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New Apache Tomcat Eclipses Sun

The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) has pulled the wraps off Tomcat 5.5, its next-generation Java server.

Tomcat is one of the most popular and widely used applications to ever come out of the Apache Software Foundation and is arguably the most popular open source java server technology as well. The Apache Software Foundation bills Tomcat as,"..the servlet container that is used in the official Reference Implementation for the Java Servlet and JavaServer Pages (JSP) technologies."

Tomcat takes JSP , JSPX, TAG, and TAGX files and converts them to Java source code (scriplets). The speed at which a compiler can compile that code is critical and in many cases will directly impact application performance.

Version 5.5 is a major release for the application and introduces a number of significant improvements. However, because it is the first release in the new 5.5 branch, Tomcat developers warned in their release announcement that it is not that stable. Despite this, Tomcat 5.5 represents a new direction in the evolution of its Java serving capabilities.

For starters, the latest version does not force developers to rely on Sun's SDK to compile Java, which, according to some Java users, hinders performance. Instead, it uses the open source Eclipse Java development tools (JDT), which means users will no longer need the full JDK , because a Java run-time environment (JRE) is now sufficient. Tomcat 5.5 also bundles the Eclipse JDT Java compiler along with its binary distribution.

"Sun's JSDK is slower than Eclipse JDT," Robert L. Murphy, Tomcat user and community member told internetnews.com.

However, using Eclipse JDT is not necessarily always an advantage, cautioned Murphy.

"If you have all JSPs compiled and don't make frequent changes, the JDT is not an advantage," he explained. "If you frequently change JSPs where the end user is the first to see a page after it is changed, JDT is important because the end user waits less time for the page to compile."

Tomcat 5.5 also introduces a new dependency to the application of JRE 5.0, which will potentially extend its functionality, but which also contributes to its instability.

JRE 5.0 is part of the Sun-led Java 2 Platform Standard Edition (J2SE). When Sun announced the J2SE 5.0 at the end of June, the company hailed it as, "... the most significant enhancement to the Java platform in the technology's nine-year history."

Despite its lofty ambitions, though, Sun's JRE 5.0 is neither final nor stable yet, currently listed as a release candidate on the company's site. And because the stability of Tomcat 5.5 is dependent on JRE 5.0's stability, users like Murphy will have wait, settling for now on the more dependable Tomcat 5.028 -- also released this week as a bug fix.

"If we can simplify our code by using new Java 1.5 features, then as soon as a stable version of Tomcat 5.5 arrives, we will roll out new projects on 5.5," he said. "So yes, I am looking forward to a stable 5.5."