After describing some basic programming of servlets, we will describe some advanced topics of servlets in this tutorial, viz., Session Tracking, Servlet Filters, Servlet Life Cycle Events, Including, forwarding and redirecting, Servlet Chaining and Applet Servlet Communication.
HTTP is a stateless protocol which means that each request done using HTTP is independent from each other. This is a restriction in HTTP since some applications like e-commerce sites require to hold state information. One of the traditional examples of state is a shopping cart. In this tutorial, we will learn how to hold states between HTTP requests using servlets.
Working with cookies using servlets is very easy since there is a specific javax.servlet.http.Cookie class in Servlet API. New cookie instances can be created with this class. They can also be added and retrieved easily using methods in HttpServletRequest and HttpServletResponse objects.
SimpleCookieServlet is a servlet which detects whether a web user previously visits itself by using cookies. It simply searches for cookies in the user’s disk. If it can not find the cookie which is added previously, it simply adds a new cookie and prints “This is your first visit.” message. The cookie added contains the last time the user visits the site, so if the servlet finds this cookie it prints “Your last visit to the site was on XXX” message. Here XXX is the time of latest visit of the user. Figure-1 shows the processRequest method of the servlet. We first look for a previously written cookie and print appropriate message. At the last step we are adding a new cookie containing current time.
The source code shown in this section can be found in SimpleCookieServlet project.
Figure-2 shows our first visit to the servlet. Since, there is no cookie yet, the servlet detects that this is our first visits and print appropriate message. Figure-3 shows the behavior of the servlet when we visit it second time. In this case, the servlet detects the cookie added in the previous step and prints the time of the visit.
Figure-1 ProcessRequest method of SimpleCookieServlet servlet
Figure-2 First visit to the SimpleCookieServlet servlet
Figure-3 Second visit to the SimpleCookieServlet servlet
Filters are introduced in Servlet specification version 2.3. Filters are used to process the content in request or response objects of servlets and generally do not produce responses themselves.
Let’s create an example for a filter which prints the duration of all requests in our web server into the log file of Tomcat. This is a classical example which also came with Tomcat as an example of filter, but this allows you to understand how servlet filters work.
The source code shown in this section can be found in TimerFilterServlet project.
We need to implement javax.servlet.Filter interface to create a new filter. Filter interface has a doFilter method and the actual work of the filter is done in this method. Figure-4 shows doFilter method implementation of TimerFilter.
Figure-4 doFilter method implementation of TimerFilter
Actual processing of the filtered servlet is done in the line where we call chain.doFilter(request, response) method. This method calls servlet chain to process the request. So, if we want to pre-process the servlet request we do our work before this method and if we want to post-process the servlet response, we do filter code after this method.
Since we need to calculate the time passed for generating actual servlet response, we add our filter code on both sides. We get the current time using System.currentTimeMillis method before and after calling the filter chain and log the difference between those times.
Servlet Life Cycle Events
As you remember from the previous tutorial, the life cycle of event is controlled by the web container in which the servlet has been deployed. When a request is mapped to a servlet, the container performs the following steps:
1. If an instance of the servlet does not exist, the web container loads the servlet class, creates an instance of the servlet class and initializes the servlet instance by calling the init method.
2. Invokes the service method, passing request and response objects.
3. If the container needs to remove the servlet, it finalizes the servlet by calling the servlet’s destroy method.
The texts with red color are examples of events in servlet life cycle. If you want to react to those events in servlet lifecycle you should create listener objects. The table below shows several types of events and their corresponding listener interfaces needed to implement to catch those events:
Listener Interface and event
Initialization and destruction
Attribute added, removed, or replaced
Creation, invalidation, activation, passivation, and timeout
Attribute added, removed, or replaced
A servlet request has started being processed by web components
Attribute added, removed, or replaced
Including, forwarding and redirecting
Including a web resource into your servlet can be very useful. For example, you can have a company logo which should be placed on all web pages. In this case, instead of generating html code for the banner for each servlet, you can create a BannerServlet which produces the html code for the banner and include it into other servlets in your web site.
Including a web resource can be done by obtaining RequestDispatcher object from ServletContext object and then calling include() method of the RequestDispatcherObject. Example code for these operations is written below:
RequestDispatcher dispatcher = getServletContext().getRequestDispatcher("/images/banner.gif");
As you will notice, the web resource can be any type including a servlet or image.
Forwarding is another useful mechanism. For example, if you want to have a component doing some preliminary works and doing the real job in another component, then the preliminary component can forward the request to the real component when it finished its job.
Forwarding requires obtaining a RequestDispatcher object from ServletContext object for the web resource. Instead of calling include method, we call forward() method in this case. Example code for these operations is written below:
RequestDispatcher dispatcher = getServletContext().getRequestDispatcher("/ForwardedServlet ");
There are two more methods for redirecting browser to another web resource. The first one is using the header and status elements of HTTP response as shown below:
The code above redirects the web browser to Google’s web site. The second method is calling sendRedirect(String url) method of ServletResponse object as shown below:
The mechanism described above can be used as a communication medium between servlets. But, there is one more requirement to handle this communication. We should find a way to pass data between the servlets!
We will use attributes sent by the HttpServletRequest object. The code below shows how to set attributes on the request so that the next servlet can get this information:
RequestDispatcher rd = req.getRequestDispatcher("Servlet3");
req.setAttribute("key1", value1); // This line adds a new attribute
req.setAttribute("key2", value2); // This line adds another attribute
rd.forward(req, resp); // This will redirect request to Servlet3
Next servlet reads the attributes similarly with the following calls:
Object val1 = req.getAttribute("key1");
We will develop a TimedHelloWorldServlet web application in this section to practice on servlet chaining. TimedHelloWorldServlet project has two servlets: TimeServlet and HelloWorldServlet. When TimeServlet is called by the web browser, it puts the current time into request attributes and calls HelloWorldServlet. HelloWorldServlet gets current time from the request attributes and prints a “Hello World” message together with the current time.
The source code shown in this section can be found in TimedHelloWorldServlet project.
Figure-5 shows ProcessRequest method of the TimeServlet servlet. It gets the details of the current time from a Calendar object and puts them into the request as an attribute. After preparing the attributes of the request, it forwards the request to HelloWorldServlet servlet.
Figure-5 processRequest method of TimeServlet
Figure-6 shows ProcessRequest method of the HelloWorldServlet servlet. It gets the details of the current time from the attributes of the request object and prints the current time.
Figure-6 processRequest method of HelloWorldServlet
Final output of TimeServlet is shown in Figure-7. Note that although the url in the address bar of the browser still points to the TimeServlet, the content is produced by HelloWorldServlet.
Figure-7 Output of TimeServlet
Applet Servlet Communication
Although several methods are available to connect servlets with applets, we will select one method in this section and give an example for this type of implementation.
We will print the current time in our applet by obtaining time information from the servlet. So our servlet (namely TimeProviderServlet) will work like a server on our machine and the applet (namely TimeApplet) will connect and get current time from the servlet using object-based HTTP communication. Servlet will send current time by serializing a String object of current time.
The source code shown in this section can be found in AppletServletCommunication project. Note that this project can not be run directly since deployment of Java applets in NetBeans is not done automatically.
Figure-8 shows the source code of TimeProviderServlet servlet.
Figure-9 shows the getTime() method of TimeApplet applet.
Figure-9 TimeApplet source code
Note that double clicking on html file of the applet will not work since the applet and the servlet should reside on the same we server.
• Servlet Technology Homepage – http://java.sun.com/products/servlet/