The evolution of portal based application development tools and technologies

How has portal technology changed in the past five or six years? You might think the big change is with the API, and the support portlet applications have for new scripting languages and AJAX support. But Liferay's Richard Sezov has a different perspective. Richard's opinion? He thinks it's all about the evolution of the tooling.

It’s amazing to see how drastically the Portlet API has evolved over the years. JSR-168 often felt like a step backwards from the older, non-standard JetSpeed API that provided features like messaging and simplified inter-portlet communication, to the newer JSR-286 specification that not only brings back the old inter-portlet communication features of old, but also simplifies common and often complex tasks such as AJAX interactions non-trivial state management tasks. However, when asked about how portlet development has changed over the past five or six years, Richard Sezov, Liferay’s Knowledge Manager and author of Liferay in Action, says that the most compelling changes involve the tooling, not the APIs.

The evolution of portal tooling

“The tools are a lot better,” says Richard. “Back in the day we had to do a lot of manual development. Nowadays there are great tools out there including Liferay IDE, with service builder to generate your web services for you automatically, and with AlloyUI tags to help you design your front end, it’s much more streamlined and much more smooth now.”

Of course, in the world of portal development, the big challenge development teams grapple with isn’t so much which tool to use as much as it is which technologies to employ when drafting a solution. In years past, portlet development happened primarily on the server side, with JavaScript integration or even the use of standard frameworks like Struts and JSF being more problematic than they were helpful. So, if developing a new portal application from scratch, which technologies would the author of Liferay in Action recommend?

Technologies for modern portlet development

“I think that depends upon the skillset of the developer.”  If the developer wants full control of the UI on the client side, and their scripting skills are polished, Richard recommends using AlloyUI. For those who aren’t as comfortable fumbling around with browser based technologies, Richards says there are plenty of alternatives. “We have technologies like Liferay Faces, which allows you to do everything declaratively without having to know a lot of front-end JavaScript,” says Richard. “The tools are really robust, and you can take advantage of a great variety of portal technologies.”

All in all, it’s a massive change from the environment portal developers found themselves in four or five years ago. Not only have the tools progresses dramatically in both utility and usefulness, but the APIs have improved and the portal backbone now makes integrating new technologies like JavaScript, JSF and even Spring based web frameworks all viable options. And with the ease of development greatly improved, more and more organizations will be looking at adopting portal based technologies in the future.


Follow Cameron McKenzie on Twitter (@potemcam)

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