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Objects, the Network, and Jini
by Bill Venners
First Published in JavaWorld, June 1999

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This article introduces Sun Microsystems's Jini technology; demonstrates how Jini enables services on a network to find each other through the processes of discovery, join, and lookup; and explains how Jini's architecture brings the benefits of object-oriented programming to the network.

Welcome to the first installment of Jiniology, JavaWorld's new column dedicated to distributed systems programming with Java, RMI (Remote Method Invocation), and Jini. In this first article, I'll present an introduction to Jini technology and show how Jini's architecture helps to raise the level of abstraction in distributed systems programming, effectively turning network programming into object-oriented programming.

Jini in context
Traditionally, operating systems have been designed with the assumption that a computer will have a processor, some memory, and a disk. When you boot a computer, the first thing it does is look for a disk. If it doesn't find a disk, it can't function as a computer. Increasingly, however, computers are appearing in a different guise: as embedded devices that have a processor, some memory, and a network connection -- but no disk. The first thing a cellphone does when you boot it up, for example, is look for the telephone network. If it doesn't find the network, it can't function as a cellphone. This trend in the hardware environment, from disk-centric to network-centric, will affect how we organize our software -- and that's where Jini comes in.

Jini is an attempt to rethink computer architecture, given the rising importance of the network and the proliferation of processors in devices that have no disk drive. These devices, which will come from many different vendors, will need to interact over a network. The network itself will be very dynamic -- devices and services will be added and removed regularly. Jini provides mechanisms to enable smooth adding, removal, and finding of devices and services on the network. In addition, Jini provides a programming model that makes it easier for programmers to get their devices talking to each other.

Building on top of Java, object serialization, and RMI, which enable objects to move around the network from virtual machine to virtual machine, Jini attempts to extend the benefits of object-oriented programming to the network. Instead of requiring device vendors to agree on the network protocols through which their devices can interact, Jini enables the devices to talk to each other through interfaces to objects.

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