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ColdFusion: Article

What I Love About ColdFusion

When ColdFusion was first released there was one main feature, more than any other feature, that made it very popular very fast

Last month CFDJ held a contest in which I asked readers to write an essay about how ColdFusion MX 7 has made them a hero in the office.

You can read the winning entries and find out about our next contest in this month's issue. Deciding on the contest topic and reading the contest submissions made me reflect on my own experiences with CF over the past decade. What is it about ColdFusion that's kept me hooked for so long?

When ColdFusion was first released there was one main feature, more than any other feature, that made it very popular very fast: ColdFusion makes it ridiculously easy to create Web pages that can talk to databases and display database information. Now, almost 11 years later, this is still one of ColdFusion's primary strengths and most popular features.

Making it easy to talk to databases may be useful and popular, but it is certainly not enough to stay on top for over 10 years. A rapidly growing development community, global technological innovations, customer demand, and competing products require that new features are added to the ColdFusion server every so often. Thinking back over the years I remember the introduction of what seemed like several hundred functions and the ability to write simpler expressions, loop, etc., when CF 2 was released. I remember how great it was to have custom tags in ColdFusion 3. In versions 4, 4.01, and 4.5 we saw the addition of many more functions, server security features, and tags aimed at making the existing functionality more robust as well as many tags for leveraging external resources. It was at this point that the server clearly began addressing enterprise needs. Version 5 introduced charting, user-defined functions, the ability to access most memory scopes as structures, and Query of Queries...and then we had MX.

I remember so clearly just how overwhelming ColdFusion MX was and how much fun I had with it. SOAP support, XML support, J2EE deployment, and ColdFusion Components to name a few - this was not only a rewrite from the ground up, it was a serious feature release in its own right. Then, just over one year ago, ColdFusion MX 7 was officially released. I thought nothing could outdo the features introduced in ColdFusion MX - I was wrong. Flash Forms and Flash Paper, PDF generation, a killer new reporting engine and report builder, the Administrator API, and Event Gateways...dare I not forget event gateways...this was by far the most feature-packed release of ColdFusion to date.

What has made ColdFusion successful over all these years is the commitment that both Allaire and Macromedia had to making CF full of more features that are easier to use than anything else on the Web. I am confident that Adobe shares this commitment and cannot wait to see what comes next. In the interim before ColdFusion 8, we are getting a sneak peek at how Adobe is making ColdFusion better over at Adobe Labs, where the "Mystic" beta is adding a new remoting gateway and Flex/CF integration to the server.

Getting back to my original thought: What has kept me hooked on ColdFusion for so long? I can answer this with a single word - fun. It is fun building applications with ColdFusion. It hides complexity by making trivial that which it can. This leaves me to concentrate on the things that I want to focus on, all the while letting the server do its "dirty work" behind the scenes. I can develop extremely robust complex business logic - and in an object-oriented manner. I can talk to over a dozen different types of databases. I can deliver content in any one of several slick document formats in addition to HTML. I can create charts and graphs and Flash Paper and PDFs, and I can do intelligent text searching not only of database content but of file content in over 30 different document formats as well. I can talk to other servers and let other servers leverage the ColdFusion code that I write via SOAP. I can create files, generate reports, parse XML, and secure directories. I can talk to cell phones and instant messengers, Java devices and server ports. In other words, there isn't much I can't do. And I can do it all much faster than developers in any other language or on any other platform. My applications are secure, they scale, they are feature rich, and I have fun building them. I can look any client in the eye and honestly tell them that I will exceed their every expectation. Yes, it will be on time and under budget, and the application will be modern and full of great features that take advantage of the latest technologies.

What's so great about ColdFusion is that none of the above is difficult to do, none of it. CF can do all of that and so much more right out of the box, often times with a single call to a tag. In this day and age in which technology is rapidly changing and companies value the ability to quickly change with it, it's a breath of fresh air to work with such an agile product.

For me, the fact that ColdFusion makes many tasks trivial is not just about rapid development, it's about resource allocation. Because I don't have to spend 10 hours figuring out how to create a PDF document from an HTML string, maybe I can spend more time learning Java, or studying design patterns, or learning Flex, or doing anything else I choose. For me, ColdFusion's ease of use enables me to spend more time evaluating and mastering other technologies and industry trends, and allows me to spend more time concentrating on those aspects of CFML development that I prefer to focus on. It's easy to become complacent with one's CF skills though, and every time a new feature-rich version of ColdFusion is released, it's important to stop everything and take time to master those new features. I wonder how many CF developers, even those who claim to really know CF 7, have actually really learned the ins and outs of the report generator, or XML forms, or using the Asynchronous Gateway? There are roughly 50 new features in ColdFusion MX 7 - so very few of us have actually mastered them all. My advice to all of our readers is a bit of advice I frequently give newbie students.

There's a lot in CFML and you can't expect to learn it all overnight. Pick one new tag, one new feature, or one new category of functions each week from the CF documentation and spend an hour or two each day mastering it. You'll be shocked how much you learn in a reasonably short amount of time. In the case of ColdFusion MX 7, even if you were completely fluent in CF MX 6.1 prior to its release, I expect that if you follow my advice you'll find that it'll take between six months and a year to learn everything that's new or changed in 7.

One feature introduced in ColdFusion MX and improved in CFMX 7 that I didn't mention earlier is the support for Flash Remoting. The significance of this feature wasn't fully realized by most developers initially, but Flex 2 is poised to change that. In extremely simple terms, Flex 2 is aimed at doing for Flash programming what ColdFusion has done for traditional server-side Web development - make it faster and easier to build better applications. So far it's living up to this promise, and I have no doubt that soon we'll see many CF applications getting "UI facelifts" and delivering better experiences than ever before. In this age of smart clients, Flex offers compelling advantages over all of its competitors, and Adobe has made sure that integrating Flex applications with ColdFusion is seamless, fast, and easy. I've said this before in recent editorials and I'll say it once more - there has never been a better time to be a ColdFusion developer.

More Stories By Simon Horwith

Simon Horwith is the CIO at AboutWeb, LLC, a Washington, DC based company specializing in staff augmentation, consulting, and training. Simon is a Macromedia Certified Master Instructor and is a member of Team Macromedia. He has been using ColdFusion since version 1.5 and specializes in ColdFusion application architecture, including architecting applications that integrate with Java, Flash, Flex, and a myriad of other technologies. In addition to presenting at CFUGs and conferences around the world, he has also been a contributing author of several books and technical papers.

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