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Viewpoint: Not Every ColdFusion Developer Should Be A Flex Developer

I am a big fan of Flex...but it is not a tool that every ColdFusion developer can grasp

Andy Powell's Blog

I am going to go ahead and contend that although a good number of ColdFusion developers can grasp and understand Flex very well, there are also a good number of ColdFusion developers who have no business going anywhere near Flex. Why do I say this? I am a big fan of Flex. I use it daily to create, what I think are, some kick-ass applications. It is a powerful tool that really changes the game on the web and the desktop. That being said, it is not a tool that every ColdFusion developer can grasp.

Flex development is a completely different animal than ColdFusion, Java, PHP, ASP.NET, or any other server-side language you want to use. The most difficult thing for developers coming to Flex from the server-side to grasp is that the concept of request-response is gone. Done. Finitio. Bye-Bye. Sure, Flex clients can make requests to the server, but you don't listen for the response, you let the call happen and listen for your HTTPService, RemoteObject, or whatever to broadcast a result or fault event. Learning, and understanding, the concept of an event-driven approach to application development is the single biggest hurdle to the ColdFusion developer coming to Flex. Let's face it, not everyone is up to the task.

A side note here, when we talk about Flex development, we're talking about both MXML and ActionScript development

The other concept that is a real stumbling block to a lot of ColdFusion developers is that ActionScript is nowhere as forgiving as CFML. You better make damn sure your variables are scoped and typed properly. (The IDE can help with this quite a bit.) ColdFusion's duck typing can lull a developer into some bad practices (read the previous link) that will burn them, or raise the barrier to entry when they come to a strongly typed language like ActionScript. I think that learning another strongly typed, true OO server-side language, like Java, in addition to ColdFusion, can help a ColdFusion developer transition into Flex a little bit better and easier.

Anyone that doesn't want to, or can't, deal with these major hurdles should probably consider steering clear of Flex. If you can't handle OO concepts beyond what CFCs give you, stay away from Flex. You will find Flex difficult, become easily frustrated, and then find some silly reason to dismiss Flex when you really weren't really ready for it to begin with. It's OK though, you can always fall back on your Javascript kung fu and go the AJAX route for RIAs.

Let's stop here for a second and go off on yet another tangent for a paragraph. I want to put an end to one argument that someone will make, right now: Flex is not a ColdFusion killer, competitor, enemy, etc.. Flex is the new UI. The new "V" in your MVC. The new presentation layer. ColdFusion is still relevant in that it can provide data to that UI. End of argument and tangent.

If you are still undaunted, then good for you. Press on with your Flex adventure. Take a training course and learn the basics. Flex is not especially easy to learn, it will take a concerted effort. Further more, once you learn it, ActionScript and MXML are so powerful and complex that it will take longer for you to master Flex.

Once you do however, you will find that there is so much more you can do with Flex to build your kick-ass RIAs. You can use powerful 3D and physics engines, written in AS3, to bring UIs to life that you've only dreamed about building, plus so much more. You just have to have the guts to break out of your comfort zone and charge into it, if you really want to learn Flex.

[This post appeared originally here and is republished in full with the kind permission of the author, who retains full copyright.]

More Stories By Andrew Powell

Andrew Powell has been architecting and developing Web applications for over 10 years using ColdFusion, Java, ASP.NET and ASP. His background includes experience running IT Departments for firms in the executive search and aviation consulting fields. You can read his blog on everything ColdFusion, Java, Flex & AJAX at www.infoaccelerator.net.

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