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Face-off: JSP vs. ASP

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The popularity of Microsoft’s Active Server Pages (ASP), a widely used server-side scripting technology, has recently been threatened by Sun Microsystems’ new JavaServer Pages (JSP) scripting technology. Sun formally announced the JSP specification just this past June. Sun’s JSP, however, isn’t the only scripting technology competing against Microsoft’s ASP; there is also IBM’s Net.Data and Netscape’s Server-Side JavaScript. But just what is server-side scripting anyway? Which of the four versions of server-side scripting is the best option?

What Is Server-side Scripting?

Scripting languages initially became successful on the client side of Internet applications.

Functions were embedded into HTML pages using Netscape’s JavaScript, Microsoft’s JScript, or Microsoft’s VBScript. Web browsers would parse and execute the code of these functions to perform basic chores like editing user-entered fields or jazzing up the look of a Web page.

Server-side scripting languages, on the other hand, are parsed by the Web server rather than the Web browser. The host-executed script dynamically generates HTML that is sent to the browser.

The Web browser never sees the server-side script code, only the dynamically generated HTML. Prior to server-side scripting, Common Gateway Interface (CGI) programs dynamically generated HTML to include variable information from business databases. The problem with CGI, however, was that HTML was embedded in the high- level language (HLL) program. Server-side scripting languages separate presentation from programming—that is, the tasks of Web designers from the tasks of business programmers.

Take Your Pick

There are now four prevalent server-side scripting technologies. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Netscape’s Server-Side JavaScript (which was called LiveWire until Netscape renamed it to benefit from Java’s popularity) is a nice solution because JavaScript is already

a popular language; even Microsoft supports JavaScript as JScript in its browser. But Server-Side JavaScript requires Netscape Enterprise Server.

IBM’s Net.Data is truly a cross-platform (if vendor-specific) product because it is available on all IBM-supported platforms, including NT, Solaris, and Linux. Net.Data is a great product, but it is even slower than CGI. It’s been said that converting Net.Data to CGI improves performance by several factors.

Microsoft’s ASP, which uses VBScript (a subset of Visual Basic) as its scripting language, can call Component Object Model (COM) objects written in any
language—provided they run on a platform that supports Microsoft’s COM. ASP technology would be considered platform- and vendor-specific if it weren’t for a couple of products that support ASP on a variety of other platforms. Halcyon’s Interactive ASP (iASP), for instance, supports ASP on the AS/400, but the curious thing about iASP is that the technology that allows your Microsoft ASP to run on your AS/400 is JSP; your ASP are converted and then executed as JSP.

Sun’s JSP technology is both cross-platform and multi-vendor, but it forces developers to use an all-Java programming model because it can make native calls only to Java classes or JavaBeans. The specification for JSP comes from Sun, but support for JSP is already available from a wide base of vendors, most notably IBM.

So which server-side scripting technology should you use? If your company’s Internet infrastructure is Microsoft-centric, then ASP has many benefits; otherwise, JSP, with its cross-platform, multi-vendor support, may be the more viable technology. Pankaj Chowdhry, of PC Week Labs, pointed this out in a recent online article (August 2, 1999, www.zdnet.com/pcweek/images/stories/news/ 0,4153,410709,00.html): “JSP won’t tempt many Windows users from their ASP/COM architecture, but its elegant simplicity will make it a hit with Web developers who want to wash their hands of HTML presentation.”

Sun’s Web site features a chart that compares ASP with JSP (java.sun.com/products/jsp/jsp-asp.html). The first item of that chart points out that less than 23 percent of Web servers are running Microsoft’s Internet Information Server (IIS), which is required to use ASP, whereas more than 85 percent of Web servers support JSP. Even Microsoft’s IIS supports JSP through third-party add-ons like LiveSoftware’s JRun.

Future-proof

With the ever-changing technologies available for Internet applications, it is getting more and more difficult to pick a strategy. For server-side scripting strategy, should you use the proven but Microsoft-specific ASP technology or should you go with the new JSP technology? Glenn van der Burg, Managing Director for New Media Group (NMG), chose JSP, and he told Sun why in a recent interview: “Because of JSP technology and the use of beans, we can create a dynamic website for our customers in no time.” (See java.sun.com/products/jsp/success.html.) Developers at NMG chose JSP because of its platform independence. They believe Java will be the “new standard in Internet application engineering” and that JSP technology is also “future-proof.”

Future-proof? What a concept. Isn’t that what we all want our applications and our careers to be?

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