ColdFusion 8 Review

When Adobe took on the Macromedia product range it gained – in addition to some of the best web development tools – a number of core server technologies. ColdFusion has evolved over the last 12 years from a small application focusing on database access, to a framework for the development of internet-capable object-orientated applications.

There are three versions of ColdFusion 8 – an Enterprise, a Standard, and a Developers edition. The focus of this review is the Enterprise edition; intended for the serving of internet-capable databases and web-enabled applications within a large-scale enterprise.

New in ColdFusion 8 is a Server monitor. This provides detailed information about the local server (and potentially others to which you have a direct link). This monitoring information is presented in a variety of tables and charts, providing an at-a-glance overview of your server activity.

Manipulating PDFs
When it comes to PDFs, the ‘CFML’ programming language built into ColdFusion allows you to dynamically populate and read data from PDF documents and forms alike. With the new CFPDF tag you can merge several PDF documents into one, delete pages, merge pages, optimize PDFs, and remove interactivity from forms created in Acrobat. It’s a compliment to Acrobat, though you don’t necessarily need a full version of Acrobat.

You can use this to enter data on to the screen, or as a means of populating a form using data stored within a central (or off-site) database. This is ideal if you need to produce passes for a college, for instance – you can produce a PDF file requiring a name, age, student number and photograph, then draw the data from an off-site database.

In ColdFusion 8, programmers benefit from native support for Microsoft .NET – you can access .NET assembly classes as objects through CFML. For Mac users this is of a considerable benefit – there is no need for a .NET runtime to be present on the machine; you can make use of binaries stored elsewhere on your computer.

Also new to ColdFusion is a feature that allows you to create rich presentations pulling in data from your dataset stored within ColdFusion or any other instance of a ColdFusion server. With the CFPRESENTATION tag you can dynamically create a presentation, a set of figures (which can be pulled from your server), or a series of photographs – in fact anything you like. These are constructed using HTML with help from CFML.

You can attach virtually any file format – PDF, SWF, all manner of movies – and for purists the use of a text language to describe a presentation places more emphasis on the content than on the construction.

The final presentation is offered as a Flash file. This has advantages – by its nature Flash is scalable without loss of quality. However, over the years Macromedia placed a number of restrictions on what a Flash file could do. If you’re after a full multimedia presentation capable of launching data from multiple servers, you may be disappointed.

The administration console gives you complete control over your users. You do this by assigning roles to users, which then restricts how far into the administration console they can actually go. This is useful when you have a number of projects stored on one server and different project administrators.

On a high level, ColdFusion is one of the most comprehensive database tools in years – but it’s so much more. It’s a presentation package, a programming language, a means of producing and editing PDFs and images, and it’s available for every major platform.

OUR VERDICT

As a software development framework, ColdFusion competes against a number of free technologies – ASP, .NET, and Java for example – but its advantage lies in its implementation. Each edition of ColdFusion addresses a specific need. Before spending money, check out the free Developer Edition, which includes a 30-day trial. This is a full product limited solely by the number of machines you can access. Whichever edition you buy will depend upon the access you require, and hence whether or not the price can be justified within your environment.

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