Service Activator

The service activator is the endpoint type for connecting any Spring-managed object to an input channel so that it may play the role of a service. If the service produces output, it may also be connected to an output channel. Alternatively, an output-producing service may be located at the end of a processing pipeline or message flow, in which case the inbound message’s replyChannel header can be used. This is the default behavior if no output channel is defined. As with most of the configuration options described here, the same behavior actually applies for most of the other components.

The service activator is essentially a generic endpoint for calling a method on some object with an input message (payload and headers). Its internal logic is based on a MessageHandler which can be any possible implementation for a specific use-case, for example DefaultMessageSplitter, AggregatingMessageHandler, SftpMessageHandler, JpaOutboundGateway etc. Therefore, any outbound gateway and outbound channel adapter mentioned in this reference manual should be treated as a specific extension of this service activator endpoint; they all, in the end, call some object’s method.

Configuring Service Activator

With Java & Annotation configuration, it is sufficient to mark the respective service method with the @ServiceActivator annotation - and the framework calls it when messages are consumed from an input channel:

public class SomeService {

    @ServiceActivator(inputChannel = "exampleChannel")
    public void exampleHandler(SomeData payload) {


See more information in the Annotation Support.

For Java, Groovy or Kotlin DSLs, the .handle() operator of an IntegrationFlow represents a service activator:

Java DSL
public IntegrationFlow someFlow() {
    return IntegrationFlow
             .handle(someService, "exampleHandler")
Kotlin DSL
fun someFlow() =
    integrationFlow("exampleChannel") {
        handle(someService, "exampleHandler")
Groovy DSL
someFlow() {
    integrationFlow 'exampleChannel',
                handle someService, 'exampleHandler'

See more information about the DSLs in the respective chapters:

To create a service activator when using XML configuration, use the 'service-activator' element with the 'input-channel' and 'ref' attributes, as the following example shows:

<int:service-activator input-channel="exampleChannel" ref="exampleHandler"/>

The preceding configuration selects all the methods from the exampleHandler that meet one of the messaging requirements, which are as follows:

  • annotated with @ServiceActivator

  • is public

  • not return void if requiresReply == true

The target method for invocation at runtime is selected for each request message by their payload type or as a fallback to the Message<?> type if such a method is present on target class.

Starting with version 5.0, one service method can be marked with the @org.springframework.integration.annotation.Default as a fallback for all non-matching cases. This can be useful when using content-type conversion with the target method being invoked after conversion.

To delegate to an explicitly defined method of any object, you can add the method attribute, as the following example shows:

<int:service-activator input-channel="exampleChannel" ref="somePojo" method="someMethod"/>

In either case, when the service method returns a non-null value, the endpoint tries to send the reply message to an appropriate reply channel. To determine the reply channel, it first checks whether an output-channel was provided in the endpoint configuration, as the following example shows:

<int:service-activator input-channel="exampleChannel" output-channel="replyChannel"
                       ref="somePojo" method="someMethod"/>

If the method returns a result and no output-channel is defined, the framework then checks the request message’s replyChannel header value. If that value is available, it then checks its type. If it is a MessageChannel, the reply message is sent to that channel. If it is a String, the endpoint tries to resolve the channel name to a channel instance. If the channel cannot be resolved, a DestinationResolutionException is thrown. If it can be resolved, the message is sent there. If the request message does not have a replyChannel header and the reply object is a Message, its replyChannel header is consulted for a target destination. This is the technique used for request-reply messaging in Spring Integration, and it is also an example of the return address pattern.

If your method returns a result, and you want to discard it and end the flow, you should configure the output-channel to send to a NullChannel. For convenience, the framework registers one with the name, nullChannel. See Special Channels for more information.

The service activator is one of those components that is not required to produce a reply message. If your method returns null or has a void return type, the service activator exits after the method invocation, without any signals. This behavior can be controlled by the AbstractReplyProducingMessageHandler.requiresReply option, which is also exposed as requires-reply when configuring with the XML namespace. If the flag is set to true and the method returns null, a ReplyRequiredException is thrown.

The argument in the service method could be either a message or an arbitrary type. If the latter, then it is assumed to be a message payload, which is extracted from the message and injected into the service method. We generally recommend this approach, as it follows and promotes a POJO model when working with Spring Integration. Arguments may also have @Header or @Headers annotations, as described in Annotation Support.

The service method is not required to have any arguments, which means you can implement event-style service activators (where all you care about is an invocation of the service method) and not worry about the contents of the message. Think of it as a null JMS message. An example use case for such an implementation is a simple counter or monitor of messages deposited on the input channel.

Starting with version 4.1, the framework correctly converts message properties (payload and headers) to the Java 8 Optional POJO method parameters, as the following example shows:

public class MyBean {
    public String computeValue(Optional<String> payload,
               @Header(value="foo", required=false) String foo1,
               @Header(value="foo") Optional<String> foo2) {
        if (payload.isPresent()) {
            String value = payload.get();
        else {


We generally recommend using a ref attribute if the custom service activator handler implementation can be reused in other <service-activator> definitions. However, if the custom service activator handler implementation is only used within a single definition of the <service-activator>, you can provide an inner bean definition, as the following example shows:

<int:service-activator id="exampleServiceActivator" input-channel="inChannel"
            output-channel = "outChannel" method="someMethod">
    <beans:bean class="org.something.ExampleServiceActivator"/>
Using both the ref attribute and an inner handler definition in the same <service-activator> configuration is not allowed, as it creates an ambiguous condition and results in an exception being thrown.
If the ref attribute references a bean that extends AbstractMessageProducingHandler (such as handlers provided by the framework itself), the configuration is optimized by injecting the output channel into the handler directly. In this case, each ref must be to a separate bean instance (or a prototype-scoped bean) or use the inner <bean/> configuration type. If you inadvertently reference the same message handler from multiple beans, you get a configuration exception.
Service Activators and the Spring Expression Language (SpEL)

Since Spring Integration 2.0, service activators can also benefit from SpEL.

For example, you can invoke any bean method without pointing to the bean in a ref attribute or including it as an inner bean definition, as follows:

<int:service-activator input-channel="in" output-channel="out"
	expression="@accountService.processAccount(payload, headers.accountId)"/>

	<bean id="accountService" class="thing1.thing2.Account"/>

In the preceding configuration, instead of injecting 'accountService' by using a ref or as an inner bean, we use SpEL’s @beanId notation and invoke a method that takes a type compatible with the message payload. We also pass a header value. Any valid SpEL expression can be evaluated against any content in the message. For simple scenarios, your service activators need not reference a bean if all logic can be encapsulated in such an expression, as the following example shows:

<int:service-activator input-channel="in" output-channel="out" expression="payload * 2"/>

In the preceding configuration, our service logic is to multiply the payload value by two. SpEL lets us handle it relatively easily.

See Service Activators and the .handle() method in the Java DSL chapter for more information about configuring service activator.

Asynchronous Service Activator

The service activator is invoked by the calling thread. This is an upstream thread if the input channel is a SubscribableChannel or a poller thread for a PollableChannel. If the service returns a CompletableFuture<?>, the default action is to send that as the payload of the message sent to the output (or reply) channel. Starting with version 4.3, you can now set the async attribute to true (by using setAsync(true) when using Java configuration). If the service returns a CompletableFuture<?> when this the async attribute is set to true, the calling thread is released immediately and the reply message is sent on the thread (from within your service) that completes the future. This is particularly advantageous for long-running services that use a PollableChannel, because the poller thread is released to perform other services within the framework.

If the service completes the future with an Exception, normal error processing occurs. An ErrorMessage is sent to the errorChannel message header, if present. Otherwise, an ErrorMessage is sent to the default errorChannel (if available).

Starting with version 6.1, if the output channel of the AbstractMessageProducingHandler is configured to a ReactiveStreamsSubscribableChannel, the async mode is turned on by default. If the handler result is not a reactive type or CompletableFuture<?>, then regular reply producing process happens despite the output channel type.

See also Reactive Streams Support for more information.

Service Activator and Method Return Type

The service method can return any type which becomes reply message payload. In this case a new Message<?> object is created and all the headers from a request message are copied. This works the same way for most Spring Integration MessageHandler implementations, when interaction is based on a POJO method invocation.

A complete Message<?> object can also be returned from the method. However, keep in mind that, unlike transformers, for a Service Activator this message will be modified by copying the headers from the request message if they are not already present in the returned message. So, if your method parameter is a Message<?> and you copy some, but not all, existing headers in your service method, they will reappear in the reply message. It is not a Service Activator responsibility to remove headers from a reply message and, pursuing the loosely-coupled principle, it is better to add a HeaderFilter in the integration flow. Alternatively, a Transformer can be used instead of a Service Activator but, in that case, when returning a full Message<?> the method is completely responsible for the message, including copying request message headers (if needed). You must ensure that important framework headers (e.g. replyChannel, errorChannel), if present, have to be preserved.