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Breathing Life into a Time-Tested Curriculum
Breathing Life into a Time-Tested Curriculum

I recently reviewed Macromedia's new "Developing Rich Internet Applications" (CFDJ, Vol. 5, issue 2) course to make developers interested in adding Flash to their arsenal aware of this terrific new offering from Macromedia Training.

It is equally important to note that Macromedia's other two ColdFusion classes - "Fast Track to ColdFusion" and "Advanced ColdFusion for Developers" (now called "Advanced ColdFusion MX Development") - were revamped to include material covering the new features and functionality in ColdFusion MX.

In this article, I will review the Advanced ColdFusion MX Development (ACFD) course - as it has undergone some major changes.

Before examining the course syllabus itself, I'll begin by stating two important facts. The first is that while some of the units cover topics that were also in the prior version of the class, these chapters have been updated for MX, and the walkthroughs and labs are much longer and more challenging (which is a good thing). I'll also mention that the course not only has longer exercises (and more of them), but more material. The prior version of the class covered nine units in three days whereas the new version covers eleven units in three days! What does this mean for the student?

ACFD, now more than ever, delivers an abundance of knowledge over its three-day duration. Each of the units uses walkthroughs and labs to emphasize the material - the average unit contains five walkthroughs and a lab (at the end), and the average exercise takes anywhere from 20-30 steps or more to complete. For students, the course is more hands-on than ever before. That said, let's examine the skills learned by ACFD students.

The topics covered in ACFD include but are not limited to:

  • Understanding, creating, and manipulating data stored in query, array, and structure complex data object format
  • Persisting data across pages with the application, session, and client scopes
  • Creating user-defined functions to encapsulate commonly used functionality
  • Building applications with the business logic and database access encapsulated in reusable ColdFusion Components
  • Using persistent ColdFusion Components
  • Understanding how to write custom tags and to use them to achieve code reuse
  • Optimizing application performance with query-caching strategies
  • How to deal with database concurrency issues by leveraging transactional processing
  • Graphing data with ColdFusion
  • Properly locking access to application resources
  • Building structured exception handling within an application
  • Indexing and searching both documents and record sets using the Verity search engine
  • Exchanging data across the Internet using <CFHTTP>, <CFWDDX>, XML, and Web services

    The course itself starts students off with an application (the Coffee Valley application as it should look upon completion of the Fast Track to ColdFusion course) that they will enhance throughout the course of three days. Students build a shopping cart application using ColdFusion Components and user-defined functions to manipulate the complex data object (shopping cart) they have created. They also implement query-caching strategies and query-of-queries to boost the performance of Coffee Valley, add charting and search functionality, create a "next-n" interface product catalog, and practice other techniques to enhance the site's performance and functionality.

    The end result is that students leave the class with an impressive skill set. First and foremost they develop an excellent understanding of how to work with complex data - a requirement for building robust applications with CFML - including how to work with the variable scopes used by the ColdFusion Application Server under the hood. They understand how to effectively use locking and caching to optimize performance and stability in dealing with databases, and how to leverage code reuse techniques (custom tags, UDFs, and CFCs) in order to be more productive and to better-architect applications. In addition to these fundamental skills, developers practice using Verity to search documents and database data, use error-handling tags to build self-repairing code, query existing recordsets in order to boost performance by minimizing trips to the database, and more.

    Advanced ColdFusion MX Development is not a course for beginners. It is recommended that developers have three months of solid ColdFusion development experience under their belt before enlisting in ACFD, though anyone comfortable with the basics of CFML should be able to successfully complete the class.

    Not only do I recommend this class to developers ready to take their skills to the next level, but also to those developers who already consider themselves advanced but want a good overview of how the new features in ColdFusion MX may impact on the development process. I also think this class is invaluable to anyone studying for the ColdFusion Developer Exam. The topics covered in ACFD cover most of the exam, and the course materials are without a doubt the best study guide I have seen to date.

    More information can be found about ACFD and about registering for ACFD, by visiting Macromedia's training site at www.macromedia.com/go/cfdj_adcf/ or by visiting the Fig Leaf Software ACFD training page at http://training.figleaf.com/figleaftraining/ Courses/Advanced-ColdFusion.cfm.

    About Simon Horwith
    Simon Horwith is the CIO at AboutWeb, LLC, a Washington, DC based company specializing in staff augmentation, consulting, and training. Simon is a Macromedia Certified Master Instructor and is a member of Team Macromedia. He has been using ColdFusion since version 1.5 and specializes in ColdFusion application architecture, including architecting applications that integrate with Java, Flash, Flex, and a myriad of other technologies. In addition to presenting at CFUGs and conferences around the world, he has also been a contributing author of several books and technical papers.

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