Welcome!

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
SYS-CON Events announced today that SOA Software, an API management leader, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SOA Software is a leading provider of API Management and SOA Governance products that equip business to deliver APIs and SOA together to drive their company to meet its business strategy quickly and effectively. SOA Software’s technology helps businesses to accelerate their digital channels with APIs, drive partner adoption, monetize their assets, and achieve a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.
SYS-CON Events announced today that AgilePoint, the leading provider of Microsoft-centric Business Process Management software, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 2nd International @ThingsExpo which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. AgilePoint is the leading provider of Microsoft-based Business Process Management (BPM) software products, has 1,300+ on-premise and cloud deployments in 25+ countries and provides the same advanced BPM feature set as J2EE vendors like IBM and Appian for the Microsoft .NET native environment. AgilePoint customer...
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., will show what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. He will discuss opportunities and challenges ahead for the IoT from a market and tec...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Utimaco will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Utimaco is a leading manufacturer of hardware based security solutions that provide the root of trust to keep cryptographic keys safe, secure critical digital infrastructures and protect high value data assets. Only Utimaco delivers a general-purpose hardware security module (HSM) as a customizable platform to easily integrate into existing software solutions, embed business logic and build s...
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, will describe an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people’s real needs and desires.
SYS-CON Events announced today that TeleStax, the main sponsor of Mobicents, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TeleStax provides Open Source Communications software and services that facilitate the shift from legacy SS7 based IN networks to IP based LTE and IMS networks hosted on private (on-premise), hybrid or public clouds. TeleStax products include Restcomm, JSLEE, SMSC Gateway, USSD Gateway, SS7 Resource Adaptors, SIP Servlets, Rich Multimedia Services, Presence Services/RCS, Diame...
Samsung VP Jacopo Lenzi, who headed the company's recent SmartThings acquisition under the auspices of Samsung's Open Innovaction Center (OIC), answered a few questions we had about the deal. This interview was in conjunction with our interview with SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson. IoT Journal: SmartThings was developed in an open, standards-agnostic platform, and will now be part of Samsung's Open Innovation Center. Can you elaborate on your commitment to keep the platform open? Jacopo Lenzi: Samsung recognizes that true, accelerated innovation cannot be driven from one source, but requires a...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, will discuss how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money! Speaker Bio: Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, has spent 16 years as a marketing, product management, and busin...
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, will address the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. How important are public, private, and hybrid cloud to the enterprise? How does one define Big Data? And how is the IoT tying all this together?
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
SYS-CON Events announces a new pavilion on the Cloud Expo floor where WebRTC converges with the Internet of Things. Pavilion will showcase WebRTC and the Internet of Things. 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.
The only place to be June 9-11 is Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo 2015 East at the Javits Center in New York City. Join us there as delegates from all over the world come to listen to and engage with speakers & sponsors from the leading Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data companies. Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo are the leading events covering the booming market of Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data for the enterprise. Speakers from all over the world will be hand-picked for their ability to explore the economic strategies that utility/cloud computing provides. Whether public, private, or in a hybrid form, clo...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in software-defined storage (SDS) purpose-built for Windows Servers and Hyper-V, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Gridstore™ is the leader in software-defined storage purpose built for virtualization that is designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Using its patented Server-Side Virtual Controller™ Technology (SVCT) to eliminate the I/O blender effect and accelerate applications Gridsto...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP’s Printing and Personal Systems Group, will discuss how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, senso...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
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, will examine 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...
Internet of @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley announced on Thursday its first 12 all-star speakers and sessions for its upcoming event, which will take place November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California. @ThingsExpo, the first and largest IoT event in the world, debuted at the Javits Center in New York City in June 10-12, 2014 with over 6,000 delegates attending the conference. Among the first 12 announced world class speakers, IBM will present two highly popular IoT sessions, which will take place November 4-6, 2014 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif...
From a software development perspective IoT is about programming "things," about connecting them with each other or integrating them with existing applications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Yakov Fain, co-founder of Farata Systems and SuranceBay, will show you how small IoT-enabled devices from multiple manufacturers can be integrated into the workflow of an enterprise application. This is a practical demo of building a framework and components in HTML/Java/Mobile technologies to serve as a platform that can integrate new devices as they become available on the market.