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RIA & Ajax: Article

ColdFusion and AJAX

Web 2.0, AJAX, Flash, Flex Builder 2 As It Relates to ColdFusion

I have been keeping my eye on several trends and have been evaluating whether or not they deserve focus in ColdFusion Developer's Journal. I've begun blogging about these trends and about my observations and ideas regarding these trends and the future of CFDJ. This month's editorial is an overview of these events, observations, and trends.

Web logs (blogs) are not new; they've been around for several years now, and many ColdFusion developers and companies now blog on a regular basis. These blogs have proven to be a valuable tool for developers - many of the developer blogs are becoming the best available resource to learn about specific topics and/or about how to solve specific problems. This information is dynamic and free, and comes "from the trenches," i.e., is being authored not by professional authors or evangelists but by people who have real world experience with the subject matter at hand. I think that CFDJ needs to begin introducing blog related articles to readers, as well as turning to the information being blogged as a source for some of the magazine's content.

There has also been somewhat of a surge in open source projects written in ColdFusion. This dates back to the old Allaire Tag Gallery and has continued to grow with the addition of sites such as,, and openXCF ( on sourceforge. Brian Rinaldi has even compiled an impressive list of all of the open source CF projects on his blog at 11/1/ColdFusion-OpenSource-Project-List. The emergence of these projects is a similar trend to blogging in that they are a free and open offering made by members of the community to the community at large, and they also deserve attention in the magazine.

Many of the open source projects and initiatives within the CF community are in the form of frameworks. For a very long time Fusebox was the only framework available, then we had one or two alternatives, but in the past six months or so there has been a surge in releases of frameworks. Many of the recent releases have been in the form of frameworks that only offer a solution to meet very specific needs (such as data access and persistence) in an application and so they are designed to integrate and work within the context of other frameworks that are out there. This is leading to the development and availability of tools that allow developers to build applications that are separated into tiers and that are not dependent on any one framework or methodology... which is a good thing. CFDJ needs to begin featuring articles that explain and explore these new frameworks. This December CFDJ is going to run what I hope will be the best issue in its history - an entire issue of articles examining all of the major frameworks available. The developers of each major framework have taken Macromedia's CFML Pet Market application, implemented it in their framework, and written about the solution. The company I am CIO for, About Web LLC, has registered - it will not only host these sample applications but will also let anyone who'd like to comment, download, and/or submit their own version of CF Pet Market.

There is one last trend that I am focusing on heavily: Web 2.0. Tim O'Reilly recently wrote an excellent description of Web 2.0 at 2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html. I strongly encourage everyone to read this short paper. Kevin Lynch and many others have also been talking a lot recently about Web 2.0, which, in extremely simple terms, is all about smart clients and dynamic and shared data-driven, end-user centric experiences. What does that mean? It means that the next generation of web applications is going to be not just browser, but also platform independent. It means that these applications are going to seamlessly exchange data and services with one another. It means that the focal point of the user interface is on the user - not just by giving them an easy-to-use interface but by giving them a smart interface... a sexy client interface that knows what they're looking for before they're done describing it.

There are currently two technologies that allow these types of applications to be delivered: AJAX and Flash. Contrary to what many of you might think, AJAX and Flash are developer technologies, not designer technologies, and they do little, in the context of Web 2.0, without server-side business logic and services (i.e., ColdFusion) to talk to. AJAX is very cool but certainly has limitations that Flash does not. I see future issues of CFDJ with some articles on AJAX (possibly on Microsoft Sparkle if and when it's released) and much more focus on Flash.

Before anyone gets bent out of shape by the prospect of the inclusion of many Flash articles in CFDJ or by my statement that Flash is for developers, let me qualify my statements. When I say "Flash" I refer to the Flash platform, not the tool. At the recently held Macromedia MAX 2005 conference, Macromedia announced the availability of public alpha versions of Flex Builder 2.0 - and the Flex 2.0 platform. Finally, we have a development environment and language that allows developers, not designers, to create amazing Flash applications and front ends to their ColdFusion applications. Flex 2.0 does still have a server component for enterprise customers who need it, but most CF developers are going to want to get their hands on the Flex Builder 2 IDE, which, like the traditional Flash IDE, compiles code into a SWF that must then be uploaded to your server, but like Flex uses ActionScipt (3) and MXML, a tag-based language, for authoring. No timelines, no animations. Only interfaces, effects, services, and business logic. It's the most developer-friendly environment you're likely ever to see - MXML is a language that even encourages Model View Controller design pattern use. Flex 2.0 even has a special ColdFusion adapter to allow Flex applications to interact with a ColdFusion Server via AMF or SOAP. With a very low price tag and ease of use for developers, there's really no excuse not to be building better experiences for your end users anymore. This is not only a trend I believe is coming, but one that I feel I'd be irresponsible not to promote in CFDJ.

Macromedia has also displayed a strong show of support for the open exchange of data, ideas, and applications. At MAX they launched Macromedia Labs ( - their public alpha and beta site. That's right, some products are going to leap straight from R&D to the public for testing and sneak peek usage. You can go to Macromedia Labs today and download Flex 2.0 now. It's an Eclipse IDE plug-in (showing yet more support for open source initiatives). Speaking of Eclipse and Macromedia support for open source initiatives, at the MAX conference the ColdFusion Team sneak peek was RDS support and a query builder built for the CFEclipse project!

More Stories By Simon Horwith

Simon Horwith is the CIO at AboutWeb, LLC, a Washington, DC based company specializing in staff augmentation, consulting, and training. Simon is a Macromedia Certified Master Instructor and is a member of Team Macromedia. He has been using ColdFusion since version 1.5 and specializes in ColdFusion application architecture, including architecting applications that integrate with Java, Flash, Flex, and a myriad of other technologies. In addition to presenting at CFUGs and conferences around the world, he has also been a contributing author of several books and technical papers.

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