Spring, Roo, and Alfresco Too: What Alfresco Gave to Spring and Why

Surf Logo

You’ll recall from my community event takeaways post in November that Alfresco announced plans around Surf, the Apache license, and Spring but the details were foggy at the time. This week, Alfresco and SpringSource announced that Surf, Web Scripts, and Web Studio have been donated to the Spring open source community under the Apache 2.0 license.

What is Surf?

Surf is a lightweight web application development framework. At a very high-level, Surf is essentially Alfresco Web Scripts (an MVC framework for binding URLs to server-side JavaScript/Java and Freemarker-based views) plus some page layout constructs and some built-in objects for connecting to and authenticating with remote HTTP end points, including Alfresco (See also “Alfresco UI Options” and “Surf Code Camp“).

Why Spring Surf Makes Sense

Alfresco’s team collaboration application, Alfresco Share, is built on top of the Surf framework and clients and partners, including Optaros, have built solutions on top of Surf. But so far, our experience has been that we probably could have built solutions faster using a different framework. One of the reasons is because you often can’t do everything you need to with Surf alone–it lacks services that would normally be provided by a broader framework. Your choice is either to re-create what’s missing or bolt on something that exists. So that’s the first reason why Surf becoming part of Spring makes sense. Spring is already a mature and widely-adopted framework. It’s much better to make Surf and Web Scripts part of an established framework (and community) than to try to grow Surf into a full-featured framework.

The second reason is more strategic. Alfresco sees a future dominated by CMIS (See “Getting Started with CMIS“). They want to be the go-to CMIS platform. From a repository perspective, they’ve been very active on this front. But development tools are going to be important, and although part of the beauty of CMIS is that it is tool-agnostic, I think SpringSource and Alfresco would obviously be pleased if their framework became a very natural and productive way to build CMIS apps.

Third, Alfresco doesn’t necessarily want to spend a lot of time on tools and frameworks if it doesn’t have to. Look at how much time Web Studio has languished in Community limbo–it’s clearly not a priority. If Surf catches on in the broader Spring community maybe Web Studio has a chance to turn into something. My guess is that SpringSource would prefer all development to take place within STS, its Eclipse-based IDE. Maybe Web Studio will get sucked into that somehow.

So what is Roo?

One of the things mentioned as part of the Spring Surf announcement is that Spring Roo integration is included. Spring Roo is pretty new so you might be wondering what that is. It’s pretty cool, actually. Basically, it’s a productivity tool for people who are building Spring apps. If you’ve ever worked with frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Grails, or Django, one of the first things you learn is how to use the command-line project scaffolding tools. Those tools make it easy for you to spin up and configure your project. Spring Roo is similar–it gives you a shell and a bunch of commands for things like setting up persistence, adding unit tests, and configuring security.

Spring Roo is extensible which is where Surf comes in. Let’s say you’ve created a Spring project and you want to use Surf as part of that project. All you have to do is go into your Roo shell and type “surf addon install”. No monkeying with the web.xml. No hunting for JAR files. It just happens. Next, suppose you want to add some Surf pages. Type “surf page create –id ‘SomeOtherPage’ –templateInstance home” and the XML is created for you in the right place (yes, the shell provides keyboard assist and hints so you don’t have to remember those commands).

Roo is definitely better appreciated by seeing it or trying it yourself. Michael Uzquiano did a short screencast showing the Spring Roo Surf extension. If you want to try Roo out yourself, go through Ben Alex’s “Getting Started with Spring Roo” posts.

Learn More

The bottom-line is that Surf becoming part of the Spring community is a good thing. You should check it out. The official Spring Surf page is the place to start. That’s where you’ll find the SVN URL, binary downloads, and links to other resources. There’s also going to be a webinar in January if you want to learn more.

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