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Servlet History

Posted by driscoll on December 10, 2005 at 8:58 PM PST

I've been doing servlets and JSPs longer than any other person on the planet (which in itself is a story for another time), so when I read a few things about the history of servlets in Beyond Java by Bruce Tate, I cringed. But I realize that such ancient history (10 years ago!) isn't recorded anywhere, so I thought that I'd set the record straight.

In his book, Bruce says: "In the halls of Netscape, server-side Java emerged. Servlets (a term originally coined by O'Reilly) made server-driven Internet applications available to application developers. Sun capitalized on this movement quickly with a standard, and an open source implementation of a servlet engine called Tomcat."

Whoosh, where to start. Prehaps at the beginning:

Servlets were originally conceived of by James Gosling in 1995, but put aside for other interests. After some time, the concept was picked up by Pavani Diwanji, who built on the concept to create servlets as part of a project then called Jeeves (from a fictional character). This project was eventually productized into the Java Web Server, which many of us in Java EE land remember fondly to this day. I still have a shirt showing Duke in a Tux holding a platter, the symbol for Java Web Server. And incidently, the first versions of the servlet package were called java.servlet.*, since the javax extension hadn't been invented yet.

Incidently, JSP was invented over a weekend by Anselm Baird-Smith, then later elaborated on as a specification by Satish Dharmaraj (now of Zimbra). (Just in case anyone was curious.)

The server-side Java container conceived of by Netscape was done as a parallel effort, as was another similar thing done by Oracle. (I was part of the team that visited both companies to try to sell them on this technology.)

The Tomcat stuff came a few years later, as did the first version of the servlet spec, written by James Davidson.

As for O'Reilly coining the term servlets, I don't know for sure about that, but given the history I do know, I'm skeptical.

There, I've gotten that off my chest.

Know something I don't? Please comment below.

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