Comment lines: Bobby Woolf: Where, oh where, can I learn about WebSphere?

There is a vast amount of reference material on IBM® WebSphere® products available at your disposal, and nearly all of it is absolutely free. The trick is knowing what information you need and how to find it.


Bobby Woolf, ISSW WebSphere J2EE Consultant, EMC

Bobby WoolfBobby Woolf is a member of IBM Software Services for WebSphere, consultants who help customers achieve success with WebSphere products. He is a coauthor of Enterprise Integration Patterns and The Design Patterns Smalltalk Companion. Bobby assists clients in developing applications with service-oriented architecture for IBM WebSphere Process Server using IBM WebSphere Integration Developer. Bobby is also a frequent speaker at various conferences. Read more at Bobby's blog on developerWorks.

21 September 2005

From the IBM WebSphere Developer Technical Journal.

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.

Information Centers

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 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 product page for the specific software product, then follow the corresponding Library link in the navigation column. For example:

  1. Using your Web browser, go to the IBM WebSphere Application Server product page.
  2. Click on the Library link in the navigation bar on the left.
  3. 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.

You can find Information Centers for most other WebSphere products in this manner, including WebSphere Extended Deployment, Versions 5.1 and 6.0.


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:

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:


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:


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:


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!



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ArticleTitle=Comment lines: Bobby Woolf: Where, oh where, can I learn about WebSphere?