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From "SAP Basis" to "SAP Web Application Server" - It's Much More Than Just a Name Change!

by Dr. Franz-Josef Fritz | SAPinsider

July 1, 2001

by Dr. Franz-Josef Fritz, SAP AG SAPinsider - 2001 (Volume 2), July (Issue 3)
 

With Web Application Server Release 6.10, SAP presents the HTTP-enabled successor to the tried-and-true Basis system. This new building block of the SAP technology platform adds a powerful mix of web enablement and development features to the Basis functionality that SAP customers are now familiar with. SAP Insider asked Dr. Franz-Josef Fritz, Vice President, Technology Product Management for SAP AG, to discuss the enhancements and features now available with the SAP Web Application Server.

The SAP Web Application Server is the underlying technology of almost all solutions of mySAP.com. This is the new name for what has been referred to previously as SAP Basis, and reflects the significant web-enabling enhancements embodied in this new incarnation of the SAP technology layer - native support for HTTP and other Internet protocols, server-side scripting technologies, and support for other programming languages such as JavaScript. Never-theless, the SAP Web Application Server still supports all proven SAP programming models.

     We at SAP are using the SAP Web Application Server in its newest release as the technical foundation for mySAP CRM 3.0, mySAP Workplace 3.0, and for the upcoming releases of mySAP APO and mySAP BW. It is also the foundation for SAP R/3 Enterprise, the successor to the R/3 ERP solution.

     In fact, starting with Release 6.10, the SAP Web Application Server is at the core of all major SAP application components. This new release numbering scheme reflects the fact that the SAP Web Application Server is no longer just part of R/3, it is a component in its own right. Because of its value as a web application development and deployment platform, the SAP Web Application Server will be delivered to customers starting at the end of June 2001.1

     So what can you use the SAP Web Application Server for? Given all its native web capabilities, your options are wide open:

  • Web development platform: The SAP Web Application Server provides a platform for quickly developing and deploying dynamic and collaborative web applications or other thin-client applications (WAP, PDA, and so on).
  • Application server: It can act as a server for bringing browser-based applications such as employee services, Internet shops, and engineering collaborations to users, whether they are inside or outside a company.
  • Frontend integration: It can act as a frontend to access other web applications for collecting and aggregating information and data.
  • Technology platform: It is a major, but evolutionary, extension of the former SAP Basis, with all its development and deployment features and benefits.

     This article offers developers and administrators a preview of the many new features and benefits of the SAP Web Application Server.

New Development Features You Won't Find in SAP Basis

HTTP Enabling

With pre-6.10 releases, two protocols are generally used to connect the SAP application server to the Internet: the SAP dialog protocol and the RFC protocol. Support for HTTP has been external to the SAP application server, supported on the Internet Transaction Server (ITS), which offers access to any SAP transaction over the Internet through its built-in HTML GUI. ITS is well suited for bringing the "classical" enterprise applications to the browser for zero installation deployment and access from anywhere in the world. However, it is less than ideal for native web applications that are not easily derived from standard SAP GUI screens.

     The SAP Web Application Server, on the other hand, is a native web server, and HTTP support is native to this platform. It contains the "Internet communication manager," which receives HTTP requests and maps the requested URL to an ABAP class. This class acts as the HTTP handler and has access to the submitted URL request and response structure.

Business Server Pages (BSPs)

With 6.10, a new program model for web application development is introduced: Business Server Pages. BSPs allow developers to design the web UI of an Internet application based on HTML templates. They may contain server-side script code written in ABAP or JavaScript, with far more power and flexibility than the capabilities of HTML business functions in ITS.

     A BSP application consists of a collection of HTML pages that describe your web UI. You can use any kind of HTML tags in your pages. Each HTML page contains embedded server-side code (ABAP or JavaScript) surrounded by standard tags. This code is executed upon a corresponding URL request.

Web Application Builder

The SAP Web Application Server introduces the Web Application Builder, a tool that is completely integrated with ABAP development tools and enables programmers to develop Business Server Page applications.

     You can also use external web devel- opment and design tools (which support the standard WebDAV interface) in order to create or change the page layout.

     If you compile and activate such a page in the development environment, the ABAP compiler checks the script code for syntactic correctness and builds a local ABAP class. This provides an extremely easy-to-use, robust, and productive development environment for web applications, and eliminates many of the complications associated with previous web development tools.

Custom Tags

BSP applications can be set up quickly, since you can use all the traditional ABAP techniques (Open SQL, internal tables, etc.) for page generation. As your web applications become more complex, however, HTML scripting has its limitations, and turns out to be a rather low-level way of designing web UIs. Adding your company's branding, for example, requires developers to tediously dig through HTML code, with no easy way to change the layout of an existing web application.

     One part of the answer is provided by Cascading Style Sheets, which can take care of customer branding. Cus-tomers can apply their own styles for fonts, colors, etc.

     Another piece of this solution is custom tags, which have been used in Java environments for some time. Cus-tom tags allow developers to create specific tags that can be used by web page designers just like ordinary HTML tags, but that create tag-specific data streams.

TIP: Custom tags provide a series of benefits, including:

  • Custom rendering: Using custom tags allows for custom rendering. If you are not happy with the standard look and feel of a particular tag, you can create your own rendering without being forced to change the page design.
  • Reuse: Custom tags are reuse items and thus dramatically reduce the size of the web page. Even more important, they can separate design elements from logic, which also leads to a clearer separation of responsibilities between the web page designers and programmers.
  • Browser independence: Custom tags can provide and improve browser independence. Anyone who has written a serious web application knows that only the most trivial web application runs on all browser platforms without modification. Custom tags can hide the technical details of a given browser platform and offer a uniform and portable way to define web UIs.
  • Data binding: You can attach data sources directly to custom tags. The logic behind the tag may access the data from various types of backend data sources, convert the data in a presentation format, and create a chunk of HTML, XML, or even WML for presentation.

     Custom tags will be supported in the Development Workbench for Business Server Pages in the near future.

XML Support

The SAP Web Application Server not only supports interactive Web UI development, it is also a platform for collaborative Internet scenarios based on XML. When working with XML for collaborative applications, you will find many different formats in place. As a result, you need strong mappings and transformation support. To address these needs, an XSLT processor has been integrated into the Web Application Server, which allows the application to transform XML to XML, and XML to native ABAP data structures.

Business Communication Service, ESMTP, and MIME

The infrastructure for external communication has been revised completely. Previously, SAPconnect connected partner products for e-mail, fax, and SMS to an SAP system using Remote Function Calls (RFCs). Now the ESMTP Internet protocol for communication between e-mail servers is natively supported in each mySAP.com component. Functions for MIME format handling are also provided.

Enhanced Development Tools and Features

In addition to the comprehensive extensions of the ABAP language, and tools for web application development enabling and Unicode support, there are numerous new features and enhancements that help to write state-of-the-art, robust, and extensible applications.* These include:

  • A completely overhauled file and export/import interface, supporting Unicode and very large datasets (larger than 2 gigabytes)
  • A brand-new exception-handling scheme, like the kind you find in new object-oriented languages
  • Extension of the RFC protocol to pass deep, nested structures between remote applications
  • Dynamic and generic programming with data references, which can significantly reduce memory consumption
  • A Coverage Analyzer for ensuring that all relevant execution paths of a program are really tested
  • An enhanced tool, the ABAP Debugger, which can debug HTTP handlers and alter the execution flow during debugging**
  • A new Code Inspector for a hierarchy of static checks regarding performance, security, syntax, and semantic correctness
  • A more powerful syntax checker with more useful information and help options
  • A tool to migrate customer exits (transaction CMOD) to the newer extension technique, called Business Add-ins, which allows for multi-level extensions of applications (e.g., generic, industry, country version, partner extension, customer extension)
  • The Package Builder tool to structure, encapsulate, and decouple sets of development objects for safe parallel development in independent groups

* For details on many of these new features and enhancements, see “ABAP 6.10: New Unicode-Enabling Features, Plus a Whole Lot More!” by Karl Kessler and Andreas Blumenthal in this issue of SAP Insider.

** For more information on the ABAP Debugger, see the article “Software Testing and Development with the ABAP Debugger” in the Apr/May/Jun 2001 issue of SAP Insider (Vol. 2, No. 2).

Support for Unicode

SAP has long supported different code pages, such as ASCII, EBCDIC, and double-byte code pages, in order to allow for multiple character sets and a wide variety of languages. However, problems occur when there is a mix of texts from different incompatible character sets in a single application or database. Exchanging data between systems with incompatible character sets also can lead to undefined situations. The solution to this problem is to use Unicode, a code comprising all the characters used throughout the world.

     The SAP Web Application Server now provides support for Unicode. For more on Unicode support within the ABAP language and tools, see the article "ABAP 6.10: New Unicode-Enabling Features, Plus a Whole Lot More!" in this issue of SAP Insider.

New and Enhanced Application Integration Services

Beyond web development capabilities, Release 6.10 of the SAP Web Appli- cation Server brings a whole set of enhancements for configuring and running applications and end user services.

ArchiveLink

ArchiveLink, the standard interface and service layer for the integration of third-party document and content management systems, has been significantly enhanced in terms of usability and robustness. The new Document Viewer provides overall document viewing capabilities for almost every image format available today, while the Document Finder provides an attribute-based search of documents stored in multiple content manage- ment systems.

Business Address Services - Quarterly Adjustment

The addresses maintained by Business Address Services (formerly called "Central Address Management") can now be checked periodically against the published postal data of various regions and countries.

Post Processing Framework

The Post Processing Framework (PPF) enables administrators and end users to selectively print and send messages, or to invoke activities or workflows as the result of transactions, depending on customer-specific configurations and conditions. The PPF is used mainly in the new SAP CRM, SAP APO, and SAP BBP components.

Smart Forms Enhancements

SAP Smart Forms were introduced in SAP Basis Release 4.6C as a tool for creating and maintaining forms. Several enhancements come with Release 6.10, including web properties, some new window types, and further usability enhancements.

Enhancements to Archive Development Kit

The Archive Development Kit (ADK) has been enhanced to:

  • Provide more detailed archiving statistics
  • Improve control of the archiving process, including restart of long-running archiving jobs
  • Guarantee long-term access to both Unicode and non-Unicode archived data

Ease of Installation and Administration

On the system administration side, the SAP Web Application Server introduces new features to improve security, sup-port, configuration, and role management.

Directory-Based User and Role Management

Release 6.10 supports LDAP directories for user and role management, beyond the existing user management facilities and LDAP interfaces of earlier releases.

Strong Authentication and Encryption Capabilities

With the SAP Web Application Server, SAP delivers complimentary cryptographic software that secures server- to-server communication. Any two components of mySAP.com can now communicate in a secure way, providing authentication and encryption by using standard Internet security protocols.

Note Assistant

The new Note Assistant tool helps you to implement SAP Notes. You can use this to automatically apply code changes in SAP Notes from the SAP Service Marketplace.

System Landscape Installation Manager

With the System Landscape Installation Manager, SAP moves from single component installation to system landscape installation. A graphical planning tool makes configuring your system landscape easy - distributing components to your physical servers using Drag and Drop, thereby reducing installation time significantly.

Improvements to the Computing Center Management System

Several functions of the Computing Center Management System (CCMS) System Component Repository have been improved and extended.

     Agents now enable the monitoring of components that do not possess ABAP interfaces, such as an SAP Internet Transaction Server (ITS), and of components that are not part of the mySAP.com environment.

     With Release 6.10, the availability and operating attributes of components in the SAP environment can now be monitored centrally. Using agent technology, you can, for any monitored component, execute automatic reactions to events and error states centrally and promptly.

Extended Business Configuration Set Functions

Business Configuration Sets (BC Sets) record customizing-setting snapshots. BC Sets can document customizing settings, transport them into another system, and import their contents into its tables (activate BC Set). In contrast to a transport request, you can handle individual values, not just complete rows, transport them into a target system, and import them into its tables. This gives customizers and implementation teams a chance to look over the settings before adopting them, which is a big benefit for global rollouts.

Summary

The SAP Web Application Server not only provides complete support for web application development and execution and for full Unicode enabling, it also comes with a rich set of new and enhanced functions. With these capabilities, you will see many benefits for custom-built and SAP application components based and built on SAP Web Application Server 6.10. Migration will be very easy, and overall performance is equal to - or in some cases significantly better than - earlier releases.

     Looking for more information on the Web Application Server? Delta training will be available in the near future. Watch for further updates at www.sap.com/technology.












Franz J. Fritz has a Ph.D. in mathematics and 30 years of experience in all areas of IT. Workflow and business process management have been particular areas of interest for much of his life. He has worked for SAP since 1993 as Program Director and Vice President with responsibility for the Business Process Technology and Internet-Business Framework departments. His current responsibilities include overall technology architecture and technology product management.



1 Note that a pre-release version with the code name "road runner" has been available since November 2000.

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