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How PrimeFaces Stacks Up Against Other JSF Libraries : Page 2

PrimeFaces -- a lightweight rich UI library that's easy to use -- is shaping up to be a heavyweight contender for the holy grail of JSF libraries.


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Getting Started with PrimeFaces: The Two-Step Approach

Being a standards-based library, PrimeFaces is basically plug-and-play, so long as you consider using JSF UI libraries "play". PrimeFaces requires JSF 2, which many assume includes JSTL (even though it is a separate archive), so two steps assumes that you have jsf-api-2.0.3.jar, jsf-impl-2.0.3.jar and jstl-1.0.2.jar already installed in your application. This leaves our two steps as:

  1. Place the PrimeFaces JAR in WEB-INF/lib (RC 2.2 at this writing)
  2. Add <url-pattern>*.xhtml</url-pattern> as a node to the Faces Servlet <servlet-mapping> in web.xml

Sure, if your project was already configured for XHTML it would only be one step, but who ever heard of a one step installation?

Yes, You Can Use PrimeFaces in Eclipse



For the Eclipse user, PrimeFaces will work into your day-to-day routine, though the initial integration requires slightly more skill than installing of the many ready-made plugins. The first step is to add PrimeFaces as a library in your workspace:



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Figure 2. Add PrimeFaces as a Library in Your Workspace

Then, when you create a project, add the appropriate facets:



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Figure 3. PrimeFaces as an Eclipse Project Facet

If you aren't familiar with Eclipse facets, they add the libraries for you, which you can still do yourself if you'd like. You can tell the difference by looking at your project Java Build Path.



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Figure 4. PrimeFaces Manually Added as a Library



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Figure 5. PrimeFaces Installed as a Facet

Finally, if you want auto-complete, associate .xhtml to JSP in Content Types:



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Figure 6. Get Auto-complete for PrimeFaces Tags

Documentation? I Don't Need No Stinkin' Documentation!

One major difference between PrimeFaces and other JSF libraries is the ready availability of documentation. Usually, the documentation is included in the binary download, or available online. In the case of PrimeFaces, you only get any documentation (past an 18 page teaser) by buying it. At first I was taken back to the early days of JBoss where the free manual had just enough to frustrate the average developer but the JBoss team was kind enough to sell a book that was both readable and helpful. However, after breaking my habit of only using Google, I found a "hidden" page (I still cannot find a link on the PrimeFaces website to this page, so I call it hidden). Here is an index of features, each a hyperlink to a very easy to follow example of using the given tag. So now I have decided that the PrimeFaces team is simply pricing their wares inversely to customer intelligence, meaning the dumber you are the more you pay…and I almost paid the first premium, so all bragging rights for me are lost.

So, hopefully I have made it clear that compared to most JSF solutions PrimeFaces is a nose ahead competition in simplicity. Still, I am constantly reminded that JSF developers are interested in the complex and hate to use any HTML tag in a page. A perfect illustration of this is the PrimeFaces "separator" tag, which does absolutely nothing more than to take the style parameter and write a Horizontal Rule HTML tag with the exact same value. In other words, a conscious choice was made to prefer using:

<p:separator style="width:500px;height:20px" />

instead of:

<hr style="width:500px;height:20px" />

for no discernible reason other than to avoid the stigma of having used HTML to send HTML to the browser. Dogma can be both enlightening and limiting, no matter what form it takes.

Still, No Open Source Project is Perfect

Another minor nit that must be picked. None of the examples I found online included "<h:head></h:head>", yet none will work without it. I discovered this necessary little nugget. Running a view source after making that change it is easy to see that the tag is required by PrimeFaces to set various client-side imports. On the one hand, it is neatly done the way they have built in the necessary technologies using custom tags to generate the scripting and mark-up languages many developers refuse to learn. On the other other hand, they have buried the CSS in a JAR, making it more difficult for the non-Java programmers who usually customize the CSS to do so. And with the CSS class names predefined in the code, developers must first render the component and then style it. Not a technical issue, but definitely a logistic issue as most projects have the styling done first, then the dynamic code written afterward.

Conclusion

PrimeFaces is a good choice for a lightweight JSF library for green field projects where JSF is the chosen technology as well as the few in-production projects that may fit all of the prerequisites (JSF 2.0 with Facelets).

For the average JSF advocate who views Java code, HTML, CSS, or JavaScript in JSPs with the same horror a school principal has about beer in the cafeteria vending machines, PrimeFaces is full of solutions to everyday UI chores. In fact, PrimeFaces even shuns those pesky JSP files as it only works with Facelets.

For long-time Web developers this paradigm shift away from all of the familiar technologies makes PHP and .NET look suddenly attractive. On the other hand, we always knew that XML was going to take over the planet, which puts PrimeFaces securely in the court of the new regime.



Scott Nelson plays the roles of development manager, architect, project manager, and portal evangelist on any given day, and blogs lessons learned at Head in the Web when they are not suitable for Developer.com or DevX.
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