Advanced routing in Play Framework

We frequently get questions about how to meet all sorts of different routing needs in Play Framework. While the built in router is enough for most users, sometimes you may encounter use cases where it’s not enough. Or, maybe you want a more convenient way to implement some routing pattern. Whatever it is, Play will allow you to do pretty much anything. This blog post is going to describe some common use cases.

Hooking into Plays routing mechanism

If for some reason you don’t like Plays router, or if you want to use a modified router, then Play allows you to do this easily. Global.onRouteRequest is the method that is
invoked to do routing. By default, this delegates to the Play router, but you can override it to do whatever you want. For example:

override def onRouteRequest(req: RequestHeader): Option[Handler] = {
  (req.method, req.path) match {
    case ("GET", "/") => Some(controllers.Application.index)
    case ("POST", "/submit") => Some(controllers.Application.submit)
    case _ => None

As you can see, I’ve practically implemented my own little routing DSL here. I could also delegate back to the default router by invoking super.onRouteRequest(req). An interesting thing that could also be done is to delegate to different routers based on something in the request. A play router compiles to an instance of Router.Routes, and it will be an object called Routes itself. By default, any file with the .routes extension in the conf directory will by compiled, and will go in the package with the same name as the filename, minus the .routes. So if I had two routers, foo.routes and bar.routes, I could implemented a crude form of virtual hosting like so:

override def onRouteRequest(req: RequestHeader): Option[Handler] = {
  if ( == "") {
  } else if ( == "") {
  } else {

So here are some use cases that overriding onRouteRequest may be useful for:

  • Modifying the request in some way before routing is done
  • Plugging in a completely different router (eg, jaxrs)
  • Delegating to different routes files based on some aspect of the request

Implementing a custom router

We saw in the previous example how to use Plays Router.Routes interface, another option is to implement it. Now, there’s no real reason to implement it if you’re just going to delegate to it directly from onRouteRequest. However, by implementing this interface, you can include it in another routes file, using the sub routes include syntax, which in case you haven’t come across this before, typically looks like this:

->    /foo         foo.Routes

Now something that people often criticise Play for is that it doesn’t support rails style resource routing, where a convention is used to route commonly needed REST endpoints to particular methods on a controller. Although Play comes with nothing out of the box that does this, it is not hard to implement this today for your project, Play 2.1 has everything you need to support it, by using the routes includes syntax, and implementing your own router. And I have some good news too, we will be introducing a feature like this into Play soon. But until then, and also if you have your own custom conventions that you want to implement, you will probably find these instructions very helpful.
So let’s start off with an interface that our controllers can implement:

trait ResourceController[T] extends Controller {
  def index: EssentialAction
  def newScreen: EssentialAction
  def create: EssentialAction
  def show(id: T): EssentialAction
  def edit(id: T): EssentialAction
  def update(id: T): EssentialAction
  def destroy(id: T): EssentialAction

I could provide default implementations that return not implemented, but then implementing it would require using override keywords. I think it’s a matter of preference here.
Now I’m going to write a router. The router interface looks like this:

trait Routes {
  def routes: PartialFunction[RequestHeader, Handler]
  def documentation: Seq[(String, String, String)]
  def setPrefix(prefix: String)
  def prefix: String

The routes method is pretty self explanatory, it is the function that looks up the handler for a request. documentation is used to document the router, it is not mandatory, but it used by at least one REST API documenting tool to discover what routes are available and what they look like. For brevity in this post, we won’t worry about implementing it. The prefix and setPrefix methods are used by Play to inject the path of the router. In the routes includes syntax that I showed above, you could see that we declared the router to be on the path /foo. This path is injected using this mechanism. So we’ll write an abstract class that implements the routes interface and the ResourceController interface:

abstract class ResourceRouter[T](implicit idBindable: PathBindable[T]) 
    extends Router.Routes with ResourceController[T] {
  private var path: String = ""
  def setPrefix(prefix: String) {
    path = prefix
  def prefix = path
  def documentation = Nil
  def routes = ...

I’ve given it a PathBindable, this is so that we have a way to convert the id from a String extracted from the path to the type accepted by the methods. PathBindable is the same interface that’s used under the covers when in a normal routes file to convert types.
Now for the implementation of routes. First I’m going to create some regular expressions for matching the different paths:

private val MaybeSlash = "/?".r
  private val NewScreen = "/new/?".r
  private val Id = "/([^/]+)/?".r
  private val Edit = "/([^/]+)/edit/?".r

I’m also going to create a helper function for the routes that require the id to be bound:

def withId(id: String, action: T => EssentialAction) = 
  idBindable.bind("id", id).fold(badRequest, action)

badRequest is actually a method on Router.Routes that takes the error message and turns it into an action that returns that as a result. Now I’m ready to implement the partial function:

def routes = new AbstractPartialFunction[RequestHeader, Handler] {
  override def applyOrElse[A <: RequestHeader, B >: Handler](rh: A, default: A => B) = {
    if (rh.path.startsWith(path)) {
      (rh.method, rh.path.drop(path.length)) match {
        case ("GET", MaybeSlash()) => index
        case ("GET", NewScreen()) => newScreen
        case ("POST", MaybeSlash()) => create
        case ("GET", Id(id)) => withId(id, show)
        case ("GET", Edit(id)) => withId(id, edit)
        case ("PUT", Id(id)) => withId(id, update)
        case ("DELETE", Id(id)) => withId(id, destroy)
        case _ => default(rh)
    } else {

  def isDefinedAt(rh: RequestHeader) = ...

I’ve implemented AbstractPartialFunction, and the main method to implement then is applyOrElse. The match statement doesn’t look much unlike the mini DSL I showed in the first code sample. I’m using regular expressions as extractor objects to extract the ids out of the path. Note that I haven’t shown the implementation of isDefinedAt. Play actually won’t call this, but it’s good to implement it anyway, it’s basically the same implementation as applyOrElse, except instead of invoking the corresponding methods, it returns true, or for when nothing matches, it returns false. And now we’re done. So what does using this look like? My controller looks like this:

package controllers

object MyResource extends ResourceRouter[Long] {
  def index = Action {...}
  def create(id: Long) = Action {...}
  def custom(id: Long) = Action {...}

And in my routes file I have this:

->     /myresource              controllers.MyResource
POST   /myresource/:id/custom   controllers.MyResource.custom(id: Long)

You can see I’ve also shown an example of adding a custom action to the controller, obviously the standard crud actions are not going to be enough, and the nice thing about this is that you can add as many arbitrary routes as you want.
But what if we want to have a managed controller, that is, one whose instantiation is managed by a DI framework? Well let’s created another router that does this:

class ManagedResourceRouter[T, R >: ResourceController[T]]
    (implicit idBindable: PathBindable[T], ct: ClassTag[R]) 
    extends ResourceRouter[T] {

  private def invoke(action: R => EssentialAction) = { { app =>
    } getOrElse {
      Action(Results.InternalServerError("No application"))

  def index = invoke(_.index)
  def newScreen = invoke(_.newScreen)
  def create = invoke(_.create)
  def show(id: T) = invoke(
  def edit(id: T) = invoke(_.edit(id))
  def update(id: T) = invoke(_.update(id))
  def destroy(id: T) = invoke(_.destroy(id))

This uses the same Global.getControllerInstance method that managed controllers in the regular router use. Now to use this is very simple:

package controllers

class MyResource(dbService: DbService) extends ResourceController[Long] {
  def index = Action {...}
  def create(id: Long) = Action {...}
  def custom(id: Long) = Action {...}
object MyResource extends ManagedResourceRouter[Long, MyResource]

And in the routes file:

->     /myresource              controllers.MyResource
POST   /myresource/:id/custom   @controllers.MyResource.custom(id: Long)

The final thing we need to consider is reverse routing and the Javascript router. Again this is very simple, but I’m not going to go into any details here. Instead, you can check out the final product, which has a few more features, here.

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10 years ago
Reply to  iteamon

Great idea, something similar should really make its way into Play itself!

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