Monday, February 28, 2011

Chapter 1: Servlet & JSP History

Here we are, studying for the SCWCD exam. I would like to congratulate you again for this decision of yours because of which you are going to get yourself SCWCD certified. It's a big step and am gonna be with you step by step to help you get this certification.

Well, it wouldn't be much fun preparing for a certification on JSPs and Servlets without knowing their history. Would it?

This chapter is going to be a history lesson taking you to the humble beginnings of these two wonderful technologies that have made our lives so much more easier & powerful.

How it all Began – Internet

Early in the 1950’s computer scientists in USA were working their backsides off in order to compete with Soviet Unions (The late USSR) advancements in superpower computing. They formed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in the year 1957. In those they still had powerful computers, but they weren’t able to talk or communicate with one another. In 1966 Lawrence G. Roberts (From MIT) proposed the first computer network which was named the ARPANET. The US Department of Defense (DoD) funded the venture and it took them 3 years to implement the network. The ARPANET team rewarded the DoD by establishing the Network Control Protocol (NCP), the first host to host protocol, which made possible for the university and the research center PC’s to communicate with one another.

With the success of the NCP, telco major AT&T installed the first cross country link between UCLA and BBN. It was a humble beginning and by 1973 hundreds of computers were talking to one another.

The real big breakthrough came in the year 1982 when the TCP/IP standard was established by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. Based on this development, the Domain Name System was established and by 1984 there were over 1000 hosts registered.

This was the backbone of the current day Internet. It was called NSFNET originally and with multiplying hosts it was becoming difficult to manage. By 1991 there were over a hundred thousand hosts and the system was getting out of control. There was nobody incharge and there was utter chaos all around.

In 1991, Tim Berners Lee created hyperlinks. He invented the whole protocol that made links communicate with one another and the World Wide Web was born. Telnet, email and many other services started using the networks.

In 1993, Marc Anderson and his friends wanted to see what was on the Internet, so they developed a new program called the NCSA Mosaic at the University of Illinois based on Berners Lee’s ideas. (NCSA stands for National Center for Supercomputing Applications)

Mosaic was the catalyst that caused the internet to explode. Nearly 200 million hosts were in use by the end of the decade and more than 1 billion users were using it.

This was not the end of it. Mobile phones, PDAs, GPS, Cars etc started connecting to the internet and the number of users began growing beyond numbers that we can write down or calculate.

It all started with basic HTML pages and hungry scientists created more and more advanced technologies whose powers were unbelievable. JSPs and Servlets just changed the landscape catastrophically and here we are, studying them to become better J2EE web programmers!!!

History of JSP & Servlets

The Internet's original purpose was to access and copy files from one computer to another. While TCP/IP provided a highway layer, the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) specification provided a standard way to exchange those files. It defined a way of shuttling them back and forth, but said nothing about looking at the content. HyperText Markup Language (HTML) allowed us to see the documents on the Internet. FTP can transmit HTML files just as easily as HTTP can. But we use Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) to act as an FTP specifically for HTML documents because it is a stateless protocol which makes having many short connections more efficient.
HTTP is the plumbing that connects the various computers. Now it is time to discuss about the fluid that flows through it “JSP & Servlets”

Note: JSP & Servlets arent the only technologies that are used in J2EE applications. Struts, Hibernate, Springs etc are other technologies that are used in J2EE Web applications. But, don't worry about them because they arent in the exam.

Using HTTP and HTML people were able to view/browse files and contents on a remote server. This is very useful, but people wanted live data. This is where the CGI (Common Gateway Interface) specification helped us. It helped us connect to databases and display stuff on the fly. The CGI specification was a major breakthrough in Web Application Development. The CGI standards made sure that the same CGI program worked on different Web servers.

CGI became the bread and butter of web developers. It was the most common means of displaying dynamic content on the internet. Though it was good, it wasn't good enough. It was not able to handle the performance requirements of the bursting Internet users. It was literally too much for it.

If you are asking me why CGI couldn't handle the load, the answer is simple. CGI spawned a separate process for every request that it receives. This design was able to sustain during off-peak hours but ate off server resources during peak loads which was eventually too much for it.
With growing numbers of users of web applications, scalability became a key consideration which wasn't CGI’s Middle Name and hence people started exploring other options.

Many CGI derivatives came up as server-side programming solutions that implement business logic, including ASP, ColdFusion, PHP, and Perl. Java surpassed them all due to portability and its object oriented programming design.

Alas, he we are, learning JSPs and Servlets that are the children of the Java Family which make our lives all the more easier in the world of Web Development.

Java was conceptualized in 1991 but it wasn't in the internet programming world until 1997. Servlets were the alternative to CGI and were released in 1997. Unlike CGI, which starts a process for each request, Servlets just spawn a new thread. Servlets had a better or rather efficient architecture which was able to handle the loads of the internet.

Though Servlets were awesome when compared to CGI, they still had some issues when it came to displaying dynamic content on a web page. Thankfully, Sun released the JSP (Java Server Pages) specifications in 1998, which solved all our UI woes. JSPs enabled programmers to display dynamic HTML content that could also use Java features. The combination of JSPs and Servlets was just what the Doctor Prescribed and it just revolutionized the Web Programming industry.
That's it for the history lesson. Now we are all set to dive deep into the world of magical Servlets and JSPs.

Previous Chapter: Introduction to the SCWCD Exam

Next Chapter: Web Servers & Servlet Containers

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