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New application server marries Java to webservices

With the new, snappily titled Java System Application Server Platform Edition 8, Sun promises to make it easier for Java developers to develop and deploy web services. The new server software is free for both development and deployment, and includes support for the J2EE Connector Architecture to facilitate exposing existing enterprise systems as web services.

The new package joins a number of other Java based application servers such as Tomcat, Jboss and various offerings from IBM, BEA and other vendors. Their purpose is mainly to offer an evironment in which web-type or other networked applications can be developed and exposed.

Traditionally, Sun's offering was mainly used in conjunction with the whole Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) Software Development Kit for development, but the result deployed on competitors offerings, chiefly the open source Jboss and Tomcat. By making the whole thing free for wider distrubition and deployment, Sun hopes to extend the use of its own application server. "Free" here means 'free' as in beer, not 'free' as in GPL or other open source licence, though.

Other than the attraction of getting a major part of any networked Java application's gubbins from the inventors of Java (Sun makes a big deal of the server being the only major J2EE standard compliant one), the chief attraction is both the promised support for web services and the connection to the J2EE Connector architecture.

For webservices, the new server provides support for the WS-I interoperability profile out of the box. That means that dealing with SOAP messages and Web Services Decription Language (WSDL) from any other WS-I compliant application such as those from Microsoft's .Net family is made comparatively easy. A number of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) take care of converting data and commands to the web service XML structure, and managing the message interaction is a matter of passing the right parameters to the Java API for XML-based Remote Procedure Calls (JAX-RPC).

Also included are specific APIs for dealing with SOAP + attachments messages and basic support for both hosting and contacting Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI) and ebXML registries to advertise or discover services to or from other people. Web service security is taken care of by the simple expedient of being able to expose service points over SSL.

Which is fine on the web service end, but one also needs to get interesting data out of existing applications. For that, there's the connection to the J2EE Connector architecture, which is a standardised way of configuring and packaging adapters. With such a resource adapter, Sun's application server can talk to the legacy application on the other end, and do interesting things with such as exposing the information via a webservice. A fair few adapters already exist for enterprise applications such as those made by Oracle and Peoplesoft.

Other than that, there's been a string of refinements in other APIs and a new migration tool to facilitate moving existing J2EE applications to Java System Application Server Platform Edition 8. The server itself has better performance and requires a smaller amount of memory, which should make distribution of applications that bundle the server in easier: you don't have to worry about customers not having the latest and greatest hardware.

The wider significance of the release for education is that the Sun server should help make support for things like the new IMS Enterprise Services easier for the numerous Java developers out there. Also, increasing support for web services on the one hand, and full connectivity to other parts of the Java world on the other could make the server an important part of a bridge between those who integrate MLEs with Java technology (e.g. OKI), and those who prefer web services (e.g. IMS).

Resources

There's a product homepage on the Sun site. The feature summary there is a bit more extensive and detailed. A thorough and readable guide to what the server does in the real world is available in the J2EE 1.4 Tutorial.

The whole updated J2EE SDK (which includes Java System Application Server Platform Edition 8) can be downloaded from the Sun download pages.

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