An Introduction to J2EE by Mark Johnson

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1 An Introduction to J2EE by Mark Johnson The Java 2, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) platform has been a global market-leading enterprise platform for the past several years. But like any large technology, J2EE requires a significant time investment to learn. While no single article can provide exhaustive coverage of this huge technology base, by the time you re through reading, you ll know the lay of the land, understand the basics of the system design and be ready to explore the topic in more depth. Design Goals J2EE was designed to be an integrated, extensible framework for enterprise software development. Specific goals affect the design of all of its technologies, including: Platform vendors compete on implementation, not on design. J2EE is not a software product. Instead, it is a set of related specifications that describe in detail the interfaces that a J2EE system must provide. Platform vendors and experts collaborate to develop the specifications that lay out the minimum functionality required for each technology. The vendors then compete to provide the best implementations of the specifications. This arrangement helps customers because it minimizes vendor lock-in. Create a market of software components. Many key J2EE technologies are explicitly designed as software components that can run in any platform implementation that conforms to the specifications. Packaging, distributing and installing components as components allow third parties to sell servlets and other J2EE components as drop-in solutions for anyone with a J2EE platform implementation. Integrate with existing and future technologies. J2EE interfaces are extensible. As new technologies become available, new interfaces can be created, and old interfaces can be extended and revised. Run on any hardware. The portable Java runtime decouples applications from hardware, letting customers choose hardware to fit budget and business needs. Component providers can distribute the same binary to all of their clients. Let developers focus on application logic. A J2EE platform implementation provides a much higher level of service than an operating system can provide. The platform implementation handles such everyday but complex tasks as checking permissions, managing threads, load balancing, persisting data and so on. This lets the application and component developer focus on writing code that solves business needs. Provide availability, security, reliability and scalability. The technology specifics all address one or more of these goals. Tiers & Technologies The J2EE platform provides a layer of enterprise application services on top of the Java 2, Standard Edition (J2SE). So J2EE requires a J2SE runtime installation. The basic J2EE programming model is component-based. A J2EE application is simply a collection of intercommunicating components that together support business processes. J2EE programmers create business logic components, package them in a

2 deployment unit (essentially a ZIP file with a defined structure and file extension), and then deploy the components to a server using tools provided by the platform vendor. Each component type in J2EE corresponds to a specific application tier. Sun Microsystems best-practices program for Java technology defines four tiers: The client tier contains the programs employed directly by users to interact with the system. The Web tier contains components and services that process HTTP requests. The EJB tier contains distributed business logic components called Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs). The EIS (Enterprise Information Systems) tier contains databases, legacy business data and systems, and adapters that provide data access to the other tiers. J2EE simplifies development by defining the concept of a component container for each tier. A container is a set of interfaces that components use to access system services. Each tier has a different set of components and a corresponding container. The container for that tier hosts the component instances and manages access to them. Component object instances live inside a container, meaning that the container creates and destroys the instances as needed. The container is the runtime environment of a component. Any external service needed by the component is provided by the container. A container controls how clients access components. All access to the component by its clients is mediated by the container, allowing the container to add functionality like security, logging and transactions to the components it hosts. Imagine you wanted to serve HTTP requests dynamically. You consider using a CGI program, but then you realize that you ll have to write code to support load balancing, session state maintenance, security, internationalization, cookie management, query string parsing and several other tedious things. So instead, you choose a J2EE Web server. You decide to write your HTTP request handler as a servlet, which is a Web-tier J2EE component that services HTTP requests from within a J2EE-enabled Web server. Your servlet code looks like this: public class YourServlet extends HttpServlet { public void doget(httpservletrequest req, HttpServletResponse res) throws ServletException, IOException { String yourname = req.getparameter("yourname"); PrintWriter out = res.getwriter(); out.println("hi, " + yourname + "!"); } Your servlet subclasses HttpServlet, a class that is defined by the server. Since the class implements the doget() method, the servlet can handle HTTP GET requests. The servlet component relies on the Web container for all information or services it needs. The container receives HTTP requests, parses GET query strings or POST variables, and dispatches method calls to servlet instances to handle the requests. A

3 servlet method may request that the container do things on its behalf by calling its superclass methods, or by calling the methods of its arguments. In this case, the servlet needs two things from its environment: the parameter yourname (parsed from the query string) and an output channel to write the response to. The servlet requests these things from its container in two places. First, it uses the container s HttpServletRequest interface to retrieve the value of the query string parameter yourname. Second, it uses the container s HttpServletResponse interface to acquire an output channel to the browser. The Web container also provides other interfaces for access to the server s configuration, user-defined variables and so on. A compiled servlet is packaged in a WAR file (the Web-tier deployment unit) and deployed to the Web server using vendor-provided tools. The Web container in the server creates an instance of your class, associates it with a URL and then waits for HTTP requests. When you visit the servlet s URL in a browser, the Web container directs the HTTP request to the doget() method of an instance of your servlet class (creating one if necessary). The servlet then produces the content that forms the HTTP response, much as a CGI program would do. Essentially, any request made of a J2EE server in any tier is first intercepted by that server s component container, which provides system-level services such as load balancing; creating, destroying and migrating component instances; and enforcing security. For example, when a browser visits the URL for a servlet, the container may first authenticate the user before providing access to the servlet. The container may manage a pool of servlet instances running in different threads, directing incoming requests to available instances. Sophisticated containers can transparently balance load or provide failover among machines in a cluster. The component developer focuses on business logic and gets these high-level system services for free, because the container handles them automatically. The container also provides services (like access to request parameters) to the components it hosts. The components provide the business logic for the application, requesting system services from the container instead of from the operating system. This example skipped over the detail of how the Web server knew which URL to use for the servlet. That detail, and many others, is handled in a deployment descriptor. The deployment descriptor is an XML file that accompanies software components in the Web archive file and tells the container how to configure the component. Among many other things, deployment desciptors declaratively provide components with configuration parameters, control components transactional behavior, configure persistence mechanisms and indicate to the server how to balance load. Most vendor platforms provide GUI tools for deploying J2EE components and applications. These tools usually handle the messy job of building the deployment units and writing the deployment descriptor files. Now that the concepts of component, container and deployment descriptor are clear, let s have a look at the types of components J2EE provides.

4 Client-Tier Components The most common user client in the client tier is the traditional Web browser, accessing Web-tier components (servlets and JSP pages) in the Web tier over HTTP. In this scenario, the browser is a client, but it s not a component, because it has no container. An application developer using J2EE to create a Web application puts business logic in the Web, EJB and EIS tiers, and then provides browser access to the application using Web-tier components. In addition to browser clients, there are two types of client components in the client tier: applets and application clients. An applet is a program, usually with a user interface, that is usually downloaded with a Web page and displays its user interface as part of the page. The applet container provides services to the applet and enforces special security restrictions. The application client runs in an application client container. Application clients are usually standalone programs that run on a user s local workstation and access back-end resources through standard interfaces. An application client has access to the entire suite of J2SE APIs, as well as all J2EE technologies in other tiers. Application clients don t have the security restrictions of applets, but instead have the same security model as other J2EE components. Application clients are preferable for creating highly interactive, medium- to heavy-weight clients that need the full functionality of the Java platform and access to enterprise resources in other tiers. Web-Tier Components The components available in the Web tier are servlets and Java server pages. Both run inside a Web container, which runs inside the memory space of a Web server. Web-tier components process HTTP requests and play the same role as CGI programs in traditional Web applications. Servlets are server-side components that process HTTP requests. They are best suited for performing business logic, often using resources in other tiers. Java server pages, on the other hand, are the preferred technology for creating dynamic content. JSPs are similar to other dynamic page markup languages, such as ASP or PHP pages. JSPs consist mostly of HTML, with special markup characters that delimit Java expressions or chunks of code. The Web container serves JSPs by first replacing the text between the delimiters with the result of evaluating the text. For example, the following simple JSP does essentially the same thing as the preceding servlet example: Hi,! But it does so with a lot less code. JSPs let page designers focus on HTML, whereas servlets let programmers focus on business logic. Many J2EE Web applications use servlets and JSPs together to perform business logic and present data, respectively. The Web container provides a high level of service to its components, not only managing instances, dispatching requests and parsing parameters, but also enforcing security

5 policies, managing server-side state and supporting communication between tiers. The J2EE Web container also supports SOAP- and REST-based Web services. EJB Tier Components Enterprise JavaBeans, the EJB tier components, are application components that perform business logic and represent business data. EJB components reside in an EJB container within an EJB server, and are accessed by their clients through remote procedure call interface using CORBA. Java clients usually use Enterprise JavaBeans through Java's native Remote Method Invocation (RMI) facility. But non-java clients also can use enterprise beans using the Internet Inter-Orb Protocol (IIOP). There are four kinds of Enterprise JavaBeans: Stateless session beans provide business logic with no user-specific state (e.g., a catalog object). Stateless session beans also can act as Web service endpoints. Stateful session beans provide business logic that is specific to an individual user or agent session (e.g., a Web-based shopping cart). Message-driven beans are like stateless session beans, but are activated in response to a message, rather than an RPC invocation (e.g., a workflow queue). Entity beans represent business logic with persistent server-side state (e.g., an invoice object). The EJB components focus primarily on business logic and rely on the container for system services. Among other services, the EJB container handles RPC parameter and return value marshalling, enforces security, manages EJB instances, persists and fetches data, tracks session state, maintains conversational state and balances load. The client programming model for EJBs is simple: 1. Use a directory interface to look up the component s home interface, which is the component instance factory or lookup service. 2. Use the home interface to get a reference to an enterprise bean instance s component interface, which is the component s set of business methods. 3. Call the component interface s methods, which execute business methods remotely on the component instance in the EJB server. The programming model for the components is somewhat more complex, but that moderate increase in complexity pays for the much higher level of service provided by the EJB container. EIS-Tier Components Components in the EIS tier are called connectors. A connector is an adapter class that makes a legacy system or data source available to other J2EE components. The connector container manages connector instances and distributed transactions for the connector s resource.

6 The best-known connector is the JDBC interface, which provides vendor-neutral access to relational databases. Connectors are a key technology for using J2EE as for Enterprise Application Integration. Conclusion As you can see, the world of J2EE is large and can be intimidating. Learning to use J2EE skillfully takes time, but the basic ideas driving J2EE s design are really quite simple: Let the server handle all the really hard stuff, focus your code on business processes, and don t single-source your IT platform. That s good advice regardless of what enterprise technologies you choose. Mark Johnson is a former JavaWorld columnist and author of the Enterprise Java Tech Tips for Sun. He is co-author of Designing Enterprise Applications With the J2EE Platform, 2nd Edition. He currently works as a contractor at the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Mark can be reached at This article originally appeared in Certification Magazine,

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