15.5 Resolving views

All MVC frameworks for web applications provide a way to address views. Spring provides view resolvers, which enable you to render models in a browser without tying you to a specific view technology. Out of the box, Spring enables you to use JSPs, Velocity templates and XSLT views, for example. See Chapter 16, View technologies for a discussion of how to integrate and use a number of disparate view technologies.

The two interfaces that are important to the way Spring handles views are ViewResolver and View. The ViewResolver provides a mapping between view names and actual views. The View interface addresses the preparation of the request and hands the request over to one of the view technologies.

15.5.1 Resolving views with the ViewResolver interface

As discussed in Section 15.3, “Implementing Controllers”, all handler methods in the Spring Web MVC controllers must resolve to a logical view name, either explicitly (e.g., by returning a String, View, or ModelAndView) or implicitly (i.e., based on conventions). Views in Spring are addressed by a logical view name and are resolved by a view resolver. Spring comes with quite a few view resolvers. This table lists most of them; a couple of examples follow.

Table 15.3. View resolvers

ViewResolverDescription
AbstractCachingViewResolverAbstract view resolver that caches views. Often views need preparation before they can be used; extending this view resolver provides caching.
XmlViewResolverImplementation of ViewResolver that accepts a configuration file written in XML with the same DTD as Spring's XML bean factories. The default configuration file is /WEB-INF/views.xml.
ResourceBundleViewResolverImplementation of ViewResolver that uses bean definitions in a ResourceBundle, specified by the bundle base name. Typically you define the bundle in a properties file, located in the classpath. The default file name is views.properties.
UrlBasedViewResolverSimple implementation of the ViewResolver interface that effects the direct resolution of logical view names to URLs, without an explicit mapping definition. This is appropriate if your logical names match the names of your view resources in a straightforward manner, without the need for arbitrary mappings.
InternalResourceViewResolverConvenient subclass of UrlBasedViewResolver that supports InternalResourceView (in effect, Servlets and JSPs) and subclasses such as JstlView and TilesView. You can specify the view class for all views generated by this resolver by using setViewClass(..). See the Javadocs for the UrlBasedViewResolver class for details.
VelocityViewResolver / FreeMarkerViewResolverConvenient subclass of UrlBasedViewResolver that supports VelocityView (in effect, Velocity templates) or FreeMarkerView ,respectively, and custom subclasses of them.
ContentNegotiatingViewResolverImplementation of the ViewResolver interface that resolves a view based on the request file name or Accept header. See Section 15.5.4, “ContentNegotiatingViewResolver”.

As an example, with JSP as a view technology, you can use the UrlBasedViewResolver. This view resolver translates a view name to a URL and hands the request over to the RequestDispatcher to render the view.

<bean id="viewResolver"
      class="org.springframework.web.servlet.view.UrlBasedViewResolver">
    <property name="viewClass" value="org.springframework.web.servlet.view.JstlView"/>
    <property name="prefix" value="/WEB-INF/jsp/"/>
    <property name="suffix" value=".jsp"/>
</bean>

When returning test as a logical view name, this view resolver forwards the request to the RequestDispatcher that will send the request to /WEB-INF/jsp/test.jsp.

When you combine different view technologies in a web application, you can use the ResourceBundleViewResolver:

<bean id="viewResolver"
      class="org.springframework.web.servlet.view.ResourceBundleViewResolver">
    <property name="basename" value="views"/>
    <property name="defaultParentView" value="parentView"/>
</bean>

The ResourceBundleViewResolver inspects the ResourceBundle identified by the basename, and for each view it is supposed to resolve, it uses the value of the property [viewname].(class) as the view class and the value of the property [viewname].url as the view url. Examples can be found in the next chapter which covers view technologies. As you can see, you can identify a parent view, from which all views in the properties file “extend”. This way you can specify a default view class, for example.

[Note]Note

Subclasses of AbstractCachingViewResolver cache view instances that they resolve. Caching improves performance of certain view technologies. It's possible to turn off the cache by setting the cache property to false. Furthermore, if you must refresh a certain view at runtime (for example when a Velocity template is modified), you can use the removeFromCache(String viewName, Locale loc) method.

15.5.2 Chaining ViewResolvers

Spring supports multiple view resolvers. Thus you can chain resolvers and, for example, override specific views in certain circumstances. You chain view resolvers by adding more than one resolver to your application context and, if necessary, by setting the order property to specify ordering. Remember, the higher the order property, the later the view resolver is positioned in the chain.

In the following example, the chain of view resolvers consists of two resolvers, an InternalResourceViewResolver, which is always automatically positioned as the last resolver in the chain, and an XmlViewResolver for specifying Excel views. Excel views are not supported by the InternalResourceViewResolver.

<bean id="jspViewResolver" class="org.springframework.web.servlet.view.InternalResourceViewResolver">
  <property name="viewClass" value="org.springframework.web.servlet.view.JstlView"/>
  <property name="prefix" value="/WEB-INF/jsp/"/>
  <property name="suffix" value=".jsp"/>
</bean>

<bean id="excelViewResolver" class="org.springframework.web.servlet.view.XmlViewResolver">
  <property name="order" value="1"/>
  <property name="location" value="/WEB-INF/views.xml"/>
</bean>

<!-- in views.xml -->

<beans>
  <bean name="report" class="org.springframework.example.ReportExcelView"/>
</beans>

If a specific view resolver does not result in a view, Spring examines the context for other view resolvers. If additional view resolvers exist, Spring continues to inspect them. If they do not exist, Spring throws an Exception.

The contract of a view resolver specifies that a view resolver can return null to indicate the view could not be found. Not all view resolvers do this, however, because in some cases, the resolver simply cannot detect whether or not the view exists. For example, the InternalResourceViewResolver uses the RequestDispatcher internally, and dispatching is the only way to figure out if a JSP exists, but this action can only execute once. The same holds for the VelocityViewResolver and some others. Check the Javadoc for the view resolver to see whether it reports non-existing views. Thus, putting an InternalResourceViewResolver in the chain in a place other than the last, results in the chain not being fully inspected, because the InternalResourceViewResolver will always return a view!

15.5.3 Redirecting to views

As mentioned previously, a controller typically returns a logical view name, which a view resolver resolves to a particular view technology. For view technologies such as JSPs that are processed through the Servlet or JSP engine, this resolution is usually handled through the combination of InternalResourceViewResolver and InternalResourceView, which issues an internal forward or include via the Servlet API's RequestDispatcher.forward(..) method or RequestDispatcher.include() method. For other view technologies, such as Velocity, XSLT, and so on, the view itself writes the content directly to the response stream.

It is sometimes desirable to issue an HTTP redirect back to the client, before the view is rendered. This is desirable, for example, when one controller has been called with POSTed data, and the response is actually a delegation to another controller (for example on a successful form submission). In this case, a normal internal forward will mean that the other controller will also see the same POST data, which is potentially problematic if it can confuse it with other expected data. Another reason to perform a redirect before displaying the result is to eliminate the possibility of the user submitting the form data multiple times. In this scenario, the browser will first send an initial POST; it will then receive a response to redirect to a different URL; and finally the browser will perform a subsequent GET for the URL named in the redirect response. Thus, from the perspective of the browser, the current page does not reflect the result of a POST but rather of a GET. The end effect is that there is no way the user can accidentally re-POST the same data by performing a refresh. The refresh forces a GET of the result page, not a resend of the initial POST data.

15.5.3.1 RedirectView

One way to force a redirect as the result of a controller response is for the controller to create and return an instance of Spring's RedirectView. In this case, DispatcherServlet does not use the normal view resolution mechanism. Rather because it has been given the (redirect) view already, the DispatcherServlet simply instructs the view to do its work.

The RedirectView issues an HttpServletResponse.sendRedirect() call that returns to the client browser as an HTTP redirect. All model attributes are exposed as HTTP query parameters. This means that the model must contain only objects (generally Strings or objects converted to a String representation), which can be readily converted to a textual HTTP query parameter.

If you use RedirectView and the view is created by the controller itself, it is recommended that you configure the redirect URL to be injected into the controller so that it is not baked into the controller but configured in the context along with the view names. The next section discusses this process.

15.5.3.2 The redirect: prefix

While the use of RedirectView works fine, if the controller itself creates the RedirectView, there is no avoiding the fact that the controller is aware that a redirection is happening. This is really suboptimal and couples things too tightly. The controller should not really care about how the response gets handled. In general it should operate only in terms of view names that have been injected into it.

The special redirect: prefix allows you to accomplish this. If a view name is returned that has the prefix redirect:, the UrlBasedViewResolver (and all subclasses) will recognize this as a special indication that a redirect is needed. The rest of the view name will be treated as the redirect URL.

The net effect is the same as if the controller had returned a RedirectView, but now the controller itself can simply operate in terms of logical view names. A logical view name such as redirect:/my/response/controller.html will redirect relative to the current servlet context, while a name such as redirect:http://myhost.com/some/arbitrary/path.html will redirect to an absolute URL. The important thing is that, as long as this redirect view name is injected into the controller like any other logical view name, the controller is not even aware that redirection is happening.

15.5.3.3 The forward: prefix

It is also possible to use a special forward: prefix for view names that are ultimately resolved by UrlBasedViewResolver and subclasses. This creates an InternalResourceView (which ultimately does a RequestDispatcher.forward()) around the rest of the view name, which is considered a URL. Therefore, this prefix is not useful with InternalResourceViewResolver and InternalResourceView (for JSPs for example). But the prefix can be helpful when you are primarily using another view technology, but still want to force a forward of a resource to be handled by the Servlet/JSP engine. (Note that you may also chain multiple view resolvers, instead.)

As with the redirect: prefix, if the view name with the forward: prefix is injected into the controller, the controller does not detect that anything special is happening in terms of handling the response.

15.5.4 ContentNegotiatingViewResolver

The ContentNegotiatingViewResolver does not resolve views itself but rather delegates to other view resolvers, selecting the view that resembles the representation requested by the client. Two strategies exist for a client to request a representation from the server:

  • Use a distinct URI for each resource, typically by using a different file extension in the URI. For example, the URI http://www.example.com/users/fred.pdf requests a PDF representation of the user fred, and http://www.example.com/users/fred.xml requests an XML representation.

  • Use the same URI for the client to locate the resource, but set the Accept HTTP request header to list the media types that it understands. For example, an HTTP request for http://www.example.com/users/fred with an Accept header set to application/pdf requests a PDF representation of the user fred, while http://www.example.com/users/fred with an Accept header set to text/xml requests an XML representation. This strategy is known as content negotiation.

[Note]Note

One issue with the Accept header is that it is impossible to set it in a web browser within HTML. For example, in Firefox, it is fixed to:

Accept: text/html,application/xhtml+xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8

For this reason it is common to see the use of a distinct URI for each representation when developing browser based web applications.

To support multiple representations of a resource, Spring provides the ContentNegotiatingViewResolver to resolve a view based on the file extension or Accept header of the HTTP request. ContentNegotiatingViewResolver does not perform the view resolution itself but instead delegates to a list of view resolvers that you specify through the bean property ViewResolvers.

The ContentNegotiatingViewResolver selects an appropriate View to handle the request by comparing the request media type(s) with the media type (also known as Content-Type) supported by the View associated with each of its ViewResolvers. The first View in the list that has a compatible Content-Type returns the representation to the client. If a compatible view cannot be supplied by the ViewResolver chain, then the list of views specified through the DefaultViews property will be consulted. This latter option is appropriate for singleton Views that can render an appropriate representation of the current resource regardless of the logical view name. The Accept header may include wildcards, for example text/*, in which case a View whose Context-Type was text/xml is a compatible match.

To support the resolution of a view based on a file extension, use the ContentNegotiatingViewResolver bean property mediaTypes to specify a mapping of file extensions to media types. For more information on the algorithm used to determine the request media type, refer to the API documentation for ContentNegotiatingViewResolver.

Here is an example configuration of a ContentNegotiatingViewResolver:

<bean class="org.springframework.web.servlet.view.ContentNegotiatingViewResolver">
  <property name="mediaTypes">
    <map>
      <entry key="atom" value="application/atom+xml"/>
      <entry key="html" value="text/html"/>
      <entry key="json" value="application/json"/>
    </map>
  </property>
  <property name="viewResolvers">
    <list>
      <bean class="org.springframework.web.servlet.view.BeanNameViewResolver"/>
      <bean class="org.springframework.web.servlet.view.InternalResourceViewResolver">
        <property name="prefix" value="/WEB-INF/jsp/"/>
        <property name="suffix" value=".jsp"/>
      </bean>
    </list>
  </property>
  <property name="defaultViews">
    <list>
      <bean class="org.springframework.web.servlet.view.json.MappingJacksonJsonView" />
    </list>
  </property>
</bean>


<bean id="content" class="com.springsource.samples.rest.SampleContentAtomView"/>

The InternalResourceViewResolver handles the translation of view names and JSP pages, while the BeanNameViewResolver returns a view based on the name of a bean. (See "Resolving views with the ViewResolver interface" for more details on how Spring looks up and instantiates a view.) In this example, the content bean is a class that inherits from AbstractAtomFeedView, which returns an Atom RSS feed. For more information on creating an Atom Feed representation, see the section Atom Views.

In the above configuration, if a request is made with an .html extension, the view resolver looks for a view that matches the text/html media type. The InternalResourceViewResolver provides the matching view for text/html. If the request is made with the file extension .atom, the view resolver looks for a view that matches the application/atom+xml media type. This view is provided by the BeanNameViewResolver that maps to the SampleContentAtomView if the view name returned is content. If the request is made with the file extension .json, the MappingJacksonJsonView instance from the DefaultViews list will be selected regardless of the view name. Alternatively, client requests can be made without a file extension but with the Accept header set to the preferred media-type, and the same resolution of request to views would occur.

[Note]Note

If ContentNegotiatingViewResolver's list of ViewResolvers is not configured explicitly, it automatically uses any ViewResolvers defined in the application context.

The corresponding controller code that returns an Atom RSS feed for a URI of the form http://localhost/content.atom or http://localhost/content with an Accept header of application/atom+xml is shown below.

@Controller
public class ContentController {

    private List<SampleContent> contentList = new ArrayList<SampleContent>();

    @RequestMapping(value="/content", method=RequestMethod.GET)
    public ModelAndView getContent() {
        ModelAndView mav = new ModelAndView();
        mav.setViewName("content");
        mav.addObject("sampleContentList", contentList);
        return mav;
    }

}