3.2 Container overview

The interface org.springframework.context.ApplicationContext represents the Spring IoC container and is responsible for instantiating, configuring, and assembling the aforementioned beans. The container gets its instructions on what objects to instantiate, configure, and assemble by reading configuration metadata. The configuration metadata is represented in XML, Java annotations, or Java code. It allows you to express the objects that compose your application and the rich interdependencies between such objects.

Several implementations of the ApplicationContext interface are supplied out-of-the-box with Spring. In standalone applications it is common to create an instance of ClassPathXmlApplicationContext or FileSystemXmlApplicationContext. While XML has been the traditional format for defining configuration metadata you can instruct the container to use Java annotations or code as the metadata format by providng a small amount of XML configuration to declaratively enable support for these additional metadata formats.

In most application scenarios, explicit user code is not required to instantiate one or more instances of a Spring IoC container. For example, in a web application scenario, a simple eight (or so) lines of boilerplate J2EE web descriptor XML in the web.xml file of the application will typically suffice (see Section 3.13.4, “Convenient ApplicationContext instantiation for web applications”). If you are using the SpringSource Tool Suite Eclipse-powered development environment or Spring Roo this boilerplate configuration can be easily created with few mouse clicks or keystrokes.

The following diagram is a high-level view of how Spring works. Your application classes are combined with configuration metadata so that after the ApplicationContext is created and initialized, you have a fully configured and executable system or application.

The Spring IoC container

3.2.1 Configuration metadata

As the preceding diagram shows, the Spring IoC container consumes a form of configuration metadata; this configuration metadata represents how you as an application developer tell the Spring container to instantiate, configure, and assemble the objects in your application.

Configuration metadata is traditionally supplied in a simple and intuitive XML format, which is what most of this chapter uses to convey key concepts and features of the Spring IoC container.

[Note]Note

XML-based metadata is not the only allowed form of configuration metadata. The Spring IoC container itself is totally decoupled from the format in which this configuration metadata is actually written.

For information about using other forms of metadata with the Spring container, see:

  • Annotation-based configuration: Spring 2.5 introduced support for annotation-based configuration metadata.

  • Java-based configuration: Starting with Spring 3.0, many features provided by the Spring JavaConfig project became part of the core Spring Framework. Thus you can define beans external to your application classes by using Java rather than XML files. To use these new features, see the @Configuration, @Bean, @Import and @DependsOn annotations.

Spring configuration consists of at least one and typically more than one bean definition that the container must manage. XML-based configuration metadata shows these beans configured as <bean/> elements inside a top-level <beans/> element.

These bean definitions correspond to the actual objects that make up your application. Typically you define service layer objects, data access objects (DAOs), presentation objects such as Struts Action instances, infrastructure objects such as Hibernate SessionFactories, JMS Queues, and so forth. Typically one does not configure fine-grained domain objects in the container, because it is usually the responsibility of DAOs and business logic to create and load domain objects. However, you can use Spring's integration with AspectJ to configure objects that have been created outside the control of an IoC container. See Using AspectJ to dependency-inject domain objects with Spring.

The following example shows the basic structure of XML-based configuration metadata:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<beans xmlns="http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans"
       xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
       xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans
           http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans/spring-beans-3.0.xsd">

  <bean id="..." class="...">
    <!-- collaborators and configuration for this bean go here -->
  </bean>

  <bean id="..." class="...">
    <!-- collaborators and configuration for this bean go here -->
  </bean>

  <!-- more bean definitions go here -->

</beans>

The id attribute is a string that you use to identify the individual bean definition. The class attribute defines the type of the bean and uses the fully qualified classname. The value of the id attribute refers to collaborating objects. The XML for referring to collaborating objects is not shown in this example; see Dependencies for more information.

3.2.2 Instantiating a container

Instantiating a Spring IoC container is straightforward. The location path or paths supplied to an ApplicationContext constructor are actually resource strings that allow the container to load configuration metadata from a variety of external resources such as the local file system, from the Java CLASSPATH, and so on.

ApplicationContext context = new ClassPathXmlApplicationContext(new String[] {"services.xml",
                                                                              "daos.xml"});
[Note]Note

After you learn about Spring's IoC container, you may want to know more about Spring's Resource abstraction, as described in Chapter 4, Resources, which provides a convenient mechanism for reading an InputSream from locations defined in a URI syntax. In particular, Resource paths are used to construct applications contexts as described in Section 4.7, “Application contexts and Resource paths”.

The following example shows the service layer objects (services.xml) configuration file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<beans xmlns="http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans"
       xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
       xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans
           http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans/spring-beans-3.0.xsd">

  <!-- services -->

  <bean id="petStore" 
        class="org.springframework.samples.jpetstore.services.PetStoreServiceImpl">
    <property name="accountDao" ref="accountDao"/>
    <property name="itemDao" ref="itemDao"/>
    <!-- additional collaborators and configuration for this bean go here -->
  </bean>

  <!-- more bean definitions for services go here -->

</beans>

The following example shows the data access objects daos.xml) file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<beans xmlns="http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans"
       xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
       xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans
           http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans/spring-beans-3.0.xsd">

  <bean id="accountDao" class="org.springframework.samples.jpetstore.dao.ibatis.SqlMapAccountDao">
    <!-- additional collaborators and configuration for this bean go here -->
  </bean>

  <bean id="itemDao" class="org.springframework.samples.jpetstore.dao.ibatis.SqlMapItemDao">
    <!-- additional collaborators and configuration for this bean go here -->
  </bean>

  <!-- more bean definitions for data access objects go here -->

</beans>

In the preceding example, the service layer consists of the class PetStoreServiceImpl, and two data access objects of the type SqlMapAccountDao and SqlMapItemDao are based on the iBatis Object/Relational mapping framework. The property name element refers to the name of the JavaBean property, and the ref element refers to the name of another bean definition. This linkage between id and ref elements expresses the dependency between collaborating objects. For details of configuring an object's dependencies, see Dependencies.

3.2.2.1 Composing XML-based configuration metadata

It can be useful to have bean definitions span multiple XML files. Often each individual XML configuration file represents a logical layer or module in your architecture.

You can use the application context constructor to load bean definitions from all these XML fragments. This constructor takes multiple Resource locations, as was shown in the previous section. Alternatively, use one or more occurrences of the <import/> element to load bean definitions from another file or files. For example:

<beans>

    <import resource="services.xml"/>
    <import resource="resources/messageSource.xml"/>
    <import resource="/resources/themeSource.xml"/>

    <bean id="bean1" class="..."/>
    <bean id="bean2" class="..."/>

</beans>

In the preceding example, external bean definitions are loaded from three files, services.xml, messageSource.xml, and themeSource.xml. All location paths are relative to the definition file doing the importing, so services.xml must be in the same directory or classpath location as the file doing the importing, while messageSource.xml and themeSource.xml must be in a resources location below the location of the importing file. As you can see, a leading slash is ignored, but given that these paths are relative, it is better form not to use the slash at all. The contents of the files being imported, including the top level <beans/> element, must be valid XML bean definitions according to the Spring Schema or DTD.

[Note]Note

It is possible, but not recommended, to reference files in parent directories using a relative "../" path. Doing so creates a dependency on a file that is outside the current application. In particular, this reference is not recommended for "classpath:" URLs (for example, "classpath:../services.xml"), where the runtime resolution process chooses the "nearest" classpath root and then looks into its parent directory. Classpath configuration changes may lead to the choice of a different, incorrect directory.

You can always use fully qualified resource locations instead of relative paths: for example, "file:C:/config/services.xml" or "classpath:/config/services.xml". However, be aware that you are coupling your application's configuration to specific absolute locations. It is generally preferable to keep an indirection for such absolute locations, for example, through "${...}" placeholders that are resolved against JVM system properties at runtime.

3.2.3 Using the container

The ApplicationContext is the interface for an advanced factory capable of maintaining a registry of different beans and their dependencies. Using the method T getBean(Stringname, Class<T> requiredType) you can retrieve instances of your beans.

The ApplicationContext enables you to read bean definitions and access them as follows:

// create and configure beans
ApplicationContext context = new ClassPathXmlApplicationContext(new String[] {"services.xml", "daos.xml"});

// retrieve configured instance
PetStoreServiceImpl service = context.getBean("petStore", PetStoreServiceImpl.class);

// use configured instance
List userList service.getUsernameList();

You use getBean to retrieve instances of your beans. The ApplicationContext interface has a few other methods for retrieving beans, but ideally your application code should never use them. Indeed, your application code should have no calls to the getBean method at all, and thus no dependency on Spring APIs at all. For example, Spring's integration with web frameworks provides for dependency injection for various web framework classes such as controllers and JSF-managed beans.