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JMS at the most recent BJUG

I went to BJUG last Thursday, and enjoyed the informative talk about JMS by Chris Huston. It started out as a bit of a tutorial, with the typical “here’s a messaging system, here are the six types of messages, etc.” When he was doing the tutorial bit, I thought it was a bit simple for a main talk, but it got better as the the speaker continued. It was clear from the speaker’s comments that he was deeply knowledgeable in the subject, or, if not that, at least has been enmeshed in JMS for a while. This wasn’t just a “I downloaded an open source JMS server and ran through the Sun tutorial talk” and I appreciated that.

I had a couple of take aways. One is that managing messaging with transactions is something that you’re always going to want to do, but this is fraught with difficulty, since you’ll then have two transactional systems. And we all know what that means; you’ll have to buy this book. It also means that, in a real system, you’ll never want to use local transactions, as you’ll want the transactions to be managed by a global transaction service, typically your application server.

Recovery of such a transactional messaging service was touched upon. If you have two different transactional systems, and failure occurs, recovering can be a real issue. Chris recommended, if at all possible, having the JMS provider and your data layer live in the same database, as then you can use the backup tools and ensure the two systems are in a consistent state.

One of the most interesting parts of the evening was a question asked by the audience. A fellow asked what scenarios JMS was useful for, and Chris said it was typically used in two ways:

1. Clustering/failover. You can set up a large number of machines and since all they are getting is messages with no context, it’s much easier to fail over to another machine. There’s no state to transfer.

I’ve seen this in the Jetspeed 1.5 project, where messaging is used to allow clustering.

2. Handling a large amount of data while increasing the responsiveness of the system. Since messages can be placed into queues, with no need for immediate response, it’s possible for a message source to create a tremendous number of messages very quickly. These messages may take quite a bit of time to process, and this rules out a synchronous solution. JMS (and messaging solutions in general) allow hysteresis.

I’ve seen this in a client’s system, where they send out a tremendous number of emails and want to ensure they can track the status of each one. It’s too slow to write the status to the database for each email, but sending a message to a queue is quick enough. On the receiving end, there’s some processing and status is written to the database. The performance is acceptable and as long as the JMS provider doesn’t crash or run out of memory, no messages are lost.

The only scenario that I thought of that Chris didn’t mention is one that I haven’t seen. But I’ve heard that many legacy systems have some kind of messaging interface, and so JMS might be an easy way (again, no context required) to integrate such a system.

It was an interesting talk, and reminded me why I need to go to more BJUGs.