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Web Apps Get New Open-Source App Server

A small Sri Lankan firm of open-source developers says it's time to bring a fresh set of concepts and standards to the notion of an application server.
A new open source application server is available for download from WSO2 Inc., a little known but highly regarded Sri Lankan firm of open source developers. It's Tungsten 1.0 application server is designed to handle Ajax and other scripting based applications more efficiently.

The WSO2 stands for Web Services Oxygenation, perhaps an alchemist's way of saying it's time to activate a new generation of Web applications. Nevertheless, WSO2 is bringing a fresh set of concepts and standards to the notion of an application server, software that gives a Web site its ability to scale across many users.

Application servers available today, such as IBM WebSphere, BEA Systems WebLogic, and Red Hat's JBoss, are written in Java and geared to run Java applications. WSO2's Tungsten 1.0 comes in both Java and C versions, with the latter offering some advantages when it comes to dealing with Web technologies.

Many applications today are being written in the popular PHP scripting language, which itself is based on C, points out Sanjiva Weerawarana, a former IBM Web services developer who is CEO of WSO2. Tungsten is meant to process incoming XML messages and connect them to back-end SAP or other applications. "We take the XML payload and context and pass it to the application directly" without intermediate parsers or processing, says Weerawarana. Tungsten is designed to be a lighter weight application server, geared to emerging Web standards. It supports Web Services Description Language, WS-ReliableMessaging, WS-Security, WS-Addressing, MTOM, XOP, SOAP, and other standards, Tungsten works as an efficient distributor of XML and Javascript to browsers, as used in Ajax applications, Weerawarana says.

The design idea behind Tungsten is that a lighter generation of Web applications is being built today outside of Java, and they need an application server geared to them. In the future, Tungsten will add support for WSDL 2.0, WS-Trust, WS-SecureConversation, WS-Coordination, in short most of the WS-standards emerging from Internet standard setting bodies. That will allow PHP and Javascript applications to find outside Web services, interact with outside Web services, or deliver interactivity to end users themselves.

Many enterprise business applications need the stronger variable definition and transaction processing of Java, concedes Weerawarana. "But the current Web world is the opposite of the enterprise Java world. It is very external facing, inter-operative through a few shared standards."

So businesses that want to engage visitors the first time they come to their Web site can offer that Ajax interactivity that Web analysts describe as sticky. Let the users learn what they want through quick and simple interactions with the Web server, keeping them on the same page but constantly showing them new information.

"We're taking Web services into the middle of the application server platform," he said.

WSO2 is located in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with 28 developers who contribute frequently to AXIS and other Apache projects. The open source Apache Software Foundation's user group meeting, ApacheCon-Asia, will be held in Sri Lanka and managed by Lanka Software Foundation, an open source organization founded by Weerawarana. He is one of the original authors of WSDL and Business Process Execution Language.