Scout is an open source framework for building business applications. The Scout framework covers most recurring aspects of a classical client server architecture with a strong focus on the application’s front-end. With its multi-device capability, a Scout client applications may run simultaneously as a rich client, in the browser and on mobile and tablet devices.
To different groups of people, Scout means different things. End users are interested in a good usability, the management cares about the benefits a new framework can offers to the organisation and developers want to know if a framework is simple to use and helps them to solve practical issues. This is why the text below describes Scout from the perspective of these three roles.
End users of enterprise applications care about friendly user interfaces (UI) and well designed functionality that support them in their everyday work. Depending on the current context/location of an end user, either desktop, web or mobile clients work best. If working in the office, a good integration of the enterprise software with Lotus Notes or Microsoft Office often help to boost the users productivity. As office software is typically installed locally on the users PC, integrating this software also requires a desktop client for the enterprise application. When a user is working on a computer outside of his company where the enterprise client is not installed (or the user lacks the permissions to install any software), the natural choice is to work with a web application. And when the user is on the move or sitting in a meeting, the only meaningful option is to work with a mobile device.
To provide a concrete example, we briefly describe a real world enterprise application based on Scout. A first screenshot of a Scout desktop client is provided in Figure 1.1. The screenshot provides an overview of the layout of a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. On the left hand side, an entity class such as companies can be selected. Once an entity such is selected, a form is presented on the right hand side to enter the search criteria. After entering ”eclipse” into the company search field, the list of matching companies is presented. Using the context menu on a specific company, the corresponding company dialog can be opened for editing.
In Figure 1.2 a screenshot of the web client of the CRM Scout application is shown. When comparing the screenshots of the desktop client with the web application it is interesting to note how Scout applications offer a consistent look and feel for the two clients. This is important as it makes the end user feel ”at home” on the web client.
Finally, Figure 1.3 provides a screenshot of the now familiar CRM application. In contrast to desktop and web applications, most tablets and mobile phones are controlled using touch features instead of mouse clicks. In addition, less elements may be presented on a single screen compared to desktop devices. These two aspects makes it impractical to directly reuse the desktop user interface on mobile devices. The look and feel still relates to the desktop and web clients but is optimized to the different form factor of the mobile device. And the end user benefits from the identical behaviour and the the known functionality of the application.
Comparing the company table shown in the background of Figure 1.1 with Figure 1.3 it can be observed that the multi-column table of the desktop client has been transformed into a list on the mobile device. In addition, the context menu ”New company” is now provided as a touch button. As the navigation in the application and the offered choices remain the same for Scout desktop and mobile applications, the end user feels immediately comfortable working with Scout mobile applications.
For the management, Scout is best explained in terms of benefits it brings to the organisation in question. This is why we are going to concentrate on a (typical) application migration scenario here. Let us assume that to support the company’s business, a fairly large landscape of multi-tier applications has to be maintained and developed. Including host systems, client server applications with desktop clients, as well as applications with a web based front-end.
Usually, these applications interact with each other through a service bus as shown in Figure 1.4. Often, some of the applications that are vital to the organisation’s core business have grown historically and are based on legacy technologies. And for technologies that are no longer under active development it can get difficult to find staff having the necessary expertise or motivation. Sometimes, the organisation is no longer willing to accept the costs and technology risks of such mission critical applications.
In this situation, the company needs to evaluate if it should buy a new standard product or if the old application has to be migrated to a new technology stack. Now let us assume, that available products do not fit the company’s requirements well enough and we have to settle for the migration scenario. In the target architecture, a clean layering similar to the one shown in Figure 1.5 is often desirable.
While a number of modern and established technologies exist that address the backend side (data bases, data access and business services), the situation is different for the UI layer and the application layer. The number of frameworks to develop web applications with Java is excessively large1 , but the choice between desktop application technologies in the Java domain is restricted to three options only. Swing, SWT and JavaFX. Both Eclipse SWT and Java Swing are mature and well established but Swing is moving into ’maintenance only’ mode and will be replaced by JavaFX. However, the maturity of the new JavaFX technology in large complex enterprise applications is not yet established. Obviously, deciding for the right UI technology is a challenge and needs to be made very carefully. Reverting this decision late in a project or after going into production can get very expensive and time consuming.
Once the organisation has decided for a specific UI technology, additional components and frameworks need to be evaluated to cover client server communication, requirements for the application layer, and integration into the existing application landscape. To avoid drowning in the integration effort for all the elements necessary to cover the UI and the application layer a ’lightweight’ framework is frequently developed. When available, this framework initially leads to desirable gains in productivity. Unfortunately, such frameworks often become legacy by themselves. Setting up a dedicated team to actively maintain the framework and adapt to new technologies can reduce this risk. But then again, such a strategy is expensive and developing business application frameworks is usually not the core business of a company.
Can we do better? To implement a business application that covers the UI and the application layer as shown in Figure 1.5, Eclipse Scout substantially reduces both risk and costs compared to the inhouse development presented above. First or all, Scout is completely based on Java and Eclipse. Chances are, that developers are already familiar with some of these technologies. This helps in getting developers up to speed and keeping training costs low.
On the UI side, Scout’s multi-device support almost allows to skip the decision for a specific UI technology. Should a particular web framework become the de-facto standard in the next years, it will be the responsibility of the Scout framework to provide the necessary support. Existing Scout applications can then switch to this new technology with only minimal effort. This is possible because the Scout developers are designing and building the UI of an application using Scout’s client model. And this client model is not linked to any specific UI technology. Rather, specific UI renderers provided by the Scout framework are responsible to draw the UI at runtime.
As Scout is an open source project, no licence fees are collected. Taking advantage of the growing popularity of Scout, free community support is available via a dedicated forum. At the same time, professional support is available if the organisation decides for it.
As the migration of aging applications to current technology is always a challenge, it surely helps to have Scout in the technology portfolio. Not only is it a low risk choice, but also boosts developer productivity and helps to motivate the development team. Additional reasons on why Scout helps to drive down cost and risks are discussed in Section 1.2.
From the perspective of application developers, Scout offers a Java based framework that covers the complete client server architecture. This implies that – once familiar with the Scout framework – the developer can concentrate on a single framework language (Java) and a single set of development tools.
As Scout is completely based on Java and Eclipse, Scout developers can take full advantage of existing knowledge and experience in these domains. And to make learning Scout as simple as possible, Scout includes a comprehensive software development kit (SDK), the Scout SDK. The Scout SDK helps to create a robust initial project setup for client server applications and includes a large set of wizards for repetitive and error prone tasks.
Client-server communication is an additional aspect where the developers is supported by Scout. Calling remote services in the client application that are provided by the Scout server looks identical to the invocation of local services. The complete communication including the transfer of parameter objects is handled fully transparent by the Scout framework. In addition, the Scout SDK can completely manage the necessary transfer objects to fetch data from the Scout server that is to be shown in dialog forms on the Scout client. The binding of the transferred data to the form fields is done by the framework.
Although the Scout SDK wizards can generate a significant amount of code, there is no one-way code generation and no meta data in a Scout application. Just the Java code2 . Developers preferring to write the necessary code manually, may do so. The Scout SDK parses the application’s Java code in the background to present the updated Scout application model to the developers preferring to work with the Scout SDK.
Finally, Scout is an open source framework hosted at the Eclipse foundation. This provides a number of interesting options to developers that are not available for closed source frameworks. First of all, it is simple to get all the source code of Scout and the underlying Eclipse platform. This allows for complete debugging of all problems and errors found in Scout applications. Starting from the application code, including the Scout framework, Eclipse and down to the Java platform.
Scout developer can also profit from an increasing amount of free and publicly available documentation, such as this book or the Scout Wiki pages. And problems with Scout or questions that are not clearly addressed by existing documentation can be discussed in the Scout forum. The forum is also a great place for Scout developers to help out in tricky situation and learn from others. Ideally, answered questions lead to improved or additional documentation in the Scout Wiki.
At times, framework bugs can be identified from questions asked in the forum. As all other enhancement requests and issues, such bugs can be reported in Bugzilla by the Scout developer. Using Bugzilla, Scout developers can also contribute bug analysis and patch proposals to solve the reported issue. With this process, Scout developers can actively contribute to the code base of Eclipse Scout. This has the advantage, that workarounds in existing Scout applications can be removed when an upgrade of the Scout framework is made.
Having provided a significant number of high quality patches and a meaningful involvement in the Scout community, the Scout project can nominate a Scout developer as a new Scout committer. Fundamentally, such a nomination is based on the trust of Scout committers in the candidate. To quote the official guidelines3 for nominating and electing a new committer:
A Committer gains voting rights allowing them to affect the future of the Project. Becoming a Committer is a privilege that is earned by contributing and showing discipline and good judgment. It is a responsibility that should be neither given nor taken lightly, nor is it a right based on employment by an Eclipse Member company or any company employing existing committers.
After a successful election process (existing committers voting for and not against the candidate) the Scout developer effectively becomes a Scout committer. With this new status, the Scout developer then gets write access to the Eclipse Scout repositories and gains voting rights and the possibility to shape the future of Scout.
Most large organizations develop and maintain enterprise applications that have a direct impact on the success of the ongoing business. And at the same time, those responsible for the development and maintenance of these applications struggle with this task. It is a big challenge to adapt to changing business demands and complying with the latest legal requirements in time. And the increasing pressure to lower recurring maintenance costs does not make the situation any easier.
It often seems that too many resources are required to keep a heterogeneous set of legacy technologies alive. In this situation, modernizing mission critical applications can help to improve over the current situation. For the target platform stack, Java is a natural choice as it is mature, widely adopted by in the industries and unlikely to become legacy in the foreseeable future. While for the back-end side of enterprise applications well-known and proven frameworks do exist, the situation on the client side is less clear. Unfortunately, user interface (UI) technologies often have lifetimes that are substantially shorter than the lifetimes of larger mission critical applications. This is particularly true for the web, where many of today’s frameworks will no longer be relevant in five or more years.
Enter Eclipse Scout. This open source framework covers most of the recurring needs that are relevant to the front-end development of business applications. And Scout forces a clean separation between the user interface and the specific UI technology used for rendering. This has two major benefits. First, Scout developers implement the user interface against an abstraction layer, which helps to focus on the business functionality and saves development time. And second, long term maintenance costs are lower, as the Scout code remains valid even when the rendering technology needs to be exchanged. Therefore, Scout helps to improve the productivity of the development teams and reduces the risk of major application rewrites.
To provide a first impression on the scope and goals of the Scout framework, a number of scenarios where Scout typically contributes to your projects success are listed below .
That Scout should help in the last two situations mentioned above seems to be contradictory at first but is just based on a simple principle. Where possible, the Scout framework provides abstractions for areas/topics4 that need to be implemented for business applications again and again. And for each of these abstractions Scout provides a default implementation out of the box. Typically, the default implementation of such an abstraction integrates a framework or technology that is commonly used.
When needing a working prototype application by the end of the week, the developer just needs to care about the desired functionality. The necessary default implementations are then automatically included by the Scout tooling into the Scout project setup. The provided Scout SDK tooling also helps to get started quickly with Scout. It also allows to efficiently implement application components such as user interface components, server services or connections to databases.
In the case of applications with long lifespans, the abstractions provided by Scout help the developer to stay productive and concentrate on the actual business functionality. At the same time, this keeps the code base as independent of specific technologies and frameworks as possible. This is a big advantage when individual technologies incorporated in the application reach their end of life. As all the implemented business functionality is written against abstractions only, no big rewrite of the application is necessary. Instead, it is sufficient to exchange the implementation for the legacy technology with a new one. And often, an implementation for a new technology/framework is already provided by a more recent version of Scout.
The text below provides guidelines on what to read (or what to skip) depending on your existing background. We first address the needs of junior Java developers that like to learn more about developing enterprise applications. Then, we suggest a list of sections relevant for software wizards that already have a solid understanding of the Eclipse platform, Java enterprise technologies, and real world applications. Finally, the information needs of IT managers are considered.
The good news first. This book is written for you! For the purpose of this book we do not assume any significant understanding of the Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE)5 and the Eclipse Platform6 .
Of course, having prior experience in client server programming with Java is helpful. And having used the Eclipse IDE for Java development before — please do not mistake the IDE with the Eclipse platform7 is certainly of benefit.
The “bad” news is, that writing Scout applications requires a solid understanding of Java. To properly benefit from this book, we assume that you have been developing software for a year or more. And you should have mastered the Java Standard Edition (Java SE)8 to a significant extent. To be more explicit, you are expected to be comfortable with all material required for the Java Programmer Level I Exam9 and most of the material required for Level II10 .
We now propose to start downloading and installing Scout as described in Appendix B and do some actual coding. To do so, please continue with the “Hello World” example provided in Chapter 2. You can expect to complete this example in less than one hour including the necessary download and installation steps. Afterwards, you might want to continue with the remaining material in “Getting Started”. Working through the complete book should take no more than two days.
Once you work with the Scout framework on a regular basis, you might want to ask questions in the Scout forum11 . When your question gets answered, please ask yourself if your initial problem could have been solved by better documentation. In that case, you might want to help the Scout community by fixing or amending the Scout wiki pages12 . Or this book. If you find a bug in Eclipse Scout that makes your life miserable you can report it or even propose a patch. And when your bug is fixed, you can test the fix. All of these actions will add to the healthy grow of the Scout community.
This means that you are one of these software wizards that get easily bored. You prefer to get a quick impression before deciding to dig deeper and hate going through lengthy descriptions. In that case let us assume that you are prepared to spend two hours to grasp the scope of Eclipse Scout and get an impression of its strengths and limitations. The list below suggests a sequence of sections to digest including a brief motivation for each one.
Being a manager and actually reading this book may indicate one of the following situations:
To learn about Scout and about its benefits first go through Section 1.1 and Section 1.2. Then, flip through Section ?? to get an impression of the ”My Contacts” application. In case you like the idea that your developers should be able to build such an application in a single day, you might want to talk to us14 .