A review of XWall 3.1 and Mapforce 2004

Pricey Web protection, but developer-friendly
XWall 3.1
Cost: starts at $2,500
Forum Systems Inc.
Sandy, Utah
Rating: 5 out of 5

The main point of this product is to protect you from attacks on your Web services. How will your XML parser react if someone throws a few megabytes of information into what should be a short element? Are you free of SQL injection attacks carried by XML payloads?

These are just two of the possibilities covered by Forum’s XML Intrusion Prevention (XIP) protocol, which allows you to set parameters on things like the amount or size of traffic, and to do so on a document or element level. You can also secure all or part of a document so that it is only available to particular users, and hide Web services servers behind the firewall. More interesting to me as a developer is the ability of the product to perform WS-I 1.0 Basic Profile conformance checking at both design and runtime.

One unique capability is that you can decide which parts of WS-I matter to your organization, and configure the XWall accordingly. A developer can then upload the WSDL they are working on to the XWall, and get back a log or HTML report listing any conformance problems that reflects the corporate choices. Installing the app was easy, and getting the licensing set up did not take long. From there, though, things become overwhelming.

There are about 35 MB of PDFs to document things, and none of them has a friendly name like “Getting Started.” I eventually muddled through to what I wanted -- the WS-I piece -- but plan on some serious study time to understand how all of the pieces fit together.

Once I found the right spot in the product, though, the WS-I conformance checking lived up to its advertising; it was easy to use and quickly pinpointed issues in some WSDL files I had hanging around. I doubt anyone will spend $2,500 just for conformance checking -- but if your organization is seriously into WSDL, and you have a chance to influence the choice of a firewall strategy, you might put in a few good words for XWall. At the very least, it is a developer-friendly piece of software despite the fact that it is aimed mainly at systems administrator problems.

Data mapping tool packs flexibility and power 
Mapforce 2004
Cost: starts at $249
Altova Inc.
Beverly, Mass.
Rating: 5 out of 5

As you can probably guess from the name, Mapforce is a data mapping tool. Specifically, it lets you map from XML schemas and documents, databases or EDIFACT messages to XML schemas and documents or databases.

Mapping is done in a drag-and-drop environment. As you work with the mappings, you can preview the output of sample data. When you are set, a menu pick generates XSLT transforms or mapping code in Java, C# or C++. Mapforce is pretty easy to work with.

There is a work area that shows your source and target schemas, and a library of transformation functions that you can use. If you just want to map, say, CustName in one schema to CustomerName in the other, you can drag and drop one element or attribute to another. (Mapforce will automatically hook up child elements that have the same name between the two schemas.)

The function library allows you to handle more complex situations. For instance, you can use a substring component to strip out just part of a source element for the target. Choosing the start and length is mostly a drag-and-drop process; add a couple of constant elements to the mapping, drag the connectors to the right place, and you are done.

This version offers much more power for database mapping than did previous releases. One nice thing you can do is to use Mapforce as an interactive data transformation tool. Use ADO to connect to the source and target databases, then the usual drag-and-drop process to hook up tables and fields. Switch to the Output tab in Mapforce, and you will see the INSERT SQL statements necessary to move the data. If you are satisfied, you can execute the script directly from within Mapforce.

If you are using XSLT to transform between XML schemas, or want to move from database to XML and vice versa without writing code by hand, Mapforce can probably handle your requirements. Like Altova’s other applications, it is quick and attractive, and packs a lot of flexibility and power into a single integrated package.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.


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