Portlets are Dead, Long Live Portals

You may have already heard the terms ‘Portlets' & ‘Portals' on various occasions, yet you may also still wonder what the differences are.

A Portal is a generally a web page which aggregates information from diverse sources, presenting them in an organized, manageable way, on one screen or page. Each module or source of information usually gets its own section within the page, and these smaller ‘boxes in pages' are called Portlets.

Generally speaking, a Portlet produces fragments of markup (HTML, XHTML, WML), displaying small windows within pages, which may contain things like weather, email and news. A group of Portlets coming together on one page, create a Portal.

However, the question now just might be, are Portlets on their way to becoming extinct?

The Power of REST

REST, or Representational State Transfer, is a stateless architecture which predominantly runs over HTTP. Today, it is often used in mobile applications, social networking Web sites, mashup tools and now increasingly, in Portals.

Essentially, Representational State Transfer is an architectural style which makes the most of existing protocols and technologies, including HTTP, JSON and XML. REST helps to meet integration requirements which prove critical to systems where data needs to be combined.

REST is simpler to use than SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), which instead requires either writing or a server program combined with a client program. REST's simplified approach has attracted giants such as Google,Yahoo & Facebook, all of which have adopted REST services in recent years.

So, where exactly does this leave Portlets?

Well, modern web applications are rich Javascript clients, using AJAX technology to offer user experience. Portlets on the other hand, are packaged in Java EE web applications, which by design, are instantiated in separate class loaders. That's great for isolation, but not so great when it comes to collaboration.

REST in Peace Portlets

In practise, Portlets are ironically quite difficult to port from one server to another, whereas REST services can be hosted anywhere.

There is now a growing need to exchange content and services between modules, which is difficult with Portlets, since true portable Portlet repositories never really emerged. For example, many Portlets built using a particular Portal software will only ever work on that particular platform, as the Portlet will by-and-large depend upon the services of that server.

You could of course argue that REST-compliant Portlets can be developed, but such a stance makes little sense when you consider the ease of just using REST services on top of any given framework.

So, interoperability has, over time, become key. That leaves Portlets out in the cold, whilst more Portals are now becoming aggregations of REST clients that use simplistic client-to-server interfaces to work their magic – regardless of presentation technologies.

The Future of Portlets, Portals & REST with Jahia

When it comes to moving forward with the times in terms of Portlets, Portals and REST services, Jahia has the right idea, modernizing their approach faster than their competitors.

Jahia offers both the client side components and the technology to quickly and easily develop REST services, whilst still supporting Portlets to handle “legacy” applications.

Using a drag-and-drop system, Jahia's components can be easily integrated into a Portal page. What's more is, Jahia offers Bound Components, which can “talk to each other”.

This works by defining a binding between components whilst positioning them on the page, not at deployment time, allowing them to augment the capabilities of a particular component. For example, this can be used to make any piece of content “commentable” by binding an article to the comments module

Components offered by Jahia can also inherit from each other in an object oriented fashion.

The next major version of Jahia, expected in early 2014, will make its components OSGi compliant, making their deployment and hot-swapability easier than ever, whilst they will also benefit from the existing ecosystem of OSGi components, such as Atmosphere-OSGi, or Apache Felix’s Web Console.

To conclude, as time goes on, Portlets are racing faster and faster towards irrelevancy. Whilst at the same time, Portals and associated technologies are now more critical to web deployments than ever before – and Jahia is primed to help you handle all of that, and more.

If you're interested in exploring what Jahia has to offer in terms of REST and other services, check out their website.

You can also explore a little more of Jahia via our CMS Directory.