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ColdFusion: Article

'But It's Free!'

'But It's Free!'

There was once a time, not that long ago, when I seemed to be spending a significant portion of my life explaining why ColdFusion was indeed worthy of consideration even though other products were free. Then I stopped hearing that objection for the most part, and life was good (well, better).

But in the past two weeks I have had to defend ColdFusion against the "but [fill in the blank here] is free" objection no less than five times. So it looks like I need to address this issue one last time to clear the air and set the record straight.

What Exactly Is ColdFusion?
Let's start with the question - what is ColdFusion anyway? Is it an application server? Some think so, others vehemently disagree with that description. Is it a language? Definitely. But is it only a language? No, not at all. So, what is ColdFusion then?

There is actually a reason for me starting with this question. Because ColdFusion is not easily defined, it is not easily compared to other products and technologies. And this inability to perform comparisons usually results in one of two things happening - either ColdFusion gets compared to products that it honestly should not be compared to, or only one aspect of ColdFusion gets looked at and compared, but not ColdFusion as a whole.

So, once again, what exactly is ColdFusion? Actually, ColdFusion is many things; it really depends on your perspective, what you are trying to do, and how you are trying to do it. But at a minimum:

  • First and foremost, ColdFusion is a language: After all, it is CFML (the ColdFusion Markup Language) that makes ColdFusion ColdFusion. What we love about the product, what makes us productive, what distinguishes ColdFusion from anything else out there is CFML.
  • ColdFusion is also a set of application services, complete subsystems that you can leverage in your applications - things like full-text searching, graphing, database query caching, and more: These are not language features (although they have language elements associated with them); they are runtime services that are included with ColdFusion so that you do not have to start from scratch.
  • And yes, for many of us, ColdFusion is still an application server: With ColdFusion MX, and its new ability to run on top of industry-standard application servers (like IBM WebSphere and Sun ONE), ColdFusion has been split in two. It can be used as a scripting engine with supporting runtime services on top of an application server of your choice, or it can be used as an application server in its own right.

    All of which makes defining exactly what ColdFusion is a little tricky.

    It's More Than a Language
    As I already explained, part of ColdFusion is a series of runtime application services. These are included with ColdFusion in all versions (although there are some differences based on the product edition being used), and all at no extra cost. It has been this way almost since day one.

    Why is this important? Well, we take many of these included services and technologies for granted. As ColdFusion we use them all the time, and never even realize that had we been using other popular languages, we'd have had to pay for these, buying them individually.

    Now, I don't usually take potshots at other vendors or products (well, not often, and usually not in public and in print), but... consider Microsoft ASP, the most used scripting language out in Web-land. ASP is free, right? Maybe, but look at the chart on the next page.

    The chart is not even a complete list of ColdFusion features missing from ASP, but it's enough for the discussion at hand.

    Just to be clear, and in the interests of fairness, when a third party add-on was needed (because a feature is not included in ASP itself) the lowest-cost functionally equivalent add-on was used. Where multiple options were available, the one that most closely matched the feature set native to ColdFusion was used. However, unsupported free add-ons were not included.

    Now before I get flooded with e-mails accusing me of rigging the data, yes, I am sure I could have searched and found cheaper options too. And yes, there is stuff out there for free. And yes, some of those add-ons might have features and options that ColdFusion does not support. Agreed. This is not official data, nor is it an apples-to-apples comparison. I did not put tons of time into this research, that was not the intent.

    What this is, however, is proof positive that you get what you pay for. Or in other words, pay now or pay later. And if you do opt to pay later, you'll likely pay a lot more. (Plus the integration will not be as clean or as simple, it just can't be.)

    This is not just true of ASP - it is true of every one of the free options. ColdFusion is not free, but from a raw cost of goods standpoint it is an absolute bargain - matching the features in any other development product will cost you a lot more than ColdFusion.

    And It's an Incredible Language Too
    From a cost perspective, just by looking at what you get in the box, ColdFusion is already a far better option. And we haven't even mentioned the cost associated with the language - or rather, the cost associated with using the wrong language.

    CFML is not a general-purpose language; it was never intended to be one. But CFML is the very best language for integrating with Internet clients and technologies. Take something as simple as a database query - in ColdFusion we use a single tag named <CFQUERY> and it just works. Have you ever looked at what it takes to do the same in ASP or PHP or even JSP? Or how about something as trivial as sending an SMTP e-mail message?

    Or even a simple thing like making data persist in a shared scope? A colleague recently shared with me some ASP code that he was so proud of - code that helped him eliminate unnecessary database reads by caching results in the application itself. When he was finished with his lengthy and very detailed code walkthrough and explanation I showed him <CFQUERY NAME="APPLICATION.result"> and <CFQUERY CACHEDWITHIN ...>. He just stared and said nothing (although I think he was trying to respond - his lips moved but no sound escaped).

    At DevCon in October I discussed Web services in detail, and had the opportunity to demonstrate ColdFusion Web services being consumed by .NET (using C#) as well as .NET Web services being consumed by ColdFusion MX. One of the most blatantly obvious differences was the amount of code it took to consume a Web service - .NET is built around Web services technologies, and ColdFusion puts it to shame with something as simple as consuming a Web service (a .NET Web service at that) - one tag compared to pages of code.

    I am not going to go into when CFML should be used and when it shouldn't; I've written and talked about that many times before. But one thing is a given, an indisputable fact. For the right parts of your application, CFML is the cleanest, the simplest, the most productive, and simply the best solution available to you.

    What does that have to do with other products being free? Not only do you get more product for your money as already explained, but by using CFML, your development costs drop dramatically. Using CFML, your development will be simple and will take less time, and time is money. It's as simple as that.

    Summary
    So, why buy ColdFusion when ASP (or JSP or PHP or Perl or...) is free? Well, if they were indeed free that would be a very good question. But, as you can see, they are not free, and thus it's not a good question at all. The truth is that the question should be exactly the opposite - with ColdFusion being such a bargain, offering such value for the money and ongoing savings in development costs, why would you ever want to use a supposedly free product?

    That's not to say that no one should be using those products. I have found one scenario where they make perfect sense - if you are a contract developer getting paid by the hour, then you may benefit from legitimately having to take so much longer on your projects. But for everyone else, the choice is clear. Enough said.

  • More Stories By Ben Forta

    Ben Forta is Adobe's Senior Technical Evangelist. In that capacity he spends a considerable amount of time talking and writing about Adobe products (with an emphasis on ColdFusion and Flex), and providing feedback to help shape the future direction of the products. By the way, if you are not yet a ColdFusion user, you should be. It is an incredible product, and is truly deserving of all the praise it has been receiving. In a prior life he was a ColdFusion customer (he wrote one of the first large high visibility web sites using the product) and was so impressed he ended up working for the company that created it (Allaire). Ben is also the author of books on ColdFusion, SQL, Windows 2000, JSP, WAP, Regular Expressions, and more. Before joining Adobe (well, Allaire actually, and then Macromedia and Allaire merged, and then Adobe bought Macromedia) he helped found a company called Car.com which provides automotive services (buy a car, sell a car, etc) over the Web. Car.com (including Stoneage) is one of the largest automotive web sites out there, was written entirely in ColdFusion, and is now owned by Auto-By-Tel.

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    Most Recent Comments
    Phil Crissman 05/20/04 09:56:40 AM EDT

    I honestly like both ColdFusion and PHP, and use both of them where I work. As to the simplicity of <cfquery> in cfml, that''s not exactly fair; the reason that''s so simple is because we need to define datasources in cfadministrator. If you made an equivalent page in PHP which defined your datasources ahead of time, you could enjoy a little simpler code each time you queried a database in PHP also.
    Agreed, this is already thought of an implemented in coldfusion. Like I said, I like coldfusion. But I don''t think it''s any accident that frameworks like Fusebox, initially developed for Coldfusion, are almost at once ported to PHP...

    Phil Crissman 05/20/04 09:50:54 AM EDT

    I honestly like both ColdFusion and PHP, and use both of them where I work. As to the simplicity of <cfquery> in cfml, that''s not exactly fair; the reason that''s so simple is because we need to define datasources in cfadministrator. If you made an equivalent page in PHP which defined your datasources ahead of time, you could enjoy a little simpler code each time you queried a database in PHP also.
    Agreed, this is already thought of an implemented in coldfusion. Like I said, I like coldfusion. But I don''t think it''s any accident that frameworks like Fusebox, initially developed for Coldfusion, are almost at once ported to PHP...

    Phil Crissman 05/20/04 09:50:39 AM EDT

    I honestly like both ColdFusion and PHP, and use both of them where I work. As to the simplicity of <cfquery> in cfml, that''s not exactly fair; the reason that''s so simple is because we need to define datasources in cfadministrator. If you made an equivalent page in PHP which defined your datasources ahead of time, you could enjoy a little simpler code each time you queried a database in PHP also.
    Agreed, this is already thought of an implemented in coldfusion. Like I said, I like coldfusion. But I don''t think it''s any accident that frameworks like Fusebox, initially developed for Coldfusion, are almost at once ported to PHP...

    Phil Crissman 05/20/04 09:50:12 AM EDT

    I honestly like both ColdFusion and PHP, and use both of them where I work. As to the simplicity of <cfquery> in cfml, that''s not exactly fair; the reason that''s so simple is because we need to define datasources in cfadministrator. If you made an equivalent page in PHP which defined your datasources ahead of time, you could enjoy a little simpler code each time you queried a database in PHP also.
    Agreed, this is already thought of an implemented in coldfusion. Like I said, I like coldfusion. But I don''t think it''s any accident that frameworks like Fusebox, initially developed for Coldfusion, are almost at once ported to PHP...

    Phil Crissman 05/20/04 09:49:31 AM EDT

    I honestly like both ColdFusion and PHP, and use both of them where I work. As to the simplicity of <cfquery> in cfml, that''s not exactly fair; the reason that''s so simple is because we need to define datasources in cfadministrator. If you made an equivalent page in PHP which defined your datasources ahead of time, you could enjoy a little simpler code each time you queried a database in PHP also.
    Agreed, this is already thought of an implemented in coldfusion. Like I said, I like coldfusion. But I don''t think it''s any accident that frameworks like Fusebox, initially developed for Coldfusion, are almost at once ported to PHP...

    Hari R. Gandhi 03/15/04 11:00:18 PM EST

    Hello Ben, save yourself alot of time and use a IgniteFusion
    it is a truely free CFML that executes ColdFusion scripts.

    Trbofly 03/04/04 06:55:49 PM EST

    I have been in the Web Architecht role for large companies (read fortune 500) for 6 years, and with smaller CF companies for many years before that. I have not worked for a company that has had traffic less than 700,000 hits a month for a long time. I have seen Cold Fusion hang, and crash, but it has always been due to bad configuration, bad administration or bad development.

    4.5, and even 5 have had stability problems, but they could be managed well with maintenance tasks. And to be perfectly honest, the same can be said for ASP on an IIS box.

    But MX is as stable as can be when you set it up correctly, secure it correctly, and manage your systems correctly.

    I have also yet to see an application that could not be developed in CF. We have not needed to extend it in Java, or move to a differnet environment. It is not meant to replace c+ or VB. It is meant for Web Applications, and it does a damn good job at that.

    nagii 07/22/03 05:52:00 AM EDT

    Hello

    I will want to write a text on image in coldfusion like does it the php

    thank you

    nagii france

    Oliver Tupman 07/16/03 11:23:00 AM EDT

    Setting up MX was a breeze, very easy.

    Getting my head round the tags, ni problema.

    Getting my head round it's scripting languages and the complications that arise from it. Aiiiee!

    I'm coming from a C++, PERL, PHP back ground with some VB thrown in for bad measure.

    I agree that the tag structure can provide an intuitive way of programming _to a HTML designer/programmer/whatever_. To a true blue programmer then coming to CF is a pain in the arse. A lot of stuff is done implicitly when one wishes to have it done explicitly? Why? Because then I, the developer, have more control over the system and know what's going on. Having things 'done for me' can be a very bad thing.

    Other things that annoy me is the fact that you cannot apparently declare a function (either in a component or not) in CFScript and have the same way of specifying it's abilities as your can through CFML. By this I mean that you cannot apparently set the access type, the returntype, etc. unless you use CFML.

    Of course one can just include CFScript within the cffunction, but you then cannot declare variables as being local - they need to be right after the cfscript function declaration.

    To wrap up: I can see where Cold Fusion is useful, but to a true blue programmer surely it's syntax and way of doing things are a burden (and when I say 'true blue', I mean a C, C++ maybe PHP background. Not VB!).

    Of course other's may say 'Write stuff in Java and access it via CF'. My response: 'Now I must learn Java as well???'

    Just my opinion so far.

    Oliver Tupman

    sfg 06/30/03 08:07:00 PM EDT
    Drew Falkman 03/06/03 01:05:00 PM EST

    There is so much confusion on this topic I don't even know where to begin. But here:

    1) CFMX uses JDBC (not ODBC anymore) and comes with native drivers to the more popular databases (drivers depend on version and OS)

    2) I don't know who's having difficulty setting up CF, but I have never had trouble installing and configuring it on MANY different servers.

    3) The only performance problems I have had HAVE BEEN DUE TO FAULTY CODING. Because CFML is more accessible than other languages (yes, even than PHP - tag-based syntax is simply more intuitive than scripting IMO) it means that inexperienced programmers can get in over their heads quickly.

    4) With the new J2EE platform, there are no longer any limitations - need something else in CF, plug in a Java class. Need enterprise-level computing, run your CF app on IBM WebSphere and call on EJBs.

    5) No application server has all of the features that CF has without adding on to it. Think about Flash remoting, tag- based charting, Verity search engine. Then think about the fact that you can run it on just about any OS, including MacOS X.

    That's it. I don't think there is anything more to say on the matter. If you prefer another scripting environment, you are entitled to do so, but there is no need to bang on CF or other environments

    -drew

    Guillermo Cruz 01/25/03 05:35:00 PM EST

    You write about the stability of Cold Fusion yet you do not give any examples on generalizations. You do write "first you must get a stable and reliable environment to work in" You can only get this by setting up your server correctly. This in my opinion is the biggest factor in web server stability. Many of us if not all of us have tried to install other types of programs that generally do not work well on a web server. Just like you wouldn

    Anonymous 01/16/03 03:23:00 PM EST

    hey what u r saying sounds good in theory, but first asp is not so difficult and second if u look write most of what needs to get done on a day to day basis in most web development warehouses can be solved with the freely available tools for asp.

    Good description of ColdFusion though.

    Stuart Lindley 01/11/03 04:11:00 PM EST

    well having used both coldfusion and PHP i still prefer PHP not becuase its free.

    Development costs aren't all that but down to sheer speed of the PHP language and its lack of bulky server apps. For example on a windows system coldfusion need to use the ODBC system to control a database! not very handy ODBC slow to say the least and PHP doesn't need this extra bagage

    Paul Milleson 12/27/02 05:14:00 PM EST

    At my former employer we had Cold Fusion 4.5 running on 2 servers and we had CF 5.0 running on 5 servers and they almost never hung or crashed. Only when variables were improperly locked or runaway queries existed, was there instability. We had hundreds of users slamming dozens of apps over and over and CF was stable and efficient. Our development time was weeks instead of months. Coding errors found at runtime were automatically emailed to the proper people. What could be better?

    Bradley Miller 12/23/02 03:33:00 PM EST

    I've been a ColdFusion guy for a number of years. I started getting into the PHP programming because of the communities and availability of components and information. Perhaps I just need to try Cold Fusion on a Linux based platform, but I really love the uptime I get on my non-NT based systems. I like to think of the flexbility in choosing what language to use in my programming applications as a help and not a hinderance. I have a workbench full of tools for my car -- to yank a water pump I suppose I just need a hammer or a large adjustable cresent wrench. Cold Fusion might be the equivalent of a Snap-On tool truck, but I'm on a Sears type budget. Without any competition in server side languages things will look as dismal as the office suite market.

    Kelvin 12/21/02 07:15:00 AM EST

    I find this article quite disturbing. The fact that you make an argument against ASP and then use the conclusion that ASP is lacking to bad mouth everything except ColdFusion. There is a serious lack of logic somewhere there. Your argument seems to be something like:

    ASP is free.
    With ASP you have to pay for extras that are included in cold fusion.
    PHP / JSP are free.
    Since they share this feature with ASP they must be the same in thay you also have to pay for extras for them.

    I use PHP and so can vouch for the fact that POP, Serverside HTTP, Serverside FTP and file uploads are all included as part of PHP for free. As far as charting and full text searching go I am not sure but there is undoubtedly open source downloadable components which are free and well documented.
    As far as charting goes it would be easy to roll your own bespoke charting components using the GD image manipulation library. I'm not familiar with the ColdFusion charting components but this would give you the freedom to customise the chart to your hearts content and fit it with the look and feel of your site. You can also use these libraries in PHP to resize / resample images and automatically create thumbnails (something you had to buy a custom tag to do in cold fusion last time i tried - version 4.5).

    One more point. You asked this question: "Or how about something as trivial as sending an SMTP e-mail message?".
    In PHP, very simple is the answer.
    mail ( toAddress, subject, message [, additional_headers ]);
    This actually sends the mail rather than needing to relay it via another server (as explained here: http://www.coolfusion.com/WhyiMS.cfm ). Of course you could always buy the CFX tag from that link to get the same level of functionality as PHP has for free but that wouldn't sit too well with your "everything is in the box" argument for coldfusion.

    Anyway, rant over :)

    Marc Funaro 12/19/02 05:53:00 AM EST

    Sree,

    Mr.Edy was actually looking for information on the CFLOCK tag. I found this by viewing the source code under his posting. He had actually entered the cflock tag in his posting, but it got embeded in the source itself where we cannot see it.

    Mr. Edy, CFLOCK is covered in great detail in the documentation, and in the help screens of CFSTUDIO. However, the basic are simple: Session, Application, and Server scoped variables need to be CFLOCKed any time they are used in your code. CFLOCKing your variables is required because they all reside in server memory, and access to these variables at the same time by two different page calls can corrupt the server memory (requiring server reboot) if the variables are not CFLOCKed so that the accesses are "controlled". This is a very simplistic explanation, but should give you a good start. Check your CF Server manuals or the Ben Forta books for more information!

    Hamid Hossain 12/18/02 09:54:00 PM EST

    Hi,

    Actually this article is useful for me. In Saudi Arabia, the last two years I faced lot of people made objections on me, why to use coldfusion?.

    I used to clarify them. But now, this article gives me new weapons ;)

    sreedhar 12/18/02 08:00:00 PM EST

    Hello Mr.Edy,

    A tag is nothing but a method which invokes when u try to run this application on the server. and it's lot more easier than other languages, in other words coldfusion is a simple english language.

    regards
    sree

    Ref websites: www.webmonkey.com

    Anonymous 12/18/02 07:24:00 PM EST

    I completely agree. We had so many problems recently with the MX upgrade that the company that pays my salary has made the decision to convert all existing CFM files to ASP and to no longer use ANY Macromedia products. This makes my job much more time consuming, but at least the server is stable and usable. From a personal stand point I will continue to use Cold Fusion and Macromedia products in general, but to spend 10 hours per day coding ASP instead of being able to use CFM with Flash for true interactivity and dynamic pages is very frustrating. Maybe I will be able to convince them to go back to CFM in a year or two.

    John Brunson 12/12/02 10:16:00 AM EST

    Ben,
    First let me say that I have enjoyed your articles, columns and other endeavors to keep the Cold Fusion community informed and up-to-date. In response to this article I would like to pose another angle. Perhaps you would be better defending the issue of, "But it's stable". What I, and no doubt many others, would like your comments on is what about stability and support issues with the server product. CFML is no doubt an asset to the development community however, first you must get a stable and reliable environment to work in. Any CF community bulletin board you visit is riddled with numerous complaints about the server set-up and documentation for such, or lack thereof. It seems with the cost of the server product there would be more a sense of supporting the product out of the box that currently exists. Macromedia has continually ignored and skirted many requests to help solve multiple problems with the installation and 'stable' running of the CF server product. Perhaps if you wish to defend Cold Fusion you should first deal with this issue. I don't think anyone has a major problem with application development or the language itself. However, the server issues, bugs, lack of documentation and non support are clearly concerns of those currently using the products. So before you defend the language, how about illuminating us on what must come first before development begins.

    Thank you for your time.
    John Brunson
    Director of Internet Information Systems
    SCnetSolutions

    Edy 12/05/02 04:09:00 AM EST

    Hallo Mr. Ben Forta,

    First i want told, i like coldfusion language because It's very simple. but i want ask you something. Can you give me example about tag ? because i can't understand about function of tag .

    Thanks,
    Edy Kurniawan.

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    New competitors, disruptive technologies, and growing expectations are pushing every business to both adopt and deliver new digital services. This ‘Digital Transformation’ demands rapid delivery and continuous iteration of new competitive services via multiple channels, which in turn demands new service delivery techniques – including DevOps. In this power panel at @DevOpsSummit 20th Cloud Expo, moderated by DevOps Conference Co-Chair Andi Mann, panelists examined how DevOps helps to meet the de...
    When growing capacity and power in the data center, the architectural trade-offs between server scale-up vs. scale-out continue to be debated. Both approaches are valid: scale-out adds multiple, smaller servers running in a distributed computing model, while scale-up adds fewer, more powerful servers that are capable of running larger workloads. It’s worth noting that there are additional, unique advantages that scale-up architectures offer. One big advantage is large memory and compute capacity...
    Artificial intelligence, machine learning, neural networks. We’re in the midst of a wave of excitement around AI such as hasn’t been seen for a few decades. But those previous periods of inflated expectations led to troughs of disappointment. Will this time be different? Most likely. Applications of AI such as predictive analytics are already decreasing costs and improving reliability of industrial machinery. Furthermore, the funding and research going into AI now comes from a wide range of com...