Java, Microsoft Drivers on Web Services Road

Developers familiar with Java and Microsoft driver technologies (JDBC and ODBC) will see a boon in XML-enabled tools in 2003, according to a leading provider of drivers and tools. See why SQL is for data at rest and XML is for data in motion, as DataDirect Technologies works with leading SQL vendors Oracle, Microsoft, Sybase and others.

Tags: XML, Database, Developers, Web Services, Support, Technologies, Java,

It will get much easier in 2003 for developers using ODBC and JDBC to upgrade to XML-based web services, at least according to DataDirect Technologies, one of the leading providers of database driver technologies to software providers and end users.

DataDirect, a long-time provider of OEM and end-user driver tools for both the ODBC and JDBC worlds, is now bearing down on the idea using XML technologies to bring its driver-based technologies into web services. "Right now, the drivers world is in transition," Brian Reed, DataDirect's vice president of market intelligence told IDN. "SQL is for data at rest. XML is for data in motion. There is nothing more optimized than a relational database, if you're talking about stored data. But XML makes data easier to share."

In specific, Reed said, "XML and SOA [Service-Oriented Architecture] are bringing the ability to standardize middleware, and allow the application to more easily move into the infrastructure -- and not just be inside a silo. This creates a dynamic infrastructure that will make it easier to change new things and still keep data interoperable."

"Every developer should pick up a book on XML," Reed said. "SQL is for data at rest. XML is for data in motion. There is nothing more optimized than a relational database, if you're talking about stored data. But XML makes data easier to share."

Developers should look at XML as a standard format for data and internationalization for their data, like a machine language. XML will provide developers and DBAs a steady-state way to share data, whether it's in a database, a document or a myriad of other sources. Even though the majority of the data world will remain in relational databases and document management systems, developers who learn skills for moving data in and out of these formats and into XML will be in demand. XML will be the standards-based technology that lets data be shared and stored for future integration or sharing.

Based on this picture, Reed said DataDirect is aggressively working with leading web services providers -- including Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Sybase and others -- to migrate the ODBC/JDBC world into a new world of XML-driven loosely-coupled connectivity. "We're looking at taking a huge [installed] base and presenting it to a 'loosely-coupled' XML world," Reed told IDN. "And to make the learning curve as easy as possible."

New XML Connectivity Support for .Net, Java

DataDirect is shipping new technologies for both .Net and Java developers (as well as for many database professionals using most popular SQL databases). Specifically, DataDirect is shipping its first upgrades for DataDirect Connect for .NET and its jXTransformer XML software transformation component for Java.

DataDirect Connect for .NET 1.1.adds support for distributed transactions on Oracle and Sybase databases is based on Microsoft's Distributed Transaction Coordinator (MS DTC) as the transaction manager. Using MS DTC enables developers to implement "serviced components" that require distributed transaction support and use ADO.NET data providers, Reed said.

In addition, MS DTC can be used to (1) update multiple databases and files from a single application, (2) update geographically distributed databases, and (3) update databases that have been partitioned for scalability. MS DTC uses a two-phase commit protocol to ensure that all the resource managers commit the transaction or all abort it, to ensure data integrity.

Aside from DTC-based upgrades, Connect for .NET 1.1 also adds (1) support for several new data types, including Timestamps, National Language types, and ROWID; (2) support for both ODBC/JDBC escape sequences, (including outer joins, scalar functions, and date, time, and timestamp literals); and (3) support for Oracle's TNSNames configuration file and Sybase's Open Client "Interfaces" file.

These upgrades ride on top of Connect for .NET 1.0 support for stored procedures, connection pooling, and CommandBuilders, Connect for .NET 1.1 is available for Oracle 8.1.6 (and higher); Oracle 9i and Oracle 9iR2; and Sybase ASE 11.5 (and higher); Sybase ASE 12.0 and 12.5. Both running on Windows 98/NT/2000/ME/XP for Intel. The .NET platform relies on standard data connectivity components called "data providers" that implement the ADO.NET (the upgrade of ActiveX Data Objects for the .Net Framework) interfaces. This technology enables much easier connectivity and offering various data services to the application.

DataDirect was the first vendor to provide .NET Managed Data Providers using 100% managed code, and Reed told IDN that DataDirect will be upgrading ADO.NET support during 2003. Microsoft has provided DataDirect with access to their test suite for ADO.Net ADO.NET Data Providers, which offers several advantages, including:

  • Cross-platform communications. ADO.NET caches data in standards-based XML objects called datasets. XML is the format for transmitting datasets; therefore, any component that can read the XML format can process an ADO.NET dataset;
  • Scalability. Some Internet-based data applications which serve large number of users, (or support processor-intensive operations such as lookups, updates, etc.) can be limited. Because ADO.NET uses disconnected access to data; database locks are not retained and database connections are not kept "active for extended periods; and
  • Performance. Similarly, because ADO.NET uses disconnected datasets, it does not retain database locks or active database connections, which provides performance advantages

  • DataDirect's jXTransformer is DataDirect's XML software component for transforming data between relational and XML formats in Java programs. Rather than require developers and database professionals to learn database-specific tools, jXTransformer uses a language that is very similar to XQuery, the new draft SQL/XML standard, to enable developers to create XML from relational data or updating relational data from XML input.

    The goal, Reed said, is to let developers code once using a simple component, and reuse it across multiple databases without learning complex database-specific XML extensions. jXTransformer provides a Java API and a simple language, and a GUI tool for writing queries that will map and transform data between relational and XML formats.

    jXTransformer uses an API for data access and does not require any database changes, letting developers use existing stored procedures, reports, and queries without changing anything in the database. The tool reads data from relational databases and transforms data into any desired XML structure, and creates simple or complex hierarchical XML documents and XML document fragments.

    jXTransformer also provides read/write access to leading SQL databases, including Oracle 8 and Oracle 91, Microsoft SQL Server 7 and SQL Server 2000, Informix 9.2, Sybase ASE 11 and IBM's DB2 (on Unix, Linux or OS/390 and AS/400). jXTransformer also supports any Java-enabled platform that supports JDK 1.3.1 or higher, and works with JAXP 1.1, DOM level 2, JDOM 1.0 Beta 7, SAX-2, XPath 1.0, and reader/writer object interfaces for use by JDBC applications.

    Getting Started with Portals

    We asked Reed to suggest a sample project that developers could use to begin to migrate their applications -- and their skills -- from simple data drivers to more XML-driven web services. Reed's suggestion: Portals.

    "Well over half of web services projects are focusing on looking at how to do proprietary data and applications communications in a more standard way," Reed told IDN. "One of the early 'killer apps' we think will be portal type of applications where the browser is a point of end-user integration, providing a variety of end users a standard veneer -- or a standard way to interface with data they need. You can get a quick return on investment here."

    Portals are an easy choice, Reed said, because so many companies are trying to build one, and may be spending too much time and money in the process.

    "The majority of portals are homegrown," Reed said. "In fact, in one recent Gartner[Group] report I read, they estimated somewhere north of 80% of all portals are home-grown and are between 6-12 months old. In the past, these kind of applications needed to be hand-coded with EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) and BI (Business Intelligence) professional services to roll a lot of their own. But, with web services you get this one discrete layer where you have guaranteed contact with the [communications] stack, including SOAP, XML and WSDL."

    Many developers already have a data-centric view of their applications, In the Microsoft world, they're already using SQL Server, ADO and ASP, and all those things transition into the .Net world. "Believe it or not, people who are good developers can understand what .Net is about and pick up many of the principals in a week or two," he said. " It was really great to be able to abstract the database so that a developer could build data-portable applications without needing to be an XML guru."

    In the Java world, Reed said, a broadening support for XML transformation and native web services (SOAP and WSDL, for instances) in J2EE is "encouraging," adding "Early on the JAX Pack started with some basic web services capabilities, but with J2EE 1.4 coming down the pipe many Java vendors will have better native support for web services.

    A portal will combine information from many sources. So, XHTML and XML will become part of the presentation layer. Depending how the organization designs the portal, just about all developers will find a reason to use XML. In a portal application, the insert, update and delete functionality is quite straight-forward with working with one database, and so the focus will be on the SQL-to-XML (and XML-to-SQL) connectivity between the database and the browser, Reed said. For more complex, multi-database portals, DataDirect's support for ADO and Java functionality (such as JSR 114 for offline operations) are designed to auto-synchronize different data sets, Reed added.

    Another key demand driver for XML expertise, Reed added, will be an array of new front-end technologies coming this year. "WinForms, new browsers, Java clients and all sorts of mobile phones [that use Java and Microsoft CE and .NET] are making it easier for client devices to consume XML," Reed said, "and that will push demand."