Oracle have announced another Open Source project called Helidon (Helidon.io) as a microservices platform built on top of Netty (which is built around a contemporary async model). If you look at the literature you’ll note two flavours one called SE which aligns to the programming characteristics or Node.js – asynchronous. The other is MP which aligns to the rapidly evolving J2EE MicroProfile which essentially follows a coding style along the lines of J2EE annotations.
Whilst it is perfectly possible to run Helidon based solutions in either profile natively, it is clearly geared up for running in any Docker+Kubernetes style environments such as Oracle Kubernetes Cloud (OKE) or even ACCS. Helidon website provides the means to quickly package your solution into Docker.
In both SE and MP forms the dependencies are hugely stripped back compared to the giants of WebLogic, GlassFish (now EE4J with the handover of J2EE to the Eclipse Foundation.
It does raise a number of questions what are the futures of WebLogic and Oracle support of EE4J (some answers here, but no Oracle specific)? WebLogic has never been the fastest to align to the latest J2EE standards (EE8 standard released last year should be become available sometime this year for WLS – see here), but today it is so central to many Oracle products it isn’t going to disappear, will it just end up slowly ebbing away? Which would be a shame, I have heard it said by Oracle insiders that if the removing the end of one component could be sorted then WebLogic could be easily be configured to have a small lightweight footprint.
The other interesting thing is what is happening to Open Source and what it might mean for the future. Up until perhaps 3 or 4 years ago the use of open source you would think of software made available on of a small group of key sponsored organisations such as Apache, Linux Foundation, Eclipse which through its governance framework, provided levels of equality and process. As a result, levels of quality, trust crucially married to strong level of use and contribution that meant that to extrapolate Linus’ Law – bugs could be weeded out quickly and easily. However with the advent of services like GitHub, whilst it has become easier to contribute and fulfil Linus’ Law. It also means that it is very easy to offer a solution that is Open Source. But, doesn’t necessarily garner the benefits of Linus’ Law and the other preconceptions we often have about Open Source such as it is/can be as good as a commercial solution. After all, throwing code into GitHub does not guarantee many eyes/contributors. Nor does it assure the governance, checks and balances that an Apache project, for example, will assure.
It is important to say that I am not against github, in fact, I am very much pro, and use GitHub myself to host utilities I make freely available (here). The important point is we have to be more aware of what open source actually means, in each context and can’t assume it is likely to have a strong community driving things forward, and critically dealing with bugs, and ensuring quality assurance processes are realized.
Helidon joins a number of other offerings in this space such as Micronaut (also built on Netty). Micronaut takes a different approach to Helidon by adopting a strong inversion of control/injection approach. In and in some respects feels a bit like the earlier versions of JBoss Application Server (now known as WildFly) which had a small footprint and made good use of Spring. This is in addition to Spark and Javalin. There is a good illustration of the different servers from Dmitry Kornilov shown below and the associated article can be seen here (who also happens to the Lead Engineer for Helidon).
Unlike Spark, Micronaut and a couple of others, Helidon only supports Java today rather than JDK based languages such as Kotlin and Groovy for example but is the only solution that can cover both the Micro Profile and Framework domains. It also has a challenge in terms of getting established, Spark has been around since 2015. Javalin appeared in May 2017. The J2EE Micro Profile standard is also driving a lot forward progress, so getting established will continue to get harder. Liberty, another Micro Profile solution is based on IBM WebSphere and Thorntail has links to WildFly (more here). We hope that it will make good headway with a Reactive engine in the form of Netty and avoiding IoC or introspection from the core should mean it will be very quick (particularly during startup) but it needs to show its value differentiation and importantly build a strong community contributing to it.
We hopefully will get the chance to further experiment with Helidon and write more about it here.
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