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The New BEA WebLogic Workshop 8.1

The New BEA WebLogic Workshop 8.1

The initial focus of Weblogic Workshop was on Web services applications, but the core mission of the Workshop team has always been to deliver unprecedented productivity building enterprise-class applications. Many of the innovations introduced in the first version, such as visual designers, controls to simplify access to resources, and declarative annotations in Java code, apply to many applications, not just Web services.

In this new release of Workshop, BEA has dramatically expanded the kinds of applications you can build within the Workshop environment, and significantly enhanced the basic capabilities of the Workshop IDE.

Workshop 8.1 will be available in two editions: WebLogic Workshop Application Developer Edition and WebLogic Workshop Platform Edition. WLW Application Developer Edition includes the basic features targeted at application developers and supports building Web services, Web applications, and custom controls. WLW Platform Edition includes additional extensions to the IDE and runtime framework that let you build portal applications and workflows in conjunction with our Integration and Portal Server products. This article introduces the new features in WebLogic Workshop Application Developer Edition, and the core features of Workshop that are shared across the other BEA WebLogic Platform products.

Based on customer feedback, we focused our efforts around five major initiatives:

  • Provide a unified development experience for the entire BEA platform
  • Do for Web applications what Workshop 7 did for Web services
  • Enable the development of custom controls
  • Continue and expand leadership in Web services
  • Dramatically improve basic IDE functionality

    Unified Development Experience for the BEA Platform
    One of the major themes over the past year at BEA has been the convergence of our product lines. Our customers have told us time and time again that they no longer want to buy separate products to build portals or to integrate their systems or run their Web applications. With the introduction of WebLogic Platform 7, we took the first steps toward bringing the entire BEA product set closer together. With this release, Workshop now provides a completely unified developer experience for the entire platform. This includes a common tool and runtime framework for the platform, as well as a shared programming model across application types.

    Unified Architecture
    Although the Workshop IDE is perhaps the most prominent portion of the product, it's important to realize that Workshop is both a tool and runtime framework, both of which are now utilized by BEA Portal and Integration server.

    The Workshop IDE is a Swing-based Java development tool that provides many of the capabilities developers have come to expect from a development environment - great debugging, source editing, project management features, etc. Moreover, the Workshop IDE provides visual editors and designers to enable a drag-and-drop development experience for most applications. The IDE's principal mission in life is to create files containing application logic that can then be executed by the runtime framework.

    The Workshop runtime framework is a standard J2EE application that runs on top of WebLogic server. The Workshop runtime is responsible for handling the details of compilation, deployment, test harness generation, etc. The framework automates all the plumbing details and complex programming of building a J2EE application. Developers work with simple Java classes, and the framework automatically generates standard EJB components, message queues, databases, etc. This notion of using annotations in Java code to specify additional capabilities is being standardized via the Java Community Process in JSR 175.

    The platform development experience is converging around both the design time and runtime components of the architecture. In the IDE, the tools to build portals and business processes are now fully integrated within the Workshop development environment. Common windows in the IDE that manage your project's files and folders, palettes that list available controls, and common gestures are shared across designers for each of the products. All designers share the familiar "design" and "source" views of the application, and feature full two-way editing so that changes made in one view are immediately reflected in the other. The Workshop runtime supports the business logic developed for these applications, and generates a common set of J2EE components for applications and controls that are automatically deployed to WebLogic server. Most important, however, it provides a unified programming model across the application types.

    Programming Model
    What does it really mean to have a unified programming model across the BEA platform?

    A programming model is the "programmer's UI" - the way a developer builds an application and how he or she interacts with the development environment. What APIs are available? What is the architecture and the process for constructing an application? What are the basic components, and how do I interact with them?

    In Workshop, the programming model is based on the notion of controls - simple components that have methods, events, and properties with a visual representation in the design view - and annotated Java code that lets you declaratively specify behavior and focus on handling events and calling methods, instead of writing complex object-oriented infrastructure code. This lets developers focus on writing the application logic that is important to them - the code that really builds the application - and lets the framework handle the details of the plumbing.

    The Workshop programming model was introduced in Workshop 7 with Java Web Service (JWS) files and controls. Controls enabled you to easily connect to databases, message queues, and EJB components without having to learn the details of the J2EE APIs, and configure settings by setting properties (instead of making API calls). Similarly, when building an asynchronous Web service, instead of writing the code to handle message correlation and state management manually each time, you could simply set a property on a service and the Workshop framework would automatically take care of these details.

    With Workshop 8.1, applications - whether they are Web services, Web applications, portals, or workflows - share a common process of assembling controls that encapsulate business logic or resources with additional code, workflow logic, personalization information, etc. All platform products share the notion of simple Java classes with declarative properties as the primary way application logic is built.

    This level of integration delivers tremendous value - much more than just having all the products use the same tool. With a common application model shared across all products, controls can be leveraged across application types; common paradigms are used for accessing databases, Web services, etc. Moreover, skills learned in building one type of application can be leveraged to learn new products. This shared programming model, supported by the runtime framework and exposed via the IDE, is a major enabling factor for the 10x productivity gain that Workshop delivers.

    Do for Web Applications What Workshop 7 Did for Web Services
    Probably the most exciting new area of functionality in WebLogic Workshop Application Developer Edition is the addition of new features for building Web applications. Workshop 8.1 extends the programming model into the realm of Web applications. Leveraging the Model, View, Controller (MVC) paradigm for building Web applications, constructing a Web application involves constructing a set of standard JavaServer Pages (JSPs) for each of the pages (the views) in an application, writing the business logic, data, and navigation flow in a Pageflow file (the controller), and modeling the data that flows between pages and forms in an application in the form of JavaBeans (the model).

    For those of you familiar with the Struts framework, you'll find this approach very familiar - in fact, Pageflow files are actually compiled into a set of Struts classes and the Struts runtime is responsible for the execution of the completed application. This enables developers to take advantage of a simplified programming model and rich IDE support, but still build cross-platform applications that run on the open-source Struts framework.

    Pageflow
    The Pageflow file is the central dashboard for a Workshop Web application. In design mode, a Pageflow provides a visual overview of an application, showing the pages and the "actions" or business logic that they invoke. The Pageflow editor also helps create and manage the data that flows between pages and actions. The design surface gives a quick visual overview of the application and navigation flow (see Figure 1). The source of a Pageflow file is a standard Java class that contains methods that correspond to actions that can be performed in the Web application. An example of a simple Helloworld Pageflow application is included in the source code for this article (HelloForm.jsp, HelloFlow.pfl, HelloResult.jsp; the source code for this article is available on the Web at www.sys-con.com/weblogic/sourcec.cfm). You'll see from this example that it's very easy to construct data-bound forms that are tied to simple Java code. What you can't see just by looking at the code is how easy an application like this is to construct within the IDE. Workshop now provides a set of wizards that makes it incredibly easy to construct forms and result pages via simple drag and drop operations.

    Pageflows can also leverage controls to access prepackaged business logic, read data from a database, invoke a Web service, or call any other available control. In fact, IDE wizards can automatically construct a Pageflow and set of JSP pages on top of any control to immediately create an application that performs simple CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete)-style operations on a database or invokes a Web service. These pages and the navigation flow can then be further customized and extended into a complete application.

    JSP Editing and Databinding
    Easily building dynamic Web applications involves more than just stringing pages together with business logic, however. It's important to be able to easily construct the JSP pages themselves, and bind those pages to dynamic data. Workshop 8.1 features a complete, two-way, WYSIWYG JSP and HTML editor that is fully integrated within the IDE. Using this editor you can construct JSP pages by dragging HTML and JSP tags from the shared palette of resources into the design surface and visually setting properties. The data palette provides full access to all of the data in the Pageflow, so you can create new forms to take data as input or pages to display processing results with one drag and drop. This is accomplished via a rich set of custom JSP tags that can display tabular information, lists, and trees, with built-in support for filtering and querying database information (see Figure 2).

    Enable the Development of Custom Controls
    When Workshop introduced the concept of Java controls as a simplified way to access enterprise resources, we were immediately asked to make this model extensible so that customers and ISVs could build their own controls to plug into the Workshop framework. With Workshop 8.1, using familiar visual designers you can easily build tightly coupled business logic components that support methods and events as well as asynchronous invocation. Simply by setting a property, Workshop will automatically generate and deploy a JMS queue to support reliable processing of asynchronous messaging. You build controls by defining their interface (what methods and events they support) on the left side of the designer, setting properties to indicate asynchronous messaging, security restrictions, and the like, and then write business logic to implement these methods.

    Controls can use other built-in or custom controls (shown on the right) in infinite levels of nesting so it becomes very easy to repackage and reuse these components. Control authors can also specify custom properties for their control via a simple XML syntax that are immediately supported within the IDE property editor. For example, a control that accesses an enterprise application might have a username and password property, or properties to configure the interaction with that system. Once controls have been built, they can be packaged as redistributable .jar files and easily added to other projects within your organization, or distributed externally. Controls will automatically appear on the palette of available controls as soon as the .jar file is installed.

    Advanced control authors can even build custom property editors and wizards that appear within the IDE to automate control setup. More information on these advanced control features can be found in the Control Developer Kit distributed with WebLogic Workshop.

    Continue and Expand Leadership in Web Services
    Don't worry, we haven't forgotten about Web services! Workshop 8.1 builds upon a solid foundation for enterprise-class Web services that provides native support for loosely coupled interaction, asynchronous "conversational" messaging between parties, and rich business documents. It adds a variety of new enhancements around these three design principles, and extends the Web services stack to support key additional enterprise requirements.

    Addressing the security and reliability concerns about Web services is crucial to enterprise adoption. To meet this need, Workshop now has full support for the WS-Security specification for message-level security (digital signatures and encryption) and has added a set of properties to the JWS file format to easily support declarative role-based security that leverages the underlying WebLogic Server. In addition, Workshop now supports "exactly once" messaging, which ensures that even over protocols like HTTP messages are reliably delivered once and only once to the recipient. Reliable messaging is exposed as a property that can be set on a message.

    One of the major design goals of Workshop 7 was to enable the development of loosely coupled Web services. To BEA, just having XML on the wire isn't loosely coupled enough - you need a mechanism that enables easy mapping between specific XML Schemas and Java objects so that both the XML and Java code can change independently without breaking users of your Web service or requiring major coding changes. We solved this problem with a simple, declarative mapping language. In Workshop 8.1, we've moved to XQuery as the standard language for binding XML to Java code and now provide a complete visual editor for performing these mappings. This makes it drop-dead simple to build a Web service from a set of messages (defined either as XML Schemas or example documents) and then map fields into individual Java parameters (see Figure 3).

    In other cases, however, fully decoupling XML from Java code using a transformation might be overkill. Sometimes it's easier just to access information from the XML directly, or save it away and potentially perform a transformation later. To enable this scenario, Workshop has introduced XML Beans - a unique new technology that dramatically increases the productivity of accessing XML from Java.

    Traditionally, developers have had to choose between low-level APIs such as SAX or DOM that enable direct access to XML but are tedious to work with, and Java binding solutions such as JAXB that provide a convenient set of Java interfaces but lose structural information from the original XML. XML Beans provide the best of both worlds. Using an efficient representation of the original XML document, XML Beans provide a simple cursor-based API for direct navigation through an XML document, an XQuery interface for retrieving information, and a set of Java class "views" on the underlying XML data. Given an XML Schema description, the XML Beans engine automatically generates a set of Java types that enable read-and-write access to the XML. What's different here is that XML Beans are based on XML Schema from the ground up, so there is no schema that cannot be bound to Java types (other solutions support about 50% of schema) and the fact that these Java classes are simply views on the underlying XML. No data is ever lost (even things like comments!) because the original XML is always retained. To use XML Beans, simply add a schema file to your Workshop project, and all the Java types will automatically be generated.

    Dramatically Improve Basic IDE Functionality
    Although the Workshop IDE continues to be focused on developers interested in leveraging the Workshop framework, and not for J2EE development in general (where we recommend Borland JBuilder, WebLogic Edition), many of the basic editing, debugging, and management features of leading IDEs are important to all developers, and we've made great strides in increasing the sophistication of the Workshop IDE itself. The new features here are too many to list, but I've included a few of the highlights.

    Basic IDE Windowing
    The IDE look and feel has been updated significantly and now fully supports customizable window layouts. It is organized as a set of supporting windows that can be docked and undocked, and a central document editor with design and source views.

    Debugging
    We've significantly enhanced the debugging engine in Workshop to support JSP debugging and cross-component debugging. This means you can step from JSP code into Pageflow code into code inside custom controls that you have written. Moreover, the debugging framework is leveraged by the other platform products, so you can even debug from a business process workflow into custom control code or JSPs. The JSP debugger lets you step through the execution of an individual JSP page and view the output stream as it is being constructed. Debugging performance has also increased significantly, and immediate mode and multithreaded debugging support have been added.

    New Project Model
    Workshop applications now correspond directly to J2EE applications and are packaged into EAR files for deployment. A single project model that can contain Web applications, libraries, custom controls, portals, and workflows enables you to build applications that cross product boundaries and easily manage and deploy them as one unit. The project model is also fully integrated with leading source code control systems such as CVS and Perforce so that you can check in and check out files directly from within the IDE.

    Source Editing Features
    We've also added support within the source editor for many popular productivity features. For example, when you use a class that has not yet been imported into your code, Workshop will automatically prompt to import that library. Holding down the CTRL key and hovering over functions and variables provides additional information and a link to jump to the definition or declaration. Basic source editing features like auto completion have also been enhanced and expanded beyond Java functions and variables. For example, any "href" tag in a JSP or HTML page will autocomplete to any file or image in the project.

    Standards
    BEA has always been committed to developing standards-based technologies and these innovations in the Workshop environment are no exception. The Web services capabilities introduced with Workshop 7 are well on their way toward standardization via the Java Community Process in the form of JSR 181. New features for building Web applications fully leverage Struts, an open-source and cross-platform runtime, and we will be announcing new JSR and community initiatives around technologies like XML Beans, Controls, and Pageflow annotations.

    Conclusion
    As you'll see, this release sets the standard for an integrated, easy-to-use development framework for a J2EE platform. You'll find it easy to get started if you haven't worked with J2EE in the past, and your productivity will improve dramatically even if you already know J2EE. Workshop doesn't just make it easy, though - it has been architected from the ground up to fully leverage the power of WebLogic Server and support application architectures that are secure, fast, and scaleable. The combination of ease of use, tight integration, and a powerful platform is unbeatable.

    Get it Today!
    To best experience what Weblogic Workshop 8 is, try it yourself. A beta release of Workshop is available as part of the new developer subscription program. This gives you free access to all BEA developer products for one year and provides a low-cost, "pay for support" program with quarterly updates. You can get more information on downloading Workshop and the subscription program at www.bea.com. Also be sure to check out http://dev2dev.bea.com for additional developer resources, technical articles, code examples, and how-to tips. I'd also love to hear your feedback and suggestions for the product.

  • More Stories By Carl Sjogreen

    Carl Sjogreen is senior product manager for BEA WebLogic Workshop, an integrated development framework that makes it easy for all developers – not just J2EE experts – to build enterprise class web services on the WebLogic platform. Carl has been involved with XML, Web services, and developer tools since 1998, when he founded Transformis, developers of the award-winning Stylus Studio IDE.

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