Tag Archives: rest

RESTful and modernised: making sense of Adobe’s new Enterprise platform

Adobe has announced its Digital Enterprise Platform for Customer Experience Management. My tip to Adobe: that is too many words with too many syllables for busy IT people who are trying to get their work done. What on earth is it? The same old stuff repackaged, or something genuinely new?

The answer is a bit of each. Adobe has made several big acquisitions over the last few years, starting with the Macromedia merger in 2005 that really formed a new Adobe, bringing together digital publishing and the Flash platform. In September 2009 Adobe acquires Omniture for web analytics, and in October 2010 Day Software. This last one seems to be having a huge impact. Day’s product is called CQ5 Web Content Management and is built on CRX, a content repository which conforms to JCR 2.0 (Java Technology API 2.0), a Java API. Here’s Roy Fielding, formerly at Day and now Principal Scientist at Adobe, from this white paper [pdf]:

The Content Repository API for Java Technology (JCR) is poised to revolutionize the development of J2SE/J2EETM applications in the same way that the Web has revolutionized the development of network-based applications. JCR’s interface designers have followed the guiding principles of the Web to simplify the interactions between an application and its content repository, thus replacing many application-specific or storage-specific interfaces with a single, generic API for content repository manipulation.

JCR is a boon for application developers. Its multipurpose nature and agnostic content model encourages reuse of the same code for many different applications, reducing both the effort spent on development per application and the number of interfaces that must be learned along the way. Its clean separation between content manipulation and storage management allows the repository implementation to be chosen based on the actual performance characteristics of the application rather than some potential characteristics that were imagined early in the application design. JCR enables developers to build full-featured applications based on open source implementations of a repository while maintaining compatibility with the proprietary repositories that are the mainstay of large data centers.

Adobe already has an application platform based on LiveCycle Enterprise Suite, which you will notice now redirects to the Digital Enterprise Platform. Ben Watson, Adobe’s Principal Customer Experience Strategist, explained it to me like this:

The core of the platform now becomes the repository that we got from the Day acquisition. We are also following their leadership around the use of RESTful technology, so changing how we do our web services implementation, how we do our real time data integration into Flash using data services. There’s really four technologies at play here. There’s CQ5, Adobe LiveCycle which is all the business process management on the back end, the online marketing suite with Omniture, and Creative tools which allow to both design and develop all of this content and assets … We had two Java platforms and we brought them into one.


You can read up on the Digital Enterprise Platform here or see a chart of capabilities here. Much of it does look like rebranding of existing LiveCycle modules; but as a statement of direction it is an interesting one.

Is this for on-premise deployment, or cloud hosted? Adobe has a tie-up with Amazon for hosted deployment, though there is no no multi-tenant hosting from Adobe yet; I got the impression from Watson that it is being worked on.

Adobe is aware that it does not stand alone, and there are several connectors and integration points for third-party applications, such as a SAP data services connector.

Adobe also has a series of “solutions”, which are permutations of web content management, analytics, document processing, social media and so on.  There is also a Unified Workspace, currently in beta, which is a dashboard application.

The company’s line is that it is well placed to address the challenge of the mobile revolution, and to bring greater usability and social interaction to business applications, the consumerization of IT.

Although that sounds a strong pitch, melding all this together into something new while keeping hold of existing developers and designers is a challenge. Another issue for Adobe is that the company’s strong presence in design, multimedia and marketing makes it hard to appeal to more general enterprise developers. Nevertheless, the combination of Fielding’s influence and Adobe’s strength in design, documents and cross-platform clients makes this a platform worth watching.

Microsoft remakes WCF for REST and the web

WCF is Windows Communication Foundation, the part of Microsoft’s .NET framework that handles service-oriented architecture. When WCF was first designed Microsoft was betting on SOAP web services. SOAP is still widely used but since then the trend has been towards more web-friendly services based on REST (Representational State Transfer) and JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). Microsoft has always argued that WCF is flexible enough to support such alternatives.

That said, a project which I have become aware of here at QCon London is the WCF Web APIs, presented here by Microsoft’s Glenn Block. WCF Web APIs focus on support for REST, JQuery clients, and programming model simplicity for a variety of other clients such as Silverlight and Windows Phone. The bit that surprised me is that WCF Web APIs are not just another wrapper for WCF; it is a completely new library that does not build on the old WCF Service Model. The fact that it is called WCF at all is confusing, though of course it belongs in that space within the overall .NET Framework.

I have not had time to look in detail at the WCF Web APIs, but from what I have seen and heard they are well worth exploring, even if you have found the old WCF somewhat impenetrable.

Mobl: a new language for mobile applications, with Eclipse integration

It has gradually dawned on me that, contrary to first appearances, the Apple iPhone and iPad do come with a capable application runtime for those who would rather not tangle with Objective C; and one on which you can run applications without the hassle of negotiating the App Store. This runtime is the WebKit-based browser and JavaScript engine. This is for web apps of course; but as noted in my look at NS App Studio last week, you can blur the boundaries between web and local by creating a local shortcut and designing your app to work offline. Here is the Apple documentation, which notes:

Offline application support is available in iOS 2.1 and later and in Safari 4.0 and later

So you can do offline. There is also a local database, based on SQLite, documented by Apple here – putting iOS ahead of Windows Phone 7, which has no built-in relational database for Silverlight applications. Another plus is that other WebKit-based mobile browsers should work as well, including the one in Android devices.

It is possible to create application frameworks that wrap these features into a single development platform that compiles to JavaScript, HTML and CSS. PhoneGap is one example, and NS App Studio another; but today Reddit alerted me to another, Mobl, which has a modern feel and benefits from Eclipse integration. It is also free and open source, and with the right community momentum looks like it could be interesting.

Mobl is a statically-typed language with a syntax similar to Javascript – there is a guide and language reference here. The goal is to create a complete DSL (Domain Specific Language) for mobile development, which according to the web site:

Integrates all aspects of a mobile web application into a single language: data modeling, user interfaces, application logic, styling and web services.

The main author is Zef Hemel, from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Mobl makes use of Stratego/XT, which is a language and toolset for program transformation, and SDF  (Modular Syntax Definition Formalism), a language for defining syntax.

Mobl includes data modelling which handles object persistence and a concise language for defining user interfaces. AJAX support is built-in and there is integrated support for RESTful web services and for JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). The Eclipse add-in includes syntax highlighting, inline error reporting, code completion, and reference resolving.

All rather impressive for a project that has just burst onto the scene. I installed the Eclipse add-on and enjoyed its simple license:


“This software is distributed in the hope that it will be useful.” – though I have not found time yet to try creating an application.

There is more information on the nicely-designed website and blog and in the Google Group.

Update: thanks to @FransBouma for the link to the Mobl guide.

WS-I closes its doors–the end of WS-* web services?

The Web Services Interoperability Organization has announced [pdf] the “completion” of its work:

After nearly a decade of work and industry cooperation, the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I; http://www.ws-i.org) has successfully concluded its charter to document best practices for Web services interoperability across multiple platforms, operating systems and programming languages.

In the whacky world of software though, completion is not a good thing when it means, as it seems to here, an end to active development. The WS-I is closing its doors and handing maintenance of the WS interoperability profiles to OASIS:

Stewardship over WS-I’s assets, operations and mission will transition to OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), a group of technology vendors and customers that drive development and adoption of open standards.

Simon Phipps blogs about the passing of WS-I and concludes:

Fine work, and many lessons learned, but sadly irrelevant to most of us. Goodbye, WS-I. I know and respect many of your participants, but I won’t mourn your passing.

Phipps worked for Sun when the WS-* activity was at its height and WS-I was set up, and describes its formation thus:

Formed in the name of "preventing lock-in" mainly as a competitive action by IBM and Microsoft in the midst of unseemly political knife-play with Sun, they went on to create massively complex layered specifications for conducting transactions across the Internet. Sadly, that was the last thing the Internet really needed.

However, Phipps links to this post by Mike Champion at Microsoft which represents a more nuanced view:

It might be tempting to believe that the lessons of the WS-I experience apply only to the Web Services standards stack, and not the REST and Cloud technologies that have gained so much mindshare in the last few years. Please think again: First, the WS-* standards have not in any sense gone away, they’ve been built deep into the infrastructure of many enterprise middleware products from both commercial vendors and open source projects. Likewise, the challenges of WS-I had much more to do with the intrinsic complexity of the problems it addressed than with the WS-* technologies that addressed them. William Vambenepe made this point succinctly in his blog recently.

It is also important to distinguish between the work of the WS-I, which was about creating profiles and testing tools for web service standards, and the work of other groups such as the W3C and OASIS which specify the standards themselves. While work on the WS-* specifications seems much reduced, there is still work going on. See for example the W3C’s Web Services Resource Access Working Group.

I partly disagree with Phipps about the work of the WS-I being “sadly irrelevant to most of us”. It depends who he means by “most of us”. Granted, all this stuff is meaningless to the world at large; but there are a significant number of developers who use SOAP and WS-* at least to some extent, and interoperability is key to the usefulness of those standards.

The Salesforce.com API is mainly SOAP based, for example, and although there is a REST API in preview it is not yet supported for production use. I have been told that a large proportion of the transactions on Salesforce.com are made programmatically through the API, so here is one place at least where SOAP is heavily used.

WS-* web services are also built into Microsoft’s Visual Studio and .NET Framework, and are widely used in my experience. Visual Studio does a good job of wrapping them so that developers do not have to edit WSDL or SOAP requests and responses by hand. I’d also suggest that web services in .NET are more robust than DCOM (Distributed COM) ever was, and work successfully over the internet as well as on a local network, so the technology is not a failure.

That said, I am sure it is true that only a small subset of the WS-* specifications are widely used, which implies a large amount of wasted effort.

Is SOAP and WS-* dying, and REST the future? The evidence points that way to me, but I would be interested in other opinions.

A useful Windows Phone 7 app in a couple of hours – Where’s my Train

I was interested to see that National Rail Enquiries has published a web service for its live departure boards. These give you reports on the next trains to depart from any given station, including information on late running.

Given that this is Windows Phone 7 week, I could not resist trying it out. I have a minimalist UI – you type in a station and hit Go. In version two you will just press Enter. It fetches the live train departures and displays them in a list. Version two might have a scrollbar too. Still, I’m pleased with the results, which could actually prove useful when I am running for a train.


Confession: it is currently hardcoded for just a few stations. That’s because you need to look up the station code in this table. I need to embed this database in my app somehow.

The coding is pretty simple though. It may help that the National Rail Enquiries web service is based on .NET, which is also why it does SOAP and WSDL, to the disappointment of those looking for REST. All the hard stuff is done by Add Service Reference in Visual Studio. The web service call is asynchronous, but there is a code completion wizard to add the necessary event handler.

Could be a money spinner if I can get it out quickly – but unfortunately the terms and conditions appear to prohibit its distribution:

This Web Site is for your personal and non-commercial use. You may not at any time modify, store, copy (including for example screen scraping), extract, reutilise, distribute, transmit, display, perform, reproduce, publish, license, create derivative works from, transfer, or sell, distribute or create any information, products or services obtained from, linked to or using this Web Site and any data therein or that may provide users with the ability to do the same.

These terms are bit puzzling, because on one interpretation they do not permit any use of the web service, even though it is stated that:

For the purposes of these Terms & Conditions the term Web Site also includes the web services, XML and any other data source supplying the Web Site.

Oh well. It still shows how quickly you can knock together a client for a web service and make something useful, although mine is really only a proof of concept. I reckon it would be almost as easy in Adobe AIR too – and then it would run on Android.

There is a National Rail Enquiries app for iPhone which costs $7.99 and likely uses the same web service.