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Jakarta Commons Cookbook Timothy M O'Brien
Published by O'Reilly Media
400 pages
£ 31.95
Published: 3rd December 2004
reviewed by Mark Jones
   in the June 2005 issue (pdf), (html)

``Commons'' is an open-source subproject of the Apache Software Foundation's Jakarta project. Commons contains a set of twenty-plus utility components which serve useful purposes and assist the development of Java-based applications. The components range from high-level, simple utilities such as text manipulation, to more complex issues surrounding XML data binding and SSL management, and also deal with lower-level issues on Networking and I/O. Although Commons covers a wide range of subjects, each component seeks to achieve the same goal of making life easier and quicker for the developer. In particular, when used together in the right combination to solve the right problem, Commons can prove very powerful.

The Commons Cookbook is aimed at experienced Java programmers and low-level designers, and leads the reader through the majority of the components currently within the Commons subproject. Each utility is kindly summarised and introduced, before a set of problems, solutions, discussions and examples are used. The odd bit of history is also used, for example when discussing JavaBeans and XML, which will keep nostalgia fans content, but also give context and provides a brief respite from the repetitive nature of this book. The examples are generally very specific (no pun intended), however they do give a feel for the types of problems that Commons are meant to assist with solving. Other Jakarta projects, such as Struts and Velocity, are cited where applicable which gives a higher-level view on the Jakarta project family.

Having worked on several projects that use Commons, one of the main difficulties that developers and designers face is knowing what tools Commons actually makes available. For example, a developer doesn't often know that Commons provides Templating tools, doesn't know how to find the specific tool that they need, or doesn't know how to apply it. In this respect the Cookbook provides an invaluable, brief (about 360 pages) summary of the Commons utilities and, when coupled with the various examples, gives the reader access to the immediate, high-level information they need.

I find making criticism of this book difficult, in that it does exactly what it says on the tin, and very well. One could argue, however, that the progressive and evolving nature of open-source utility libraries such as Commons will render this book obsolete fairly quickly.

If you're currently using Commons or plan to in the near future, then this book will be of use as a high-level reference to the main Commons utilities. If you require a more comprehensive, thorough insight into one or two of the larger Commons components however, then I would look elsewhere.

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