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Struts in Action: Developing Applications with Tiles

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11.6 Summary

Dynamic template systems, like the Tiles framework, can bring familiar programming patterns to the presentation layer of a web application. They let us slice and dice the HTML markup and JSP commands into manageable pieces. We can then assemble a page by calling the individual pieces, or tiles, the way we would call Java methods to perform a larger process. A tile encapsulates a block of markup, much like a method encapsulates a block of Java code.

The pages of a web application are built around a common look and feel, or layout, that helps users navigate the site. When we assemble pages using Tiles, we start with a base layout that defines where the tiles are placed and gives each position a logical name. The paths to the tiles a particular page uses can then be passed at runtime. A typical page may use five or six tiles, with only one or two of those changing from page to page.

In Tiles, a complete page, including the layout and the paths to its tiles, can be represented as an object called a Definition. To assemble a particular page, we can simply refer to its Tiles Definition. Like the Struts framework components, the Definitions can be configured using an XML document and loaded at startup.

The Struts framework uses ActionForwards to encapsulate paths to system resources, including presentation pages and Action classes. The framework's controller, the ActionServlet, uses ActionForwards to route control. The other components refer to the ActionForward by name and rely on the controller to invoke the resource indicated by the forward's path.

A standard extension to the controller allows Definitions to be used as the ActionForward path. When a Definition is the target of an ActionForward, the controller includes the fragments in a combined response. The standard service for each fragment then finishes the job.

When an application is migrated to Struts, one consequence is that system paths become encapsulated in the Struts configuration. The presentation pages can then refer to other resources using a logical name rather than an actual path or URI. This lets us focus on what the page wants to do rather than the particulars of how it is done.

In the same fashion, when an application is migrated to Tiles, the configuration encapsulates the system paths. Struts can then refer to the page Definition by name and leave the particulars of assembling the page to the Tiles framework.

Tiles can be of most use to larger systems with dozens or hundreds of pages. Like decomposing a process into constituent methods, refactoring an application to use Tiles creates more component parts, but each individual part is simpler to understand and maintain. More important, the individual tiles can be reused, avoiding the need to make the same change in multiple places. As applications grow, the need to eliminate redundancy becomes increasingly important.

The focus of this chapter has been to provide you with enough information to put Tiles to work in your application. But it by no means covers everything that is possible with the Tiles framework. The Artimus example application (see chapter 15) is based on Tiles and demonstrates several of the best practices described in this chapter.

In the next chapter, we explore another "optional" component, the Struts Validator.

About the Authors

Ted Husted is an acknowledged Struts authority, an active member of the Struts development team, and manager of the JGuru Struts Forum. As a consultant, Ted has worked with professional Struts development teams throughout the United States. Ted also helps manage the Apache Jakarta project, which hosts the Struts framework. Ted lives in Fairport, New York with his wife, two children, four computers, and an aging cat.

Cedric Dumoulin is an active member of the Struts development team and the author of the Tiles framework. Cedric is presently a researcher at the University of Lille. He has also worked in the R&D department of a leading international internet banking company. He lives in Lille, France.

George Franciscus is a principal at Nexcel, providing technical and management consulting services in several industries including Telecommunications, Banking, Life Insurance and Property and Casualty Insurance. George has expertise in Java, J2EE, Domino, relational databases, and mainframe technologies. He holds a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Toronto. George lives in Toronto, Ontario with his wife and three children.

David Winterfeldt is a Struts committer and author of the Commons Validator package. He works as a senior developer at a major company implementing J2EE technology. David currently lives in New York City.

Source of this material

This is Chapter 11: Developing Applications with Tiles from the book Struts in Action (ISBN:1-93011-050-2) written by Ted N. Husted, Cedric Dumoulin, George Franciscus, and David Winterfeldt, published by Manning Publications Co..

To access the full Table of Contents for the book.

Page 9 of 9

This article was originally published on April 17, 2003

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