Where do I begin?
When I consult with IBM WebSphere customers to help them understand how to use our products to achieve their business goals, a question that customers frequently ask me is: How can I learn about WebSphere?
To be honest, the amount of documentation and advice that IBM makes available for its products amazes me, especially for its WebSphere brand software products. In fact, the documentation material alone that is provided with these products not only shows what the products do, they also show the how to use the products to achieve technical and business objectives.
If you are unaware of what kinds of reference material is at your disposal, or if you're simply overwhelmed by the material that you are aware of, then this look at the variety of (mostly free) product information resources that are available to you -- and, most importantly, where to find them -- should help ease any documentation-induced anxieties you may experience.
What are they?
Back in the good old days, when you bought a new software product, in addition to getting a stack of disks for installing the sofware, you also got at least a few shelf-feet of user and reference manuals that documented the use and maintenance of the product. Information Centers serve that same purpose today, but like Javadocs, this information is set up as a set of HTML pages you can easily browse and search, just like a typical Web page.
Where are they?
The Information Center for an IBM product is installed on your system at the same time the product is installed, making it immediately available to you locally. However, Information Centers are also available online on the ibm.com Web site. The Information Centers and Libraries page is a master list of most (but not all) of IBM's Information Centers, which cover a variety of products from A (AIX®) to Z (z/OS®), including both hardware (such as xSeries® and iSeries™) and software (such as DB2®, Lotus®, Tivoli®, and WebSphere products).
The best way to find an online Information Center is to navigate to the ibm.com product page for the specific software product, then follow the corresponding Library link in the navigation column. For example:
- Using your Web browser, go to the IBM WebSphere Application Server product page.
- Click on the Library link in the navigation bar on the left.
- Select the link for the appropriate Information Center; in this case, you can choose the Information Center for WebSphere Application Server V6.0.x, WebSphere Application Server V5.1, or others.
One useful Information Center that does not currently follow this online navigation convention is the Rational Software Development Platform Information Center, which includes documentation for IBM Rational Application Developer, Rational Software Architect, and other application development products.
The easiest way to find pages on a particular topic or product feature in an Information Centers is to use the Search box in the upper-left corner. When using this technique, you will notice that search also lists pages for other products, sometimes listing the same page multiple times, if that page happens to be part of the documentation for more than one product. To narrow the search, select Advanced Search and select only the product of interest.
What are they?
The next level of IBM product documentation is the extensive library of IBM Redbooks, which are produced by IBM to cover a broad range of topics and offer customers real-life solutions to the everyday problems of computer use. Like the Information Centers, Redbooks cover a wide variety of IBM products and technologies, like servers, storage, operating systems, middleware products, and so on. Many Redbooks are product-specific and explain how products work, plus offer some insight on how to use them in real-world scenarios, usually framed around specific, practical topics. In addition, though, Redbooks also address:
- Competitor products, as in Experiences with Oracle 10g Database for Linux® on zSeries®, to show how to use them together with IBM products.
- Broader technology themes, as in Grid Computing Products and Services and High Performance On Demand Solutions, to show possible approaches for applying these technologies using IBM products.
Where are they?
Redbooks can be downloaded, read, and printed for free as PDF files from the IBM Redbooks Web site. For a fee, you can also order printed or CD-ROM copies, or you can find professionally bound Redbooks in most bookstores.
Besides the actual Redbooks, the site also lists:
- Redpapers : shorter than Redbooks, usually on discrete topics
- Technotes: supplements to Redbooks
- Workshops: classes you can attend.
Redbook Domains group Redbook material around a specific product brand or technology. Two domains with vast resources that are of particular interest are the WebSphere Redbooks Domain and the Application Development Redbooks Domain (which overlap somewhat). More than 250 books and papers are included in the WebSphere domain alone (check out the top 15 list), but here are a few that should be on nearly every WebSphere developer's short list:
- WebSphere Application Server V6 System Management & Configuration Handbook
- Rational Application Developer V6 Programming Guide
- WebSphere Version 6 Web Services Handbook Development and Deployment
- Patterns: SOA with an Enterprise Service Bus in WebSphere Application Server V6
What is it?
IBM developerWorks is IBM's resource for developers, where articles and papers on IBM products and general technologies are published daily. This online resource also provides access to other documentation databases, like the Web services Standards database, for even more comprehensive coverage.
Where is it?
Similar to the Redbook Domains, developerWorks is divided into zones, each of which focuses on a specific technology or IBM software brand; the IBM software brand zones also contain product-specific areas that provide concentrated resources for individual products. Some of the developerWorks zones of particular interest to WebSphere developers include:
- WebSphere zone (formerly known as the WebSphere Developer Domain, or WSDD), including the WebSphere Application Server product area.
- Rational zone, including the Rational Application Developer for WebSphere Software product area
- Java™ technology, Web architecture, and SOA and Web services zones
Of course, another significant resource for learning about WebSphere products is the monthly IBM WebSphere Developer Technical Journal (which is where you found the article you are reading now). Each issue contains columns and articles by WebSphere practitioners on how to make best use of these products.
Recommended reading list
What is it?
For many people, the question isn't so much "Where can I learn about WebSphere?" but rather "How do I make my way though all of the WebSphere materials that IBM provides to get the information I need?" Luckily, we have an answer for that too.
The Recommended reading list for WebSphere Application Server was created by my department, IBM Software Services for WebSphere, and lists our top 100 or choices for essential reading, including articles, Redbooks, and other free resources, for learning about IBM's J2EE products, like WebSphere Application Server and Rational Application Developer. It's divided into categories like J2EE development, security, and migration, so you can zero in on the topics of most interest to you. This list has been so useful to so many customers, Business Partners, and IBMers alike, that it is consistently one of the most popular articles on developerWorks WebSphere.
Where is it?
The list can be accessed directly or from the developerWorks WebSphere Application Server product area, and is updated several times a year to maintain currency.
Reading lists are available for other IBM software products, such as for DB2® UDB, and more are planned.
IBM Press, Author spotlight, Meet the experts
What are they?
IBM Press publishes books about IBM products, often authored by IBM employees. Although not free, you will likely agree that they are worth the price. The book portfolio lists the books in the library, divided into categories like Patterns books and Web Services books. The WebSphere books category lists several books, including these two very helpful ones:
- Enterprise Java Programming with IBM WebSphere, Second Edition
- IBM WebSphere Deployment and Advanced Configuration
Author spotlight showcases frequent contributing authors to the developerWorks WebSphere zone. In addition to impressive bios and a list of the authors' articles that have been published over time, each featured author also includes a recommended reading list of resources in his or hers area of expertise.
Meet the experts is a monthly developerWorks WebSphere feature in which a different expert answers questions from readers on a timely topic. Not only do the published articles make good and practical reading, but the preview of upcoming experts and topics enables you to plan ahead and send in questions of particular interest to you.
But wait, there's more
How is that for a start? A plethora of resources are available for learning about WebSphere products, nearly all of which are available to you right now, for free. Of course, if you want to do more than read, don't forget that there is a wide variety of formal education courses that are also available.
Browse through each of these resources, especially the ones you may not be familiar with. Yes, there is a lot of information out there, but with the little bit of guidance provided here, it is more than likely you will find the help you need -- plus much more useful information -- with less effort and less time than you probably expected. Learn and enjoy!
- Information Centers and Libraries
- IBM WebSphere Application Server product page
- WebSphere Application Server V6.0.x Information Center
- WebSphere Application Server V5.1 Information Center
- WebSphere Extended Deployment product page
- WebSphere Extended Deployment V5.1 Information Center
- WebSphere Extended Deployment V6.0 Information Center
- Rational Software Development Platform Information Center
- IBM Redbooks
- Redbooks: Redpapers
- Redbooks: Technotes
- Redbooks: Workshops
- Redbook Domains
- WebSphere Redbooks Domain
- Application Development Redbooks Domain
- Top 15 Redbooks
- IBM developerWorks
- IBM developerWorks WebSphere zone
- IBM developerWorks WebSphere Application Server zone
- IBM developerWorks Rational zone
- IBM developerWorks Rational Application Developer for WebSphere Software zone
- IBM developerWorks Java technology zone
- IBM developerWorks Web architecture zone
- IBM developerWorks SOA and Web services zone
- IBM WebSphere Developer Technical Journal
- Recommended reading list for WebSphere Application Server
- IBM Software Services for WebSphere
- IBM Press
- IBM Press book portfolios
- IBM Press WebSphere book portfolio
- Author spotlight
- Meet the experts
- IBM WebSphere Training and Technical Enablement
- Web-based training courses