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Introduction to the Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) Platform

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By Vartan Piroumian

This is a sample chapter from Wireless J2ME Platform Programming.

    Covered in this excerpt:
  • Defining a Java platform for pervasive devices
  • Configureations and profiles
  • Device application management systems

Sun Microsystems has defined three Java platforms, each of which addresses the needs of different computing environments:

  • Java 2 Standard Edition (J2SE)
  • Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE)
  • Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME)

The inception of the J2ME platform arose from the need to define a computing platform that could accommodate consumer electronics and embedded devices. These devices are sometimes referred to collectively as pervasive devices.

The creators of the J2ME platform delineated pervasive devices into two distinct categories:

  • Personal, mobile information devices that are capable of intermittent networked communications—mobile phones, two-way pagers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and organizers
  • Shared-connection information devices connected by fixed, uninterrupted network connection—set-top boxes, Internet TVs, Internet-enabled screen phones, high-end communicators, and car entertainment/navigation systems

The first category describes devices that have a special purpose or are limited in function; they are not general-purpose computing machines. The second category describes devices that generally have greater capability for user interface (UI) facilities. Of course, devices with superior UI facilities typically have more computing power. Practically speaking, computing power is the primary attribute that distinguishes these two categories of devices. Nevertheless, this delineation is somewhat fuzzy, because technology continues to enable more and more power to be placed in smaller and smaller devices.

Like computing power, connectivity—the availability of media such as wireless networks—also affects the kinds of functionality and services that pervasive devices can support. The challenge—and the primary goal—for J2ME is to specify a platform that can support a reasonable set of services for a broad spectrum of devices that have a wide range of different capabilities.

The creators of J2ME identify modular design as the key mechanism that enables support for multiple types of devices. The J2ME designers use configurations and profiles to make J2ME modular.

Defining a Java Platform for Pervasive Devices

Configurations and profiles are the main elements that comprise J2ME's modular design. These two elements enable support for the plethora of devices that J2ME supports.

A J2ME configuration defines a minimum Java platform for a family of devices. Members of a given family all have similar requirements for memory and processing power. A configuration is really a specification that identifies the system-level facilities available, such as a set of Java language features, the characteristics and features of the virtual machine present, and the minimum Java libraries that are supported. Software developers can expect a certain level of system support to be available for a family of devices that uses a particular configuration.

A configuration also specifies a minimum set of features for a category of devices. Device manufacturers implement profiles to provide a real platform for a family of devices that have the capabilities that a given configuration specifies.

The other J2ME building block, the profile, specifies the application-level interface for a particular class of devices. A profile implementation consists of a set of Java class libraries that provide this application-level interface. Thus, a profile theoretically could specify all kinds of functionality and services.

This is not the intention of its creators, however. The creators of J2ME intend that a profile should address the needs of a specific device category or vertical market pertaining to that device category. The idea is not to place a plethora of unrelatedapplication level features in a profile. Rather, the main goal is to guarantee interoperability—which doesn't necessarily imply compatibility between different manufacturers' implementations—between all devices of the same category or vertical market family to define a standard platform for Java application development.

For example, a profile might support a network communication facility for the popular Short Message Service (SMS) standard widely used by mobile phones. Because the SMS standard is a ubiquitous feature of mobile telephony, it makes sense to define this service in a profile that targets mobile phones, rather than to build it into a configuration.

A profile is implemented on top of a configuration, one step closer to the implementation of real-world applications. Typically, a profile includes libraries that are more specific to the characteristics of the category of devices they represent than are the libraries that comprise configurations. Applications are then built on top of the configuration and profile; they can use only the class libraries provided by these two lower-level specifications. Profiles can be built on top of one another. A J2ME platform implementation, however, can contain only one configuration. Figure 1.1 shows the conceptual layers that comprise the J2ME platform.

So far, these notions of configurations, profiles, and platform definitions is somewhat abstract. The next section gives you a more concrete description of the characteristics of actual environments.

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This article was originally published on October 3, 2002

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