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An Exclusive Interview With Rocky Lhotka, the Creator of CSLA

How Science Fiction Led to CSLA; Chatting About Objects with a Software Legend

Derek Ferguson has recently interviewed Rocky Lhotka, the creator of CSLA. In this interview, Derek discusses some of the things that originally led to the creation of CSLA, as well as where Rocky sees object-oriented development heading in the future.

.NETDJ: Who are you?
RL: Well, I think that it’s really a two-part thing. First, I’m the technology evangelist for Magenic. As such, I do a fair amount of mentoring and high-level consulting with Magenic’s customers. Second, I’m a professional speaker and author. In that role, I spoke at 35 different events last year and I’m writing either articles or books on a regular basis.

.NETDJ: What is your pre-Magenic life story?
RL: I’ve been in this industry for about eighteen years. I started working for a vertical software development company that built software to run ready-mix companies. They were and still are the world’s largest company in that space. It was programming on DEC VAX minicomputers.  
I left there and went to work in an IT environment at a biomedical manufacturing company, so the first job was about 1.5 years and the second was for 6.5 years. I had a variety of roles: programming, managing the help desk, Novell network installation, and even system administrator for the VAX machines. I spent the last couple of years there managing the application-programming group.
I went into consulting after that for a company that was called BORN. I think they are still called that, but they were just bought. I was there for six years and ended up working in National Management. It was while I was at BORN that I started writing, then speaking, then eventually I switched and started working for Magenic. They recognized the value of what I’m doing – which is marketing, essentially – in a way that BORN didn’t.

.NETDJ: What was the first book you wrote?
RL: My first full book was my Visual Basic 5 Business Objects book. I had written a couple of chapters for other books prior to that. This is the book where I introduced CSLA, though not in its current incarnation because this was all Windows DNA stuff. It didn’t allow me to really accomplish my vision.

.NETDJ: How did CSLA come to exist?
RL: A lot of the inspiration came because, at the time, I was working with a group of the premier Forte consultants in the country. This was back in 1995 and 1996, when Forte was the preeminent client-server development tool. The guys that I was interacting with were some of the smartest people I have ever met – very object-oriented. They were moving objects around from computer to computer and doing things that were really extraordinary at the time and I wanted to do that, but I didn’t want to switch to Forte – I wanted to make COM do it.  
If you think about 1995 and 1996, this was about the time that Distributed COM (DCOM) and Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS) first appeared. MTS came out as I was in the middle of writing my book. There was a lot of movement in the Microsoft space towards creating object-oriented software and n-tier software. It was kind of a combination of all of these things – all coupled with my love of science fiction.

.NETDJ: How is science fiction related?
RL: Years ago, I read a short story about a military computer virus. Literally, the virus propagated itself by escaping its research lab and infecting all of the computers in the world. Not that I want to write viruses, I think that that’s no good at all. What caught my imagination was the idea that software could move from computer to computer and harness all of the resources on the computer on which it found itself at any given moment.

.NETDJ: How does CSLA further that vision?

RL: The primary goal of CSLA is to allow the use of real object-oriented design – creating a domain model and implementing it instead of classes and objects that reflect that domain model – and yet, at the same time have that work in a distributed environment. The way that CSLA enables this is by transparently allowing objects to move from computer to computer as they require. When an object needs to get data from a database, it moves to a machine close to the database. When an object needs to interact with a user, it moves itself directly onto the user’s desktop. You’ve got a real object-oriented domain model, but the objects are mobile.

.NETDJ: So, how did you like the experience of trying to realize this vision on COM?
RL: COM itself is not an object-oriented platform. It was difficult to do real good OO using COM. For one thing, you don’t have inheritance. The second problem is that it has no formal way of intrinsically moving complex types across the network. In my VB5 and VB6 books, I wound up manually implementing my own serialization in order to get the objects to move. It was very far from optimal.

.NETDJ: Were things any better under .NET?
RL: .NET is an object-oriented platform. Abstraction, encapsulation, polymorphism, and inheritance – .NET directly supports all four of these. It also intrinsically has the ability to move complex types via serialization and Remoting.  

.NETDJ: So, given all of these features baked into .NET – why even bother with CSLA?
RL: Well, it turns out that when you start looking at this stuff, it gets relatively complex.  Many people are put out by Remoting. CSLA entirely abstracts Remoting. There are two side benefits to the way in which CSLA does this. One, this allows you – with zero changes to your code – to change between a one-, two-, and three-tier model. The second benefit is that – if you don’t like Remoting – the DataPortal in CSLA abstracts it away, so you can make CSLA use Web services, Indigo, Remoting, DCOM, or whatever. None of your business code will change because the DataPortal is a channel adapter – or that is one piece of it, at least.
The other large facet of CSLA is a belief that business objects should support UI developers. UI developers need data binding, undo-functionality, and objects that intrinsically keep track of whether they have been changed, are new, or have been marked for deletion. By providing all of this functionality out of the box, CSLA saves you quite a bit of coding.

More Stories By Derek Ferguson

Derek Ferguson, founding editor and editor-in-chief of .Net Developer's Journal, is a noted technology expert and former Microsoft MVP.

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Most Recent Comments
Brian B 10/18/05 06:44:02 PM EDT

Now that I've read the article, can someone tell me what CSLA is???

.NET DJ News Desk 07/27/05 06:41:54 PM EDT

An Exclusive Interview With Rocky Lhotka, the Creator of CSLA. Derek Ferguson has recently interviewed Rocky Lhotka, the creator of CSLA. In this interview, Derek discusses some of the things that originally led to the creation of CSLA, as well as where Rocky sees object-oriented development heading in the future. A lot of the inspiration came because, at the time, I was working with a group of the premier Forte consultants in the country. This was back in 1995 and 1996, when Forte was the preeminent client-server development tool. The guys that I was interacting with were some of the smartest people I have ever met ? very object-oriented.

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