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In many cases, the end of the year gives you time to step back and take stock of the last 12 months. This is when many of us take a hard look at what worked and what did not, complete performance reviews, and formulate plans for the coming year. For me, it is all of those things plus a time when I u...
Developing Web Services with Open Source - A quick start for Web services technology
Developing Web Services with Open Source - A quick start for Web services technology

Over the past year, Web services have been positioned as a key enabler to application e-business integration. Many companies and vendors have made large investments in supporting the Web services development process. However, cost can pose a huge barrier for companies just beginning to investigate the value of Web services.

Development shops can explore this emerging technology without making a large initial investment by developing Web services with open source platforms and development tools. Open source refers to the community of free applications and systems being written by developers around the world. With open source, the source code, its use, and redistribution cannot be forbidden by any organization.

The benefits of open source include the ability to view the source code, to see how features are implemented, and to modify the source to make changes. This allows developers to port tools to other operating systems and to build new products from open source code. A key theme with open source is flexibility, providing development organizations with the source code and the rights to modify it.

Web Services Development
Web services are built on a similar open premise. Web services standards such as SOAP and WSDL make software components available to any application developer. When combined with open source tools, the Web services development environment is widely available at a very low cost. This combination makes an attractive model for the evaluation of Web services as an enabling technology.

This article takes a look at both the Web services development process and the tools that can be used to get started quickly. Through the development of a prototype Web service, you can quickly understand how to evaluate these new technologies and their use within production scenarios. Our Web service provides weather forecast information for a specified Zip Code. While there are obviously many Web sites available for retrieving weather, we wanted to deliver this information as a Web service using SOAP.

The entire development was done on the Linux platform. In our prototype, the Eclipse environment with a Linux JDK was used to create the Java components. The Apache Axis platform was used to easily expose this Java component as a Web service. Apache Ant was then used for building and deploying the Web service, and PushToTest TestMaker for testing it.

Setting up the Environment
The first step in developing our service was the selection of a Linux distribution. While there are many Linux distributions available, we selected Debian Linux ( Debian is one of the most vendor-neutral Linux distributions, managed by the developer community. This distribution also has a strict open source-only policy, and does not contain any license-restricted code. Debian Linux has a successful model for creating high-quality, portable, and stable releases.

To deliver this service, we need a data source that can manage the weather forecast information. For this example, we decided to model the forecast information in a SQL database. The two most popular open source databases on the market today are MySQL and PostgreSQL. We selected MySQL ( for this development primarily because of its ease-of-use and speed. After installing the product, we created the necessary tables for the Weather application. We designed two simple tables, one to maintain Zip Code information and another to hold the weather forecasts.

Another step required for the Java development was to select an appropriate Java Development Kit (JDK). The JDK was required to run a number of components in this example, including Eclipse, Apache Axis, and the application itself. The most popular Linux JDKs on the market today are the J2SE SDK from Sun, the Blackdown JDK (, and BEA WebLogic JRockit ( JRockit was selected for this example.

Developing a Java Application with Eclipse
Next we chose an integrated development environment (IDE). The IDE was used to develop the Java application for the Web service. Open source Java developers now have several choices when considering IDEs. Two of the more popular open source IDEs are NetBeans ( and Eclipse ( The Eclipse Platform was chosen because of its extensibility. This platform allows tool builders to independently develop tools that integrate with other developer tools. Figure 1 shows a screenshot from the Eclipse environment.


Eclipse operates with a set of views called perspectives. A perspective manifests itself in the selection and arrangement of editors and views displayed on the screen. For example, while developing a Java application, Eclipse changes to the Java perspective. This perspective sets up the GUI with the proper views and editors for developing Java applications. In addition, Eclipse includes a number of wizards to assist in the development of Java components. Figure 2 shows the wizard used for creating the base Weather class.


Next we added the code for the Weather service. The application takes a Zip Code and looks up the weather forecast for that area in the MySQL database using JDBC. Listing 1 is a partial listing of the code that retrieves this information (the code for this article is online at

Next we created the Forecast class. We created this class as a Value Object to hold the forecast information for the service. It provided a cleaner and more usable business interface for the caller. Rather than returning a simple String, we can return a more complex type describing the forecast information (see Listing 2).

We found that Eclipse brought together all of the tools we needed to successfully develop the service. Overall, Eclipse proved to be a very robust yet simple platform for building the Java components for the application. It has most of the same functionality as any other commercial tool, but it's also open source.

Installing and Configuring the Web Services Runtime
Since Web services are software components that are exposed to other applications via XML over HTTP, we needed a J2EE and Web services container in which to run our new service. For our runtime environment, we used Jakarta Tomcat ( and a Web services tool kit, Apache Axis ( Tomcat was downloaded from the Apache Web site. Once installed, we used a plug-in to Eclipse to start and stop the Tomcat server. We created our own Eclipse perspective for this so that we could reuse it for other applications running on Tomcat (see Figure 3).


In addition to the J2EE Web container, we needed a Web services environment. The Axis SOAP implementation includes a set of tools that help you build SOAP clients and servers. It provides support for both sending and receiving SOAP requests. We downloaded Apache Axis from and used the latest release because of some added enhancements that support JAX-RPC and Java-to-WSDL mappings. Once installed, we tested Axis by viewing the URL http://localhost: 8080/axis from Mozilla (see Figure 4).


Creating the Web Service Using Apache Axis
Our next major step was to create the Web service interface (WSDL) and related server-side bindings. A WSDL is an XML document that describes the data, messages, and operations that are exposed for a given service. The bindings allow us to easily map the WSDL interface to any back-end components.

Two approaches can be taken in creating a WSDL document. It can be created from scratch and later mapped to a set of backend components. Or, a developer can start with their business logic and have the WSDL created automatically. We usually recommend starting from the WSDL for increased flexibility and probability. For this simple scenario, we used the automatic WSDL generation feature. Within Apache Axis, this can be accomplished through the Java2WSDL utility class:

java org.apache.axis.wsdl.Java2WSDL -o
Weather.wsdl -l "http://localhost:
8080/axis/services/weather" -n
urn:weather -p"Weather" urn:weather

Listing 3 shows the WSDL generated running this command. It includes a set of data types, messages, operations, and SOAP bindings for the service.

The WSDL first describes the XML type used to represent the Forecast information. This is followed by the specific operations for the service, in our case getWeather. This operation is a basic request/response message, modeled with one input and one output message. The WSDL also contains the SOAP binding and service binding information. This binding specifies the URL location for accessing the service.

The next major step was to create the server-side bindings for the Web service. These bindings allow us to easily map the WSDL interface to the back-end Java components. Within Apache Axis, this is accomplished through an implementation class and a deployment descriptor. The following illustrates the invocation of the WSDL2Java class to generate these components:

$ java org.apache.axis.wsdl.WSDL2Java -
o . -s -p Weather.wsdl

The file generated contains an empty implementation for the service. We had to modify this code with the appropriate invocations to our original Weather class (see Listing 4).

We also had to create a new version of the Forecast class that implemented so that the data could be serialized as an XML stream. After that, we just needed to compile our code and generate a JAR file containing all of the class files. We copied the JAR into the Apache Axis lib directory so that Axis could locate the code.

The final step in the service creation process was to register the Web service with Apache Axis. Axis provides a deployment tool (AdminClient) to do this. The deployment descriptor specifies the service being deployed, the operations being exposed, and the mapping to the back-end implementation class. Listing 5 is a partial listing of the deploy.wsdd generated.

At this point, we successfully created, packaged, and deployed the service. We verified service deployment by viewing the list of services in a browser (see Figure 5).


Implementing a Build Process with Ant
The last section walked through the various steps required to compile, package, and deploy the Web service. This can be a very time-consuming process, especially if you must continually rebuild your Web service during testing. This is where a robust and automated build process can be very helpful in enhancing developer productivity.

One of the more popular open source build tools available today is Apache Ant. You can think of Ant as a next-generation Make utility, with the key difference that Ant is based on Java and XML. With Ant, you can compile and execute Java applications, create JAR files, and deploy files to Web directories. Apache Ant can also be used to assist in the generation of many of the Web services components.

While Ant can be downloaded from the Apache Web site, we decided to take advantage of the built-in integration between Eclipse and Ant. This integration allows you to take an Ant build file and run selected build targets. Supplied Eclipse plug-ins also provide a more robust editing environment for creating Ant build files (see Figure 6).


We focus here on how Ant was used to create the Java server-side bindings from the WSDL, and how that code is packaged and deployed to Apache Axis. Listing 6 provides a partial listing of the ANT file that was developed for this purpose.

In an Ant build file, a number of targets can be executed. A target represents a specific step in the build process. Our build includes an Ant target for creating the Java bindings from the WSDL. The build file also includes a target to compile the code using the <javac> tag. In the listing, we specify this tag, followed by the directory to compile and the CLASSPATH to use.

Once the code is compiled, we can package and deploy the service. In the ANT build file, we use the <jar> tag to create the Java archive. In this section, we specify the name of the JAR file to create, and the list of class files to package. We used the <copy> tag to copy the library to the Apache Axis lib directory. Finally, the AdminClient utility is invoked to register the deployment descriptor.

After developing the complete build.xml file, we can execute specific build targets. From within the Eclipse environment, you can select specific targets to run (see Figure 7).


Overall, the use of ANT, combined with the integration into the Eclipse environment, provided a clean and elegant way to automate the build process for Java applications. It also provided an efficient mechanism to quickly build (and rebuild) the various Web services components.

Testing the Service
After deploying the Web service, the next step was to contact the Web service via a client proxy. A client proxy is a piece of code that communicates directly with the Web service, encapsulating the SOAP processing logic, and shielding the developer from having to write this code directly. Axis provides a mechanism for automatically creating the client proxy code through the WSDL2Java utility. We used the helper class, WeatherServiceLocator, that Axis automatically generated to locate the Weather Web service. Next, we inserted the code to bind to the getweather method in the WeatherServiceLocator. We communicated with the Web service to get a Forecast object with the appropriate information (see Listing 7).

To debug our Web service, we can use either the Axis tcpmon or SOAP Monitor utilities. tcpmon listens for connections on a given port on the localhost and forwards incoming messages to another port on another server. By inserting itself between the two ports, tcpmon can show you all incoming and outgoing SOAP messages. To use the tool, it was necessary to change our code to bind to port 8081 instead of 8080. Figure 8 shows how tcpmon can monitor SOAP traffic.


Axis also comes with a SOAP Monitor utility that can be used to monitor SOAP traffic without changing the port configuration. This utility is loaded as a Java applet within a browser window (http://localhost:8080/axis/ SOAPMonitor). Overall, developers will find these utilities helpful in debugging a Web service, especially in cases where you get an exception or SOAP fault. You can determine whether the client properly constructed the SOAP message for the service.

Web services testing is another important development concern. While there are a number of open source testing tools available, such as JUnit and Anteater, we selected PushToTest TestMaker ( This tool allows you to test the functionality, scalability, and performance of a Web service. The primary advantage of using TestMaker is its user-friendly development environment for creating test scripts. It comes with an object-oriented scripting language, Jython, as well as a library for communicating with Web services.

When we used this tool, we encountered some issues with getting TestMaker to understand the Forecast XML type returned by the service. We had to add some additional logic to serialize the XML schema type into the JavaBean representation (see Listing 8).

Once the service is fully deployed and tested, a developer will need to consider monitoring the service for availability. This is where management tools are helpful, if not essential. For example, you could use the HP OpenView SPI for Apache Axis, which provides a mechanism to track the availability of the SOAP server. The HP OpenView Transaction Analyzer (OVTA) product, used to diagnose performance bottlenecks, is being enhanced to support Web services built with Apache Axis.

In the End
While we encountered several technical hurdles with this new development environment, we found these tools worked well together and were a boost to our Web services development productivity. In fact, we were quite surprised by some of the integration we found in Eclipse with Tomcat, Apache Axis, and Ant. We found the ability to locate, obtain, install, and use open source development environments and tools to be very straightforward. Not only did these tools work "out of the box," but the quality was sufficient for our development purposes.

Development organizations need to quickly start using Web services technology, but can't always afford to make significant early investments in tools that ultimately prove critical. However, the open source model helps these groups by allowing them access to a low-cost solution for Web services development. We were able to demonstrate a complete development process for Web services leveraging only open source tools. This should go a long way towards helping development teams get acquainted with Web services programming.

About Chris Peltz
Chris Peltz is a senior architect within HP's
Developer Resources Organization (, providing technical and architectural consulting to enterprise customers in the areas of J2EE, Web services, and
application management.

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