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Running PHP, Groovy, Ruby on IBM JVM

One of the most vibrant trends in Java in recent years has been the growth of support for non-Java languages on the JVM. PHP, Groovy, Ruby – these and other dynamic scripting languages have obtained a place in the application development life cycle where quickly building tactical Web apps trumps deliberatively building all-purpose strategic apps to stand the test of time.

Lost somewhat amid a slew of WebSphere news this spring was word of a WebSphere version aimed at users of dynamic languages. Don Boulia, director of product management, IBM WebSphere, tells us the no-compile time dynamic languages have a place in what are being called ‘situational’ apps. These situational applications recall an earlier era of Rapid Application Development (RAD). In fact, PHP, Ruby and other languages are beginning to fulfill a role not unlike that of Visual Basic and PowerBuilder, two languages of the RAD era.

IBM’s Boulia indicates that running these dynamic languages on IBM’s JVM and WebSphere application server helps IT departments ensure a simplified runtime environment. While many languages may be flowering, that doesn’t need to mean a plethora of app server types for sys admins to manage.

Sometimes what is beginning to be known as Web apps is more familiarly known as Intranet apps. “There is this class of apps in the enterprise where they are time sensitive – they must be built quickly or can be temporary in nature” said Boulia. For these, sometimes, “if you use an enterprise tool set it will “take too long or require skills” the available people just don’t have.

“In the old days that was built with PowerBuilder. It met the need and you could move on,” he said.

“It comes down to the right tool for the job,” Boulia commented, echoing others. And, sometimes, it is the Java developers themselves opting to use a scripting language.

“There are Java people who have scripting skills or interest in it for certain situations,” he said. “That’s what drove our use of Groovy. It has a strong affinity to Java. The other side is in terms of skilled people who don’t have a Java background. PHP is very popular in that space.”

A small caveat: The idea that this is all about special situations, and not an enterprise element, should not be taken to an extreme. “From a trends perspective, a few not-so-small entities have begun to use [scripting languages] as the foundation for their Web tiers. That’s where it is less situational and more part of a strategic solution,” said Boulia.

Big Blue has company in this quest. Last month, Oracle released its first version of the Sun GlassFish server, which includes support for JRuby/Ruby and Groovy/Grails. Also in June, RedHat’s JBoss division debuted a JBoss Java portal server that supports Ruby and Groovy as well.

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