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Not the Newest Kid on the Block, But ColdFusion Has its Merits

ColdFusion is 13 years old - that makes it the daddy of the Web

Simon Whatley's Blog

What is important about programming languages is to understand the merits of each language and decide which one best suits the application, not only in technical terms, but also in terms of time-to-market, cost of development, availability of a skilled workforce etc.

ColdFusion is 13 years old. That make makes it the daddy of the web world! It does not make it any less hip or useful than the relatively new kids on the block.

Take this scenario. A company I once worked for had what can be described as a business directory built upon a licensed, yet bastardised, version of a popular ColdFusion-based CMS. It didn’t work that well! The decision was made to redevelop the application in Java. It took two years to reach the same level of functionality! What happened next? Ruby-on-Rails is what! The rest is history and beyond the topic of this post.

So, in effect, the application almost went full-circle in its development paradigm — both ColdFusion and Ruby-on-Rails can be considered Rapid Application Development environments, Java, certainly not. Why did the decision makers not stick with ColdFusion and put time aside to actually build it properly in the first place? To put it simply, they lost faith in ColdFusion; it was largely mis-understood.

The weakness of every programming language does not lie with the language itself per se — albeit it can have an important influencing factor — but rather with the ability, or indeed inability, of the developer to leverage the language in the most efficient and optimal way.

ColdFusion, like every other programming language has had and I’m sure still does have its fair share of poor developers; those people simply working with it as a means-to-an-end, rather than those passionate about the language, those people programming without understanding the fundamentals of programming or the implications of their poorly written code. This is apparent from .NET to Java, ColdFusion to Ruby, JavaScript to ActionScript.

Let’s not dilly-dally, bicker or insult one another about which is best, which one is dying and which one is not worth the computer it is compiled on. What is important is to understand the merits of each language and decide which one best suits the application, not only in technical terms, but also in terms of time-to-market, cost of development, availability of a skilled workforce etc.

ColdFusion, whether rightly or wrongly in some people’s opinion, can sit proudly amongst its peers and provide a truly compelling alternative.

Here’s how (in no particular order):

  1. Low Total Cost of Ownership - frequently, ColdFusion is described as expensive, it simply isn’t especially if you consider the natively supported functions. But to put it bluntly, if your company cannot afford the cost of ColdFusion standard, or indeed ColdFusion hosting, you have bigger things to worry about regarding the profitability of the company; you won’t be able to afford much of anything! The problem becomes not the product. ColdFusion applications are quicker to develop and developers are vastly cheaper to employ than their peers in Java or Ruby, just look at ITJobsWatch for examples.
  2. Rapid Application Development - ColdFusion vastly simplifies tasks. What would take other languages numerous lines of code to produce is efficiently encapsulated either in a tag or function or as a setting in the administrator. This is a simplistic yet indicative example: where else can you connected to a database simply with one line of code or indeed simply by name? ColdFusion changed the idea of specifying development time in terms of months and years to weeks and months or small features a matter of hours and days. Simplicity is not the mother or all evil. To be pragmatic, simplification reduces costs.
  3. Rich Internet Applications - ColdFusion may or may not have pioneered the RIA paradigm, but it has played a significant supporting role to Flash and now Flex. ColdFusion natively supports Flash remoting, providing the all important data access tier.
  4. Platform Maturity - ColdFusion 8 is built upon the latest version of Java (1.6). Along with internal improvements to the ColdFusion application, this has afforded ColdFusion unprecedented speed improvements and stability.
  5. Language Maturity - with each major release of ColdFusion comes many language enhancements added to the core. This means that previous addons, for example image manipulation, which came at a premium are now standard. Adobe and other companies that produce CFML engines are now participating in a CFML advisory committee, which aims to set standards for the core language. This is not only a sign of maturity but a letter of intent by the industry that will mean your application will work on any engine, assuming no proprietary functionality is used.
  6. The Ultimate Middleware - ColdFusion sits comfortably between any backend and front end system. Be it interfacing with a host of databases, Java, .NET, COM, Corba or connecting to classic HTML or rich Flash, Flex and AJAX frontends with little or no configuration.
  7. Feature Rich - what other web technology natively supports PDF generation, charting, enterprise-level search, AJAX, image manipulation, Atom and RSS creation, Zip and JAR file manipulation, a server monitor, Flex integration, encryption libraries, all important database connectors, webservice creation, XML manipulation, inbuilt reporting application (similar to Crystal Reports), email, FTP to name but a few? I hazard a guess at none, unless you’re happy to pay a premium.
  8. Platform Independent - since ColdFusion 6, when Macromedia redeveloped the entire application in Java, ColdFusion has been platform independent. You can install it on practically any machine.
  9. OpenSource Alternatives - BlueDragon and Railo are both significant alternatives to Adobe ColdFusion and both have opensource alternatives, the latter of the two having recently joined the JBoss community. Adobe are also considering providing a free edition to academic institutions.
  10. The Future - many commentators have mentioned Hibernate as a significant addition to the next release of ColdFusion, version 9. But having seen the prerelease notes, that is not all that will be added. Alas I’m under NDA, but rest assured, there is going to be a significant intake of breath when developers get hold of the next release. ColdFusion 8 was firmly geared towards middle management with fuzzy additions, ColdFusion 9 is set to re-address the balance with compelling language and functionality enhancements.

ColdFusion evangelism needs to step up a gear! Adobe certainly doesn’t afford much marketing budget to the product, prefering The Community do the hard work. It is not always easy convincing the decision makers that ColdFusion is a good product of choice, without Adobe’s unnerving support, but we have to work hard, break down those barriers, encroach on events outside the comfortable sphere of the ColdFusion world and demonstrate ColdFusion’s match-winning ability.

ColdFusion isn’t dying, it’s simply niche. Every niche has its place.

More Stories By Simon Whatley

Simon Whatley is a professional web application developer, architect and trainer based in London, United Kingdom. He has worked in web development for a number years and has extensive knowledge of Adobe technologies, particularly ColdFusion, Flex and Spry. Whatley also dabbles with other technologies such as Java and Ruby and his online musings can be found at http://www.simonwhatley.co.uk.

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