Message-oriented middleware (MOM) is a client/server infrastructure that increases the interoperability, portability, and flexibility of an application by allowing the application to be distributed over multiple heterogeneous platforms. It reduces the complexity of developing applications that span multiple operating systems and network protocols by insulating the application developer from the details of the various operating system and network interfaces. APIs that extend across diverse platforms and networks are typically provided by the MOM.
MOM is software that resides in both portions of client/server architecture and typically supports asynchronous calls between the client and server applications. Message queues provide temporary storage when the destination program is busy or not connected. MOM reduces the involvement of application developers with the complexity of the master-slave nature of the client/server mechanism.
The bank had stored all its customer details on its large mainframe since the 1960s. This mainframe remained in heavy use and underwent several upgrades.
Although ground-breaking in its day, the mainframe's usefulness to the bank’s staff diminished as the bank introduced new, separate applications based on personal computers (PCs), allowing the bank’s staff to offer customers new services that the mainframe could not support.
An ideal situation would allow the PC-based application to link to the older mainframe application and allow the mainframe and the PCs to share each others' data. Accessing the mainframe’s data offers two advantages:
Up until the late 1980s systems builders had no easy way to link these different applications together. Developers faced several challenges:
Such issues made integration between applications difficult. Much of such integration also required re-engineering every time two applications on disparate platforms needed linking together, as every situation differed to some extent. By devoting effort to linking together applications on different systems, IT departments started to spend nine or ten times the amount spent on original development per sub-system.
Developers apparently needed a separate piece of software that would literally sit in the middle of two or more applications and would handle all the ‘plumbing’ between the two systems. Such software needed the intelligence to handle different platforms, different programming languages, various network protocols and diverse hardware. Developers allegedly wanted to remove themselves from the complexities of the underlying computing infrastructure so that they could focus on functionality within actual applications.
Towards the end of the 1980s middleware began to emerge that attempted to address these issues. Initial middleware offerings addressed specific handfuls of platforms or languages and thus had limited usefulness. Over time, however, middleware products have become more and more advanced, supporting multiple platforms, languages and protocols.
The ability of middleware to link together disparate systems across a heterogeneous network environment offers only one example of the benefits of this dominant technology. Middleware as of 2006 provides a whole raft of new functionality that augments and enhances the existing applications that it interconnects.
Most MOM systems provide persistent storage to back up the message transfer medium. This means that the sender and receiver do not need to connect to the network at the same time (asynchronous delivery). This becomes particularly useful when dealing with intermittent connections, such as unreliable networks, casual users or timed connections. It also means that should the receiver application fail for any reason, the senders can continue unaffected, as the messages they send will simply accumulate in the message store for later processing when the receiver restarts.
In a message-based middleware system, the recipient's message need not replicate the sender's message exactly. A MOM system with built-in intelligence can transform messages en-route to match the requirements of the sender or of the recipient. In conjunction with the routing and broadcast/multicast facilities, one application can send a message in its own native format, and two or more other applications may each receive a copy of the message in their own native format. Many modern MOM systems provide sophisticated message transformation (or mapping) tools which allow programmers to specify transformation rules applicable to a simple GUI drag-and-drop operation.
The primary disadvantage of message oriented middleware stems from its requiring an extra component in the architecture, the message transfer agent. As with any system, adding another component can lead to reductions in performance and reliability, and can also make the system as a whole more difficult and expensive to maintain.
In addition, many inter-application communications have an intrinsically synchronous aspect, with the sender specifically wanting to wait for a reply before continuing (see real-time computing and near-real-time for extreme cases). Because message-based communication inherently functions asynchronously, it may not fit well in such situations. That said, most MOM systems have facilities to group a request and a response as a single pseudo-synchronous transaction.
The lack of standards governing the use of message oriented middleware has caused problems. All the major vendors have their own implementations, each with its own application programming interface (API) and management tools.
The Java EE programming environment provides a standard API called JMS (Java Message Service), which is implemented by most MOM vendors and aims to hide the particular MOM API implementations. Microsoft's MSMQ doesn't support JMS, although there are third-party products that can offer this.
The Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) is an attempt to define behavior of the messaging server and client such that implementations are truly interoperable. The flexibility of this protocol to define installations with point to point messaging, publish/subscribe messaging, or combinations of both, is extremely powerful and may become the standard that is needed in this domain. The protocols which can be claimed to be a standard that are used for Message-oriented middleware include XMPP and Streaming Text Orientated Messaging Protocol.