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Make the Right Decision with Our Side-by-Side Comparison of Spring and EJB 3.0

Are you trying to choose between Spring and EJB 3.0? If you are you know what a hard decision it can be. Explore the similarities and differences between two of the most popular Java technologies today and learn key distinctions in making a technological decision between the two.

oftware development professionals today are faced with a bewildering array of technology choices. It is not always easy to decide which technologies are most appropriate to employ in solving any particular business problem. In the area of enterprise Java development, there has recently been quite a bit of debate regarding the Spring framework and the Enterprise Java Bean 3.0 specification. It can be hard to find clear and honest advice through the cacophony of opinion.

Still, the question of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each is a question I encounter frequently in my consulting work. But while there is plenty of information on Spring and EJB 3.0 individually, there is very little objective information that compares the two. This article will examine both technologies in relationship to one another with the goal of helping you understand the similarities and differences between them.

Spring and EJB are not the same thing. Most importantly, Spring is an implementation while EJB 3.0 is a specification. But they do have some areas of overlap, for example both provide a mechanism to deliver middleware services to Java applications. Spring was developed as a reaction against EJB and this makes comparison between the two natural. Particularly now that a new version of EJB is available, it is a good time to reevaluate how well EJB 3.0 has addressed the shortcomings of previous versions. And, to the extent that is has done so successfully, what does Spring continue to offer above and beyond EJB?

It should also be noted that EJB specifically addresses the development of distributed components whereas this emphasis is missing from the Spring definition.
This article is the first in a two-part series; each article will look at different characteristics of Spring and EJB 3. The characteristics I chose are ones that are particularly meaningful within the context of enterprise application development. I will explore each characteristic using a flight booking example application, which has a rich domain model and illustrates well enterprise challenges such as concurrency, conversations, transactionality, messaging, and scheduling. I've also used unit tests to determine whether Spring and EJB 3.0 offer comparable functionality.

The Definition
Before launching into a more in-depth comparison it is helpful to consider for a moment what Spring and EJB each claim to be. The Spring Web site defines Spring as "a layered Java/J2EE application framework." And EJB claims to be "a component architecture for the development and deployment of object-oriented, distributed, enterprise-level applications" (J2EE glossary).

First, we can tell from these definitions that both intend to operate in the enterprise Java development space. But Spring claims to be an application framework whereas EJB an architecture. While what is meant by architecture varies greatly, a general definition could be the big decisions that are hard to change, or the structure of a software system. A framework implies support whereas an architecture implies decision. It may be helpful to keep these nuances in mind during the comparison. And it should also be noted that EJB specifically addresses the development of distributed components whereas this emphasis is missing from the Spring definition.

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