The newest version of Allaire's Web application server

Allaire's ColdFusion 4.0, a deployment platform for delivering Web applications, takes a giant step forward in providing Web developers and administrators more power and functionality. In January 1998, I reviewed Cold Fusion 3.1 and chose it as my favorite 1997 product. Although the fact that ColdFusion is one of my favorite products hasn't changed, ColdFusion has definitely changed. By focusing on ColdFusion's productivity, scalability, and security, Allaire has improved an old favorite in ColdFusion 4.0.

I reviewed ColdFusion 4.0 Release Candidate (RC) 2 and found the product's improved functionality evident in its new features. These features include

  • Enhanced page compilation and caching, which lets you set ColdFusion to automatically compile and cache pages with a just-in-time optimizing compiler. This setting lets the application server quickly process pages.
  • Static-page caching, which automatically caches the output of dynamic
  • Persistent queries, which cache results of commonly used queries. This configuration increases performance by reducing the number of database interactions.
  • Improved automatic server recovery, which monitors and automatically restarts server processes in case of failures or critical errors.
  • Server-side source control, which lets you incorporate Microsoft's Visual SourceSafe to maintain server-side source control.
  • Integration with Windows NT Performance Monitor, which lets you track key ColdFusion functions through the Performance Monitor.

New Editions
ColdFusion 4.0 comes in two versions. However, instead of a workgroup edition and a professional edition as in Cold Fusion 3.1, version 4.0 comes in a professional edition and an enterprise edition. ColdFusion 4.0 Professional Edition includes all the functionality and database connectivity of Cold Fusion 3.1 Professional Edition, and it handles a wide range of Web applications for various Web site sizes. ColdFusion 4.0 Enterprise Edition is designed for large-scale, high-traffic, application-intensive Web sites. The enterprise edition includes native database drivers for Oracle and Sybase, server sandbox security, Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) connectivity, and a clustering solution for dynamic load balancing and automatic server failover.

Clustering.
The enterprise edition's clustering feature ensures high server availability through BrightTiger's ClusterCATS, a load-balancing failover solution. ClusterCATS lets you cluster distributed Web servers into one high-performance, high-availability Web server resource environment. A server cluster consists of two or more Web servers located on a LAN or WAN.

ClusterCATS provides load balancing by directing HTTP requests to the optimum Web server in a cluster. ClusterCATS determines the best server by calculating the average HTTP server response time of each server and directing requests to the fastest responding server. The ClusterCATS Explorer lets you create clusters; add and remove servers from a cluster; restrict or allow users access to servers, directories, or files in the cluster; and select events for alarms and specify who gets alarm email distributions. You can configure alarms for Disk Failure, HTTP Server Failure, Server Busy Warning, Server Unreachable, and Web Server Failover.

Security.
Allaire has improved ColdFusion 4.0 Enterprise Edition's security options. The product now includes two levels of security: Basic and Advanced. With Basic Security, a password secures access to the ColdFusion Administrator (the ColdFusion Administrator is the Web interface that lets you configure the ColdFusion server, as Screen 1, page 179, shows). The professional edition includes basic security.

Advanced Security lets you use Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) directories or NT domains to authenticate individual users. Also, you can grant users access rights based on their logon or group association. With Advanced Security you can enforce security at a very granular level, such as adding or deleting data sources or server caching settings.

Platform support.
ColdFusion 4.0 Professional Edition supports Apache and servers that use Netscape API (NSAPI), Internet Server API (ISAPI), and Common Gateway Interface (CGI). The enterprise edition also supports these platforms. However, if you want to use the clustering solution, ColdFusion 4.0 supports only Internet Information Server (IIS). Allaire is developing clustering support for additional Web servers.

Ease of use.
ColdFusion 4.0 is easy to install and configure. Even installing and configuring the clustering environment is straightforward. The only challenging aspect of ColdFusion (even for an experienced ColdFusion user) is using the new Advanced Security.

To help you figure out how to use ColdFusion's new features, Allaire ships sample applications with the product. The sample applications in past versions of ColdFusion have shown you how to use a feature by providing an example of the feature in use. Unfortunately, the sample applications in ColdFusion 4.0 weren't very helpful because they didn't specify which features were new and how to use those new features. The sample applications were graphically pleasing but functionally lacking.

Smooth Sailing
Overall, ColdFusion 4.0 is a great product. This tag-based markup language application server is truly a developer's tool. You can create powerful applications in a short amount of time with ColdFusion 4.0.

ColdFusion 4.0
Contact: Allaire * 888-939-2545
Web: http://www.allaire.com
Price: $1295 Professional Edition; $3495 Enterprise Edition
System Requirements: Windows NT