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Welcome to the Wonderful World of Java: A Training Review

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Java: A Training Review

By the end of the course, I had a good grasp of the various parts of the Java language, a better understanding of object-oriented programming, and a great appreciation for how powerful Java can be.

J2EE, Java, EJBs, JavaBeans, JSP... . The list of Java-related technologies can be mind-boggling. What's a ColdFusion developer to do? We know Java is important. Macromedia has built ColdFusion MX on a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) platform, but, does that mean we all need to run out and learn Java? How about JSP? JRun? How will we use it in our day-to-day work? Will we use it and, if so, what flavor? Does a ColdFusion developer have the skills to learn this material?

These were the questions I was hoping to get answered as I headed for a series of two Macromedia-approved courses: "Fast Track to JSP" and "Java for Web Developers." Class offerings were difficult to come by, and my first scheduled class, in Washington, D.C., was canceled due to low enrollment. So, I was rerouted to the Fig Leaf training facilities at the Piedmont Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

These classes were sparsely attended, too, with only four students in each class, but this allowed for plenty of one-on-one time with the instructor, Alex Hearnz. Alex is an outside consultant who regularly teaches Java-related courses for Macromedia-certified companies as well as for other J2EE products, such as IBM's WebSphere.

The format of both classes would be familiar to anyone who's taken the "Fast Track to ColdFusion" class. The courses were divided into lectures, walkthroughs, and lab time; a student workbook filled with examples and instructions was provided. For an IDE, we used Macromedia's JRun Studio - familiar territory for a ColdFusion Studio user. (Although with the introduction of Dreamweaver MX and JRun 4.0, this will probably change.) And, although JRun 4.0 had already been released, we were still using the previous version.

"The Fast Track to JSP" class started the week. It was broken down into nine units:

  1. Introduction
  2. Setting up the Environment
  3. Introducing JSPs
  4. Reusing Code
  5. Dynamically Generating Content
  6. Building a Drill-Down Interface
  7. Inserting Data
  8. Application Partitioning Using JavaBeans
  9. Session Management
Brushing Up on the Basics
For the Java novice, simply getting acquainted with all of the acronyms can be a challenge, and much of the first day was spent acquainting students with the terminology and the development environment. We also covered basic Web development architecture topics, such as the benefits of using dynamic versus static pages.

Some of the topics covered on the first day were things that I would have expected anyone coming to the class to already understand, based on the published prerequisites. Others, such as the process of establishing a database connection in the JRun server administrator, were specific and detailed enough to really catch my attention.

Once we got past the really basic stuff, we started focusing on the syntax of JSPs. JSP stands for JavaServer Pages, which are designed to make working with other Java objects easier. ColdFusion developers will find the syntax familiar. There is a series of tags that can be used to perform common functions. For example the following snippet of code works much like the familiar <cflocation> tag:

<jsp:forward page="nextpage.jsp"/>

Notice, however, that unlike ColdFusion, single line tags must still be closed in JSP, by using a trailing "/" such as you would do in XML. And JSP, along with all Java technologies, is case-sensitive. More than once we students cried, "Ugh! Stupid capital letter!"

Throughout the two days, we used our newfound skills to build a fictional online extreme sports company. Many of the common tasks Web developers must perform were covered: building a form and action page, querying a database and returning the results of that query back to the browser, and handling simple session state-management. But it was a cursory look at each of the topics.

Most experienced CF developers would be left with questions. Some of mine dealt with the same topics that are covered in the CF forums and discussion groups on a regular basis. For example, when outputting the results of a query, how do you group to a certain column? Unfortunately, the instructor was unable to provide an answer to this and several other questions.

At the end of the JSP class, I felt somewhat disappointed. I wanted to be able to replicate CF in JSP. I was hoping it might be that easy. But, I learned that JSP by itself is limited. To really harness the power of Java, learning how to write actual Java code is necessary. Luckily I was staying for the second class, "Java for Web Developers."

Exploring the Power of Java
For me, this was clearly the better of the two classes. The instructor seemed much more confident in his knowledge of pure Java. He seemed truly excited to seek answers to challenging questions. Also, we'd already gone through most of the stuff that would be redundant to experienced CF developers. So, we were ready to dive right in.

These three days were divided into 12 units:

  1. Java Overview and Positioning
  2. JavaServer Pages
  3. Java Language Basics
  4. Object-Oriented Programming
  5. Object-Oriented Programming in Java
  6. Developing and Using JavaBeans Components
  7. Inheritance
  8. Handling Exceptions
  9. Working with Interfaces
  10. Accessing the Database Using JDBC
  11. Advanced Data Manipulation
  12. Application Partitioning
After spending a little bit of time convincing us of the merits of Java and setting up a few necessary system variables, we got to the good stuff - exploring the almost infinite possibilities of Java. Like most Java classes, we began by using the command-line Java compiler utility to compile and run a simple "Hello World"-type Java class. But, we quickly moved on to using JRun Studio for all our development and compilation. JRun studio makes the process of compiling quick and painless.

One exercise was building an online loan service for the "Acme Credit Company." Once more, we covered many processes with which CF developers would be familiar. None is as easy as what we do in CF. For example, Listing 1 shows a simple CF example of querying a database and outputting that query. Listing 2 shows the corresponding code necessary to do the same thing in Java. At first glance, this looks awfully scary, and you might wonder why we'd want to bother with so much code. But, as we spent more time learning about theory, particularly object-oriented programming theory, it became clear that Java could accomplish some amazing things, such as true three-tiered applications.

Simply put, a three-tiered application is one in which database logic is separate from business logic, which is also separate from presentation logic. The beauty of a three-tiered application is that you can change the presentation layer for different environments without affecting the business or database layer. It's in this area that Java really becomes powerful.

Of course, creating a three-tiered application requires more thought and planning than "whipping out" a CF application in a day or two. Consequently, we spent time in the class learning a little about UML, or the Universal Modeling Language, and building UML diagrams of our Java components. This process is a little bit like creating an ER (Entity Relationship) diagram for a database, but because Java is object-oriented, you create UML objects that can represent classes or JavaBeans.

We also spent considerable time in this class in the online java docs, available at Sun's site at http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.4/docs/api/index.html, or on your local hard drive after downloading the Java Development Kit. If you learn Java, you will become very familiar with these pages. In three days I developed something of a love-hate relationship with them. They're wonderful because you know that everything you need to know is there. They're terrible because somehow you have to remember which package or class has the information you want.

Overall, a Good Experience
By the end of the course, I had a good grasp of the various parts of the Java language, a better understanding of object-oriented programming, and a great appreciation for how powerful Java can be. Did I run right back to the office on Monday and starting writing Java code or JavaServer Pages? Well, no. (We don't have a J2EE app server, and we haven't upgraded to CFMX yet.) Will I use it when given the chance? You bet.

All in all, I would recommend both classes to others interested in developing a better understanding of Java and JSP. While the JSP class was a bit disappointing, I still learned some valuable information, and enjoyed the fact that I could be introduced to JSP in a familiar environment. The "Java for Web Developers" course completely met my expectations with one caveat - the course doesn't take the full three days, so if you're flying in like I did, plan accordingly.

One final note, the instructor mentioned that the future of both courses is in jeopardy, due to low interest. So, if you want to take them, call your Macromedia-certified training facility today and request they be put on the schedule.

More Stories By Deanna Schneider

Deanna Schneider has worked as an interactive media developer for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension since October 1999. Although she has no formal education in computer sciences, she has a successful career as UWEX-CES' lead CF developer. She has written approximately 100 CF applications to meet the needs of faculty and academic staff throughout Wisconsin.

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Most Recent Comments
Eric Shaffer 11/18/02 11:58:00 AM EST

A good article about two courses that, by name, don't sound as if they would have anything for a ColdFusion Developer. Maybe that's why there is low attendance? It was informative, and made me want to attend the training (at least the SECOND course...I'd defer the first course until they upgraded their course software to the CURRENT release version). Still, I didn't see where the article answered the original question...do I NEED (as in mandatory, compulsory, urgent requirement) to learn Java? Or is ColdFusion, as we know it, being killed off by Macromedia and going away?

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