set and RAD tools. JSF isn't easier than Struts when developing by hand, but using a RAD JSF tool like WebSphere Studio can greatly increase your productivity.

References

  • Developing JSF Applications Using WebSphere Studio: www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/ websphere/techjournal/0401_barcia/barcia.html
  • Developing JavaServer Faces Portlets Using WebSphere Studio: www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/ websphere/techjournal/0406_barcia/0406_barcia.html
  • Meet the Experts: Roland Barcia on JSF and JMS: www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/websphere/ library/techarticles/0407_barcia/0407_barcia.html
  • JSF Central: www.jsfcentral.com
  • IBM WebSphere -Deployment and Advanced Configuration: Click Here !
  • More Stories By Roland Barcia

    Roland Barcia is a consulting IT specialist for IBM Software Services for WebSphere in the New York/New Jersey Metro area. He is the author of one of the most popular article series on the developerWorks WebSphere site, www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/websphere/techjournal/0401_barcia/barcia.html, and is also a coauthor of IBM WebSphere: Deployment and Advanced Configuration. You can find more information about him at http://web.njit.edu/~rb54

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    Most Recent Comments
    lguerin 12/08/10 09:03:00 AM EST

    And what about the full-stack frameworks ?

    For example Telosys http://www.telosys.org an emerging framework with Eclipse plugin for scaffolding.

    It's more simple and easy to use.

    alen_smith 12/02/08 09:51:11 PM EST

    Hello.
    I `m H.dorin . I `m a java developer.
    Today I want to speak about a new J2EE framework to name SHINE , that I read several document and comment about that.
    In many of these documents complimented about shine whereas even a big project also do not implemented with shine framework.
    Nonetheless When I see these compliment about shine framework, and I see PAUCITY documents about shine`s shortcomings, I be enthusiastic fore learning more about shine framework.
    Therefore I download shine frame work from http://sourceforge.net/projects/shine-app/ and deploy several sample with that.(those samples that write with shine support team)
    I must avowal shine frame worke have a powerful architecture and have simple usage,
    But:
    To my idea it`s soon for praise shine framework and shine`s ability because of shine not tested by high developer and not implemented a big project with it.

    of course some of shine`s abilitys such as " it is SERVICE ORIENTED , working with AJAX in shine is easy , support MVC and shine is easy to use " is demonstrator a powerful framework,

    but:
    some ability of shine such as JWMS ARCHITECTUR that saying it `s shine framework`s special Architecture , is a new Architecture and nobody don`t understand what is it(like me). And in my search in internet I understand is not any document about that. I don`t know why some developers compliment than JWMS .
    to my Idea it `s soon for discussion about shine`s abilitys with this confidence and I can`t implement my project with it because it `s new and unpromising , until developers impelement several project with it and accept it such as a powerful J2ee framework.

    however I belive shine will be a good frame work in future. but for now, it `s not a confident j2ee frame work.

    This text is only my Idea and if some one have any proof unlike my idea , his/her can discuss it.

    Jan Naude 01/16/08 10:55:10 AM EST

    Relating to Doug Smith's question:

    Doug, I think you misunderstand MVC. The components are:

    Model (data retrieved/manipulated by business rules)
    View (responsible for rendering/displaying relevant information to user)
    Controller - business logic that operates on/manipulates model to produce data to be displayed by view.

    The idea with MVC is not to mix business logic (i.e. Servlets/Struts actions) and presentation logic (jsp/html) in the same artifacts (components), because then you end up not being able to replace/change one without having to replace/change the other.
    JSF focuses more on easily developing the View part, while Struts concentrates more on Model and Controller and their integration.

    Jose Arco 11/14/07 10:49:52 AM EST

    Hi,
    Really interesting article.
    I have a related question. We have a web acces application based completly on Struts. Now we want to add a new funcionality based on JSF, the question is if we could have integration problems between both tools.
    Thanks in advanced

    bill 10/26/07 10:07:33 AM EDT

    it would be nice to redo this comparison TODAY in 2007 and see what comes out. Struts2 has really added a ton to their side and JSF components have matured.

    I would like to see a modern comparison- as there does not seem to be one.

    wildcat 04/05/05 12:09:03 AM EDT

    Hi,
    Yes JSF is the way to go. The thing which I like the most about JSF is the finer control given by the component based architechture which is the key for RAD tools..like .NET.
    Java is up there facing a string competition form .NET but hey JAVA will WIN.

    Doug Smith 10/19/04 05:57:05 PM EDT

    Friends, this is going to sound like a really dumb question, but I am asking in all sincerity.

    While I understand the arguments to separate view (screen) from model (database & rules) & control (keyboard), I'm not sure I understand why I need Struts or JSF to do this. I can put code a View as a JSP, interact with the Model using Javabeans, and exercise Control using HTML or JSP directives.

    What exactly are the benefits using either Struts or JSF? The cost is obvious - another set of things to learn and configure.

    (Asked by a solo practitioner who doesn't work with graphic designers).

    David Thirakul 10/18/04 04:31:52 PM EDT

    Very interesting article, thank you. We are currently working extensively with Struts for the presentation layer and are watching the progress of JSF with much interest because it seems to be the way to go in the long term. There is no doubt that JSF will take over as McClanahan stated himself when he was talking about migrating to JSF.
    (see http://www.theserverside.com/news/thread.tss?thread_id=29068). There's no new development on Struts as opposed to JSF which by the way is the answer to MS webforms. So to answer Tom's comment, yes there is overlaping and if you start a new project from scratch and want to compare struts and jsf, roland's article is very insightful. What I would like to point out also is that JSF seem to lack the ease of use and functionnality of webforms, that's why all the new development goes into JSF, there's a lot of catching up to do...

    Roland Barcia 10/01/04 08:31:42 PM EDT

    Thanks for the feedback. Craig has a vested interest in both frameworks. There are features in Struts that compliment JSF like Tiles and the Validation framework. But just because they have some areas where they can work together does not mean I cannot compare them both. In this article, I focus on the Core of the frameworks and how they differ. I see very little benefit with the current Struts implementation to mix the Struts controller with the JSF components.

    Tom Roche 09/30/04 03:51:40 PM EDT

    To speak of "JSF vs Struts" displays a lack of understanding of the
    different specializations of the two frameworks. JSF specializes in
    view, Struts in model and control. The two can be used together via
    the Struts-Faces Integration Library. As Craig McClanahan's inaugural
    blog post

    http://blogs.sun.com/roller/page/craigmcc/20040927#struts_or_jsf_struts_and

    points out:

    > For new development, here's the best strategy for determining what
    > to do:

    > * Evaluate the two technologies individually, to see if they satisfy
    > your requirements.

    > * If one or the other technology is sufficient, go ahead and use it
    > (it's easier to learn and use one technology rather than two where
    > possible); keeping in mind, however, the caveats about Struts HTML
    > tags mentioned above.

    > * If your requirements include unique features supported only by
    > Struts (such as Tiles or client side validation support), feel
    > free to use the two frameworks together.

    > The Future

    > It should be clear by now that there is overlap between Struts and
    > JSF, particularly in the view tier. Over time, JSF will continue to
    > evolve in the view tier area, and I'm going to be encouraging the
    > Struts community to focus on value adds in the controller and model
    > tiers.

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