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The Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) is a standard defined by the Object Management Group (OMG) designed to facilitate the communication of systems that are deployed on diverse platforms. CORBA enables collaboration between systems on different operating systems, programming languages, and computing hardware. CORBA uses an object-oriented model although the systems that use the CORBA do not have to be object-oriented. CORBA is an example of the distributed object paradigm.
CORBA enables communication between software written in different languages and running on different computers. Implementation details from specific operating systems, programming languages, and hardware platforms are all removed from the responsibility of developers who use CORBA. CORBA normalizes the method-call semantics between application objects residing either in the same address-space (application) or in remote address-spaces (same host, or remote host on a network). Version 1.0 was released in October 1991.
CORBA uses an interface definition language (IDL) to specify the interfaces that objects present to the outer world. CORBA then specifies a mapping from IDL to a specific implementation language like C++ or Java. Standard mappings exist for Ada, C, C++, C++11, COBOL, Java, Lisp, PL/I, Object Pascal, Python, Ruby and Smalltalk. Non-standard mappings exist for C#, Erlang, Perl, Tcl and Visual Basic implemented by object request brokers (ORBs) written for those languages.
The CORBA specification dictates there shall be an ORB through which an application would interact with other objects. This is how it is implemented in practice:
Some IDL mappings are more difficult to use than others. For example, due to the nature of Java, the IDL-Java mapping is rather straightforward and makes usage of CORBA very simple in a Java application. This is also true of the IDL to Python mapping. The C++ mapping requires the programmer to learn datatypes that predate the C++ Standard Template Library (STL). By contrast, the C++11 mapping is easier to use, but requires heavy use of the STL. Since the C language is not object-oriented, the IDL to C mapping requires a C programmer to manually emulate object-oriented features.
In order to build a system that uses or implements a CORBA-based distributed object interface, a developer must either obtain or write the IDL code that defines the object-oriented interface to the logic the system will use or implement. Typically, an ORB implementation includes a tool called an IDL compiler that translates the IDL interface into the target language for use in that part of the system. A traditional compiler then compiles the generated code to create the linkable-object files for use in the application. This diagram illustrates how the generated code is used within the CORBA infrastructure:
This figure illustrates the high-level paradigm for remote interprocess communications using CORBA. The CORBA specification further addresses data typing, exceptions, network protocols, communication timeouts, etc. For example: Normally the server side has the Portable Object Adapter (POA) that redirects calls either to the local servants or (to balance the load) to the other servers. The CORBA specification (and thus this figure) leaves various aspects of distributed system to the application to define including object lifetimes (although reference counting semantics are available to applications), redundancy/fail-over, memory management, dynamic load balancing, and application-oriented models such as the separation between display/data/control semantics (e.g. see Model–view–controller), etc.
In addition to providing users with a language and a platform-neutral remote procedure call (RPC) specification, CORBA defines commonly needed services such as transactions and security, events, time, and other domain-specific interface models.
|1.0||October 1991||First version, C mapping|
|1.1||February 1992||Interoperability, C++ mapping|
|2.0||August 1996||First major update of the standard, also dubbed CORBA 2|
|2.2||February 1998||Java mapping|
|3.0||July 2002||Second major update of the standard, also dubbed CORBA 3|
CORBA Component Model (CCM)
|3.1.1||August 2011||Adopted as 2012 edition of ISO/IEC 19500|
|3.3||November 2012||Addition of ZIOP|
A servant is the invocation target containing methods for handling the remote method invocations. In the newer CORBA versions, the remote object (on the server side) is split into the object (that is exposed to remote invocations) and servant (to which the former part forwards the method calls). It can be one servant per remote object, or the same servant can support several (possibly all) objects, associated with the given Portable Object Adapter. The servant for each object can be set or found "once and forever" (servant activation) or dynamically chosen each time the method on that object is invoked (servant location). Both servant locator and servant activator can forward the calls to another server. In total, this system provides a very powerful means to balance the load, distributing requests between several machines. In the object-oriented languages, both remote object and its servant are objects from the viewpoint of the object-oriented programming.
Incarnation is the act of associating a servant with a CORBA object so that it may service requests. Incarnation provides a concrete servant form for the virtual CORBA object. Activation and deactivation refer only to CORBA objects, while the terms incarnation and etherealization refer to servants. However, the lifetimes of objects and servants are independent. You always incarnate a servant before calling activate_object(), but the reverse is also possible, create_reference() activates an object without incarnating a servant, and servant incarnation is later done on demand with a Servant Manager.
The Portable Object Adapter (POA) is the CORBA object responsible for splitting the server side remote invocation handler into the remote object and its servant. The object is exposed for the remote invocations, while the servant contains the methods that are actually handling the requests. The servant for each object can be chosen either statically (once) or dynamically (for each remote invocation), in both cases allowing the call forwarding to another server.
On the server side, the POAs form a tree-like structure, where each POA is responsible for one or more objects being served. The branches of this tree can be independently activated/deactivated, have the different code for the servant location or activation and the different request handling policies.
The following describes some of the most significant ways that CORBA can be used to facilitate communication among distributed objects.
Object references are lightweight objects matching the interface of the real object (remote or local). Method calls on the reference result in subsequent calls to the ORB and blocking on the thread while waiting for a reply, success or failure. The parameters, return data (if any), and exception data are marshaled internally by the ORB according to the local language and OS mapping.
The CORBA Interface Definition Language provides the language- and OS-neutral inter-object communication definition. CORBA Objects are passed by reference, while data (integers, doubles, structs, enums, etc.) are passed by value. The combination of Objects-by-reference and data-by-value provides the means to enforce strong data typing while compiling clients and servers, yet preserve the flexibility inherent in the CORBA problem-space.
Apart from remote objects, the CORBA and RMI-IIOP define the concept of the OBV and Valuetypes. The code inside the methods of Valuetype objects is executed locally by default. If the OBV has been received from the remote side, the needed code must be either a priori known for both sides or dynamically downloaded from the sender. To make this possible, the record, defining OBV, contains the Code Base that is a space-separated list of URLs whence this code should be downloaded. The OBV can also have the remote methods.
CORBA Component Model (CCM) is an addition to the family of CORBA definitions. It was introduced with CORBA 3 and it describes a standard application framework for CORBA components. Though not dependent on "language dependent Enterprise Java Beans (EJB)", it is a more general form of EJB, providing four component types instead of the two that EJB defines. It provides an abstraction of entities that can provide and accept services through well-defined named interfaces called ports.
The CCM has a component container, where software components can be deployed. The container offers a set of services that the components can use. These services include (but are not limited to) notification, authentication, persistence and transaction processing. These are the most-used services any distributed system requires, and, by moving the implementation of these services from the software components to the component container, the complexity of the components is dramatically reduced.
Portable interceptors are the "hooks", used by CORBA and RMI-IIOP to mediate the most important functions of the CORBA system. The CORBA standard defines the following types of interceptors:
The interceptors can attach the specific information to the messages being sent and IORs being created. This information can be later read by the corresponding interceptor on the remote side. Interceptors can also throw forwarding exceptions, redirecting request to another target.
Main article: General Inter-ORB Protocol
Each standard CORBA exception includes a minor code to designate the subcategory of the exception. Minor exception codes are of type unsigned long and consist of a 20-bit “Vendor Minor Codeset ID” (VMCID), which occupies the high order 20 bits, and the minor code proper which occupies the low order 12 bits.
Minor codes for the standard exceptions are prefaced by the VMCID assigned to OMG, defined as the unsigned long constant CORBA::OMGVMCID, which has the VMCID allocated to OMG occupying the high order 20 bits. The minor exception codes associated with the standard exceptions that are found in Table 3-13 on page 3-58 are or-ed with OMGVMCID to get the minor code value that is returned in the ex_body structure (see Section 3.17.1, “Standard Exception Definitions,” on page 3-52 and Section 3.17.2, “Standard Minor Exception Codes,” on page 3-58).
The VMCID 0 and 0xfffff are reserved for experimental use. The VMCID OMGVMCID (Section 3.17.1, “Standard Exception Definitions,” on page 3-52) and 1 through 0xf are reserved for OMG use.
Corba Location (CorbaLoc) refers to a stringified object reference for a CORBA object that looks similar to a URL.
All CORBA products must support two OMG-defined URLs: "corbaloc:" and "corbaname:". The purpose of these is to provide a human readable and editable way to specify a location where an IOR can be obtained.
An example of corbaloc is shown below:
A CORBA product may optionally support the "http:", "ftp:" and "file:" formats. The semantics of these is that they provide details of how to download a stringified IOR (or, recursively, download another URL that will eventually provide a stringified IOR). Some ORBs do deliver additional formats which are proprietary for that ORB.
CORBA's benefits include language- and OS-independence, freedom from technology-linked implementations, strong data-typing, high level of tunability, and freedom from the details of distributed data transfers.
While CORBA delivered much in the way code was written and software constructed, it has been the subject of criticism.
Much of the criticism of CORBA stems from poor implementations of the standard and not deficiencies of the standard itself. Some of the failures of the standard itself were due to the process by which the CORBA specification was created and the compromises inherent in the politics and business of writing a common standard sourced by many competing implementors.
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