What is GemStone? Part 2

A bit on GemStone history

When talking about Smalltalk, one of the advantages always mentioned is its “maturity”. In the previous post, I commented some GemStone features. If you read them carefully, it seems like if we were talking about a modern technology that couldn’t have been possible years ago. Wrong!!!!  GemStone Systems was funded in 1982 and I think the first release was a few years after. Of course, not all the features I commented exist back then, but nobody can discuss it’s history. That means that when using GemStone not only you will be getting the “maturity” of Smalltalk, but also it’s own maturity as an object database.

For a long time, GemStone was owned and developed by GemStone Systems. In 2010, VMWare acquired GemStone Systems. However, later on, in 2013, GemStone and all other Smalltalk products were acquired by a new company called GemTalk Systems. I don’t know all the details (if you want, you can check them online)… but what I think that matters most is the fact that now GemTalk Systems has all GemStone engineers working, it does not depend on higher companies decisions (like VMWare) and is 100% focused in Smalltalk!

If you want to have a look at a general overview of the company and the impact of their products, I recommend the slides of this presentation.

Why GemStone is even more interesting now than before?

Just in case… I will clarify again: in these posts, I always give my opinion. Not everybody should agree with me.

Let’s go back some years ago. At that time, a few things happened:

  1.  Most of the developed apps were fat desktop and GemStone did not have a UI nor an IDE to develop.
  2. There was no good open-source and business friendly Smalltalk (I said it was my opinion!).
  3. GemStone did not have a free license.

The above things meant that someone developing a fat client app would require two Smalltalks: one for the UI and GemStone as the database. That also meant paying two licenses, one for the commercial Smalltalk for the UI and one for GemStone. And that could have been expensive for certain uses. However, things have changed in the recent years:

  1. Most apps are now web based so we do not need a fat UI.
  2. There is a very cool open-source and business friendly Smalltalk: Pharo.
  3. Gemstone does offer a free license with generous limits (in future posts, I will explain better the limits).

That means that you can develop a whole web app in Pharo, put the code in Gemstone and run it from there. And… paying no license (with GemStone free license limits). This is why I think GemStone is even more interesting now than it was ever before.

A bit more about fat client vs web based

When using an app with fat client and GemStone as object database, we actually have two Smalltalk communicating with each other. It is not like “I develop in Smalltalk Whatever and I deploy in GemStone”. No… it is both, Smalltalk Whatever and GemStone running and each of them is communicating to each other. This means there must be some connection or some kind of mapping/adaptor between the two, because both can have some differences in the kernel classes. This kind of software is what GemTalks Systems sells as “GemBuilder”. So we have “GemBuilder for VisualWorks” and “GemBuilder for VisualAge” etc… I have never used these products so I can’t talk much about them.

Just a last comment. Of course, building a GemBuilder for a Smalltalk dialect seems “easy” in the sense that GemStone is also a Smalltalk. But what if there were GemBuilders for other languages so that these can use GemStone as the object database?  Well, there is also a “GemBuilder for Java“. This tell us a little about the internal GemStone architecture (the object repository process is a bit decoupled from the VirtualMachines running the language). But we will see this later.

What do people mean by “Develop in Pharo and deploy in GemStone”

In a very first step, an app could be both developed and deployed in Pharo. That means we use Pharo tools to develop it and we also use Pharo to run our application in production. This may work well enough for small apps or a prototype. But, at some point, we may need more power. As I discussed in the previous post, there are many alternatives. Not all solutions are available for all situations. The solution I am interested in this post is to directly run (deploy) your app in GemStone. Which are the requirements? The app cannot be fat client (in Pharo, this means the app should not be a Morphic app). It could be either a web app or a rest server or whatever form that doesn’t involve a fat UI.

In fact… I guess you could even use GemStone as your backend language and database and provide a REST api answering JSON or whatever to a mobile app (maybe even using Amber??? I don’t know…).

With this alternative, the idea is to develop in Pharo. Then… we simply load our code (using Metacello, Git, Monticello, whatever) into GemStone and we run it there. Hence, “develop in Pharo and deploy in GemStone”. Of course… all the code we have developed in Pharo may not work perfectly in Gemstone or it may behave a little bit different. So some adjustments and work will likely must be done when making the app to work in GemStone besides Pharo. But we will talk about this in a future post.

Most of the times, the app continues to be able to be run by Pharo (besides developing with it). So you can likely continue to develop, run, test and debug your app locally with Pharo. And then periodically you deploy and test it in GemStone.

To sum up

I hope I have clarified a bit the different scenarios when using GemStone and what people mean when they say “develop in Pharo and deploy in GemStone”. All my posts from now onward will take this scenario in mind.

See you soon,

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