Spring 3.1 M1: Unified Property Management

Engineering | Chris Beams | February 15, 2011 | ...

In the first two posts of this series, I described the bean definition profiles feature, and how it relates to the Environment abstraction new in Spring 3.1 M1. Today we'll take a look at a second aspect of the Environment -- how it helps simplify the concern of configuration property management.

Understanding property sources

Spring's Environment abstraction provides search operations over a configurable hierarchy of property sources. To explain fully, consider the following:

ApplicationContext ctx = new GenericApplicationContext();
Environment env = ctx.getEnvironment();
boolean containsFoo = env.containsProperty("foo");
System.out.println("Does my environment contain the 'foo' property? " + containsFoo);

In the snippet above, we see a high-level way of asking Spring whether the 'foo' property is defined for the current environment. To answer this question, the Environment object performs a search over a set of PropertySource objects. A PropertySource is a simple abstraction over any source of key-value pairs, and Spring's DefaultEnvironment is configured with two PropertySource objects -- one representing the set of JVM system properties (a la System.getProperties()) and one representing the set of system environment variables (a la System.getenv())[1]. This means that if a 'foo' system property or 'foo' environment variable is present at runtime, the call to env.containsProperty("foo") will return true.

The search performed is hierarchical. By default, system properties have precedence over environment variables, so if the 'foo' property happens to be set in both places during a call to env.getProperty("foo"), the system property value will 'win' and be returned preferentially over the environment variable.

Most importantly, the entire mechanism is configurable. Perhaps you have a custom source of properties that you'd like to integrate into this search. No problem -- simply implement and instantiate your own PropertySource and add it to the set of PropertySources for the current Environment:

ConfigurableApplicationContext ctx = new GenericApplicationContext();
MutablePropertySources sources = ctx.getEnvironment().getPropertySources();
sources.addFirst(new MyPropertySource());

In the code above, MyPropertySource has been added with highest precedence in the search. If it contains a 'foo' property, it will be detected and returned ahead of any 'foo' property in any other PropertySource. The MutablePropertySources API exposes a number of methods that allow for precise manipulation of the set of property sources. Explore the Javadoc for full details.

Putting property sources to use

Now that you understand the basics of property sources and their relationship to the Environment, you might be wondering how all of this is relevant to you as a developer of Spring applications. Let's consider a couple of scenarios and see how it all comes together.

Scenario 1: ${placeholder} resolution in statements

You have a set of Spring configuration files that configure beans specific to certain customers of your application, and you conditionally load those files using statements containing a placeholder resolving to the value of a 'customer' property:

	<import resource="com/bank/service/${customer}-config.xml"/>

Prior to Spring 3.1, the value of placeholders in elements could be resolved only against JVM system properties or environment variables[2]. No longer is this the case. Because the Environment abstraction is integrated throughout the container, it's easy to route resolution of placeholders through it. This means that you may configure the resolution process in any way you like: change the precedence of searching through system properties and environment variables, or remove them entirely; add your own property sources to the mix as appropriate.

Scenario 2: ${placeholder} resolution in bean definitions

Most Spring users will be familiar with the use of PropertyPlaceholderConfigurer or context:property-placeholder/ to replace ${...} placeholders in Spring bean definitions. Here is a typical configuration:

<context:property-placeholder location="com/bank/config/datasource.properties"/>

<bean id="dataSource" class="org.apache.commons.dbcp.BasicDataSource" destroy-method="close">
	<property name="driverClass" value="${database.driver}"/>
	<property name="jdbcUrl" value="${database.url}"/>
	<property name="username" value="${database.username}"/>
	<property name="password" value="${database.password}"/>

As of Spring 3.1, the context:property-placeholder/ no longer registers a PropertyPlaceholderConfigurer, but rather a PropertySourcesPlaceholderConfigurer[3]. This component still looks to the datasource.properties file to reslove the ${database.*} placeholders above, but will fall back to the set of PropertySources for the current Environment if the properties are not found in the file. Again this gives you more control; prior to this change, the only fallback options were system properties and environment variables.

Manipulating property sources in a web application

So far we've seen how to access and manipulate property sources in a standalone application where we have programmatic access to an ApplicationContext. In reality, however, many Spring applications are webapps in which the ApplicationContext is managed for you by Spring's ContextLoaderListener. For this reason we've introduced the ApplicationContextInitializer interface and its companion, the contextInitializerClasses servlet context param. Take a look:



public class MyInitializer implements ApplicationContextInitializer<ConfigurableWebApplicationContext> {
	public void initialize(ConfigurableWebApplicationContext ctx) {
		PropertySource ps = new MyPropertySource();
		// perform any other initialization of the context ...

Implementing and registering an ApplicationContextInitializer provides a simple way to interact with your application context before it is refreshed. This is a perfect place to manipulate property sources, but you could also call setConfigLocations(...) or any other method designed to be called prior to refresh().


Spring's Environment abstraction provides a single location to configure both profiles and properties. Profiles, as described in earlier posts, determine which bean definitions should be registered for a given deployment context; the property support described in this post provides a consistent abstraction over any source of properties, resulting in more flexible property access and placeholder resolution throughout your application configuration.

In the next post in this series we'll take a look at how Spring 3.1 makes 100% Java-based (read: XML-free) application configuration a reality with FeatureSpecification support -- an natural evolution out of the @Configuration class support introduced in Spring 3.0.


[1]: These default property sources are present for DefaultEnvironment, for use in standalone applications. DefaultWebEnvironment is populated with additional default property sources including servlet config and servlet context parameters. DefaultPortletEnvironment similarly has access to portlet config and portlet context parameters as property sources. Both can optionally enable a JndiPropertySource. See Javadoc for details.

[2]: Because processing of elements necessarily occurs before BeanFactoryPostProcessors are invoked, meaning that even PropertyPlaceholderConfigurer could not help here. Because the Environment and its set of PropertySources are configured before container refresh, placeholders in elements can be resolved against the Environment without any lifecycle issues.

[3]: In certain cases, context:property-placeholder/ will still register a PropertyPlaceholderConfigurer. In the 3.1 version of the spring-context schema, the system-properties-mode attribute has been removed from the property-placeholder element. This is because this attribute no longer makes sense in a PropertySources-/Environment-aware world. However, if you build against Spring 3.1 but still use the spring-context-3.0.xsd schema and set the system-properties-mode attribute, context:property-placeholder will revert to registering a PropertyPlaceholderConfigurer in order to honor the exact semantics of this setting. This approach preserves backward compatibility in any case.

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