3.13 Additional Capabilities of the ApplicationContext

As was discussed in the chapter introduction, the org.springframework.beans.factory package provides basic functionality for managing and manipulating beans, including in a programmatic way. The org.springframework.context package adds the ApplicationContext interface, which implements the BeanFactory interface, in addition to extending other interfaces to provide additional functionality in a more application framework-oriented style. Many people use the ApplicationContext in a completely declarative fashion, not even creating it programmatically, but instead relying on support classes such as ContextLoader to automatically instantiate an ApplicationContext as part of the normal startup process of a J2EE web application.

To enhance BeanFactory functionality in a more framework-oriented style the context package also provides the following functionality:

3.13.1 Internationalization using MessageSource

The ApplicationContext interface extends an interface called MessageSource, and therefore provides internationalization (i18n) functionality. Spring also provides the interface HierarchicalMessageSource, which can resolve messages hierarchically. Together these interfaces provide the foundation upon which Spring effects message resolution. The methods defined on these interfaces include:

  • String getMessage(String code, Object[] args, String default, Locale loc): The basic method used to retrieve a message from the MessageSource. When no message is found for the specified locale, the default message is used. Any arguments passed in become replacement values, using the MessageFormat functionality provided by the standard library.

  • String getMessage(String code, Object[] args, Locale loc): Essentially the same as the previous method, but with one difference: no default message can be specified; if the message cannot be found, a NoSuchMessageException is thrown.

  • String getMessage(MessageSourceResolvable resolvable, Locale locale): All properties used in the preceding methods are also wrapped in a class named MessageSourceResolvable, which you can use with this method.

When an ApplicationContext is loaded, it automatically searches for a MessageSource bean defined in the context. The bean must have the name messageSource. If such a bean is found, all calls to the preceding methods are delegated to the message source. If no message source is found, the ApplicationContext attempts to find a parent containing a bean with the same name. If it does, it uses that bean as the MessageSource. If the ApplicationContext cannot find any source for messages, an empty DelegatingMessageSource is instantiated in order to be able to accept calls to the methods defined above.

Spring provides two MessageSource implementations, ResourceBundleMessageSource and StaticMessageSource. Both implement HierarchicalMessageSource in order to do nested messaging. The StaticMessageSource is rarely used but provides programmatic ways to add messages to the source. The ResourceBundleMessageSource is shown in the following example:

  <bean id="messageSource"
    <property name="basenames">

In the example it is assumed you have three resource bundles defined in your classpath called format, exceptions and windows. Any request to resolve a message will be handled in the JDK standard way of resolving messages through ResourceBundles. For the purposes of the example, assume the contents of two of the above resource bundle files are...

# in format.properties
message=Alligators rock!
# in exceptions.properties
argument.required=The '{0}' argument is required.

A program to execute the MessageSource functionality is shown in the next example. Remember that all ApplicationContext implementations are also MessageSource implementations and so can be cast to the MessageSource interface.

public static void main(String[] args) {
    MessageSource resources = new ClassPathXmlApplicationContext("beans.xml");
    String message = resources.getMessage("message", null, "Default", null);

The resulting output from the above program will be...

Alligators rock!

So to summarize, the MessageSource is defined in a file called beans.xml, which exists at the root of your classpath. The messageSource bean definition refers to a number of resource bundles through its basenames property. The three files that are passed in the list to the basenames property exist as files at the root of your classpath and are called format.properties, exceptions.properties, and windows.properties respectively.

The next example shows arguments passed to the message lookup; these arguments will be converted into Strings and inserted into placeholders in the lookup message.


    <!-- this MessageSource is being used in a web application -->
    <bean id="messageSource" class="org.springframework.context.support.ResourceBundleMessageSource">
        <property name="basename" value="test-messages"/>
    <!-- lets inject the above MessageSource into this POJO -->
    <bean id="example" class="com.foo.Example">
        <property name="messages" ref="messageSource"/>

public class Example {

    private MessageSource messages;

    public void setMessages(MessageSource messages) {
        this.messages = messages;

    public void execute() {
        String message = this.messages.getMessage("argument.required",
            new Object [] {"userDao"}, "Required", null);


The resulting output from the invocation of the execute() method will be...

The userDao argument is required.

With regard to internationalization (i18n), Spring's various MessageResource implementations follow the same locale resolution and fallback rules as the standard JDK ResourceBundle. In short, and continuing with the example messageSource defined previously, if you want to resolve messages against the British (en-GB) locale, you would create files called format_en_GB.properties, exceptions_en_GB.properties, and windows_en_GB.properties respectively.

Typically, locale resolution is managed by the surrounding environment of the application. In this example, the locale against which (British) messages will be resolved is specified manually.

# in exceptions_en_GB.properties
argument.required=Ebagum lad, the '{0}' argument is required, I say, required.
public static void main(final String[] args) {
    MessageSource resources = new ClassPathXmlApplicationContext("beans.xml");
    String message = resources.getMessage("argument.required",
        new Object [] {"userDao"}, "Required", Locale.UK);

The resulting output from the running of the above program will be...

Ebagum lad, the 'userDao' argument is required, I say, required.

You can also use the MessageSourceAware interface to acquire a reference to any MessageSource that has been defined. Any bean that is defined in an ApplicationContext that implements the MessageSourceAware interface is injected with the application context's MessageSource when the bean is created and configured.


As an alternative to ResourceBundleMessageSource, Spring provides a ReloadableResourceBundleMessageSource class. This variant supports the same bundle file format but is more flexible than the standard JDK based ResourceBundleMessageSource implementation. In particular, it allows for reading files from any Spring resource location (not just from the classpath) and supports hot reloading of bundle property files (while efficiently caching them in between). Check out the ReloadableResourceBundleMessageSource javadoc for details.

3.13.2 Standard and Custom Events

Event handling in the ApplicationContext is provided through the ApplicationEvent class and ApplicationListener interface. If a bean that implements the ApplicationListener interface is deployed into the context, every time an ApplicationEvent gets published to the ApplicationContext, that bean is notified. Essentially, this is the standard Observer design pattern. Spring provides the following standard events:

Table 3.6. Built-in Events

ContextRefreshedEventPublished when the ApplicationContext is initialized or refreshed, for example, using the refresh() method on the ConfigurableApplicationContext interface. "Initialized" here means that all beans are loaded, post-processor beans are detected and activated, singletons are pre-instantiated, and the ApplicationContext object is ready for use. As long as the context has not been closed, a refresh can be triggered multiple times, provided that the chosen ApplicationContext actually supports such "hot" refreshes. For example, XmlWebApplicationContext supports hot refreshes, but GenericApplicationContext does not.
ContextStartedEventPublished when the ApplicationContext is started, using the start() method on the ConfigurableApplicationContext interface. "Started" here means that all Lifecycle beans receive an explicit start signal. Typically this signal is used to restart beans after an explicit stop, but it may also be used to start components that have not been configured for autostart , for example, components that have not already started on initialization.
ContextStoppedEventPublished when the ApplicationContext is stopped, using the stop() method on the ConfigurableApplicationContext interface. "Stopped" here means that all Lifecycle beans receive an explicit stop signal. A stopped context may be restarted through a start() call.
ContextClosedEventPublished when the ApplicationContext is closed, using the close() method on the ConfigurableApplicationContext interface. "Closed" here means that all singleton beans are destroyed. A closed context reaches its end of life; it cannot be refreshed or restarted.
RequestHandledEventA web-specific event telling all beans that an HTTP request has been serviced. This event is published after the request is complete. This event is only applicable to web applications using Spring's DispatcherServlet.

You can also implement custom events. Simply call the publishEvent() method on the ApplicationContext, specifying a parameter that is an instance of your custom event class that implements ApplicationEvent. Event listeners receive events synchronously. This means the publishEvent() method blocks until all listeners have finished processing the event. (It is possible to supply an alternate event publishing strategy through an ApplicationEventMulticaster implementation). Furthermore, when a listener receives an event, it operates inside the transaction context of the publisher, if a transaction context is available.

This example shows the bean definitions used to configure an ApplicationContext:

<bean id="emailer" class="example.EmailBean">
  <property name="blackList">

<bean id="blackListListener" class="example.BlackListNotifier">
  <property name="notificationAddress" value="spam@list.org"/>

This example shows the implementation of the classes refered to in the previous bean definitions:

public class EmailBean implements ApplicationContextAware {

    private List blackList;
    private ApplicationContext ctx;

    public void setBlackList(List blackList) {
        this.blackList = blackList;

    public void setApplicationContext(ApplicationContext ctx) {
        this.ctx = ctx;

    public void sendEmail(String address, String text) {
        if (blackList.contains(address)) {
            BlackListEvent event = new BlackListEvent(address, text);
        // send email...
public class BlackListNotifier implements ApplicationListener {

    private String notificationAddress;
    public void setNotificationAddress(String notificationAddress) {
        this.notificationAddress = notificationAddress;

    public void onApplicationEvent(ApplicationEvent event) {
        if (event instanceof BlackListEvent) {
            // notify appropriate person...

When the sendEmail method is called, if there are any emails that should be blacklisted, a custom event of the type BlackListEvent is published to the application context. The BlackListNotifier class which implements the interface ApplicationListener is registered as a subscriber to the application context and will receive the BlackListEvent. In order to access properties specific to BlackListEvent, the listener must perform a downcast.

3.13.3 Convenient access to low-level resources

For optimal usage and understanding of application contexts, users should generally familiarize themselves with Spring's Resource abstraction, as described in the chapter Chapter 4, Resources.

An application context is a ResourceLoader, which can be used to load Resources. A Resource is essentially a more feature rich version of the JDK class java.net.URL, in fact, the implementations of the Resource wrap an instance of java.net.URL where appropriate. A Resource can obtain low-level resources from almost any location in a transparent fashion, including from the classpath, a filesystem location, anywhere describable with a standard URL, and some other variations. If the resource location string is a simple path without any special prefixes, where those resources come from is specific and appropriate to the actual application context type.

You can configure a bean deployed into the application context to implement the special callback interface, ResourceLoaderAware, to be automatically called back at initialization time with the application context itself passed in as the ResourceLoader. You can also expose properties of type Resource, to be used to access static resources; they will be injected into it like any other properties. You can specify those Resource properties as simple String paths, and rely on a special JavaBean PropertyEditor that is automatically registered by the context, to convert those text strings to actual Resource objects when the bean is deployed.

The location path or paths supplied to an ApplicationContext constructor are actually resource strings, and in simple form are treated appropriately to the specific context implementation. ClassPathXmlApplicationContext treats a simple location path as a classpath location. You can also use location paths (resource strings) with special prefixes to force loading of definitions from the classpath or a URL, regardless of the actual context type.

3.13.4 Convenient ApplicationContext instantiation for web applications

You can create ApplicationContext instances declaratively by using, for example, a ContextLoader. Of course you can also create ApplicationContext instances programmatically by using one of the ApplicationContext implementations.

The ContextLoader mechanism comes in two flavors: the ContextLoaderListener and the ContextLoaderServlet. They have the same functionality but differ in that the listener version is not reliable in Servlet 2.3 containers. In the Servlet 2.4 specification, Servlet context listeners must execute immediately after the Servlet context for the web application is created and is available to service the first request (and also when the Servlet context is about to be shut down). As such a Servlet context listener is an ideal place to initialize the Spring ApplicationContext. All things being equal, you should probably prefer ContextLoaderListener; for more information on compatibility, have a look at the Javadoc for the ContextLoaderServlet.

You can register an ApplicationContext using the ContextLoaderListener as follows:

  <param-value>/WEB-INF/daoContext.xml /WEB-INF/applicationContext.xml</param-value>


<!-- or use the ContextLoaderServlet instead of the above listener

The listener inspects the contextConfigLocation parameter. If the parameter does not exist, the listener uses /WEB-INF/applicationContext.xml as a default. When the parameter does exist, the listener separates the String by using predefined delimiters (comma, semicolon and whitespace) and uses the values as locations where application contexts will be searched. Ant-style path patterns are supported as well. Examples are /WEB-INF/*Context.xml for all files with names ending with "Context.xml", residing in the "WEB-INF" directory, and /WEB-INF/**/*Context.xml, for all such files in any subdirectory of "WEB-INF".

You can use ContextLoaderServlet instead of ContextLoaderListener. The Servlet uses the contextConfigLocation parameter just as the listener does.

3.13.5 Deploying a Spring ApplicationContext as a J2EE RAR file

In Spring 2.5 and later, it is possible to deploy a Spring ApplicationContext as a RAR file, encapsulating the context and all of its required bean classes and library JARs in a J2EE RAR deployment unit. This is the equivalent of bootstrapping a standalone ApplicationContext, just hosted in J2EE environment, being able to access the J2EE servers facilities. RAR deployment is a more natural alternative to scenario of deploying a headless WAR file, in effect, a WAR file without any HTTP entry points that is used only for bootstrapping a Spring ApplicationContext in a J2EE environment.

RAR deployment is ideal for application contexts that do not need HTTP entry points but rather consist only of message endpoints and scheduled jobs. Beans in such a context can use application server resources such as the JTA transaction manager and JNDI-bound JDBC DataSources and JMS ConnectionFactory instances, and may also register with the platform's JMX server - all through Spring's standard transaction management and JNDI and JMX support facilities. Application components can also interact with the application server's JCA WorkManager through Spring's TaskExecutor abstraction.

Check out the JavaDoc of the SpringContextResourceAdapter class for the configuration details involved in RAR deployment.

For a simple deployment of a Spring ApplicationContext as a J2EE RAR file: package all application classes into a RAR file, which is a standard JAR file with a different file extension. Add all required library JARs into the root of the RAR archive. Add a "META-INF/ra.xml" deployment descriptor (as shown in SpringContextResourceAdapters JavaDoc) and the corresponding Spring XML bean definition file(s) (typically "META-INF/applicationContext.xml"), and drop the resulting RAR file into your application server's deployment directory.


Such RAR deployment units are usually self-contained; they do not expose components to the outside world, not even to other modules of the same application. Interaction with a RAR-based ApplicationContext usually occurs through JMS destinations that it shares with other modules. A RAR-based ApplicationContext may also, for example, schedule some jobs, reacting to new files in the file system (or the like). If it needs to allow synchronous access from the outside, it could for example export RMI endpoints, which of course may be used by other application modules on the same machine.