Book Review: Packt’s JBoss Richfaces 3.3

Summary

Very good book on what is arguably the most popular JSF component library. Covers the less well used but very important ajax features of Richfaces, including the use of ajax regions, containers as well as the plug-n-skin features.

Details

To all intents and purposes, this book is not for a beginner JSF developer, because it assumes familiarity with JSF 1.2. It starts off by delving into the history of the Richfaces component framework, which in eons past was just Ajax4jsf. It gives a short introduction (which is expounded later) on the ajax capabilities, the component set and skinability features of Richfaces for Rich Internet Application development.

It then sets off showing you step by step, how to create a simple JSF application that takes advantage of Richfaces as it’s JSF components library. It presents the seam-gen tool, a nifty tool for creating skeletons jsf projects based on the JBoss Seam project. Following the instructions on seam-gen enables you to create a quick prototype to start playing around with. This is then followed by instructions on how to manually create a project which is not Seam based, for fans of other frameworks which also integrate JSF, or for the pure JSF purists. This also includes configuring facelets support, and finally a look at how the IDEs provide support for development using the Richfaces component set.

The rest of the book, chapter by chapter, then focuses on using Richfaces components in building an interactive, intuitive and rich UI for your JSF application.

The following chapter delves into creating a JSF application using seam-gen (which I felt was repetitive, given that they’d actually created one in the preceding chapter), with additional parameters for defining the persistence model (entities) that were to be used in the application. It is worth noting from here forward almost all the examples now make use of the Seam framework’s programming model, something which could be a problem for those who are not Seam adherents. Also, with the stated assumption that this book is targeted at people with a basic knowledge of JSF, there didn’t seem to be the need to go over the basics of templating with Facelets and defining managed beans in a faces-config.xml file.

The next two chapters then introduce us to the intricate details of what the application is actually supposed to look like in terms of UI and functionality. The reader is taken through creating a database and generating entities from these, as well as creating a login page. I felt that these two chapters were the weakest chapters of the book, seeing as they dwelt more on entities, JPA and entities generation and Seam’s identity and login management than it did on the particular component framework in question – Richfaces. This may be explained by the fact that Richfaces enables the user to hook into Hibernate Validator for DRY enforcement on the domain model, the user could have been spared the parts on how to create the database, etc as well as Seam’s login management features.

Subsequently, the next chapter gives some very good insight on skinning, and implementing a means for the user to dynamically change skins. It explains the Richfaces’s use of XCSS, a powerful xml based means of describing CSS properties, as well as how to use some of the default Plug-n-Skin examples.

Chapter 6 then takes us deep into a real ajax experience, showing us the lesser explored but very important features provided by the rich:dataTable and rich:column components, as well as the appropriate use of the datascroller component for displaying tabular data. It also talks extensively about other data iteration components like the DataGrid and the DataList. Additionally, it goes into detail on the appropriate use of ajax placeholders, especially on using Richfaces outputPanel in achieving really ajax based changes to UI after changes are made to content, instead of just using JSF’s rendered attribute only.

The next chapter then deals with using the RichEditor as well as how to implement Drag’n’Drop support in your application. Finally an in-depth score is done on using the Richfaces FileUpload component.

Chapter 8 and 9 deal into more detail with skinning support in Richfaces, including how to create your own Plug’n’Skin skins, which can be quite easy if you follow the author’s guidance.

Chapter 10 dwells on advanced ajax capabilities such as Poll, Push as well as the partial update of data iteration components in the UI.

Of course, this book would not have been complete without discussing the Richfaces Component Development Kit (CDK). From creating a maven project using Richfaces’s CDK archetypes, to creating your own user defined components and registering them with the application, this chapter covers it all.

It ends with an appendix giving a short description of all the components currently provided by the Richfaces team.

What I like about this book.

This book contains a lot of information about how to really take advantage of the ajax capabilities provided by the Richfaces framework, and makes important mention of very valuable points to look out for when ajaxifying your application. I highly commend the indepth knowledge of Richfaces placeholders and the use of attributes like ajaxSingle and process, which gives your JSF application a true ajax feel.

What I don’t like about this book.

I’m an avowed fan of JBoss Seam, but I’d have preferred the book didn’t delve so deeply into Seam to make it’s point. As i mentioned before, some chapters dealt more with Seam than with Richfaces, and those may actually be quite annoying to someone who is developing with say Spring Web Flow.

Packt Publishing has attempted to pull off a book that provides an indepth look at the 3.3 version of the popular JSF component library, Richfaces. In a lot of ways, I believe they have managed to do just that, give or take a few points.

For more information about the book, visit: http://www.packtpub.com/jboss-richfaces-3-3/book

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