Middleware refers to software that enables interaction, connectivity, and communication between different applications or application components. It also allows for the transmission of information between different applications that were not originally designed to connect with each other, thus giving new functionality.
The term middleware refers to the software’s mediatory role between an application’s front and back end (specialized hardware device, database, or mainframe application). Middleware software optimizes the application development process by offering the opportunity to connect diverse applications. It thereby reduces the time to market. Moreover, it provides a standardized user experience.
This article explains middleware, its types, architecture, and benefits.
Types of Middleware
There are many types of middleware depending on the type of capabilities they offer. We have listed the common types below.
- Message-oriented middleware – It enables applications to communicate with each other through messages across different network protocols and operating systems.
- Database middleware – It allows access to and interaction with various database gateways. It is the most common middleware.
- Portals – Businesses use portals to enable interaction between the backend and client-facing systems.
- Transactional middleware – It functions as a means to ensure that electronic transactions are executed properly in a distributed network.
- Enterprise application integration – It links data, processes, applications, and services regardless of their location (on-premises or cloud) and technology. Moreover, it allows for the free flow of data between applications without needing any major changes in the applications or database configurations.
- RPC middleware – Remote Procedure Call middleware allows a program to request a service from or trigger an action in another program residing in another computer. It is also called a subroutine call or a function call.
- Content-centric middleware – It is used to abstract particular content without dwelling on how it is acquired.
- ORB middleware – An Object Request Broker middleware, also known as object middleware, allows program calls to be made between computers using a computer network. Applications use it to request services or send objects through an object-oriented system.
- Device middleware – It gives an assortment of connectivity and integration capabilities to develop applications for a certain mobile operating system.
- Platform middleware – It allows business logic to be located on any operating system or hardware platform, including application servers, web servers, containers, or hosting environments.
- Application server middleware – It is a framework that allows you to create, deploy, and maintain enterprise-grade applications in a system.
- Web middleware – It enables easy integrations with individual backend systems.
- Cloud middleware – It lies between two apps/devices and lets you create a connection between any two servers, apps, databases, or clients. It is a remote platform that allows you to create, manage, and interact with the hosted data and applications.
- Robotics middleware – It allows for easy integration of robotic software, hardware, and firmware regardless of the location and manufacturer of the robots.
Middleware is usually software-based and hardly involves hardware components. It serves as a technical virtual layer between platforms and applications and normally follows the service-oriented architecture (SOA) approach. Sometimes, it is also offered as a platform-as-a-service (Paas) solution.
A generic middleware software comprises the following components:
- Middleware Management Console – It offers a comprehensive bird’s eye view of the middleware software architecture. It is particularly important for enterprise-grade applications designed specifically for achieving business needs and goals. The console offers an overview of contract rules, events and activities, configuration management, and transactions in the middleware.
- Common Messaging Framework – Middleware software needs messaging capabilities to interact and communicate with platforms, applications, and services. Usually, these frameworks bank on standards like REST, JSON, and SOAP. The interaction takes place using application programming interfaces (APIs) or web services, and the common messaging framework needs to be appropriately designed, keeping in view the expected and existing features.
- Client Interface (application interface) – This is the outer part of middleware software that interacts with applications. It employs predetermined constructs to start a transaction involving a platform, database, or backend servers. Moreover, its primary benefit is that it disentangles the application development and deployment processes.
- Middleware Internal Interface – Middleware instances use this interface to enable interaction with each other and to maintain the integrity of the middleware structure. It is needed to allow middleware instances to work in tandem with each other and to seem like a unified continuous layer.
- Platform Interface – Middleware software has to function across different platforms no matter where it resides. It is this instance that communicates directly with backend servers. Moreover, every time a cloud provider introduces a new platform, it has to update this interface in order to support it. Other components of the middleware largely remain the same.
- Contract Manager – It enforces the various directives of applications, servers, and data controls. All interactions have to follow these directives and rules so as to minimize breakage and ensure transparency. The contract manager also guarantees that business logic remains valid and intact. If there are any contract violations, they are sent back to the application to keep the system from going down.
- Session Manager – It ensures that all interactions and transactions are valid and allows requests to have a bidirectional flow. Moreover, it handles the session history to enable auditing. Lastly, a session manager makes sure your middleware is safe and secure.
- Runtime Monitor – It tracks session histories, requests and responses, and contract validations. IT teams use it to identify any abnormal activity, and it serves as the foundation for audit reports by reporting engines.
Apart from these components, middleware software may require a database manager and/or other specific services to meet its needs.
Benefits of Middleware
- Enables easy scaling – Using middleware, you can quickly scale without agitating the status quo. For example, if there is a significant surge in application traffic, the middleware software simply distributes the user requests across different servers to ease the load. And since many middleware software functions on predefined strategies and topographies, scaling is hardly ever an issue.
- Enhances legacy system capabilities – Technology is evolving at a lightning pace, and many companies cannot keep up with it – they continue to rely on their legacy systems. If a business wants to phase out a legacy system gradually or add new capabilities, middleware software is the best option.
- Reduces costs – A critical benefit of middleware software is that it significantly reduces the cost of developing and running apps at scale. Moreover, it also reduces integration and update costs.
- Automation – You can use middleware to automate business processes by joining different bits of business operations with predefined controls and protocols. Moreover, middleware offers business executives and developers the opportunity to automate manual processes by giving insights.
- Encourages innovation – A vital benefit of middleware is that you can update your applications as new technologies emerge and try out new applications faster. Thus, it reduces the time to develop and deploy applications.
In today’s rapidly changing technology landscape, middleware has become an essential component of IT infrastructure for companies. You need to take all the stakeholders on board and conduct detailed planning before introducing middleware to your company infrastructure.
Many companies already use middleware, but some are unaware of it. You, too, need to consider middleware software for the benefits it offers to your business. In the end, the race to keep up with technological change will define your enterprise’s success (or failure).
If you need any help with middleware software development, contact us at [email protected].