Three-tier (non-web) database application in Java – what APIs / technologies are appropriate?

| | August 7, 2015

I’m currently in the research phase for a (very) small database application.

It’s for a local charity which only has 3 or 4 client machines which will be running the system – however in order to move some extraneous logic away from the clients, I’m leaning toward using a three-tier architecture (there is data that is constantly read-through and updated when appropriate, that the client does not need to know about)

i.e. Client <-> Server logic <-> Database

Whilst I’m competent with Java itself and a few frameworks/libraries, I’m not particularly familiar with what frameworks could help me here. Obviously I’ll be using JDBC for the database half, but the communication between client and server is the stumbling block at the moment – I don’t really want to go anywhere near raw sockets, for example (overkill, or at least, another solution must exist)

I’ve asked a few developers I know about their opinions on what APIs to use, and whilst they’ve been very helpful, I’m still not too sure where to go. So far I’ve heard about RESTful stuff, SOAP, COBRA and a whole bunch of other technologies. SOAP is the main one that caught my attention (as there are some good examples of using it with normal applications rather than just with the web) but I’m still not sure where to go – it doesn’t seem particularly appropriate for a general purpose app like this one (EJB also popped up but I heard a lot of hatred aimed at it – is this deserved?)

It feels as if in order to find out the ‘best tool for the job’ I actually need to learn each one in its entirety to ‘get’ them (which is obviously impractical)

Can anyone give me guidance as to how to choose APIs like these (when I haven’t used them before) or give me information about a few common ones, or is it really just a case of experimenting with lots of them to see which fits best?

Or maybe I’ve totally missed the mark and there’s a framework which is aimed at this exact situation with no obvious cons?

Thanks very much for any help.


Completely forgot to mention what it actually does: It isn’t terribly complex – the charity runs a transport scheme, so it holds details of drivers, clients, driver mileage records etc. for viewing and editing The only real complexity comes with the drives, since drivers can be assigned to repeating (ongoing) drives that could foreseeably continue ‘forever’. But each instance of an ongoing drive must be unique because they can be cancelled or edited individually

The main reason I’m angling for 3-tier is because being a charity (with many older volunteer computer users who aren’t terribly ‘savvy’) I may well be updating the UI quite frequently to iron out bugs and bits that aren’t very clear to novice users. So my plan is to get the backend between the server and DB absolutely ‘bulletproof’ first of all, and then pour all my focus onto the UI so I can continue to develop and iterate it without worrying about the backend (also since I will be developing pieces of it remotely, focusing updates on client side is slightly simpler)

All these attributes probably shout out ‘do a web based system’ – the snag here is that they’re after all kinds of tricky integration with some applications they already run, which I’m not confident I can get done (properly) with a web app.

2 Responses to “Three-tier (non-web) database application in Java – what APIs / technologies are appropriate?”

  1. For the server itself, you’ll need some sort of JavaEE server.

    Common implementations here are GlassFish (the reference implementation) and Apache Tomcat… assuming you don’t need anything more advanced than a Servlet container. Chances are you won’t if you’re just using web services.

    For the client, I assume you’re going to have a GUI application, presumably that uses Swing or SWF. You could also opt to make a web application, since you’re already going to have a web server involved.

    For client to server communications, you could use a JAX-WS (SOAP web services) or JAX-RS (RESTful services) implementation.

    JAX-WS implementations include Sun’s Metro (which ships as part of Java 6 SE) or Apache CXF.

    JAX-RS implementations include Jersey and Apache CXF.

    As for the database layer, JDBC isn’t your only choice. Java also has the Java Persistence API (JPA, currently at version 2.0).

    JPA is usually used in J2EE apps (web apps specifically) to simplify the Database layer. Common implementations are EclipseLink JPA (obsoletes Oracle TopLink) and Hibernate‘s Annotations.

    All of these are based on various standards that make up JavaEE: Servlet 2.5, JAX-WS 2.0, JAX-RS 1.1, and JPA 2.0.

  2. Michael Borgwardt on November 30, -0001 @ 12:00 AM

    EJB also popped up but I heard a lot
    of hatred aimed at it – is this

    It was fully deserved with versions 1 and 2 of the EJB spec. But EJB v3 represents a huge simplification that makes them outright pleasant to use. I can actually in good conscience recommend using entity beans instead of manual JDBC.

    As for communications protocol, exposing EJBs as REST or SOAP services is absurdly simple in the newest EJB 3.1 spec – all it takes is adding a few annotations and you’re set!

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