16. Web MVC framework

16.1 Introduction

Spring's Web MVC framework is designed around a DispatcherServlet that dispatches requests to handlers, with configurable handler mappings, view resolution, locale and theme resolution as well as support for upload files. The default handler is a very simple Controller interface, just offering a ModelAndView handleRequest(request,response) method. This can already be used for application controllers, but you will prefer the included implementation hierarchy, consisting of, for example AbstractController, AbstractCommandController and SimpleFormController. Application controllers will typically be subclasses of those. Note that you can choose an appropriate base class: if you don't have a form, you don't need a form controller. This is a major difference to Struts.


Since Spring 2.5, an annotated controller style is available for Java 5+ users. This is a compelling alternative to implementing traditional Controller (sub-)classes, allowing for flexible multi-action handling. See the Section 16.11, “Annotation-based controller configuration” section for details.

Spring Web MVC allows you to use any object as a command or form object - there is no need to implement a framework-specific interface or base class. Spring's data binding is highly flexible: for example, it treats type mismatches as validation errors that can be evaluated by the application, not as system errors. All this means that you don't need to duplicate your business objects' properties as simple, untyped strings in your form objects just to be able to handle invalid submissions, or to convert the Strings properly. Instead, it is often preferable to bind directly to your business objects. This is another major difference to Struts which is built around required base classes such as Action and ActionForm.

Compared to WebWork, Spring has more differentiated object roles. It supports the notion of a Controller, an optional command or form object, and a model that gets passed to the view. The model will normally include the command or form object but also arbitrary reference data; instead, a WebWork Action combines all those roles into one single object. WebWork does allow you to use existing business objects as part of your form, but only by making them bean properties of the respective Action class. Finally, the same Action instance that handles the request is used for evaluation and form population in the view. Thus, reference data needs to be modeled as bean properties of the Action too. These are (arguably) too many roles for one object.

Spring's view resolution is extremely flexible. A Controller implementation can even write a view directly to the response (by returning null for the ModelAndView). In the normal case, a ModelAndView instance consists of a view name and a model Map, which contains bean names and corresponding objects (like a command or form, containing reference data). View name resolution is highly configurable, either via bean names, via a properties file, or via your own ViewResolver implementation. The fact that the model (the M in MVC) is based on the Map interface allows for the complete abstraction of the view technology. Any renderer can be integrated directly, whether JSP, Velocity, or any other rendering technology. The model Map is simply transformed into an appropriate format, such as JSP request attributes or a Velocity template model.

16.1.1 Pluggability of other MVC implementations

There are several reasons why some projects will prefer to use other MVC implementations. Many teams expect to leverage their existing investment in skills and tools. In addition, there is a large body of knowledge and experience available for the Struts framework. Thus, if you can live with Struts' architectural flaws, it can still be a viable choice for the web layer; the same applies to WebWork and other web MVC frameworks.

If you don't want to use Spring's web MVC, but intend to leverage other solutions that Spring offers, you can integrate the web MVC framework of your choice with Spring easily. Simply start up a Spring root application context via its ContextLoaderListener, and access it via its ServletContext attribute (or Spring's respective helper method) from within a Struts or WebWork action. Note that there aren't any "plug-ins" involved, so no dedicated integration is necessary. From the web layer's point of view, you'll simply use Spring as a library, with the root application context instance as the entry point.

All your registered beans and all of Spring's services can be at your fingertips even without Spring's Web MVC. Spring doesn't compete with Struts or WebWork in this scenario, it just addresses the many areas that the pure web MVC frameworks don't, from bean configuration to data access and transaction handling. So you are able to enrich your application with a Spring middle tier and/or data access tier, even if you just want to use, for example, the transaction abstraction with JDBC or Hibernate.

16.1.2 Features of Spring Web MVC

Spring's web module provides a wealth of unique web support features, including:

  • Clear separation of roles - controller, validator, command object, form object, model object, DispatcherServlet, handler mapping, view resolver, etc. Each role can be fulfilled by a specialized object.

  • Powerful and straightforward configuration of both framework and application classes as JavaBeans, including easy referencing across contexts, such as from web controllers to business objects and validators.

  • Adaptability, non-intrusiveness. Use whatever controller subclass you need (plain, command, form, wizard, multi-action, or a custom one) for a given scenario instead of deriving from a single controller for everything.

  • Reusable business code - no need for duplication. You can use existing business objects as command or form objects instead of mirroring them in order to extend a particular framework base class.

  • Customizable binding and validation - type mismatches as application-level validation errors that keep the offending value, localized date and number binding, etc instead of String-only form objects with manual parsing and conversion to business objects.

  • Customizable handler mapping and view resolution - handler mapping and view resolution strategies range from simple URL-based configuration, to sophisticated, purpose-built resolution strategies. This is more flexible than some web MVC frameworks which mandate a particular technique.

  • Flexible model transfer - model transfer via a name/value Map supports easy integration with any view technology.

  • Customizable locale and theme resolution, support for JSPs with or without Spring tag library, support for JSTL, support for Velocity without the need for extra bridges, etc.

  • A simple yet powerful JSP tag library known as the Spring tag library that provides support for features such as data binding and themes. The custom tags allow for maximum flexibility in terms of markup code. For information on the tag library descriptor, see the appendix entitled Appendix D, spring.tld

  • A JSP form tag library, introduced in Spring 2.0, that makes writing forms in JSP pages much easier. For information on the tag library descriptor, see the appendix entitled Appendix E, spring-form.tld

  • Beans whose lifecycle is scoped to the current HTTP request or HTTP Session. This is not a specific feature of Spring MVC itself, but rather of the WebApplicationContext container(s) that Spring MVC uses. These bean scopes are described in detail in the section entitled Section 4.4.4, “The other scopes”