6.3 Expression Evaluation using Spring's Expression Interface

This section introduces the simple use of SpEL interfaces and its expression language. The complete language reference can be found in the section Language Reference

The following code introduces the SpEL API to evaluate the literal string expression 'Hello World'

ExpressionParser parser = new SpelExpressionParser();
Expression exp = parser.parseExpression("'Hello World'");
String message = (String) exp.getValue();

The value of the message variable is simply 'Hello World'.

The SpEL classes and interfaces you are most likely to use are located in the packages org.springframework.expression and its sub package and spel.support.

The interface ExpressionParser is responsible for parsing an expression string. In this example the expression string is a string literal denoted by the surrounding single quotes. The interface Expression is responsible for evaluating the previously defined expression string. There are two exceptions that can be thrown, ParseException and EvaluationException when calling 'parser.parseExpression' and 'exp.getValue' respectfully.

SpEL supports a wide range of features, such as calling methods, accessing properties and calling constructors.

As an example of method invocation, we call the 'concat' method on the string literal

ExpressionParser parser = new SpelExpressionParser();
Expression exp = parser.parseExpression("'Hello World'.concat('!')");
String message = (String) exp.getValue();

The value of message is now 'Hello World!'.

As an example of calling a JavaBean property, the String property 'Bytes' can be called as shown below

ExpressionParser parser = new SpelExpressionParser();

// invokes 'getBytes()'
Expression exp = parser.parseExpression("'Hello World'.bytes");  

byte[] bytes = (byte[]) exp.getValue();

SpEL also supports nested properties using standard 'dot' notation, i.e. prop1.prop2.prop3 and the setting of property values

Public fields may also be accessed

ExpressionParser parser = new SpelExpressionParser();

// invokes 'getBytes().length'
Expression exp = parser.parseExpression("'Hello World'.bytes.length");  

int length = (Integer) exp.getValue();

The String's constructor can be called instead of using a string literal

ExpressionParser parser = new SpelExpressionParser();
Expression exp = parser.parseExpression("new String('hello world').toUpperCase()");
String message = exp.getValue(String.class);

Note the use of the generic method public <T> T getValue(Class<T> desiredResultType). Using this method removes the need to cast the value of the expression to the desired result type. An EvaluationException will be thrown if the value an not be cast to the type T or converted using the registered type converter.

The more common usage of SpEL is provide an expression string that is evaluated against a specific object instance. In the following example we retrieve the Name property from an instance of the Inventor class.

// Create and set a calendar 
GregorianCalendar c = new GregorianCalendar();
c.set(1856, 7, 9);

//  The constructor arguments are name, birthday, and nationaltiy.
Inventor tesla = new Inventor("Nikola Tesla", c.getTime(), "Serbian");

ExpressionParser parser = new SpelExpressionParser();
Expression exp = parser.parseExpression("name");

EvaluationContext context = new StandardEvaluationContext();

String name = (String) exp.getValue(context);

In the last line, the value of the string variable 'name' will be set to "Nikola Tesla". The class StandardEvaluationContext is where you can specify which object the "Name" property will be evaluated against. You can reuse the same expression over and over again and set a new root object on the evaluation context. Expressions are evaluated using reflection.


In standalone usage of SpEL you will need to create the parser as well as provide an evaluation context. However, more common usage is to provide only the SpEL expression string as part of a configuration file, for example for Spring bean or Spring Web Flow definitions. In this case, the parser, evaluation context, root object and any predefined variables will be set up for you implicitly.

As a final introductory example, the use of a boolean operator is shown using the Inventor object in the previous example

Expression exp = parser.parseExpression("name == 'Nikola Tesla'");
boolean result = exp.getValue(context, Boolean.class);  // evaluates to true

6.3.1 The EvaluationContext interface

The interface EvaluationContext is used when evaluating an expression to resolve properties, methods, fields, and to help perform type conversion. The out-of-the-box implementation, StandardEvaluationContext, uses reflection to manipulate the object, caching java.lang.reflect's Method, Field, and Constructor instances for increased performance.

The StandardEvaluationContext is where you specify the root object to evaluate against via the method setRootObject or passing the root object into the constructor. . You can also specify variables and functions that will be used in the expression using the methods setVariable and registerFunction. The use of variables and functions are described in the language reference sections Variables and Functions. The StandardEvaluationContext is also where you can register custom ConstructorResolvers, MethodResolvers, and PropertyAccessors to extend how SpEL evaluates expressions. Please refer to the JavaDoc of these classes for more details. Type Conversion

By default SpEL uses the conversion service available in Spring core (org.springframework.core.convert.ConversionService). This conversion service comes with many converters built in for common conversions but is also fully extensible so custom conversions between types can be added. Additionally it has the key capability that it is generics aware. This means that when working with generic types in expressions, SpEL will attempt conversions to maintain type correctness for any objects it encounters.

What does this mean in practice? Suppose assignment, using setValue(), is being used to set a List property. The type of the property is actually List<Boolean>. SpEL will recognize that the elements of the list need to be converted to Boolean before being placed in it. A simple example:

class Simple {
    public List<Boolean> booleanList = new ArrayList<Boolean>();
Simple simple = new Simple();


StandardEvaluationContext simpleContext = new StandardEvaluationContext(simple);

// false is passed in here as a string.  SpEL and the conversion service will 
// correctly recognize that it needs to be a Boolean and convert it
parser.parseExpression("booleanList[0]").setValue(simpleContext, "false");

// b will be false
Boolean b = simple.booleanList.get(0);