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What is ColdFusion?

ColdFusion is a web application development platform that's known for its superb efficiency. It's used in the development of web and mobile applications, which makes it a key provision for many web hosting customers.

History of ColdFusion

Development on ColdFusion began in 1995. Two brothers, Jeremy Allaire and JJ Allaire, released the software under their brand name, Allaire Corporation.

Originally, the pair wanted a simpler way to put a database on the web, and they developed ColdFusion as a scripting language that worked with HTML. Within a year, ColdFusion had been developed beyond its original remit. It's now used as a rapid web application development platform to handle databases, forms, feeds, reports and file conversion. Developers love it because it's cheap and powerful.

From day one, ColdFusion has been one of the web's notable success stories. Under the ownership of Allaire Corporation, ColdFusion increased its annual revenue from $1 million to $120 million within four years. Macromedia purchased ColdFusion in March 2001 for $360 million. It was a deal which also resulted in Jeremy Allaire being made chief technology officer at Macromedia.

Adobe then purchased Macromedia in 2005, bringing ColdFusion under its brand name. ColdFusion still has strong suport for Flash, although with Flash being deprecated, this is less of a benefit for developers than it once was. ColdFusion also supports FlashPaper, a virtual printer that can create Flash or PDF 'printouts'. This is a legacy product, but proves just how closely the two technologies have been.

The Basics

Originally, ColdFusion only ran on Windows servers as it was written in Visual C++. After the Macromedia acquisition, ColdFusion Server was redeveloped in Java EE and had its own runtime environment (JRE). This transition occurred around 2002 and lead to 'MX' being added to its name. ColdFusion is deployed using Tomcat.

ColdFusion projects consist of two primary file types:

  • Objects, which are saved with the .cfc extension. Objects are either COM or CORBA in type, and can be associated with properties, methods and nested objets
  • Pages, which are saved with the .cfm extension. Pages hold objects, HTML code and other items
  • Users code for ColdFusion in ColdFusion Markup Language, or CFML. CFML looks similar to HTML and JavaScript. ColdFusion also understands CFScript, Actionscript and some other languages. If you know HTML, but don't know CFML, take a look at these excellent Beginner's Guides from Gary Gilbert, or these basic and advanced ColdFusion tips on QuackIt.

    Why Use ColdFusion?

    Many developers prefer ColdFusion over Java because it's much quicker to bring their ideas to the web. Its close relationship with Flash, and ease of use with databases, has also helped it gain traction as a development tool.

    Note that there are two versions of ColdFusion used in hosting: Standard and Enterprise. Enterprise is the more expensive of the two, but it offers users better monitoring and security. Look for Enterprise wherever possible.

    System Requirements

    ColdFusion is supplied on web hosting plans across all service categories, from shared through to dedicated. However, it does pay to look for specialised hosting if you plan to develop extensively in ColdFusion. Realistically, a common ColdFusion application will need 2 GB of RAM or more, which means venturing into virtual private server (VPS) territory eventually.

    Specialised hosts will normally isolate ColdFusion and may not install other common applications and technologies, such as PHP. This helps to keep the servers speedy, since they're tasked with just one thing. Beware of any company that crams customers onto its servers, since ColdFusion needs adequate resources and can be slowed by over-use.

    Web hosts normally offer the most recent version of ColdFusion Enterprise, although they may be willing to deploy a different version if you ask.

    Many developers go on to get certified in ColdFusion in order to prove their abilities. Often, when shopping for web hosting, you'll find that some staff are ColdFusion certified too. This is a bonus if you're new to the platform.

    Security Features

    Also, look for Sandbox security, or Resource security. This feature lets you ring fence ColdFusion resources to prevent unauthorised access. You can apply the restrictions to:

    • Data sources
    • ColdFusion tags
    • ColdFusion functions
    • Files
    • Directories
    • Servers, including specific ports

    This feature isn't enabled by default, so check that your host will provide it once you've paid for your hosting plan.

ColdFusion Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is ColdFusion?

    ColdFusion is a rapid web application development platform developed and sold by Adobe.

  • What language is used for writing ColdFusion applications?

    ColdFusion apps are written in a specialized language called CFML or Cold Fusion Markup Language. (It is sometimes just called “Cold Fusion.”) CFML includes elements of HTML-style markup (like angle-bracketed tags), JavaScript, and Java (the language that ColdFusion is written in). Also, plain HTML can be embedded into CFML, in a manner similar to PHP.

  • Can other languages be used for writing ColdFusion apps?

    Yes. ColdFusion apps or modules can be written in Actionscript, and embedded code can be written in CFscript. Both of these are similar to JavaScript. JavaScript can also be used for any client side application work, though that is not specifically a feature of the ColdFusion platform, but of any web app.

  • What type of applications can ColdFusion be used to build?

    ColdFusion is a general purpose web application platform, so it can be used to build any sort of app. It is most often used for building data-driven websites and organizational intranets. It is also frequently deployed for running SOAP APIs or other web services, as well as for running remote Flash applications. It can be used to provide server side support to internet connected desktop application platforms, like Apache Flex or AdobeAIR.

  • What are some of the major features of ColdFusion?

    Database abstraction and simplified access, cache management for client and server, code generation for client side widgets and forms, HTML to PDF format conversion, data import and parsing from systems such as Active Directory, LDAP, SMTP, POP, HTTP, FTP, Microsoft Exchange Server and data formats like RSS and Atom, file indexing and search service using Apache Solr, GUI administration, multiple, individualized scoping, including Server, application, client, session, and request, full support for XML, including parsing, querying (using XPath), validation and transformation (using XSLT), server clustering, Crontab style scheduling of tasks reports, charts, and graphs, easy file manipulation, including graphics (and CAPTCHA) and zip archives. (Video manipulation is not currently supported but is planned, easy creation of web services, with WSDL code generation and transparent SOAP handling.

  • What server operating systems can ColdFusion be run on?

    ColdFusion works on MS Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Solaris.

  • What web servers support ColdFusion applications?

    Most of the major web servers can support ColdFusion, including Apache, IIS, and IBM HTTP Server.

  • What databases does ColdFusion support?

    Most relational database systems are supported, including MySQL, MS SQL Server, Oracle, DB2, and PostgreSQL.

  • Is ColdFusion really cross-platform? Will a ColdFusion app built for a specific OS work on another without problems?

    Yes. ColdFusion runtime environment is built in Java and runs on the Java EE platform. This makes it completely compatible with any machine running that platform.

  • Which Java EE servers are supported?

    ColdFusion supports IBM WebSphere, Oracle WebLogic, Adobe JRun, Apache Tomcat, and JBoss.

  • Are there any IDEs that support ColdFusion?

    Yes. The original ColdFusion IDE, ColdFusion Studio, is no longer available. However, ColdFusion Builder is available as a standalone IDE, or as a plugin to Eclipse (a general purpose IDE).

  • Will ColdFusion Builder, the ColdFusion IDE, run on my operating system?

    Probably yes. ColdFusion Builder, which can be used as a standalone IDE, or as a plugin to Eclipse, runs on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

  • Can I use ColdFusion in conjunction with .NET?

    Yes. ColdFusion has access to the .NET framework and can run .NET modules as part of an application.

  • Can I use Java in conjunction with ColdFusion?

    Yes. ColdFusion boasts “tight and bidirectional integration with Java.” Java can be called from ColdFusion and ColdFusioncan be called from Java.

  • Are there any web hosting companies that specifically support ColdFusion?

    Yes. Use our webhosting compare tool to find webhosts that support ColdFusion.

  • What are the alternatives to ColdFusion?

    Alternatives to ColdFusion can be grouped into two categories— alternative processors for CFML (essentially, replacements for ColdFusion), and entirely different application platforms. CFML, ColdFusion Markup Language, is an Open specification. Anybody can build a new application engine that runs apps written in CFML, and several groups of developers have. If you are looking for an Open Source alternative, the best option right now is Lucee. Lucee was forked from the popular Railo project, and now has the bulk of the original Railo development team. Another option is BlueDragon, which has an Open Source Java version and a proprietary.NET version. Moving away from CFML applications, there are a number of alternative development platforms that can achieve similar results. Both Java and .NET can be used alone, without ColdFusion, to build web applications. .NET has many specific tools for web development included already. Java web development can be greatly sped up with any number of Java Web Development Frameworks, such as Takes, Vaadin, and Grails (among many others). Depending on the needs of the application itself, other web application languages and frameworks might be appropriate as well. CFML shares some characteristics with PHP, which is heavily web focused. There are many PHP web frameworks available, like Zend and Laravel. Ruby on Rails is often a popular choice for rapid web development. Node.js, a Javascript platform, may also provide the right tools, depending on the needs of the application.

  • ColdFusion vs. Ruby on Rails vs. PHP vs. Node.js. Which is better?

    As always, that depends on what you are trying to accomplish. For a “straight-forward” content heavy website or e-commerce platform that is not dependent on an existing application database or enterprise system, a PHP Content Management System (Drupal, Joomla, WordPress) is probably the best option. At least, it is the easiest option. For content focused web apps that do not require a lot of real time interaction, Ruby on Rails is the industry standard. For interactive web apps that require multiple users interacting simultaneously, Node.js is often a good fit, but a more mature platform like Java might be called for. ColdFusion works well when any of these situations also calls for connection to an existing Enterprise server, or when SOAP web services (as opposed to RESTful web services) are required.

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