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Pattern Matching

Pattern Matching

When I first graduated (well, actually, the second time) I had an offer from a company for a programming job. They were going to hire me, contingent upon my passing the IBM Programmer's Aptitude Test. So one day I drove my college junk heap an hour out of my way to take this test. I had to get an "A" to get the job. I was nervous, but once I got the test, I realized I needn't have worried - it was all about patterns.

It's both a relief and a disappointment in the programming business that nothing is really new. We keep solving the same old problems, sometimes in new ways, or with new tools. That's disappointing, but at the same time it allows us to focus on repeatability. It also lets us focus on the business side of our careers (i.e., the things that pay the bills) by developing a certain amount of productivity. In a sense, as knowledge workers (that's such a nasty term) we're like highly educated assembly-line workers - paid to do the same things over and over again. Our added value (and the justification for our billing rates or salaries) is that unlike an assembly line worker, who is normally given a set pattern, it's our job to identify patterns in business processes or their technical implementations, and take advantage of them for maximum efficiency.

Nowhere in programming are patterns and best practices more important than in the J2EE world. In the beginning, there were no J2EE patterns, and people did all sorts of strange things with their code. It compiled, it even ran, but at the end of the day it performed poorly.

You should, of course be familiar with the idea of patterns. If you're not, put this down, go buy Design Patterns by Gamma et al., and study up, then pick this issue up again.

Patterns are everywhere. The JavaBean and the EJB approach are based on patterns such as the getter/setter method of defining an attribute. Or the use of deployment descriptors.

But these aren't enough to ensure performance, which is why the folks at Sun put together the J2EE Blueprints. These are a group of patterns that help to optimize the performance of a J2EE application. The Fast Lane Reader pattern, for example, helps reduce the overhead of transferring read-only (or read mostly) data to user displays by avoiding the instantiation of entity beans. Because when you send the data across the EJB container to the Web container, you don't send the EJB, you send its data.

Even these patterns need proper care and feeding. It's easy to go overboard and make everything session beans (or even JSP pages), but this doesn't accomplish the goals of a partitioned architecture, nor does it leverage the transaction management and storage mechanisms of the EJB container. There's a balance to pattern usage, and it's very important to consider that balance before acting.

This issue presents some patterns for J2EE use. Properly designed, a J2EE application can scale to virtually any level of client support. Improperly designed, you can choke a user community to death with a system that cannot be saved even by throwing hardware at it. It's up to you to learn what patterns exist, and not just what patterns, but when it's appropriate to use them. Do so and you're on your way to the transition from programmer to architect. And to making things count for your business or client.

I got an "A" on the aptitude test, but I took a different job that paid better and offered more skill development in modern languages and systems. Did they really think I wanted to learn COBOL? Yikes!

More Stories By Sean Rhody

Sean Rhody is the founding-editor (1999) and editor-in-chief of SOA World Magazine. He is a respected industry expert on SOA and Web Services and a consultant with a leading consulting services company. Most recently, Sean served as the tech chair of SOA World Conference & Expo 2007 East.

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