23. Web Reactive Framework

This section provides basic information on the Spring Web Reactive support in Spring Framework 5.

23.1 Introduction

23.1.1 Reactive Programming

In plain terms reactive programming is about non-blocking applications that are asynchronous and event-driven and require a small number of threads to scale. A key aspect of that definition is the concept of backpressure which is a mechanism to ensure producers don’t overwhelm consumers. For example in a pipeline of reactive components that extends from the database to the HTTP socket when the HTTP client is slow the data repository slows down or stops until capacity frees up.

From a programming model perspective reactive programming involves a major shift from imperative style logic to a declarative composition of async logic. It is comparable to using CompletableFuture in Java 8 and composing follow-up actions via lambda expressions.

For a more extended introduction to reactive programming check the excellent multi-part series "Notes on Reactive Programming" by Dave Syer.

23.1.2 Spring Web Reactive Types

Spring Framework 5 embraces Reactive Streams as the contract for communicating backpressure across async components and libraries. Reactive Streams is a specification created through industry collaboration that has also been adopted in Java 9 as java.util.concurrent.Flow.

The Spring Framework uses Reactor internally for its own reactive support. Reactor is a Reactive Streams implementation that further extends the basic Reactive Streams Publisher contract with the Flux and Mono composable API types to provide declarative operations on data sequences of 0..N and 0..1.

The Spring Framework exposes Flux and Mono in many of its own reactive APIs. At the application level however, as always, Spring provides choice and fully supports the use of RxJava. For more on reactive types check the post "Understanding Reactive Types" by Sebastien Deleuze.

23.2 Spring Web Reactive Overview

23.2.1 Spring Web Reactive Module

Spring Framework 5 adds a new spring-web-reactive module that supports the same @Controller programming model as Spring MVC but executed on a reactive, non-blocking engine. The diagram below shows how Spring MVC and Spring Web Reactive compare side by side:

web reactive overview

Spring Web Reactive makes use of Servlet 3.1 non-blocking I/O and runs on Servlet 3.1 containers. It also runs on non-Servlet runtimes such as Netty and Undertow. Each runtime is adapted to a set of shared, reactive ServerHttpRequest and ServerHttpResponse abstractions that expose the request and response body as Flux<DataBuffer> with full backpressure support on the read and the write side.

The spring-core module provides reactive Encoder and Decoder contracts that enable the serialization of a Flux of bytes to and from typed objects. The spring-web module adds JSON (Jackson) and XML (JAXB) implementations for use in web applications as well as others for SSE streaming and zero-copy file transfer.

The spring-web-reactive module contains the Spring Web Reactive framework that supports the @Controller programming model. It re-defines many of the Spring MVC contracts such as HandlerMapping and HandlerAdapter to be asynchronous and non-blocking and to operate on the reactive HTTP request and response. For this reason Spring MVC and Spring Web Reactive cannot share any code. However they do share many of the same algorithms.

The end result is a programming model identical to today’s Spring MVC but with support for reactive types and executed in a reactive manner. For example a controller method can declare the following as an @RequestBody method argument:

  • Account account — the account is deserialized without blocking before the controller is invoked.
  • Mono<Account> account — the controller can use the Mono to declare logic to be executed after the account is deserialized.
  • Single<Account> account — same as with Mono but using RxJava
  • Flux<Account> accounts — input streaming scenario.
  • Observable<Account> accounts — input streaming with RxJava.

The above also applies to return value handling:

  • Mono<Account> — serialize without blocking the given Account when the Mono completes.
  • Singe<Account> — same but using RxJava.
  • Flux<Account> — streaming scenario, possibly SSE depending on the requested content type.
  • Flux<SseEvent> — SSE streaming.
  • Observable<SseEvent> — same but using RxJava.
  • Mono<Void> — request handling completes when the Mono completes.
  • void — request handling completes when the method returns; implies a synchronous, non-blocking controller method.
  • Account — serialize without blocking the given Account; implies a synchronous, non-blocking controller method.

23.2.2 Reactive Web Client

Spring Framework 5 adds a new reactive WebClient in addition to the existing RestTemplate.

Each supported HTTP client (e.g. Reactor Netty) is adapted to a set of shared, reactive ClientHttpRequest and ClientHttpResponse abstractions that expose the request and response body as Flux<DataBuffer> with full backpressure support on the read and the write side. The Encoder and Decoder abstractions from spring-core are also used on the client side for the serialization of a Flux of bytes to and from typed objects.

An example of using the WebClient:

ClientHttpConnector httpConnector = new ReactorClientHttpConnector();
WebClient webClient = new WebClient(httpConnector);

Mono<Account> response = webClient
		.perform(get("http://example.com/accounts/1").accept(APPLICATION_JSON))
		.extract(body(Account.class));

The above assumes static method imports from ClientWebRequestBuilder and ResponseExtractors that enable a fluent syntax. The same can also be done with RxJava using static imports from RxJava1ClientWebRequestBuilder and RxJava1ResponseExtractors instead:

Single<Account> response = webClient
		.perform(get("http://example.com/accounts/1").accept(APPLICATION_JSON))
		.extract(body(Account.class));

23.3 Getting Started

23.3.1 Spring Boot Starter

The experimental Spring Boot Web Reactive starter available via http://start.spring.io is the quickest way to get started. It does all the work so you can start writing @Controller classes. By default it runs on Tomcat but the dependencies can be changed as usual with Spring Boot to switch to a different runtime.

23.3.2 Manual Bootstrapping

It is also easy to get started by writing a few lines of code:

AnnotationConfigApplicationContext context;
context = new AnnotationConfigApplicationContext();
context.register(WebReactiveConfiguration.class); 	// (1)
context.refresh();

DispatcherHandler handler = new DispatcherHandler();	// (2)
handler.setApplicationContext(context);
HttpHandler httpHandler = WebHttpHandlerBuilder.webHandler(handler).build();

HttpServer server = new TomcatHttpServer();	// (3)
server.setPort(8080);
server.setHandler(httpHandler);
server.afterPropertiesSet();
server.start();

The WebReactiveConfiguration at (1) is the Java config from spring-web-reactive and is similar in purpose to the MVC Java config from spring-webmvc. It provides the web framework configuration required to get started leaving you only to declare your own @Controller beans.

The DispatcherHandler at (2) is the equivalent of the DispatcherServlet in Spring MVC.

The HttpServer at (3) is an abstraction from the test sources of spring-web-reactive used for Spring Framework’s own integration tests. The abstraction comes with basic implementations for each supported runtime.

23.3.3 Extent of Support in 5.0 M1

For M1 the Spring Web Reactive module focuses on REST scenarios for both client and server. Basic HTML rendering with Freemarker is also supported but limited to rendering but not form submissions.