8. Aspect Oriented Programming with Spring

8.1 Introduction

Aspect-Oriented Programming (AOP) complements Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) by providing another way of thinking about program structure. The key unit of modularity in OOP is the class, whereas in AOP the unit of modularity is the aspect. Aspects enable the modularization of concerns such as transaction management that cut across multiple types and objects. (Such concerns are often termed crosscutting concerns in AOP literature.)

One of the key components of Spring is the AOP framework. While the Spring IoC container does not depend on AOP, meaning you do not need to use AOP if you don't want to, AOP complements Spring IoC to provide a very capable middleware solution.

AOP is used in the Spring Framework to...

  • ... provide declarative enterprise services, especially as a replacement for EJB declarative services. The most important such service is declarative transaction management.

  • ... allow users to implement custom aspects, complementing their use of OOP with AOP.

If you are interested only in generic declarative services or other pre-packaged declarative middleware services such as pooling, you do not need to work directly with Spring AOP, and can skip most of this chapter.

8.1.1 AOP concepts

Let us begin by defining some central AOP concepts and terminology. These terms are not Spring-specific... unfortunately, AOP terminology is not particularly intuitive; however, it would be even more confusing if Spring used its own terminology.

  • Aspect: a modularization of a concern that cuts across multiple classes. Transaction management is a good example of a crosscutting concern in J2EE applications. In Spring AOP, aspects are implemented using regular classes (the schema-based approach) or regular classes annotated with the @Aspect annotation (the @AspectJ style).

  • Join point: a point during the execution of a program, such as the execution of a method or the handling of an exception. In Spring AOP, a join point always represents a method execution.

  • Advice: action taken by an aspect at a particular join point. Different types of advice include "around," "before" and "after" advice. (Advice types are discussed below.) Many AOP frameworks, including Spring, model an advice as an interceptor, maintaining a chain of interceptors around the join point.

  • Pointcut: a predicate that matches join points. Advice is associated with a pointcut expression and runs at any join point matched by the pointcut (for example, the execution of a method with a certain name). The concept of join points as matched by pointcut expressions is central to AOP, and Spring uses the AspectJ pointcut expression language by default.

  • Introduction: declaring additional methods or fields on behalf of a type. Spring AOP allows you to introduce new interfaces (and a corresponding implementation) to any advised object. For example, you could use an introduction to make a bean implement an IsModified interface, to simplify caching. (An introduction is known as an inter-type declaration in the AspectJ community.)

  • Target object: object being advised by one or more aspects. Also referred to as the advised object. Since Spring AOP is implemented using runtime proxies, this object will always be a proxied object.

  • AOP proxy: an object created by the AOP framework in order to implement the aspect contracts (advise method executions and so on). In the Spring Framework, an AOP proxy will be a JDK dynamic proxy or a CGLIB proxy.

  • Weaving: linking aspects with other application types or objects to create an advised object. This can be done at compile time (using the AspectJ compiler, for example), load time, or at runtime. Spring AOP, like other pure Java AOP frameworks, performs weaving at runtime.

Types of advice:

  • Before advice: Advice that executes before a join point, but which does not have the ability to prevent execution flow proceeding to the join point (unless it throws an exception).

  • After returning advice: Advice to be executed after a join point completes normally: for example, if a method returns without throwing an exception.

  • After throwing advice: Advice to be executed if a method exits by throwing an exception.

  • After (finally) advice: Advice to be executed regardless of the means by which a join point exits (normal or exceptional return).

  • Around advice: Advice that surrounds a join point such as a method invocation. This is the most powerful kind of advice. Around advice can perform custom behavior before and after the method invocation. It is also responsible for choosing whether to proceed to the join point or to shortcut the advised method execution by returning its own return value or throwing an exception.

Around advice is the most general kind of advice. Since Spring AOP, like AspectJ, provides a full range of advice types, we recommend that you use the least powerful advice type that can implement the required behavior. For example, if you need only to update a cache with the return value of a method, you are better off implementing an after returning advice than an around advice, although an around advice can accomplish the same thing. Using the most specific advice type provides a simpler programming model with less potential for errors. For example, you do not need to invoke the proceed() method on the JoinPoint used for around advice, and hence cannot fail to invoke it.

In Spring 2.0, all advice parameters are statically typed, so that you work with advice parameters of the appropriate type (the type of the return value from a method execution for example) rather than Object arrays.

The concept of join points, matched by pointcuts, is the key to AOP which distinguishes it from older technologies offering only interception. Pointcuts enable advice to be targeted independently of the Object-Oriented hierarchy. For example, an around advice providing declarative transaction management can be applied to a set of methods spanning multiple objects (such as all business operations in the service layer).

8.1.2 Spring AOP capabilities and goals

Spring AOP is implemented in pure Java. There is no need for a special compilation process. Spring AOP does not need to control the class loader hierarchy, and is thus suitable for use in a J2EE web container or application server.

Spring AOP currently supports only method execution join points (advising the execution of methods on Spring beans). Field interception is not implemented, although support for field interception could be added without breaking the core Spring AOP APIs. If you need to advise field access and update join points, consider a language such as AspectJ.

Spring AOP's approach to AOP differs from that of most other AOP frameworks. The aim is not to provide the most complete AOP implementation (although Spring AOP is quite capable); it is rather to provide a close integration between AOP implementation and Spring IoC to help solve common problems in enterprise applications.

Thus, for example, the Spring Framework's AOP functionality is normally used in conjunction with the Spring IoC container. Aspects are configured using normal bean definition syntax (although this allows powerful "autoproxying" capabilities): this is a crucial difference from other AOP implementations. There are some things you cannot do easily or efficiently with Spring AOP, such as advise very fine-grained objects (such as domain objects typically): AspectJ is the best choice in such cases. However, our experience is that Spring AOP provides an excellent solution to most problems in J2EE applications that are amenable to AOP.

Spring AOP will never strive to compete with AspectJ to provide a comprehensive AOP solution. We believe that both proxy-based frameworks like Spring AOP and full-blown frameworks such as AspectJ are valuable, and that they are complementary, rather than in competition. Spring 2.0 seamlessly integrates Spring AOP and IoC with AspectJ, to enable all uses of AOP to be catered for within a consistent Spring-based application architecture. This integration does not affect the Spring AOP API or the AOP Alliance API: Spring AOP remains backward-compatible. See the following chapter for a discussion of the Spring AOP APIs.


One of the central tenets of the Spring Framework is that of non-invasiveness; this is the idea that you should not be forced to introduce framework-specific classes and interfaces into your business/domain model. However, in some places the Spring Framework does give you the option to introduce Spring Framework-specific dependencies into your codebase: the rationale in giving you such options is because in certain scenarios it might be just plain easier to read or code some specific piece of functionality in such a way. The Spring Framework (almost) always offers you the choice though: you have the freedom to make an informed decision as to which option best suits your particular use case or scenario.

One such choice that is relevant to this chapter is that of which AOP framework (and which AOP style) to choose. You have the choice of AspectJ and/or Spring AOP, and you also have the choice of either the @AspectJ annotation-style approach or the Spring XML configuration-style approach. The fact that this chapter chooses to introduce the @AspectJ-style approach first should not be taken as an indication that the Spring team favors the @AspectJ annotation-style approach over the Spring XML configuration-style.

See the section entitled Section 8.4, “Choosing which AOP declaration style to use” for a fuller discussion of the whys and wherefores of each style.

8.1.3 AOP Proxies

Spring AOP defaults to using standard J2SE dynamic proxies for AOP proxies. This enables any interface (or set of interfaces) to be proxied.

Spring AOP can also use CGLIB proxies. This is necessary to proxy classes, rather than interfaces. CGLIB is used by default if a business object does not implement an interface. As it is good practice to program to interfaces rather than classes, business classes normally will implement one or more business interfaces. It is possible to force the use of CGLIB, in those (hopefully rare) cases where you need to advise a method that is not declared on an interface, or where you need to pass a proxied object to a method as a concrete type.

It is important to grasp the fact that Spring AOP is proxy-based. See the section entitled Section 8.6.1, “Understanding AOP proxies” for a thorough examination of exactly what this implementation detail actually means.