Today, an increasing number of enterprise applications are accessible through a Web browser. Once reserved for eCommerce and ASP (Application Service Provider) software solutions, Web-based applications have gone mainstream and have become widely accepted by businesses and their users. Despite the fact that a browser can only offer a subset of thick client functionality, the ease in which a Web application can be deployed, then accessed, provides an incentive too strong to be ignored. Further, with the advent of Web technologies such as DHTML and Flash, the functionality gap that exists between the browser and a desktop application is slowly closing.
Development languages used to construct Web applications include Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP), PHP, and JavaServer Pages (JSP). These technologies are successors to the CGI-based applications from the early days of the Web. These technologies often provide a number of advantages that legacy cgi programs did not, including thread and session management.
Building applications with today's Web development languages, while not terribly difficult to learn, is still a job for professional software developers. These developers must be comfortable with the fundamentals of programming and have an understanding of the inner workings of how a Web server handles client requests and generates responses. With Oracle 10g, Oracle provides a development platform called HTML DB that aims to simplify the task of developing and deploying a Web-enabled application that works with an Oracle database.
HTML DB's TARGETED NICHE
Oracle refers to HTML DB as a 'declarative development tool.' For simple application requirements, there may very well be no coding necessary. The platform ships with a variety of wizards that allow end users to select database tables, and build forms and reports based upon those tables with a few simple mouse clicks.
HTML DB is ideal for two categories of staff. The first group is the non-technical user. As I mentioned, end users are perfectly capable of constructing a functional application without a single line of code. For more complex requirements, developers (or power users) with knowledge of Oracle SQL and PL/SQL can add a great deal of functionality to their applications, without learning a new language. In fact, from a purely functional aspect, HTML DB lets you do virtually anything you might do with JSP, ASP, or any other Web development language.
A key difference between an HTML DB application and most large-scale Web applications is how it handles internal program data. A language such as JSP will allow you to create an in-memory session object for each user, storing data such as a user's password or the contents of a shopping cart. This session object keeps track of data until the user quits his or her browser session. A session object is needed due to the stateless nature of the Web. Without using some sort of session storing device, a server loses all knowledge of that user's state once a response is generated. HTML DB solves this problem by storing all session data in the database. Each time a page is processed, a new database session is created and user data can be accessed. When the processing is complete, the database session is closed. This approach is convenient because an HTML DB developer does not have to manage session states themselves, which can be complex. However, this convenience comes at the expense of scalability. The Oracle database itself scales well if configured properly, but a site with heavy traffic will prove to be very taxing for an HTML DB application, given the need for constant application-to-database interaction. As a result, HTML DB is intended for workgroup and intranet applications with a low to moderate number of users. If you are planning a large scale eCommerce application, HTML DB is probably not the best choice.
HTML DB COMPONENTS
The HTML DB platform actually consists of a few different components.
- SQL Workshop: The SQL Workshop allows you to manipulate database objects through the browser. You can query, create, and modify tables, stored procedures, and more.
- Data Workshop: Data Workshop provides a way to import data into your database from files and spreadsheets, and then export that data from HTML DB if desired.
- Application Builder: Application Builder is the component to HTML DB that we will focus on. It is the Application Builder that allows you to quickly create Web-enabled applications that operate on an Oracle database. By using a wizard, an application can be generated in seconds. Once built, you can modify the application's interface and logic can be added to process data, perform data validation, and branch to different pages within the application.
For the remainder of this article, we'll step through building a data-driven application in HTML DB.
YOUR FIRST HTML DB APPLICATION
Oracle makes it very easy for you to experiment with HTML DB without actually installing the product. You can visit Oracle's HTML DB site here and request a workspace. Once you receive your password, you can begin working with the suite of tools.
After logging on to your workspace, select Application Builder from the list of components. You will notice that your workspace comes with a sample application. This sample application is feature-rich and it can serve as a valuable point of reference. For our example, we will create a new application based upon an employee table provided in the database schema the accompanied our workspace.
- Click on the Create Application icon.
- Click the Based on Existing Tables option.
- Confirm you want to use the provided database schema by clicking Next.
- Select the table 'Emp' as the sole data source of our application.
- Click Next, then Finish to complete the process.
When complete, click Run Application. We have succeeded in creating a simple application based upon table Emp. The HTML DB application wizard generates a number of pages for us, including a login page, report page, a chart page, and a page with an enterable form for modifying employee data. Once you log in, you will be presented with the main screen shown in Figure 1 below. Now, take a few minutes to peruse the application. All of this was accomplished with just a few mouse clicks. Try clicking the edit icons aside each entry on the report page, and then modify a few form fields and save your changes. Visit the Analysis page where you have the ability to view employee statistics in chart format.
Figure 1: HTML DB Application Main Screen