Will Language Overload Force Open Enterprises?

There was a time when Java and C# were all an enterprise developer really needed to know in terms of programming languages. Today, that’s no longer the case.

Language proliferation and integration is becoming a key development challenge as enterprises find themselves adopting a variety of languages for mission-critical applications.

To Tim Bray, director of Web technologies at Sun and the co-author of XML , not only is an era of language proliferation upon us, the sole way an enterprise can cope is to be open.

“We’re headed for a heterogeneous future,” Gray told InternetNews.com. “I don’t think any [languages] will be wiped out, so as a corollary, we all need to be worried more about integration strategies for heterogeneous environments.”

Bray argued that in the last few years, Ruby on Rails, Python, PHP and other development languages are now being used for mission-critical enterprise applications. The days when the CIO could say they’re a Java or .NET shop just aren’t here anymore, he said.

For Sun, the need to understand language diversity isn’t just a curiosity — it’s also good business strategy.

“We sell stuff at Sun and if developers want to build in Rails, then we want to be their friends — so when it comes time to deploy, they’ll deploy on Sun,” Bray said.

The issue of language proliferation isn’t just limited to programming languages, either. It also extends to wire messaging formats as well, which has seen the rise of formats like the popular JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), for use in AJAX-type applications as a replacement for XML. More recent efforts include Google’s Protocol Buffers, intended as a faster and simpler format than XML for certain types of data interchange.

“XML doesn’t have the monopoly it used to have,” Bray said. “It used to be that if you wanted to send messages back and forth across the wire, XML was the only game in town.”

“Clearly, there is going to more heterogeneity for wire formats, too,” he added. “Increasingly, given that the future will have more than two programming languages, there will be a lot more messages being passed around.”

Bray comes to the issue from a unique perspective. As a co-author of the original XML specifications, he helped create a language that at one point had been intended to become the lingua franca for all Web communications.

He now admits that he wasn’t entirely accurate in his original vision of where XML would end up.

“I was so completely wrong on everything,” Bray admitted. “We thought we were going to replace HTML and that turned out to be a silly idea. It turned out be used for syndication feeds and purchase orders and a million other things, and that’s fine. Things find their own level.”

However, in today’s world of language proliferation, Bray has another favorite approach for exchanging information.

“I am a strong partisan of the REST approach, which provides a Web-based approach for integration of anything to anything,” Bray said. “REST isn’t tied to XML or JSON but it makes it easy to use either.”

Recent months have seen REST find other fans of its approach. In December, the developers behind Ruby on Rails 2.0 came out in support of the protocol in lieu of SOAP for Web services.

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