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Java Springs Forward With Open Source Framework

It's springtime for Java developers.

Interface21, the commercial vendor behind the Spring open source Enterprise Java Application Framework, is rolling out new releases intended to make Java development easier than ever.

Spring Framework 2.1 and Spring Web Flow 1.1 are intended to challenge the complexity in Java development by providing a development model that follows a more intuitive Web model. It's an approach that has already garnered over 3 million downloads for previous versions and the support of big vendors such as Oracle and BEA.

"Spring traditionally has focused on XML configurations, but with 2.1 we're allowing mixing and matching," Rod Johnson, CEO of Interface21 and founder of the Spring Framework, told internetnews.com. "So we're allowing annotation for configuration, so that could reduce the amount of work needed in simple cases."

Interface21 is also rolling out a new version of Web Flow, which takes a usage flow model approach to Java development. One problem historically with authoring Web applications with Java has been that the kind of artifact Java classes you develop don't match with how you think of that application as a user, according to Johnson.

"Web Flow tackles that problem head on," he said. "Spring Web Flow elevates the concept of a conversation to a first-class citizen. You have an artifact that is an XML definition or a Java class that models flow and, therefore, you get a higher degree of traceability from requirements through to implementation."

With Web Flow version 1.1 JavaServer Faces (JSF) integration is included, whereas previously only templating technology like JSP (JavaServer Pages) were part of the mix. Johnson noted that the inclusion of JSF will allow for the development of libraries as components.

Spring Web Flow competes against JBoss SEAM and BEA's Beehive to some extent, though Johnson argues that Spring WebFlow is more mature and is also easier to adopt.

On the core framework side, Johnson doesn't see any competition.

"Spring Framework doesn't have comparable competition and I know it always sounds somewhat conceded to say that," Johnson said. "But the interesting thing about Spring is that it really established a new product category. Spring created the concept of a lightweight container, which simply did not exist before."

Since it was first developed by Johnson, Spring has evolved from the original concept of a layer that sits above a JavaEE application server that makes it easier to program. Johnson said he gradually has seen Spring being used in applications outside of application servers in things such as applets and even an implementation for the .NET framework.

"The core concepts behind Spring were a lot more general than we originally imagined," Johnson said.

Interface21 has also managed to develop partnerships for Spring with big app-server vendors like Oracle and BEA, which further extends the reach of the open source framework.

The general approach of trying to make Java development easier, though improved with the latest releases from Interface21, is still far from over.

"We have a firm view that nothing is ever good enough," Johnson said. "Looking at the Spring Framework, it is definitely the best set of tools that I know of in terms of programming models for Java applications, but there are always things that can be made easier."