Apache readies Tomcat Java servlet container upgrade

Scalability and security to be enhanced in Tomcat 7; Apache also is set to take over the Subversion software configuration management project

The Apache Software Foundation for open source projects is readying an upgrade to its Tomcat Java servlet container, with improvements eyed in areas such as scalability and security, Apache personnel said on Wednesday afternoon.

Version 7 of Tomcat is due in alpha release around the Christmas/New Year's timeframe, said Mark Thomas, an Apache member, Tomcat committer and senior software engineer at VMware-owned SpringSource.

[ See InfoWorld's report on what has happened with Java in the two years since it was open sourced. ]

Tomcat is used for deploying Web sites and serves as the basis for such products as the SpringSource tc Server for running Java and Spring applications. Tomcat is used in at least 75 percent of Java- based Web sites, said Jim Jagielski, chairman of the Apache board of directors and a senior staff engineer and chief open source officer at VMware.

Apache officials discussed Tomcat at the ApacheCon US 2009 conference in Oakland, Calif.

Plans for Tomcat 7 include backing for the still-unfinished Java Servlet 3.0 specification. Featured in Tomcat 7 and Servlet 3.0 are asynchronous processing capabilities to improve scalability, Apache officials said.

Dynamic configuration also is planned for Tomcat 7 as part of Servlet 3.0 support. "You can programmatically set up the configuration of your Web apps," Thomas said.

Among security improvements planned for Tomcat 7 is protection against cross-site request forgeries.  Version 7 will use HTTP POST requests to make it harder for an attacker to construct an attack. A nonce request identifier also is used as a unique identifier to stifle these attackers.

The Manager application in Tomcat 7 features multiple roles for access control. "It gives system administrators more fine-grained control over who's allowed to do what," Thomas said.

Version 7 also is set to make it easier to embed Tomcat in applications and endorses generic programming objects, enabling programming errors to be found earlier in the process, at compilation time rather than run time.

"[Generics] does make for cleaner code as well," said Thomas. Tomcat 7 also removes old code that is not being used anymore.

Also at ApacheCon Wednesday, the foundation and the CollabNet-sponsored Subversion project announced formal submission of the open source Subversion software configuration management tool to Apache as an Apache Incubator project.

The move is the first step to Subversion becoming an Apache Top-Level Project.

"It's a recognition that both Subversion and Apache have grown in compatible ways," said Brian Behlendorf, who was the first president of Apache and serves on the board of directors at CollabNet.

CollabNet will continue to host the nine-year-old Subversion project at the Tigris.org Web page while Subversion undergoes incubation at the foundation.

Putting Subversion under Apache jurisdiction addresses a situation in which there has been a lot of personnel overlap between Apache and Subversion Corporation, which has had jurisdiction over Subversion but will eventually be disbanded, according to Apache members.

"Instead of having two legal entities, there [will be] only one," said Roy Fielding, chief scientist at Day Software and an Apache member.

Apache veterans during Wednesday morning conference proceedings waxed sentimental about the early years and the growth of the foundation, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary as a formal organization this year.

"I think one of the funny things about Apache that most people don't know is we didn't have a single meeting in person for the first three years that we developed the [HTTP] server," said Fielding, referring to a time period beginning around 1995 before formal incorporation.

With Apache, management does not tell developers what to do, said Jagielski. "How the code goes and how the community goes is 100 percent in the hands of the members," Jagielski said.

Behlendorf stressed how open source has impacted companies. "Once companies realize their competition is free, they really need to change tactics," he said.

Also, use of open source initially was obscured because CIOs "never saw a purchase order for Apache or a purchase order for Linux," Behlendorf said.

"They had no idea that it was being used," he said.

Apache participants during a luncheon described the newly formed, Microsoft-backed CodePlex Foundation as an effort to provide a streamlined process for Microsoft personnel to become involved in open source project submissions, although they noted CodePlex is not restricted to Microsoft-only projects.

"It's basically a way for Microsoft employees to contribute to open source projects," said Justin Erenkrantz, president of the Apache foundation. CodePlex will hold intellectual property related to contributions, thus separating Microsoft from that process, he said.

Microsoft also is a sponsor of Apache, having just renewed a $100,000 donation this week. The company also made a $100,000 contribution last year.

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