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Is There a Place for OSGi in Enterprise Application Development? (Part 1)

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In this two-part article, Aslam Khan, technical director of PBT Group, a software consultancy based in South Africa, introduces you to OSGi and discusses its relevance specifically in the context of the enterprise. What is the exact problem domain of OSGi in this area? In this first part, he uses code snippets to show how the issues surrounding dynamic class management can be tackled. -- Geertjan Wielenga, JavaLobby Zone Leader

OSGi – The Dynamic Module System for Java has been receiving a fair bit of attention in recent times. Given that high profile products such as Eclipse, IBM WebSphere, JOnAS, the Spring Framework are all using OSGi or providing support for OSGi, it is hardly surprising at all. What is surprising is that OSGi is currently in its fourth release implying a significant degree of maturity. Even more surprising is that OSGi was originally intended for small footprint, embedded devices running Java. So why are we giving attention to a technology (actually, it's just a specification) that was originally targeted to solve problems on the opposite end of the continuum from enterprise applications?

On the enterprise application front, we have been tackling the typical enterprise problems such as scalability, transaction management, security, high availability, manageability and the like for a long time. Perhaps it is a stereotypical statement, but we do understand these problems and have successfully crafted solutions for each of them to an acceptable degree. OSGi is not intended to solve such problems and these problems are not discussed in this article.

Tougher, though, are the more abstract problems that we face in designing and building enterprise applications. For many of these abstract problems, we have abstract solutions, i.e. patterns. Interestingly, these abstract problems lie less in the realm of enterprise applications and more in realm of software architecture, object orientation and general software development challenges. Indeed, we have many patterns for many problems, but we also have problems that have no pattern based solutions.

OSGi has gained prominence because it is being used to address some tough problems in Java enterprise application development and software architecture in general. There are several problems that can be tackled using OSGi.

  1. The first problem is that of minimizing downtime and improving roll-back procedures on new releases of software. In this problem, the tough part is not in the introduction of a new release, but rather the removal of an older release, while ensuring continuous operation of the system. It's all about dynamic management. This also bleeds into the the next problem.
  2. Version management of Java classes or JARs is virtually non-existent. The lack of versioning makes managing backward compatibility more difficult. The combination of OSGi's dynamic class management and class versioning offers elegant run-time management of both these problems.
  3. Lastly, the effective partitioning of applications into modules is largely unsolved. This is particularly problematic with Java because its weak class loader has created classpath hell (or JAR hell, which is no different from DLL-hell on Win32).

These problems are certainly not the only problems that are largely unsolved, nor are they the only problems addressed by OSGi. However, for large-scale enterprise applications, that have long-living projects, this is certainly high on the agenda of any software architect (or it soon moves high up the priority list). Let us look at each of these three in turn.

Dynamic Class Management

The productivity of POJO based development has been highly touted in recent times. The popular Spring Framework, Hibernate object relational mapper and other open source projects have proven that POJO based development can reduce complexity and increase simplicity. The Spring Framework, with its Inversion of Control/Dependency Injection container, has also shown that interface driven development leads to good separation of concerns and loose coupling.

Certainly, interface driven development and a POJO based development paradigm is highly productive. However, once these POJO based applications are deployed in the JVM, there is littlein terms of run-time management thereof. Writing or generating JMX MBeans does offer some
form of management, but a managed ecosystem similar to that of EJB containers, is lacking.

With OSGi, POJO based solutions finally have a managed ecosystem; and the OSGi ecosystem is dynamic. Packages (i.e. bundles, in OSGi terminology) can be dynamically loaded and unloaded at run-time with absolutely no need to bounce the JVM, or the OSGi run-time. In order to achieve this, the OSGi class loader is really strong and watertight. No weird class loading trickery is tolerated and even reflection cannot peek inside the bundles.

More importantly, OSGi R4 introduces a service registry in which bundles register the interfaces they wish to expose (i.e. export) to everyone else in the run-time environment. Any other bundle can search the registry to find the interfaces that it needs. Consider the following code fragments which registers a service class that finds a data access object class that it needs to fulfill its tasks.

  1. Define the service interface:
    package org.samples.service;
    import java.util.List;

    public interface MyService {
    public List findAllObjects();
  2. Define the data access interface:
    package org.samples.dao;
    import java.util.List;

    public interface MyDao {
    public List retrieveAllObjects();
  3. Implement the data access object interface:
    package org.samples.dao;
    // ...

    public class MyDaoImpl implements MyDao {
    // ...
    public List retrieveAllObjects() {
    // ...
    return objectList;
  4. The DAO class is registered in the OSGi service register using the activator for the bundle that contains the DAO:
    package org.samples.dao;
    // ...
    public class MyDaoActivator implements BundleActivator {
    private ServiceRegistration registration;
    public void start(BundleContext context) { MyDao dao = new MyDaoImpl(); Dictionary props = new Properties(); // ... registration = context.registerService(MyDao.class.getName(), dao, props);

    public void stop(BundleContext context) {

  5. Implement the service interface that uses the DAO implementation:
    package org.samples.service;

    // ...

    public class MyServiceImpl implements MyService {
    private MyDao myDao; protected void bindDao(MyDao dao) { myDao = dao; } protected void unbindDao(MyDao dao) { myDao = null; } public List findAllObjects() { // ... return (myDao == null) ? null : myDao.retrieveAllObjects(); }
  6. Create a class that will track the DAO in the OSGi service register. This class keeps track of the number of times that the DAO has been bound to a Service class and cleans up the service register during unbinding if the usage count drops to zero. Also, the addingService() method registers the MyService in the OSGi service register as well:
    package org.samples.dao;

    import org.osgi.framework.BundleContext;
    import org.osgi.framework.ServiceReference;
    import org.osgi.framework.ServiceRegistration;
    import org.osgi.util.tracker.ServiceTracker;

    // ...

    public class MyDaoTracker extends ServiceTracker {

    private final MyServiceImpl myService = new MyServiceImpl();
    private int daoCount = 0;
    private ServiceRegistration registration = null;

    public MyDaoTracker(BundleContext context) {
    super(context, MyDao.class.getName(), null);

    private boolean registering = false;

    public Object addingService(ServiceReference reference) {
    MyDao myDao = (MyDao) context.getService(reference);

    synchronized (this) {
    if (registering)
    return myDao;
    registering = (daoCount == 1);
    if (!registering)
    return myDao;

    ServiceRegistration reg = context.registerService(MyService.class
    .getName(), myService, null);

    synchronized (this) {
    registering = false;
    registration = reg;

    return myDao;

    public void removedService(ServiceReference reference, Object service) {
    MyDao myDao = (MyDao) service;

    ServiceRegistration needsUnregistration = null;
    synchronized (this) {
    if (daoCount == 0) {
    needsUnregistration = registration;
    registration = null;

    if (needsUnregistration != null) {
  7. Finally, create the Bundle activator for the MyService class which loads the DAO service tracker which, in turn, watches for DAO to Service bindings:
    package org.samples.service;

    import org.osgi.framework.BundleActivator;
    import org.osgi.framework.BundleContext;

    // ...

    public class MyServiceActivator implements BundleActivator {

    private MyDaoTracker tracker;

    public void start(BundleContext context) {
    tracker = new MyDaoTracker(context);;

    public void stop(BundleContext context) {

    Apart from the OSGi specific code for the Bundle Activators and Service Trackers, the rest of the code is interface driven and POJO based development style.

    The Spring Dynamic Modules project eliminates the need to write the above boilerplate code for registering services, finding services and tracking services. The same example above is easily wired together in a Spring Framework application context descriptor.

  8. The following fragment uses the Spring Framework beans schema as the default and the Spring Framework osgi schema for OSGi specific beans. Note the consistency of style that is prevalent in the Spring Framework for describing dependency injection:

Loading and unloading of these bundles is absolutely trivial. On the open source OSGi implementations such as Apache Felix and Eclipse Equinox, a text console is available to manage the environment.

It is clear that OSGi is an environment in which dependencies appear and disappear without warning. What you do when your dependencies are not present, or disappear, is up to you. The obvious options are to ignore the missing dependencies, wait for them or raise an exception.

Another twist in the tail is that there could be more than one service that satisfies the dependencies of a bundle. Therefore, cardinality of the dependencies is significant. The manner in which cardinality can be dealt with is beyond the scope of this article.

Next week: In the final part of this two-part series, Aslam discusses class versioning and modularity. How does class versioning relate to backward compatibility? How can modules discover each other? Aslam tells us about Domain Driven Design and closes by answering the question "Can you use OSGi in your applications today?" For the answer to this question, read part 2, this time next week...

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Published at DZone with permission of its author, Aslam Khan.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Andrew McVeigh replied on Tue, 2008/04/01 - 6:22am

it's a very good article, very clear.  thank you.


Christian Voller replied on Wed, 2008/04/02 - 11:39pm

I am waiting for article 2:-)!!!


thanks chris 

harry maton replied on Thu, 2009/10/22 - 3:32pm

Sounds great for business development. Isn't this service on the same niche with Trianz? Software consultancy for business is like outsourcing knowledge and everybody needs knowledge. Thanks for this insightful review!

harsha kolla replied on Sun, 2010/01/03 - 7:17pm

This is a wonderful article. Looking forward for the "insights" in Part II.

Prakash Manjeshwar replied on Tue, 2010/01/26 - 5:13am

Very well explained. Here is part 2:

Liezel Jane Jandayan replied on Thu, 2011/08/11 - 5:52am

Enterprise software describes a collection of computer programs with common business applications, tools for modeling how the entire organization works, and development tools for building applications unique to the organization.

Senior Healthcare Consultants

Carla Brian replied on Sun, 2012/04/15 - 10:18am

It is a Java-based technology for developing modular enterprise applications. IT is very important for businesses today. - Marla Ahlgrimm

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