Google Android Port Turns Phones Into Webservers

Webtide has announced a port of its open source Jetty webserver to the Android mobile phone platform. The i-Jetty technology allows mobile phone users to set up AJAX- and Comet-enabled websites on their Android phones for access via desktop PCs over the web, says Webtide.

Jetty is a lightweight, open source webserver implemented in Java and released under the Apache 2.0 license. Webtide is the principle maintenance developer for the software, it said.

Jetty is designed to work as a standalone webserver or as a dynamic content server behind a dedicated HTTP server such as Apache. The Android-based i-Jetty version is loaded as a servlet on Android, says Webtide. Once loaded, it enables remote access to phone functions from desktop PCs.

The i-Jetty port to the Android open source software stack for mobile devices is billed primarily as a matter of convenience for cell phone users, who can use it to make calls from their PCs, or to access phone-based content such as address books and calendars using a familiar browser interface. According to Webtide, users will be able to view, create, and save changes to files from remote PCs, including address lists, system settings, call logs, and multimedia files.

Two years ago, Nokia touted similar benefits when it ported Apache to Symbian with its Raccoon project. So far, there has been little evidence of major developer support for Raccoon, yet with mobile phones far outnumbering PCs, the potential for changing the nature and scope of the web is intriguing.

Beyond convenience, Nokia promoted the Raccoon technology as something of a paradigm shifter for the web, especially for mobile webcam-based website projects or for personal web servers. In particular, said Nokia, the amount of personal information stored on mobile phones makes it easy to “semi-automatically generate a personal home page.” Other applications touted by Nokia included finding the location of other mobile web sites in the proximity, mobile weblogs, and IM messaging.

i-Jetty users can also build publicly accessible mobile web servers said Adam Lieber, CEO of Webtide, in an interview. In fact, he said, the potential might be greater with i-Jetty compared to Nokia’s technology. “I-Jetty is more of a full-featured Java application server as opposed to being just a page server,” he said. For example, i-Jetty supports web services technologies such as AJAX (asynchronous Javascript and XML), which speeds up interactive processes on AJAX-enabled applications like Google Maps.

Beyond mobile phones: routers with webservers

Yet, mobile phones are not sufficiently powerful for most web-serving applications, Lieber noted. “Right now, the devices still don’t have the processing power and connection speed to handle more than a small population of users,” he said, quickly adding, “i-Jetty-enabled Android phones could certainly syndicate to a larger landed service.”

A potentially larger new market could emerge, said Lieber, if Android takes hold in larger-format devices such as network routers. “Android-based networking devices such as routers and access points could host web-based services,” he said.

A month-old blog from Chief Engineer Jan Bartel reveals some of the project’s final struggles in making the port. According to Lieber, however, the porting process was “really fast” compared to typical ports to commercial Java servers. “Android is much more adaptable to projects like this. Instead of, okay, you can add your server to our application, it’s like we’ll adapt our environment to your server.” The biggest challenge, said Lieber, was in “getting used to the Android emulators.”

According to Lieber, the code is stable enough for productive use now. “It’s posted, it’s freely available, and it’s good to go now,” he said. One potential area for improvement will occur, he added, if Google decides to enable “dynamic adding of Java classes in runtime” in the next Android release. “Right now, there are a couple facilities that are not available in Android, but we’re hopeful that they will make the change so more Java components can be added into an application while it’s running,” he said.


i-Jetty is now available for free download at Google Code. Webtide is demonstrating the technology this week at Eclipse.con 2008 in Santa Clara, Calif.