WebObjects is a Java web application server and a server-based web application framework originally developed by NeXT Software, Inc. As of 2009 the software has been independently maintained by a volunteer community.
WebObject’s hallmark features are its object-orientation, database connectivity, and prototyping tools. Applications created with WebObjects can be deployed as web sites, Java WebStart desktop applications, and/or standards-based web services.
The deployment runtime is pure Java, allowing developers to deploy WebObjects applications on platforms that support Java. One can use the included WebObjects Java SE application server or deploy on third-party Java EE application servers such as JBoss, Apache Tomcat, WebLogic Server or IBM WebSphere.
WebObjects was created by NeXT Software, Inc., first publicly demonstrated at the Object World conference in 1995 and released to the public in March 1996. The time and cost benefits of rapid, object-oriented development attracted major corporations to WebObjects in the early days of e-commerce, with clients including BBC News, Dell Computer, Disney, DreamWorks SKG, Fannie Mae, GE Capital, Merrill Lynch, and Motorola. However, following NeXT’s merger into Apple Inc. in 1997, WebObjects’ public profile languished. Many early adopters later switched to alternative technologies, and currently Apple remains the biggest client for the software, relying on it to power parts of its online Apple Store and the iTunes Store — WebObjects’ highest-profile implementation.
WebObjects was part of Apple’s strategy of using software to drive hardware sales, and in 2000 the price was lowered from $50,000 (for the full deployment license) to $699. From May 2001 WebObjects was included with Mac OS X Server, and no longer required a license key for development or deployment.
WebObjects transitioned from a stand-alone product to be a part of Mac OS X with the release of version 5.3 in June 2005. The developer tools and frameworks, which previously sold for US$699, were bundled with Apple’s Xcode IDE. Support for other platforms, such as Windows, was then discontinued. Apple said that it would further integrate WebObjects development tools with Xcode in future releases. This included a new EOModeler Plugin for Xcode. This strategy, however, was not pursued further.
In 2006, Apple announced the deprecation of Mac OS X’s Cocoa-Java bridge with the release of Xcode 2.4 at the August 2006 Worldwide Developers Conference, and with it all dependent features, including the entire suite of WebObjects developer applications: EOModeler, EOModeler Plugin, WebObjects Builder, WebServices Assistant, RuleEditor and WOALauncher. Apple had decided to concentrate its engineering resources on the runtime engine of WebObjects, leaving the future responsibility for developer applications with the open-source community. The main open-source alternative — the Eclipse IDE with the WOLips suite of plugins — had matured to such an extent that its capabilities had, in many areas, surpassed those of Apple’s own tools, which had not seen significant updates for a number of years.
Apple promised to provide assistance to the community in its efforts to extend such tools and develop new ones. In a posting to the webobjects-dev mailing list, Daryl Lee from Apple’s WebObjects team publicly disclosed the company’s new strategy for WebObjects. It promised to “make WebObjects the best server-side runtime environment” by:
WebObjects 5.4, which shipped with Mac OS X Leopard in October 2007, removed the license key requirement for both development and deployment of WebObjects applications on all platforms. All methods for checking license limitations were then deprecated.
In 2009, Apple stopped issuing new releases of WebObjects outside Apple. The community decided to continue development with Project Wonder, an open-source framework built on top of the core WebObjects frameworks and extends them. For example, Project Wonder has updated development tools and provides a REST framework that was not part of the original WebObjects package.
Though once included in the default installation of Mac OS X Server, WebObjects was no longer installed by default starting with Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server and shortly after, Apple ceased promoting or selling WebObjects. As of 2016, WebObjects is actively supported by its developer community, the “WOCommunity Association”, by extending the core frameworks and providing fixes with Project Wonder. The organization last held a Worldwide WebObjects Developer Conference, WOWODC, in 2013.
In May 2016, Apple confirmed that WebObjects had been discontinued.
As of 2016 most WebObjects architects and engineers are using the tools being developed by the WebObjects community. These tools run within the Eclipse IDE and are open-source. The WebObjects plug-ins for Eclipse are known as WOLips.
Building WebObjects frameworks and applications for deployment is typically achieved using the WOProject set of tools for Apache Ant or Apache Maven. These tools are distributed with WOLips.
A WebObjects application is essentially a server-side executable, created by combining prebuilt application framework objects with the developer’s own custom code. WebObjects’ frameworks can be broken down into three core parts:
WebObjects features a set of rapid development technologies that can automatically create a Web application without the need to write any Java code. Given a model file for a database, WebObjects will create an interface supporting nine common database tasks, including querying, editing and listing. Such applications are useful for prototyping or administering a database, perhaps to check relationships or to seed the database with data.
The user interface is generated dynamically, on-the-fly at runtime using a rules-based system—no code is generated. Consequently, one can modify an application’s configuration at runtime (using an assistant program) without recompiling or relaunching the application.
Developers can utilize one of three different technologies, depending upon the type of interface they wish to employ:
WebObjects is a 100% Java product with the following Java-based features:
WebObjects was originally released by NeXT Computer in March 1996, but was acquired by Apple Inc. with their acquisition of NeXT in December of that year.
Since 2007, the community has held an annual conference for WebObjects developers, WOWODC. In 2007 and 2008, the conference was held the weekend before WWDC, and in 2009, the community promoted two conferences: WOWODC West in San Francisco on June 6 and 7, immediately before WWDC, and WOWODC East in Montreal on August 29 and 30. WOWODC 2010 was held in Montreal on August 27, 28 and 29, 2010. WOWODC 2011 was held in Montreal on July 1, 2 and 3 in 2011. WOWODC 2012 was held in Montreal on June 30, July 1 and 2, 2012. WOWODC 2013 was held in Montreal. WOWODC 2014 was held in Montreal (April 12, 13 and 14). WOWODC 2015 was held in Hamburg on April 25, 26 and 27. WOWODC 2016 was held in Montreal on June 24, 25 and 26
Interest in OpenSource alternatives to WebObjects that use the Objective-C language grew with WebObjects’ move from Objective-C (last version WO 4.5.1) to Java (first version WO 5.0). The two frameworks available are SOPE, which has been used as the basis of the OpenGroupware.org groupware server for about eight years, and GNUstepWeb, which is part of the GNUstep project. Open-source rewrites of the EOF frameworks also exist (AJRDatabase, GDL2).
There are also Java-based alternatives:
An attempt to do a Swift version based on SOPE / GETobjects is available as SwiftObjects. The implementation for Swift 4 is limited due to the reflection capabilities of that Swift version.