Common mistakes when using Spring MVC

spring_framework When I started my career around 10 years ago, Struts MVC was the norm in the market. However, over the years, I observed the Spring MVC slowly gaining popularity. This is not a surprise to me, given the seamless integration of Spring MVC with Spring container and the flexibility and extensibility that it offers.

From my journey with Spring so far, I usually saw people making some common mistakes when configuring Spring framework. This happened more often comparing to the time people still used Struts framework. I guess it is the trade off between flexibility and usability. Plus, Spring documentation is full of samples but lack of explanation. To help filling up this gap, this article will try to elaborate and explain 3 common issues that I often see people encounter.

Declare beans in Servlet context definition file

So, everyone of us knows that Spring uses ContextLoaderListener to load Spring application context. Still, when declaring the
DispatcherServlet, we need to create the servlet context definition file with the name “${servlet.name}-context.xml”. Ever wonder why?

Application Context Hierarchy

Not all developers know that Spring application context has hierarchy. Let’s look at this method:

org.springframework.context.ApplicationContext.getParent()

It tells us that Spring Application Context has parent. So, what is this parent for?

If you download the source code and do a quick references search, you should find that Spring Application Context treat parent as its extension. If you do not mind to read code, let I show you one example of the usage in method BeanFactoryUtils.beansOfTypeIncludingAncestors():

if (lbf instanceof HierarchicalBeanFactory) {
    HierarchicalBeanFactory hbf = (HierarchicalBeanFactory) lbf;
    if (hbf.getParentBeanFactory() instanceof ListableBeanFactory) {
 Map parentResult = 
              beansOfTypeIncludingAncestors((ListableBeanFactory) hbf.getParentBeanFactory(), type);
 ...
    }
}
return result;
}

If you go through the whole method, you will find that Spring Application Context scan to find beans in internal context before searching parent context. With this strategy, effectively, Spring Application Context will do a reverse breadth first search to look for beans.

ContextLoaderListener

This is a well known class that every developer should know. It helps to load the Spring application context from a pre-defined context definition file. As it implements ServletContextListener, the Spring application context will be loaded as soon as the web application is loaded. This bring indisputable benefit when loading the Spring container that contains beans with @PostContruct annotation or batch jobs.

In contrast, any bean define in the servlet context definition file will not be constructed until the servlet is initialized. When does the servlet be initialized? It is indeterministic. In worst case, you may need to wait until users make the first hit to the servlet mapping URL to get the spring context loaded.

With the above information, where should you declare all your precious beans? I feel the best place to do so is the context definition file loaded by ContextLoaderListener and no where else. The trick here is the storage of ApplicationContext as a servlet attribute under the key org.springframework.web.context.WebApplicationContext.ROOT_WEB_APPLICATION_CONTEXT_ATTRIBUTE   
Later, DispatcherServlet will load this context from ServletContext and assign it as the parent application context.

protected WebApplicationContext initWebApplicationContext() {
   WebApplicationContext rootContext =
      WebApplicationContextUtils.getWebApplicationContext(getServletContext());
   ...
}

Because of this behaviour, it is highly recommended to create an empty servlet application context definition file and define your beans in the parent context. This will help to avoid duplicating the bean creation when web application is loaded and guarantee that batch jobs are executed immediately.

Theoretically, defining the bean in servlet application context definition file make the bean unique and visible to that servlet only. However, in my 8 years of using Spring, I hardly found any use for this feature except defining Web Service end point.

Declare Log4jConfigListener after ContextLoaderListener

This is a minor bug but it will catch you when you do not pay attention to it. Log4jConfigListener is my preferred solution over -Dlog4j.configuration as we can control the log4j loading without altering server bootstrap process.

Obviously, this should be the first listener to be declared in your web.xml. Otherwise, all of your effort to declare proper logging configuration will be wasted.

Duplicated Beans due to mismanagement of bean exploration

In the early day of Spring, developers spent more time typing on xml files than Java classes. For every new bean, we need to declare and wiring the dependencies ourselves, which is clean, neat but very painful. No surprise that later versions of Spring framework evolved toward greater usability. Nowadays, developers may only need to declare transaction manager, data source, property source, web service endpoint and leave the rest to component scan and auto-wiring.

I like these new features but this great power needs to come with great responsibility; otherwise, things will be messy quickly. Component Scan and bean declaration in XML files are totally independent. Therefore, it is perfectly possible to have identical beans of the same class in the bean container if the beans are annotated for component scan and declare manually as well. Fortunately, this kind of mistake should only happen with beginners.

The situation gets more complicated when we need to integrate some embedded components into the final product. Then we really need a strategy to avoid duplicated bean declaration.

spring_component

The above diagram shows a realistic sample of the kind of problems we face in daily life. Most of the time, a system is composed from multiple components and often, one component serves multiple product. Each application and component has it own beans. In this case, what should be the best way to declare to avoid duplicated bean declaration?

Here is my proposed strategy:

  • Ensure that each component needs to start with a dedicated package name. It makes our life easier when we need to do component scan.
  • Don’t dictate the team that develops the component on the approach to declare the bean in the component itself (annotation versus xml declaration). It is the responsibility of the developer whom packs the components to final product to ensure no duplicated bean declaration.
  • If there is context definition file packed within the component, give it a package rather than in the root of classpath. It is even better to give it a specific name. For example src/main/resources/spring-core/spring-core-context.xml is way better than src/main/resource/application-context.xml. Imagine what can we do if we pack few components that contain the same file application-context.xml on the identical package!
  • Don’t provide any annotation for component scan (@Component, @Service or @Repository) if you already declare the bean in one context file.
  • Split the environment specific bean like data-source, property-source to a separate file and reuse.
  • Do not do component scan on the general package. For example, instead of scanning org.springframework package, it is easier to manage if we scan several sub-packages like org.springframework.core, org.springframework.context, org.springframework.ui,…

Conclusion

I hope you found the above tips useful for daily usage. If there is any doubt or any other idea, please help by sending feedback.

Reference: Common mistakes when using Spring MVC from our JCG partner Nguyen Anh Tuan at the Developers Corner blog.

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