Wednesday, June 17, 2009

RIA frameworks compared

Web based application having desktop like GUI is popularly known as RIA (Rich Internet Application). In old days only few solutions were available namely Java applet, Flash, Dynamic html, etc. Nowadays there are loads of frameworks which provide desktop like experience. These frameworks are based on AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript + XML) technology.

The choices of RIA frameworks are huge and it's difficult to choose the most suitable for your need. The best part of open source technology is for every problem there are numerous solutions, but the worst part is choosing the right technology for your need.

I found these available frameworks to build RIA - Adobe Flex, extJS, Jboss Richfaces, IceFaces, Oracle ADF, JavaFX, Silverlight, GWT, IT Mill Toolkit, ZK, OpenLaszlo, BackBase, Echo, Morfik, Haxe, YUI, pyjamas, DWR, Prototype, Curl, SproutCore, Cappuccino, jQuery, etc.

A selection criterion needs to be defined to select a suitable framework. I choose these criteria -
  • Popularity of the framework - The framework should be popular in developer community. Popularity brings good publications, community support, improvements, etc.

  • Support - A framework should have a good support in terms of books, training facilities, mailing lists, etc.

  • Out-of-the-box GUI components - A framework should provide ready to use components to save time in building basic blocks.

  • Underlying technology - Underlying technology is also important to check the learning curve, effort required, developer expertise, etc.

  • After applying the above criteria, I am left with extJS, Flex, GWT and Silverlight. These frameworks provide rich look and feel and have loads of ready to use components.

    It's a cross browser Java Script library for building RIA.

  • Huge set of rich widgets.

  • Good API documentation available.

  • Disadvantages
  • It's not free.

  • JavaScript knowledge required.

  • No good support for Web Service.

  • To do simple things, lot of JavaScript coding required.

  • CSS customization is not easy.

  • Firebug debugging is of no use as the generated html is bad.

  • Adobe Flex
    Flex is a highly productive, free open source framework for building and maintaining expressive web applications that deploy consistently on all major browsers, desktops, and operating systems.

  • Best look and feel.

  • Rich design and multimedia as its flash.

  • Easy to deploy.

  • Flex Builder IDE to develop UI using drag and drop.

  • Open source.

  • Web service integration is very easy.

  • Desktop application can be also developed.

  • Disadvantages
  • Flex Builder is not free.

  • Knowledge of MXML and ActionScript required.

  • Requires Plugin installation on the client side.

  • Browser history support not possible.

  • Rendering flash is still slow.

  • RPC calls are cumber some and need third party software like BlazeDS.

  • GWT (Google Web Toolkit)
    Writing web apps today is a tedious and error-prone process. Developers can spend 90% of their time working around browser quirks. In addition, building, reusing, and maintaining large JavaScript code bases and AJAX components can be difficult and fragile. Google Web Toolkit (GWT), especially when combined with the Google Plugin for Eclipse, eases this burden by allowing developers to quickly build and maintain complex yet highly performant JavaScript front-end applications in the Java programming language.

  • Developer need to know only Java. No JavaScript.

  • Huge choices of ready to use components.

  • Eclipse IDE support to develop.

  • Code can be debugged in Eclipse.

  • Eclipse hosted mode available for hot deployment.

  • Look and feel is good and can be easily customized using CSS.

  • Maven supported so builds are easy.

  • Junit test cases to test the code.

  • Easy Web Service configuration based on annotations.

  • Similar to Java Swing.

  • Loads of active mailing lists to seek solution.

  • Doesn't require Plugin installation on the client side.

  • GWT is free so no cost.

  • Browser history support works.

  • Disadvantages
  • Only for Java developers.

  • Compiling Java to JavaScript is very slow.

  • No drag and drop IDE available.

  • Desktop application cannot be developed.

  • Microsoft Silver light
    Microsoft Silver light is a free runtime that powers rich application experiences and delivers high quality, interactive video across multiple platforms and browsers, using the .NET framework.

  • .Net knowledge helps.

  • Visual Studio IDE support.

  • Desktop applications can be developed.

  • Disadvantages
  • Requires plugin installation on the client side.

  • Fairly new framework so wider support is not available.

  • Its not open source.
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