Can I run a portal application on WebSphere without using WebSphere Portal Server?
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Yes, you COULD, but it's not trivial to set up. A TRUE portal application, based on the portlet standard, requires a runtime environment that supports that standard. None of the Web application servers do. They need support to do that. WebSphere Portal server adds that. So does Jetspeed -- Jetspeed is free. I've run it well to run portlets on Tomcat. It COULD be set up on WebSphere or WebSphere Express as well, BUT the setup would require proper understanding of classpaths, class loading options, the Java vm version to configure it correctly.
Sometimes people refer to a portal application as just something that runs in a "portal-like" frame using internal frames OR built dynamically using JSP includes. In that case, ANY Web application server -- Tomcat, WebSphere Express -- can run those applications. To look at a good framework that creates portal-LIKE interfaces (but doesn't support the portlet standard) look at Struts from Apache. The included Tiles framework is a good one for dynamically building "portal-like" Web pages, and they include a sample portal application.
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