Setting Up Tools to Build Applications Using jBPM: Part 1

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Background about the jBPM project

In this section, we will talk about where the jBPM framework is located inside the JBoss projects. As we know, JBoss jBPM was created and maintained for JBoss. JBoss is in charge of developing middleware “enterprise” software in Java. It is middleware because it is a type of software to make or run software, and “enterprise”, as it is focused on big scenarios. This enterprise does not necessarily mean Java EE. It is also interesting to know that JBoss was bought from a company called Red Hat (famous for the Linux distribution with the same name, and also in charge of the Fedora community distribution).

In order to get the right first impression about the framework, you will need to know a little about other products that JBoss has developed and where this framework is located and focused inside the company projects. At this moment, the only entry point that we have is the JBoss community page, This page contains the information about all the middleware projects that JBoss is developing (all open source). If we click on the Projects link in the top menu, we are going to be redirected to a page that shows us the following image:

jBPM Developer Guide

This image shows us one important major central block for the JBoss Application Server, which contains a lot of projects intended to run inside this application server. The most representative modules are:

  • JBoss Web: The web container based on Tomcat Web Server
  • JBoss EJB3: EJB3 container that is standard EJB3 compliance for Java EE 5
  • Hibernate: The world-renowned Object Relational Mapping (ORM) framework
  • Seam: The new web framework to build rich Internet applications
  • JBoss Messaging: The default JMS provider that enables high performance, scalable, clustered messaging for Java

On top of that, we can see two frameworks for Web Interface design (RichFaces/Ajax4jsf and Gravel) based on the components, which can be used in any web application that you code.

And then, on top of it all, we can see three important blocks—Portal, Integration, and Telecom. As you can imagine, we are focused on the Integration block that contains three projects inside it.

As you can see, this Integration block is also outside the JBoss Application Server boundaries. Therefore, we might suppose that these three products will run without any dependency from JBoss or any other application server.

Now we are going to talk about these three frameworks, which have different focuses inside the integration field.

JBoss Drools

Drools is, of late, focused on business knowledge, and because it was born as an inference engine, it will be in charge of using all that business knowledge in order to take business actions based on this knowledge for a specific situation. You can find out more information about this framework (now redefined as Business Logic integration Platform) at


It is a product focused on supplying an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), which allows us to use different connectors to communicate with heterogeneous systems that were created in different languages. These use different protocols for communication. You can find out more information about this project at

JBoss jBPM

jBPM has a process-centric philosophy. This involves all the APIs and tools that are related to the processes and how to manage them. The framework perspective is always centered on the business process that we describe. Also, the services available inside the framework are only for manipulating the processes. All the other things that we want or need for integration with our processes will be delegated to third-party frameworks or tools.

Now, if we enter into the official page of jBPM (, we are going to see all the official information and updates about the framework. It is important to notice the home page, which shows us the following image:

jBPM Developer Guide

This is the first image that developers see when they get interested in jBPM. This image shows us the component distribution inside the jBPM framework project. Understanding these building blocks (components) will help us to understand the code of the framework and each part’s functionality. Most of the time, this image is not clearly understood, so let’s analyze it!

Supported languages

One of the important things that the image shows is the multi-language support for modeling processes in different scenarios. We can see that three languages are currently supported/proposed by the framework with the possibility to plug in new languages that we need, in order to represent our business processes with extra technology requirements.

These supported languages are selected according to our business scenario and the technology that this scenario requires.

The most general and commonly used language is jBPM Process Definition Language (jPDL). This language can be used in  situations where we are defining the project architecture and the technology that the project will use. In most of the cases, jPDL will be the correct choice, because it brings the flexibility to model any kind of situation, the extensibility to expand our process language with new words to add extra functionality to the base implementation, and no technology pluggability limitation, thereby allowing us to interact with any kind of external services and systems. That is why jPDL can be used in almost all situations. If you don’t have any technology restriction in your requirements, this language is recommended.

jBPM also implements the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), which is broadly used to orchestrate Web Services classes between different systems.

To support business scenarios where all the interactions are between web services, I recommend that you make use of this language, only if you are restricted to using a standard like BPEL, in order to model your business process.

PageFlow is the last one shown in the image. This language will be used when you use the JBoss Seam framework and want to describe how your web pages are synchronized to fulfill some requirements. These kind of flows are commonly used to describe navigation flow possibilities that a user will have in a website.

Web applications will benefit enormously from this, because the flow of the web application will be decoupled from the web application code, letting us introduce changes without modifying the web pages themselves.

At last, the language pluggability feature is represented with the ellipse (…). This will be required in situations wherein the available languages are not enough to represent our business scenarios. This could happen when a new standard like BPEL or  BPMN arises, or if our company has its own language to represent business processes. In these kind of situations, we will need to implement our custom language on top of the process’ virtual machine. This is not an easy task and it is important for you to know that it is not a trivial thing to implement an entire language. So, here we will be focused on learning jPDL in depth, to understand all of its features and how to extend it in order to fulfill our requirements. Remember that jPDL is a generic language that allows us to express almost every situation. In other words, the only situation where jPDL doesn’t fit is where the process definition syntax doesn’t allow us to represent our business process or where the syntax needs to follow a standard format like BPMN or BPEL.

Also, it is important to notice that all these languages are separate from the Process Virtual Machine (PVM), the block on the bottom-left of the image, which will execute our defined process. PVM is like the core of the framework and understands all the languages that are defined. This virtual machine will know how to execute them and how to behave for each activity in different business scenarios. When we begin to understand the jPDL language in depth, we will see how PVM behaves for each activity described in our process definitions.

Other modules

Besides the PVM and all the languages, we can also see some other modules that implement extra functionality, which will help us with different requirements. The following list contains a brief description of each module:

  • Graphical Process Designer (GPD) module: It is the graphical process designer module implemented as an Eclipse plugin.
  • Identity module: This module is a proof of concept, out-of-the-box working module used to integrate business roles for our processes. This module is focused on letting us represent people/users inside the process definition and execution. This module shows us a simple structure for users and groups that can be used inside our processes. For real scenarios, this module will help us to understand how we will map our users’ structures with the jBPM framework.
  • Task ManaGeMenT (TaskMGMT) module: This module’s functionality involves dealing with all the integration that the people/employees/business roles have with the processes. This module will help us to manage all the necessary data to create application clients, which the business roles will use in their everyday work.
  • Enterprise module: This module brings us extra functionality for enterprise environments.

Now that we know how the components are distributed inside the framework, we can jump to the jPDL section of jBPM’s official web page. Here we will find the third image that all the developers will see when they get started with jBPM.

jBPM Developer Guide

Let’s analyze this image to understand why and how the framework can be used in different platforms. This image tries to give us an example of how jBPM could be deployed on a web server or an application server. Please, keep in mind that this is not the only way that jBPM could be deployed on, or embedded in, an application, because jBPM can also be used in a standalone application. In addition, this image shows us some of the BPM stages that are implemented. For example, we can see how the designed processes will be formalized in the jPDL XML syntax in Graphical Process Designer (GPD)— here called the Eclipse jPDL Editor. On the other side of the image, we can see the execution stage implemented inside a container that could be an Enterprise Container (such as JBoss Application Server) or just a web server (such as Tomcat or Jetty). This distinction is made with the extensions of the deployed files (war, for Web Archives, and ear, for Enterprise Archives). In this container, it is important to note the jpdl-jbpm.jar archive that contains the PVM and the language definition, which lets us understand the process defined in jPDL. Also, we have the jbpm-identity.jar as a result of the Identity Module that we have seen in the other image. Besides, we have the hibernate.jar dependency. This fact is very important to note, because our processes will be persisted with Hibernate and we need to know how to adapt this to our needs.

The last thing that we need to see is the Firefox/Internet Explorer logo on top of the image, which tries to show us how our clients (users), all the people who interact and make activities in our processes will talk (communicate) with the framework. Once again, HTTP interaction is not the only way to interact with the processes, we can implement any kind of interactions (such as JMS for enterprise messaging, Web Services to communicate with heterogeneous systems, mails for some kind of flexibility, SMS, and so on).

Here we get a first impression about the framework, now we are ready to go ahead and install all the tools that we need, in order to start building applications.

Tools and software

For common tools such as Java Development Kit, IDE installation, database installation, and so on, only the key points will be discussed. In jBPM tooling, a detailed explanation will follow the download and installation process. We will be going into the structure detail and specification in depth; about how and why we are doing this installation.

If you are an experienced developer, you can skip this section and go directly to the jBPM installation section. In order to go to the jBPM installation section straightaway, you will need to have the following software installed correctly:

  • Java Development Kit 1.5 or higher (This is the first thing that Java developers learn. If you don’t know how to install it, please take a look at the following link:
  • Maven 2.0.9 or higher
  • A Hibernate supported database, here we will use MySQL
  • You will need to have downloaded the Java Connector for your selected database
  • JBoss 5.0.1.GA installed (If you are thinking about creating Enterprise Applications, you will need JBoss AS installed. If you only want to create web applications with Tomcat or Jetty installed, this will be fine.)
  • Eclipse IDE 3.4 Ganymede (Eclipse IDE 3.4 Ganymede is the suggested version. You can try it with other versions, but this is the one tested in the article.)
  • An SVN client, here we will use Tortoise SVN (Available for Windows only, you can also use a subversion plugin for Eclipse or for your favorite IDE.)

If you have all this software up and running, you can jump to the next section. If not, here we will see a brief introduction of each one of them with some reasons that explain why we need each of these tools.

Maven—why do I need it?

Maven is an Apache project that helps us to build, maintain, and manage our Java Application projects. One of the main ideas behind Maven is to solve all the dependency problems between our applications and all the framework libraries that we use. If you read the What is Maven? page (, you will find the key point behind this project.

The important things that we will use here and in your diary work will be:

  • A standard structure for all your projects
  • Centralized project and dependencies description

Standard structure for all your projects

Maven proposes a set of standard structures to build our Java projects. The project descriptor that we need to write/create depends on the Java project type that we want to build. The main idea behind it is to minimize the configuration files to build our applications. A standard is proposed to build each type of application.

You can see all the suggested standard structure on the official Maven page:

Centralized project and dependencies description

When we are using Maven, our way of building applications and managing the dependencies needed by these applications changes a lot. In Maven, the concept of Project Object Model (POM) is introduced. This POM will define our project structure, dependencies, and outcome(s) in XML syntax. This means that we will have just one file where we will define the type of project we are building, the first order dependencies that the project will have, and the kind of outcome(s) that we are expecting after we build our project.

Take a look at the following pom.xml file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<project xsi_schemaLocation="http://maven.">

We are basically defining all the mentioned characteristics of our project. All this information is deduced from the packaging attribute, which in this case is:


The standard structure of directories will be used in order to know where the source code is located and where the compiled outcome will be placed.

Maven installation

Getting maven installed is a very simple task. You should download the Maven binaries from the official page( This will be a .zip file, or a .tar.gz file, which you will only need to uncompress in the programs directory. You will also add the bin directory to the system Path variable. With that, you will be able to call the mvn command from the console.

To test whether Maven is working properly, you can open the Windows console and type mvn. You should get something like this:

jBPM Developer Guide

This output shows us that Maven is correctly installed. However, as it is installed in C:Documents and Settingssalaboy21 (the installation directory) where there is no project descriptor, the build failed.

I strongly recommend that you read and understand the Getting Started section in the official Maven documentation at


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