Welcome!

You will be redirected in 30 seconds or close now.

ColdFusion Authors: Yakov Fain, Maureen O'Gara, Nancy Y. Nee, Tad Anderson, Daniel Kaar

Related Topics: ColdFusion

ColdFusion: Article

Flash MX Web Services vs Remoting

Which is right for your project?

Flash MX 2004 Pro Web service classes or Flash Remoting components for ActionScript 2.0: Which is right for you? This article offers some guidelines.

In just three years we've come a long way. It seems like an eternity since the days when I used to code CF pages with dynamic content served up to Flash, but let me stress how rudimentary it was. Flash back to December 14, 2001, when a little site called FlashCFM received Macromedia's Site of the Day designation. On several occasions I received e-mails asking me how on earth FlashCFM received this prestigious award. There was nothing spectacular about the site, no fancy graphics, Flash animation, or anything out of the ordinary. Yet the concept behind it was brilliant, or so I believed. As you can probably guess from its name, this site introduced the marriage of Flash and ColdFusion.

FlashCFM was a community site that educated developers about the power of Flash and ColdFusion integration. When I say that this process used to be rudimentary, let me give a quick example of ColdFusion code in a page called variables.cfm:

<cfoutput>&first_name=#query.first_name#&last_name=#query.last_name#

So the output would look like:

&first_name=Dennis&last_name=Baldwin

Flash would then retrieve this data and display it with a simple line of code:

loadVariables("variables.cfm", _root);

A very simple framework indeed (more like a CSV screenscrape or accessing a query string), but it proved to be the start of something wonderful. Flash forward to the present and we have such powerful technologies as Flash Remoting and Web service components. In this article I will go into detail about the pros and cons of each solution, as well as give you enough information to decide which is the best fit for your project. This will be demonstrated with a simple application that calls identical service methods, one using Flash Remoting and the other using the Web service classes. Enough history, let's get started!

Flash MX Pro Web Service Classes
If you've opened Flash MX 2004 Pro, then you're probably aware of the new Web service classes. Macromedia has done a great job in releasing components that allow Flash developers to easily consume Web services. Throughout the rest of this article I'll be making reference to the WebServiceClasses component and not the WebServiceConnector component. The WebServiceClasses component is the minimum set of classes necessary to handle SOAP transactions programmatically, while the WebServiceConnector is more of a visual aid for accessing Web services from Flash. I believe in using a programmatic approach because it gives developers more control over their applications, allows them to better understand how the API works, and helps reduce file size.

I'm currently working for a company named SensorLogic and we're in the process of rewriting our Web portal to utilize Flash and Web services. SensorLogic is a machine-to-machine (M2M) ASP, and it's imperative that the user experience be as quick and reliable as possible. With the ASP model in mind, we'd like to expose certain services to our customers and resellers so they can build their own applications around our back-end system. We wanted our system to be flexible enough to serve data to Flash, ColdFusion, .NET, or Java. Web services gave us this flexibility. Figure 1 illustrates a basic communications architecture for Flash with Web services.

Although very extensible and flexible, Web services in Flash do have their limitations and drawbacks. The first and foremost is the overhead that SOAP transactions introduce. XML-based protocols are very descriptive, which means they add to code bloat because of markup tags and headers. With this overhead, data usually takes longer to get to the Flash client and the XML has to be parsed, which slows the process down even more. This is definitely not recommended for large data sets or complex objects. On the other hand, if you're dealing with smaller data sets and simple objects, then Web services may be the perfect fit.

Another issue worth considering is security. Unless you plan on implementing SSL, all data sent over the wire is unencrypted. So if your application contains sensitive data, then enforcing secure transactions is a must. In Flash MX 2004 a new security measure was introduced, known as the crossdomain.xml policy file. This file basically says that a Flash client coming from domain A has authority to access services on domain B. This file resides in the Web root of domain B and is automatically read by the Flash client when any Web services are called.

To further explain this issue, let's say we want to write a Flash component that accesses a weather Web service and displays the temperature for a specified locale. This will be a problem if we're not authorized to access the remote server through the crossdomain file. In most cases it won't even exist on the remote server. In a controlled environment this isn't a problem, however. If we have control of the server that provides the weather Web service, we can add the crossdomain file to grant access to authorized clients. For more information on configuring crossdomain files, visit www.macromedia.com/devnet/mx/flash/articles/fplayer_security_03.html.

Flash Remoting
With all the hype around the new Web service classes, developers seem to think Macromedia has forgotten about Remoting. This couldn't be further from the truth. The Flash Remoting components for ActionScript 2.0 were recently released - and they're larger than life. Nothing has changed in the underlying architecture of Remoting; the new components are just friendlier to ActionScript 2.0 developers. While Macromedia put a good amount of resources into the new Web service classes, this doesn't eliminate the need for Remoting.

If you've read any of my past ColdFusion Developer's Journal articles, then you probably know how much I rant and rave about Remoting. Yes, I'm a bit biased toward Remoting, but that's because I love CF and how nicely it integrates with Flash. All data that is transmitted between the Flash client and the application is serialized using the Action Message Format (AMF). AMF is a streamlined binary protocol that was modeled after SOAP. Flash Remoting automatically takes care of data type conversion from the server to the client and back again. Figure 2 illustrates a basic communications architecture with Flash Remoting.

Notice how Web services can still be introduced into this architecture. The application server can serve as a proxy between Flash and the Web service. An application server such as ColdFusion would invoke the remote method and return the data to the Flash client using Remoting. Taking this approach circumvents the crossdomain.xml security restriction.

As mentioned earlier, if you're dealing with large data sets and complex objects, then Flash Remoting is definitely worth a look. In most cases your performance will be better. If you're doing simple transactions such as retrieving stock quotes and weather data, then performance will be about the same or the difference will be too negligible to even notice.

One of the major drawbacks of Flash Remoting is the cost. The license runs $999 for a single-CPU license at the time of this writing. This is not an issue for CFMX developers (or Java/JSP developers using JRun 4) because Flash Remoting comes built in! If you are building enterprise applications with Flash but you're not on a CFMX server, then purchasing a Remoting license is a no-brainer. I can say from experience that it's worth every single penny for the performance you'll be gaining. Okay, enough talk; let's take a quick look at the application.

The File-Browsing Application
Although I've spent a good amount of your time talking about each technology, I'd like to walk you through a basic file-browsing application. If you'd like to download the source code for this application, please feel free to do so at www.sys-con.com/coldfusion/sourcec.cfm. View the README file to see how to configure the application. The application consists of a Tree component that allows you to select a folder and display its contents in a DataGrid component. Each time a tree node is clicked, a service call is made to the server for data. The ComboBox controls whether the service call is made using Web services or Flash Remoting. Figure 3 shows a screenshot of the application at work.

Web service and Flash Remoting objects are created with ActionScript in a similar manner. After the objects are created, a service method called getFiles is invoked. This method resides in a CFC called fileBrowser.cfc, which can be invoked through a Web service call and also through Flash Remoting. I want to take a quick second to say how truly amazing CF is. In less than 15 lines of code I can expose both a Web service and Flash Remoting method that can be consumed by a Flash client. If you've had experience exposing remote methods with any other technology, then you can truly appreciate how simple CF makes this.

After playing around with the application there are a couple of things that you'll most likely notice. Overall, the performance of Flash Remoting will be better than that of Web services. When retrieving a small number of data sets the difference will be negligible and not even worth noting. That's why the "Get All Records" button was added, because I think this truly demonstrates what I discussed earlier. Since we're dealing with what could be considered fairly complex objects (recordsets) and large amounts of data, you'll see that Flash Remoting truly outperforms Web services. While testing on my local machine it generally took the Web service classes 4-5 seconds to retrieve and display 783 records, while it took Flash Remoting less than a second. Play around with it and your results may vary!

Conclusion
In this article I touched the surface of Web services and Flash Remoting with a few pros and cons of each. There's definitely enough information on these two topics that an entire book could be devoted to them. I encourage you to download the sample application and test it, tweak it, and break it. I hope it will ultimately help give you enough information to decide which technology fits your needs, maybe one or the other, maybe both.

One area that I did not have a chance to touch upon is debugging. If you're interested in learning more, I recommend you take a look at the Log class for Web services and the NetConnection Debugger for Flash Remoting. If you'd like to learn more about the NetConnection Debugger, please check out my earlier article in CFDJ, Volume 4, issue 10. All in all, the future is bright for Flash and ColdFusion developers. Stay tuned!

More Stories By Dennis Baldwin

Dennis Baldwin is a software developer for SensorLogic Inc, an M2M application service provider. He also runs and maintains an online community for Flash and ColdFusion developers at www.devmx.com.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
There's Big Data, then there's really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, discussed how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines...
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
The Internet of Things promises to transform businesses (and lives), but navigating the business and technical path to success can be difficult to understand. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, demonstrated how to approach creating broadly successful connected customer solutions using real world business transformation studies including New England BioLabs and more.
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
The 3rd International @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades.