Shortly before winter vacation, an IBM colleague contacted me to learn more about how extensibility – particularly web UI extensibility – works in the IBM Rational Jazz Platform on which I work. After typing up my response I thought it might be interesting to a broader audience so I’ve reposted it here (with some minor tweaks for clarity). Note that some but not all of the links below require registration (sorry).


Hi <redacted>,

You are correct that as of Jazz Foundation 1.0.x (shipped this year), one contributes “viewlets” (a Jazz-specific widget mechanism comparable to OpenSocial Gadgets and iWidgets) to Jazz Dashboards via a server-side Eclipse extension point.

However, the Jazz extensibility story is more complex than OSGi bundles and Eclipse extension points. I will explain this below, with the assumption that you are interested.

Original Extensibility Mechanism Based on Bundles and Extension-points

When we first started the Jazz server work in 2005 we made a design decision that the Jazz server would be based on Java/OSGi and you contribute capabilities to the server by adding additional OSGi bundles. I’m guessing you’re very familiar with this architecture; it’s of course very similar to the Eclipse workbench except instead of contributing actions and views (e.g. to implement a Java IDE) you contributed web services and data definitions (e.g. to implement a bug tracking system). We went so far as to enable this style of programming for Dojo-based Ajax code so that developers could add “web bundles” and have the Jazz Web UI framework discover and surface their web capabilities in the Jazz Web UI. The Dashboard viewlets are one example of an extension-point-based extension. There are other extensions also enabled by extension-points (as in Eclipse, this extensibility model is open-ended).

Shift Towards a RESTful Architecture

Around 2007 we came to the conclusion that the “extend the server” model wouldn’t enable us to achieve our broad goal of “enabling integration of heterogenous tools across the software lifecycle”. There were several blocking problems with this architecture. I will list a few below:

We came to the conclusion that the RPC style service APIs were too fragile over time and would make it difficult to allow for independent upgrades of different tools in an environment containing many tools.

We could only support a narrow range of technologies (i.e. OSGi-ified Java and JavaScript code built on top of our server architecture). This limitation is readily apparent when you compare it to something like OpenSocial Gadgets or iWidget where you need only specify a gadget/widget URL to achieve integration.

This caused us to take a step back and ultimately decided to use the REST architectural style to achieve integration across tools. For instance this year we enabled several integrations between our Requirements Composer, Team Concert, and Quality Manager products using RESTful protocols and APIs. For an example of these integrations, see this video on that demonstrates how we use REST and Discovery to drive linking and “picker” integration between two tools.

Implications of RESTful Architecture on Extensibility Model

The shift to the RESTful architecture left a gap w/r/t extensibility. I.e. how do we meet extensibility needs if we can’t assume a homogeneous OSGi/Java/JavaScript-based programming model? The solution we came up with was something that we generically call “Discovery” (an overloaded term, I know). Basically each tool in a Jazz environment has a single “root services” document that describes the basic capabilities of the tool and has pointers to other documents that contain more details about a specific service. You configure tools to know about each others’ service documents, and from there they can discover and (if appropriate) consume each others’ capabilities using spec’d protocols (as opposed to physically installing code from Tool A within Tool B’s environment).

For instance, we have a “viewlet provider” service type that announces that the tool in question has viewlets that can be embedded in Dashboards. Here’s an example of how it works:

  • Tool A has Jazz Dashboards capabilities
  • Tool B claims to be a “viewlet provider”
  • Tool A is configured to connect to Tool B (this includes specifying Tool B’s root URL and configuring an OAuth consumer / provider relationship)
  • Tool A is now able to host Tool B’s viewlets in its Dashboards

The interesting thing about this is that Tool A and Tool B could be implemented in wildly different ways… e.g. OSGi/Java vs. PHP.

* As an aside, we are currently working to deprecate Jazz Viewlets and adding the ability to host iWidgets and OpenSocial gadgets in Jazz Dashboards. This is in plan for 2010.

Going Foward

Even though we have moved to a REST-centric architecture, OSGi and Extension Points are still important, but less so than they used to be. We will continue to ship and use the OSGi and Extension Point-based Ajax frameworks and building blocks for the near future, but our major development investments and the Jazz SDK‘s focus will only assume fundamental web technologies like HTTP, HTML, JavaScript, and CSS and provide optional higher-level frameworks around emerging web standards like OAuth and OpenSocial.

I hope this was useful for you.

– Bill