4. Message Construction

4.1 Message

The Spring Integration Message is a generic container for data. Any object can be provided as the payload, and each Message also includes headers containing user-extensible properties as key-value pairs.

4.1.1 The Message Interface

Here is the definition of the Message interface:

public interface Message<T> {

    T getPayload();

    MessageHeaders getHeaders();


The Message is obviously a very important part of the API. By encapsulating the data in a generic wrapper, the messaging system can pass it around without any knowledge of the data's type. As an application evolves to support new types, or when the types themselves are modified and/or extended, the messaging system will not be affected by such changes. On the other hand, when some component in the messaging system does require access to information about the Message, such metadata can typically be stored to and retrieved from the metadata in the Message Headers.

4.1.2 Message Headers

Just as Spring Integration allows any Object to be used as the payload of a Message, it also supports any Object types as header values. In fact, the MessageHeaders class implements the java.util.Map interface:

public final class MessageHeaders implements Map<String, Object>, Serializable {

Even though the MessageHeaders implements Map, it is effectively a read-only implementation. Any attempt to put a value in the Map will result in an UnsupportedOperationException. The same applies for remove and clear. Since Messages may be passed to multiple consumers, the structure of the Map cannot be modified. Likewise, the Message's payload Object can not be set after the initial creation. However, the mutability of the header values themselves (or the payload Object) is intentionally left as a decision for the framework user.

As an implementation of Map, the headers can obviously be retrieved by calling get(..) with the name of the header. Alternatively, you can provide the expected Class as an additional parameter. Even better, when retrieving one of the pre-defined values, convenient getters are available. Here is an example of each of these three options:

 Object someValue = message.getHeaders().get("someKey");

 CustomerId customerId = message.getHeaders().get("customerId", CustomerId.class);

 Long timestamp = message.getHeaders().getTimestamp();

The following Message headers are pre-defined:

Table 4.1. Pre-defined Message Headers

Header NameHeader Type
REPLY_CHANNELjava.lang.Object (can be a String or MessageChannel)
ERROR_CHANNELjava.lang.Object (can be a String or MessageChannel)

Many inbound and outbound adapter implementations will also provide and/or expect certain headers, and additional user-defined headers can also be configured.

4.1.3 Message Implementations

The base implementation of the Message interface is GenericMessage<T>, and it provides two constructors:

new GenericMessage<T>(T payload);

new GenericMessage<T>(T payload, Map<String, Object> headers)

When a Message is created, a random unique id will be generated. The constructor that accepts a Map of headers will copy the provided headers to the newly created Message.

There is also a convenient implementation of Message designed to communicate error conditions. This implementation takes Throwable object as its payload:

ErrorMessage message = new ErrorMessage(someThrowable);

Throwable t = message.getPayload();

Notice that this implementation takes advantage of the fact that the GenericMessage base class is parameterized. Therefore, as shown in both examples, no casting is necessary when retrieving the Message payload Object.

4.1.4 The MessageBuilder Helper Class

You may notice that the Message interface defines retrieval methods for its payload and headers but no setters. The reason for this is that a Message cannot be modified after its initial creation. Therefore, when a Message instance is sent to multiple consumers (e.g. through a Publish Subscribe Channel), if one of those consumers needs to send a reply with a different payload type, it will need to create a new Message. As a result, the other consumers are not affected by those changes. Keep in mind, that multiple consumers may access the same payload instance or header value, and whether such an instance is itself immutable is a decision left to the developer. In other words, the contract for Messages is similar to that of an unmodifiable Collection, and the MessageHeaders' map further exemplifies that; even though the MessageHeaders class implements java.util.Map, any attempt to invoke a put operation (or 'remove' or 'clear') on the MessageHeaders will result in an UnsupportedOperationException.

Rather than requiring the creation and population of a Map to pass into the GenericMessage constructor, Spring Integration does provide a far more convenient way to construct Messages: MessageBuilder. The MessageBuilder provides two factory methods for creating Messages from either an existing Message or with a payload Object. When building from an existing Message, the headers and payload of that Message will be copied to the new Message:

Message<String> message1 = MessageBuilder.withPayload("test")
        .setHeader("foo", "bar")

Message<String> message2 = MessageBuilder.fromMessage(message1).build();

assertEquals("test", message2.getPayload());
assertEquals("bar", message2.getHeaders().get("foo"));

If you need to create a Message with a new payload but still want to copy the headers from an existing Message, you can use one of the 'copy' methods.

Message<String> message3 = MessageBuilder.withPayload("test3")

Message<String> message4 = MessageBuilder.withPayload("test4")
        .setHeader("foo", 123)

assertEquals("bar", message3.getHeaders().get("foo"));
assertEquals(123, message4.getHeaders().get("foo"));

Notice that the copyHeadersIfAbsent does not overwrite existing values. Also, in the second example above, you can see how to set any user-defined header with setHeader. Finally, there are set methods available for the predefined headers as well as a non-destructive method for setting any header (MessageHeaders also defines constants for the pre-defined header names).

Message<Integer> importantMessage = MessageBuilder.withPayload(99)

assertEquals(5, importantMessage.getHeaders().getPriority());

Message<Integer> lessImportantMessage = MessageBuilder.fromMessage(importantMessage)
        .setHeaderIfAbsent(MessageHeaders.PRIORITY, 2)

assertEquals(2, lessImportantMessage.getHeaders().getPriority());

The priority header is only considered when using a PriorityChannel (as described in the next chapter). It is defined as java.lang.Integer.