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Blarg #1: Are JSP Still Relevant?

Posted by jfalkner on October 9, 2003 at 10:43 AM PDT

Blarg #1: Why are JSPs still relevant?

You seem like the perfect guy to ask.

Let me explain the question;

I'm in projects that run for a very long time, we have to maintain them and add features for at least a year, but probably longer. Having bare JSPs (or even really nice tagged ones) makes this hard to maintain and keep bug-free for a very simple reason; The application programmer has to do the work since there is no clear seperation of content and code. Plus the obvious code duplication etc etc etc.

When I came accross WebMacro/Velocity etc my idea was that JSPs would be considered like c. Nice to hack in, but really not material to write full applications with anymore. I.e they seem like the natural next-step and the old would soon die out.

Are JSP programmers not just holding on to ancient technologies like c-programmers (or pascal, or cobol) are to their unmaintainable stuff?

So; if they are, then why are JSPs still relevant?

Great question zander, and it is one I just so happen to have a lot to say about. You would be surprised how often this type of question seems to pop up, not just about JSP, but about just about any J-starting acronym the marketing folks throw to the masses. In some cases it is valid to ask, say the technology in question really is dated...or it was just pretty worthless in general. However, in the case of JSP, there are several great reasons it is still relevant. I'll address a few of the particular reasons I think are most important, and I'll try to phrase things assuming you don't know much about JSP. I don't mean to be condescending, but far too often this type of question is asked simply because the person doesn't really understand what the J-starting acronym really describes. If you aren't that type of developer, then please bear with me, I'm assuming there are plenty of other developers who will certainly appreciate an answer that doesn't assume much.

My reasons for why JSP is still relevant.

  1. JSP is a key part of the J2EE Web Tier
  2. JSP is The standard
  3. It is easy to use JSP in amazing ways

JSP is a key part of the J2EE Web Tier

J2EE is huge, and almost all of it is good for at least one particular task. People do spend a lot of time (namely JSR expert group people) designing each and every J2EE related technology, which means in general something helpful is made. Note, this does not imply that your work will benefit from every J2EE technology, say JSP in particular. So let us be clear on what JSP is good at, and then you can decided if you are trying to do that, or if you could care less -- either way we should hopefully agree JSP is a technology worth keeping around.

So what is JSP good for? JSP is great for generating dynamic web pages, think any web page that uses markup, e.g. HTML, XHTML, WML, or even just plain text. When I say "dynamic" I mean something that changes. A good example would be an on-line store like that takes a little bit of information from you, say a title of a book, and automatically generates tons of HTML-based web pages that try to get you to purchase something. This is dynamic because certainly doesn't have billions of HTML files saved on their servers, it wouldn't be practical. only keeps around key information about books, and when needed uses JSP to generate HTML on the fly. A bad example of dynamic is something like my personal resume. It is nothing more than an HTML page I update maybe twice a year. It makes a lot of sense to simply code my resume by hand, using only HTML, and let people download it as is.

JSP is really the only good technology to do this in the standard set of Java/J2EE tools. Now that is an over-simplified statement, but it is true. There are several other technologies such as Servlets and JDBC that are almost always used with JSP to get the job done, but if you try to make dynamic web pages without JSP it takes a lot more time and effort.

In summary, I'm saying if you want to make dynamic HTML, XHTML, or text and send it over the World Wide Web, JSP is what you should use. That is why it is important. If you don't want to believe me I'll give a link at the end that does a proper job of arguing this point against the millions of common counter-points developers have. Now to move on....

JSP is The standard

A key thing to understand is that JSP is a standard. It has been around for good deal of time, lots of companies have dumped lots of money in to it, several other technologies are based on JSP, and there are tried and proved successful uses of the technology. In short, I'm saying any other Java technology that is trying to compete with JSP and isn't part of the standard J2EE API is more or less worthless. I don't care if you want to argue that something is more elegant, or that you can show me an open-source project that has a few top quality hacks working on it. None of that matters. JSP does get the job done, JSP can do a great job, and you can make a good living off of programming JSP/J2EE knowing Sun, IBM, Oracle, and a slew of other companies will keep the money flowing. Other projects like WebMacro/Velocity have lost. They are bitter, and they should be. Some really neat ideas and some great code might have been produced, but they certainly won't get much credit when the next version of JSP incorporates those features.

In summary, I'm saying JSP is relevant because it is a standard. As an average developer you should forget anything you hear from other non-standard Java technologies. Sad, but true, especially if you only care about making a living as a Java web programmer.

JSP is easy to use in amazing ways

JSP can be used well, and it can do amazing things. I've spent several years of my life figuring this out. I've tried the alternatives. I know about the other open-source projects. I've helped the JSP expert group. And I've spent a year of my life writing a book about this very topic. If you want to build a good web application that is fast, efficient, and easy to maintain, JSP can do it. If you don't believe me the best I can do is tell you to do some reading. Check out Sun's website, read, read JSP Insider, or simply read my book. And you are right if you are thinking I'm just pushing what I like. I like JSP, but I say that because I've tried just about every other solution to building web applications. I've dealt with the poorly funded open-source solutions, the hyped commercial solutions, and even some home-brewed attempts to improve the state of things. But I think JSP is the best.

In summary, I'm saying that I honestly think JSP is a great technology, and I think I have the experience to fairly say so. Especially considering JSP 2.0, there are far too many helpful things that you can do easily with JSP. If you understand the technology, you will get the job done and you can certainly get the job done well.

And that is why JSP is still a relevant technology. I really wish I had the time to type out each and every bit of knowledge I have on the subject, in particular some of the really slick coding tricks that would completely solve your hard to maintain JSP problems, or reasons you shouldn't bother with stuff like WebMacro/Velocity, but I seriously just got done doing this in a JSP 2.0 and Servlet 2.4 book that went on sale a few days ago. Go buy it if you want an instant fix, or try to ask some specific questions on my points above if you want a slower, free-loader fix. I'll try to answer as many questions as I can as long as you keep sending them to me -- feel free to make them specific so I can try to show some code or talk about JSP 2.0 features.

Jayson Falkner -

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