Introducing Enterprise Java Application Architecture and Design
Then there was another form of two-tier architecture in which not only the UI but even the business logic resided on the client tier. This kind of application typically connected to a database server to run various queries. These clients are referred to as thick or fat clients because they had a significant portion of the executable code in the client tier (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Two-tier architecture
Two-tier thick client applications are easy to develop, but any software upgrade because of changes in user interface or business logic has to be rolled out for all the clients. Luckily, the hardware cost became cheaper and processing power increased significantly on the CPU in the mid-90s. This, coupled with the growth of the Internet and web-based application development trends, resulted in the emergence of three-tier architectures.
In this model, the client PC needs only thin client software such as a browser to display the presentation content coming from the server. The server hosts the presentation, the business logic, and the data access logic. The application data comes from enterprise information systems such as a relational database. In such systems the business logic can be accessed remotely, and hence it is possible to support stand-alone clients via a Java console application. The business layer generally interacts with the information system through the data access layer. Since the entire application resides on the server, this server is also referred to as an application server or middleware (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Three-tier application
With the widespread growth of Internet bandwidth, enterprises around the world have web-enabled their services. As a result, the application servers are not burdened anymore with the task of the presentation layer. This task is now off-loaded to the specialized web servers that generate presentation content. This content is transferred to the browser on the client tier, which takes care of rendering the user interfaces. The application servers in n-tier architecture host remotely accessible business components. These are accessed by the presentation layer web server over the network using native protocols. Figure 4 shows the n-tier application.
Figure 4. N-tier application
Java EE Architecture
Developing n-tier distributed applications is a complex and challenging job. Distributing the processing into separate tiers leads to better resource utilization. It also allows allocation of tasks to experts who are best suited to work and develop a particular tier. The web page designers, for example, are more equipped to work with the presentation layer on the web server. The database developers, on the other hand, can concentrate on developing stored procedures and functions. However, keeping these tiers as isolated silos serves no useful purpose. They must be integrated to achieve a bigger enterprise goal. It is imperative that this is done leveraging the most efficient protocol; otherwise, this leads to serious performance degradation.
Besides integration, a distributed application requires various services. It must be able to create, participate, or manage transactions while interacting with disparate information systems. This is an absolute must to ensure the concurrency of enterprise data. Since n-tier applications are accessed over the Internet, it is imperative that they are backed by strong security services to prevent malicious access.
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