Why developers should check out ColdFusion 8

Brian Kotek says existing ColdFusion users will find a lot to be happy about in version 8. He urges developers to try the application server and give it an honest look.

Adobe ColdFusion 8 (CF 8) is a force to be reckoned with in the application server space. I've been using ColdFusion for 10 years, and I haven't seen the community this excited about a new release in a long time. The recent release is by far the most compelling version since they moved to the Java platform -- and possibly even the most compelling version ever.

There is a long list of new features and enhancements in CF 8, but in this article, I'm just going to focus on five of my favorites.

Server Monitor

The Developer and Enterprise Editions of CF 8 offer the highly anticipated Server Monitor feature. This might be the single biggest addition to ColdFusion, since it blows away anything I've seen on any other server platform.

Using the beautiful Flex-based Server Monitor interface, you can now watch requests move through a live server. You can see exactly how much memory a session or an application is using, what the template cache is doing, and which threads are taking too long to run.

You can also drill down into live requests and see which individual tags or method calls are slowing things down. It's immensely powerful to watch the monitor and immediately tune your code in response. Is a query getting executed a lot? Cache it! Is a tag or function causing a bottleneck? Now you know exactly what line of code to optimize. Want to write your own code that runs in response to a hung thread, low JVM memory, or anything else? The monitor API will let you.

Exchange integration

It's incredibly easy to integrate CF 8 with Microsoft Exchange. With a few lines of code, you can add events to Exchange calendars; add and remove attendees; manipulate tasks, contacts, lists, and more.

Love it or hate it, Exchange is such a staple for many IT departments that the ability to interact with it -- or even build your own full-blown interface to your Exchange data -- is a big boon to a lot of businesses that use ColdFusion.

AJAX capabilities

Another hugely popular addition in CF 8 is a large set of built-in AJAX functionality. By using simple tags or JavaScript functions, ColdFusion will handle all the chores for creating great AJAX-based applications. CF 8 makes these things a snap: autosuggest, related select boxes, dynamic content updates, and EXT-based datagrids.

One of the coolest features is the ability to create JavaScript proxies for server-side ColdFusion Components (CFCs). You can call a method on the proxy, and under the hood it will make a call to the corresponding method on the CFC. All the work of translating data to and from JavaScript Object Notation, converting ColdFusion datatypes into JavaScript types, and protecting against hack attempts is all handled for you by the ColdFusion server.

There's even an excellent AJAX debugging window that shows everything that is going on. This probably has the biggest "wow" factor for the new release, since developers of any skill level can whip up a jaw-dropping AJAX application in minutes.

Image manipulation

CF 8 takes image manipulation to a new level. Adobe added more than 50 new tags and functions for dealing with images. The capabilities include simple things like resizing, getting image sizes, and converting images, as well as virtually any image-based task you can imagine. This includes drawing, adding text, and adding effects such as blurring, antialiasing, and rotating.


The best improvement in CF 8 is that it's really fast. The development team really outdid themselves in this area. Depending on the application, it can be up to 10 times faster than CF 6 or CF 7. Some processes, like CFC instantiation, are an eye-popping 23 times faster than CF 7. So even if you upgrade to CF 8 and don't use any new features, your application could easily triple or quadruple its performance on the same hardware. This is quite a compelling reason to upgrade.

Great extras

I'm only scratching the surface of all the amazing new capabilities in CF 8. The list goes on and on to include: generating ATOM and RSS feeds with one line of code; zip file manipulation; built-in Flex Data Services; ColdFusion administrator enhancements; and PDF and PDF form generation. There are three additional benefits to using CF 8 that I will briefly cover.

CF 8 lets you integrate with .NET objects as easily as you can currently integrate with Java objects. The .NET assets can be remote, which means you can use them even if your ColdFusion server is running a UNIX-based OS.

Adobe supplies a series of nice plug-ins for the Eclipse IDE that work with CF 8. This includes simple things like built-in ColdFusion docs, automatic generation of CFCs (including ActiveRecord, Data Access Objects, Beans, etc.), and wizards that will generate a full-blown AJAX application. It also includes a full debugging perspective. In conjunction with the free CFEclipse plug-in, this makes Eclipse the standard IDE for most advanced ColdFusion developers.

CF 8 gives you the ability to do your own thread-based programming. If you have a long running task, you can fire off another processing thread and forget about it; or you can trigger multiple threads to speed up a process and then join them back together and continue.

Download a free edition of CF 8

CF 8 Developer Edition is free, so I urge you to give it an honest look. I believe existing ColdFusion users will find a lot to like in version 8, and new users should try out this application server.

What do you think of CF 8?

Now that I've shared my thoughts about my favorite features and enhancements in CF 8, I want to hear what you think of this release. What features do you like the most in CF 8? If you aren't using CF 8, what features pique your interest enough to give it a look?