Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tag Libraries: JSTL, NetUI, Spring MVC, or Struts Tag Library

Not occasionally JSP developers need to iterate through collections and evaluate conditions before presenting the data. Tag libraries come in handy to provide a solution. However, there are quite a few Tag Libraries available, for example, the JSTL, NetUI, Spring MVC, and Struts tag libraries. Which one to choose? The quick answer is to use JSTL whenever possible. Use other tag libraries only when absolutely necessary.

Tag Libraries are not much different than any other utility libraries. Different vendors provide different features. JavaServer Pages Standard Tag Library (JSTL) is the most-accepted one and still powerful enough for common usages. If a non-standard tag library is chosen for additional features and convenience, other developers may have to climb a learning curve before being productive.

Additionally JSTL is designed to complement the HTML tags with 'logic control'
capabilities. This is in contrast to NetUI tag libraries, who replaces the HTML tags. Another example is Spring MVC's tag library. It is tightly integrated ONLY with the Spring MVC framework for convenient data binding. Tag libraries competing with HTML tags may create further compatibility issues. Sometimes JSP pages are touched by both developers and UI design artists. The UI design artists do not want to see any specialized tags by all means. Struts Tag Library used to gain a lot of popularity due to the success of the legend Struts framework. Now its document website has comments like, 'Some of the features in this taglib are also available in the JavaServer Pages Standard Tag Library (JSTL). The Struts team encourages the use of the standard tags over the Struts specific tags when possible.'

In a conclusion, JSTL tag library is the standard way to provides common logic processing features, such as to iterate through collections and to evaluate conditions. It complements the HTML tags. It will be the best choice for most common situations. Alternative ones, like NetUI, Spring MVC, or Struts Tag Library, may be chosen for additional functionalities.

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