Sun Adds Native Web Services Support to Forte Tool

Competition in the developer space along the Web services front continues to heat up, as Sun Microsystems released Monday a preview of a new module for its Forte for Java Enterprise Edition developer tool that supports the 1.1 specifications of SOAP and WSDL.

The module brings Sun’s Forte for Java up to speed with the developer offerings of other leading vendors, including IBM and Microsoft, both of which offer SOAP and WSDL support as part of their WebSphere and VisualStudio developer solutions, respectively.

Simple Object Access Protocol, which defines how disparate applications implemented in different technologies communicate with one another on a network, allows services to be easily integrated with other services developed using other technologies. Web Services Description Language, an XML format that describes network services, provides service developers with a standard format for system requests.

Sun’s SOAP and WSDL module, which is expected to be built into the next release of Forte for Java Enterprise and Community editions, is currently available to members of Sun’s early-access developer community and can be downloaded with the AutoUpdate feature of Forte for Java 3.0. AutoUpdate is a network-aware tool that works much like the automated upgrade functionality available through most leading Web browsers. It notifies users each time a new download is available for Forte for Java, and allows them to automatically import the update.

With Sun’s new SOAP and WSDL module, users of Forte for Java can now bind the XML-based specifications to methods of Sun’s Enterprise JavaBeans component model to create Web services. Drew Engstrom, Sun’s product line manager for Forte for Java, says this capability allows developers to deploy Web services in a functional and realistic way.

“One of the areas where we’ve thought of Web services probably a bit more than some of our competitors, is in how developers are really going to use Web services,” Engstrom says. Java 2 Enterprise Edition, which has been closely linked to the Web services initiatives of many vendors, namely IBM and Sun, was not built with Web services in mind, says Engstrom. Therefore, he says, it is essential to use extensions that support leading standards and protocols in order fully realize the benefits of J2EE in a Web services environment.

Last year, Sun released a similar module for the creation of XML-to-Java bindings. However, Sun didn’t move quickly to build native support for SOAP and WSDL within Forte for Java, as a number of third-party vendors, including Systinet and EBYZ, were already offering such extensions. Engstrom says Sun’s addition of native SOAP and WSDL features does not signal a lack of support for those vendors, but rather is the natural evolution of Sun’s technology.

“We have had available to customers for quite some time some partner solutions for Web services,” says Engstrom. “Now, I think it’s an area of customer choice. It’s not to say that we’re trying to replace what [our partners] are doing, but it’s a part of our engineering plan.”

Sun’s new module is comprised of a series of wizards that allow developers to use SOAP to tie existing EJB method calls into a single XML parameter that can be deployed as a Web service, and automatically described using the module’s WSDL features. The module also supports the Apache SOAP version 2.2 runtime for standards-based messaging between services. And it can be used to generate test clients, such as JavaServer Pages, to validate services prior to launching them into a live environment.

By moving to add native support for SOAP and WSDL under its Forte for Java line, Sun could be readying itself for a battle with IBM, which last month invested $40 million in software to a new open-source developer platform called Eclipse. Eclipse, which is the platform for which IBM will be tailoring its WebSphere tool set going forward, is in direct competition with Sun’s NetBeans offering. Also an open-source platform, NetBeans is the base on which Sun’s Forte for Java line is built.

According to Engstrom, Sun will be evaluating whether to offer support for the 1.2 specification of SOAP -- currently a working draft under review by the World Wide Web Consortium – prior to the next Forte for Java release cycle. The next major release of Forte for Java is expected near the end of the second quarter, 2002.

About the Author

Matt Migliore is regular contributor to He focuses particularly on Microsoft .NET and other Web services technologies. Matt was the editor of several technology-related Web publications and electronic newsletters, including Web Services Report, ASP insights and MIDRANGE Systems.