Wednesday Jun 11, 2014

Why JSF Matters (to You)

      "Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge."

                                                                                                   – Lao Tzu

You may have noticed Thoughtworks recently crowned the likes of AngularJS, etc imminent successors to server-side web frameworks. They apparently also deemed it necessary to single out JSF for righteous scorn. I have to say as I was reading the analysis I couldn't help but remember they also promptly jumped on the Ruby, Rails, Clojure, etc bandwagon a good few years ago seemingly similarly crowning these dynamic languages imminent successors to Java. I remember thinking then as I do now whether the folks at Thoughtworks are really that much smarter than me or if they are simply more prone to the Hipster buzz of the day. I'll let you make the final call on that one. I also noticed mention of "J2EE" in the context of JSF and had to wonder how up-to-date or knowledgeable the person writing the analysis actually was given that the term was basically retired almost a decade ago. There's one thing that I am absolutely sure about though - as a long time pretty happy user of JSF, I had no choice but to speak up on what I believe JSF offers. If you feel the same way, I would encourage you to support the team behind JSF whose hard work you may have benefited from over the years.

True to his outspoken character PrimeFaces lead Cagatay Civici certainly did not mince words making the case for the JSF ecosystem - his excellent write-up is well worth a read. He specifically pointed out the practical problems in going whole hog with bare metal JavaScript, CSS, HTML for many development teams. I'll admit I had to smile when I read his closing sentence as well as the rather cheerful comments to the post from actual current JSF/PrimeFaces users that are apparently supposed to be on a gloomy death march. In a similar vein, OmniFaces developer Arjan Tijms did a great job pointing out the fact that despite the extremely competitive server-side Java Web UI space, JSF seems to manage to always consistently come out in either the number one or number two spot over many years and many data sources - do give his well-written message in the JAX-RS user forum a careful read. I don't think it's really reasonable to expect this to be the case for so many years if JSF was not at least a capable if not outstanding technology. If fact if you've ever wondered, Oracle itself is one of the largest JSF users on the planet. As Oracle's Shay Shmeltzer explains in a recent JSF Central interview, many of Oracle's strategic products such as ADF, ADF Mobile and Fusion Applications itself are built on JSF. There are well over 3,000 active developers working on these codebases. I don't think anyone can think of a more compelling reason to make sure that a technology is as effective as possible for practical development under real world conditions.

Standing on the shoulders of the above giants, I feel like I can be pretty brief in making my own case for JSF:

  • JSF is a powerful abstraction that brings the original Smalltalk MVC pattern to web development. This means cutting down boilerplate code to the bare minimum such that you really can think of just writing your view markup and then simply wire up some properties and event handlers on a POJO. The best way to see what this really means is to compare JSF code for a pretty small case to other approaches. You should then multiply the additional work for the typical enterprise project to try to understand what the productivity trade-offs are. This is reason alone for me to personally never take any other approach seriously as my primary web UI solution unless it can match the sheer productivity of JSF.
  • Thanks to JSF's focus on components from the ground-up JSF has an extremely strong ecosystem that includes projects like PrimeFaces, RichFaces, OmniFaces, ICEFaces and of course ADF Faces/Mobile. These component libraries taken together constitute perhaps the largest widget set ever developed and optimized for a single web UI technology. To begin to grasp what this really means, just briefly browse the excellent PrimeFaces showcase and think about the fact that you can readily use the widgets on that showcase by just using some simple markup and knowing near to nothing about AJAX, JavaScript or CSS.
  • JSF has the fair and legitimate advantage of being an open vendor neutral standard. This means that no single company, individual or insular clique controls JSF - openness, transparency, accountability, plurality, collaboration and inclusiveness is virtually guaranteed by the standards process itself. You have the option to choose between compatible implementations, escape any form of lock-in or even create your own compatible implementation! Open standards like JSF also tend to have strong out-of-the-box tools/IDE support.

As you might gather from the quote at the top of the post, I am not a fan of crystal ball gazing and certainly don't want to engage in it myself. Who knows? However far-fetched it may seem maybe AngularJS is the only future we all have after all. If that is the case, so be it. Unlike what you might have been told, Java EE is about choice at heart and it can certainly work extremely well as a back-end for AngularJS. Likewise, you are also most certainly not limited to just JSF for working with Java EE - you have a rich set of choices like Struts 2, Vaadin, Errai, VRaptor 4, Wicket or perhaps even the new action-oriented web framework being considered for Java EE 8 based on the work in Jersey MVC...

Please note that any views expressed here are my own only and certainly does not reflect the position of Oracle as a company.