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Nowadays, you can almost assume that any multitier Web application uses some sort of application server. Of course, where there is a need, product vendors will look for ways to make money. Usually several companies will emerge to compete -- and the application server market is no different. This market is unique, however, in that there are several good free products available.
The list of application servers available today is very long. A few of the most popular Java-centered commercial application servers are:
Among the most popular free application servers are:
Many of these application servers are either fully or mostly Java 2 Enterprise Edition compliant. Of course, each server requires
a different configuration procedure. For example, BEA WebLogic uses a central configuration file that, for better or worse,
locates all configuration parameters in one easy-to-find place. On the other hand, configuring something like Orion Server
can be a painful experience because it requires you to understand and deal with multiple configuration files. Some vendors
have begun to follow the standards laid out by Sun Microsystems, such as storing configuration information in
web.xml files found in the
WEB-INF subdirectory of a Web application.
Many of these application servers, including BEA WebLogic and Orion Application Server, have been fully or mostly developed in 100 percent pure Java. This makes understanding the architecture of the product rather simple -- after all, the whole thing just boils down to Java classfiles, either loosely coupled in directories or tightly coupled in jar files.
Given that the application market has grown so crowded, the natural question is, which ones will survive? Several vendors claim to have the fastest product (see Resources for links to benchmarks for BEA WebLogic, Caucho Resin, and Oracle9i).
I believe the top three or four commercial servers will continue to fight for first place. However, that does not mean that the others will stand still.
The application server market has recently become more interesting with mergers and acquisitions. Take the JRun Server, for example. It started out as a JavaServer Pages/servlet engine and then developed into a full-blown application server under the wings of Allaire; it now continues to grow within Macromedia. There are other examples of this sort of growth, such as the licensing deal of the Orion Server in Oracle9i.
People spend a good deal of time, money, and effort evaluating application servers before finalizing their purchasing decisions. This is understandable, given how important application servers are these days -- they are almost as important as databases.