Architecture & DesignDeveloping Efficient Network and Distributed Applications with ACE

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I’m going to introduce Adaptive Communication Environment (ACE), a free, open source, C++-based OO framework used to develop portable, reliable, high-performance, and real-time communication services and applications. ACE, with its rich feature set and reusability support, can be used to develop efficient communication services/components for distributed applications, as well as network applications, increasing speed and efficiency for both types of applications.

Importance of Communication Software

Communication (interprocess) is an important aspect of distributed as well as network applications. Fine-tuning of communication components/services has a direct effect on the performance of these applications, in the form of increasing efficiency and speed. To obtain better performance, communication software should possess the following characteristics:

  • It should be flexible enough to accommodate and support an ever-increasing number of data types and traffic patterns, while confirming to end-to-end quality of service norms.
  • It should be efficient to provide low latency to delay-sensitive applications, high-performance to bandwidth-intensive applications, and predictability to real-time applications.
  • It should be reliable enough for developing high-performance, robust and fault-tolerant applications.
  • It should be highly portable to support quickly porting applications on any other OS platforms or compilers while keeping the porting cost low.

Developing Efficient Communication Software

Developers often rely on (i) low-level native OS APIs and (ii) distributed computing middleware components to develop efficient communication software for OO networking applications, distributed applications, or real-time applications. But, both of these approaches have their shortcomings, as given below:

  • Low-level native OS APIs provide neither flexibility nor portability. They tie applications built upon them to a specific OS platform only.
  • For specialized fields of scientific research, medical imaging, aviation, and telecommunication, there are no available standard and readymade distributed computing middleware components (e.g. DCOM, CORBA, or RMI components) efficient and reliable enough for developing complex applications that rely heavily on faster, low-latency, and real-time inter-process communication.

So, how can one overcome these limitations to develop flexible, efficient, reliable, and portable communication software? Adaptive Communication Environment (ACE) could be the answer. The following sections explore ACE and its potential for developing communication software with the above-cited characteristics.

Overview of ACE

  • Authentication, authorization, and data security
  • Service location and binding
  • Service registration and activation
  • Implementation of message framing upon bytestream-based communication protocols (for example, TCP)
  • Demultiplexing and dispatching in response to events
  • Presentation conversion issues involving network byte-ordering and parameter marshalling

ACE Features

  • ACE supports a wide range of OS platforms available today, including: Windows, Mac OS X, UNIX flavors such as Solaris, SGI IRIX, HP-UX, SCO and AIX etc.; Linux flavors such as RedHat Linux, Debian, FreeBSD and NetBSD; Real-time OS such as LynxOS, VxWorks, ChorusOS, RTEMS, PSoS, and so forth; OpenVMS, MVS OpenEdition, and the like.
  • Due to a wide range of OS platforms being supported, ACE makes it easy to build robust and efficient communication software that is also highly portable. An application built upon ACE for one OS platform can be easily ported to another OS platform while costing much less in terms of efforts and time.
  • ACE implements many key patterns that help enhance necessary qualities, namely flexibility, reliability, efficiency, and portability along with reusability and modularity of the communication software built upon ACE.
  • ACE satisfies Quality of Service (QoS) requirements for communication software by ensuring low latency for delay-sensitive applications, high-performance for bandwidth-intensive applications, and predictability for real-time applications.
  • ACE makes building efficient middleware solutions for communication easier by providing standard-compliant and optimized ACE-compatible implementations of major middleware technologies bundled with the ACE framework.


The ACE framework helps you to develop efficient, flexible, reliable, highly portable, and reusable communication software components for distributed, real-time, and network applications. It supports a wide range of OS platforms and QoS requirements and provides reusable best-practice implementations of common communication software tasks along with optimized middleware implementations. Also, because it is open source and freely available, it is a viable solution to fulfill communication software needs.

Whereas this first article installment focuses on introducing ACE, the next installment will explore application development using ACE.

About the Author

Mugdha Chauhan is a senior IT consultant and author. An open source supporter, she frequently writes articles and tutorials on useful emerging open source projects. Major tech portals including, IBM developerWorks, CNET Networks, Slashdot, and many eZines regularly publish her work. Her other expertise and interests include Java, Linux, XML, and wireless application development.

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