Spring 3.1 M1: Introducing FeatureSpecification support

UPDATE: The FeatureSpecification functionality described in this blog post was removed in Spring Framework 3.1 M2 in favor of @Enable* annotations. See the 3.1 M2 announcement for more information.


Earlier in this series I touched on how the new @Profile annotation can be used in conjunction with @Configuration classes to take advantage of Spring’s bean definition profiles. Today, we’ll look at an entirely new addition to the code-based configuration landscape in Spring 3.1: FeatureSpecification classes and their related support.

I’ve put together a sample project to accompany this post. Find it at and follow the instructions in the README.

From to @Bean

The support for @Configuration classes added in Spring 3.0 essentially provides a mechanism for writing bean definitions in Java instead of XML. For example:


<beans> <bean id="accountRepository" class=""> <constructor-arg ref="dataSource"/> </bean> <!-- 'dataSource' and other bean definitions --> </beans>

can be translated into the following @Configuration class:


@Configuration public class TransferServiceConfig { @Bean public AccountRepository accountRepository() { return new JdbcAccountRepository(dataSource()); } @Bean public DataSource dataSource() { // create, configure and return the DataSource ... } }

And where the XML configuration would be bootstrapped as follows:

new GenericXmlApplicationContext("com/bank/config/xml/transfer-service-config.xml");

the @Configuration would be bootstrapped similarly, but taking the class as input:

new AnnotationConfigApplicationContext(TransferServiceConfig.class);

This approach works well, but it is limited to expressing individual bean definitions – to date there has been no support equivalent to Spring’s XML namespaces in the @Configuration world. Spring’s XML namespaces, such as <context:*/> and <tx:*/> allow for a tremendous amount of configuration to happen in a very concise fashion. For example, and as many users will know, enabling Spring’s annotation-driven transaction management is a one-liner in XML:


<tx:annotation-driven transaction-manager="txManager"/>

Under the covers, when the tx:annotation-driven element is processed, a number of supporting infrastructure-level bean definitions are created on your behalf, none of which you need directly care about, and that’s a good thing – it just works, ensuring that any of your Spring beans marked with @Transactional are proxied with a TransactionInterceptor. Prior to Spring 3.1 M1, in order to emulate this functionality in a @Configuration class, you would have had to declare each of these infrastructure beans yourself as individual @Bean methods. This is a path some have actually gone down, and I think it’s safe to say it is not a preferred approach. To help avoid this extra effort, Spring 3.0 provided the @ImportResource annotation to allow @Configuration classes to “pull in” XML configuration selectively when namespaces are needed:


@Configuration @ImportResource("com/bank/config/xml/tx-config.xml") public class TransferServiceConfig { // ... }

In the example above, tx-config.xml would contain the <tx:annotation-driven/> declaration. It’s nice that this hybrid model works, but again, it’s not exactly ideal having to split configuration between XML and code. What’s needed is an approach that allows all application configuration to be specified in code.

From to TxAnnotationDriven

To understand FeatureSpecification classes, it’s best to think first about the nature of many of Spring’s XML namespaces. Consider the following:

Each of these elements specifies the configuration of a feature of the Spring container: the component-scanning feature, the annotation-driven transaction management feature, etc. FeatureSpecification classes allow users to configure these same features of the Spring container entirely in code.

Let’s see a FeatureSpecification in action, with the transition from <tx:annotation-driven/> to TxAnnotationDriven as an example:

<beans> <tx:annotation-driven transaction-manager="txManager"/> </beans>



@FeatureConfiguration class TxFeature { @Feature public TxAnnotationDriven txAnnotationDriven(PlatformTransactionManager txManager) { return new TxAnnotationDriven(txManager); } }

@FeatureConfiguration classes are processed by the Spring container in expectation of @Feature methods that return FeatureSpecifation types such as TxAnnotationDriven.

@FeatureConfiguration classes are designed as a companion to @Configuration classes. The two may be used interchangably when bootstrapping the container:

ApplicationContext ctx = new AnnotationConfigApplicationContext(TransferServiceConfig.class, TxFeatures.class); TransferService transferService = ctx.getBean(TransferService.class); // ...

and one may @Import the other:

@Configuration @Import(TxFeature.class) public class TransferServiceConfig { ... }


@FeatureConfiguration @Import(TransferServiceConfig.class) public class TxFeature { ... }

@FeatureConfiguration classes may contain one or more @Feature methods. For example, we could configure both component scanning and annotation-driven transaction management within the same class:

@FeatureConfiguration class MyFeatures { @Feature public TxAnnotationDriven tx(PlatformTransactionManager txManager) { return new TxAnnotationDriven(txManager); } @Feature public ComponentScanSpec scan() { return new ComponentScanSpec(""); } }

@Feature methods are called by the container at bootstrap time and the FeatureSpecification objects returned are processed in order to configure the actual internals of the feature in question. In the case of TxAnnotationDriven, proxy creation is configured, a transaction interceptor bean is registered, and so on; in the case of ComponentScanSpec, a ClassPathBeanDefinitionScanner is configured with the values specified and then run in order to detect and register your classes marked with @Component or other Spring stereotype annotations.

@Feature methods may accept parameters in order to get references to Spring beans:

@Feature public TxAnnotationDriven tx(PlatformTransactionManager txManager) { return new TxAnnotationDriven(txManager); }

In order for the parameter to be supplied by the container, there must be a Spring bean of type PlatformTransactionManager declared elsewhere, probably within a @Configuration class. This notion of ‘parameter autowiring’ is not new to the framework; for example, this is similar to the way @InitBinder and @RequestMapping methods work in Spring MVC. The ability to refer to actual spring bean instances keeps things type-safe by avoiding the use of string-based bean names.

The FeatureSpecification implementations shipped out of the box with the framework are designed for maximum ease of use when writing @Feature methods. As you can see in the screenshot below, ComponentScanSpec methods are chainable, and the public API of the class has been carefully designed to optimize the content-assist experience when working in your IDE:

Content-assist for ComponentScanSpec

Status of efforts

The following FeatureSpecification implementations are already available with the first milestone release:

  • ComponentScanSpec
  • TxAnnotationDriven
  • MvcAnnotationDriven
  • MvcResources
  • MvcViewControllers
  • MvcDefaultServletHandler

You’ll see many of the Mvc* types put to use in Rossen’s upcoming post in this series covering enhancements to Spring MVC in Spring 3.1 M1.

With the second milestone we’ll add specification implementations for more of the most commonly used namespace elements such as <context:mbean-export/>, <aop:aspectj-autoproxy/> and so on.

Note that not all Spring XML namespace elements are alike. Some like those mentioned already are used to configure container features, while others like <jee:jndi-lookup/> and everything in the <util:*/> namespace are simply convenient utilities for doing in XML what can otherwise easily be done in code without any special support. For this reason, don’t expect a one-to-one mapping between Spring XML elements and FeatureSpecification types. Only those elements that make sense will be translated into code.

An open model

Just as users may define their own Spring XML namespaces and register their own NamespaceHandler and BeanDefinitionParser implementations, naturally the entire Feature* model is just as open. I’ll defer to the Javadoc for full details, but suffice it to say that you can author your own FeatureSpecification types and use them with ease in @Feature methods.

And for those that have already implemented custom namespaces and BeanDefinitionParsers, you’ll be interested to know that within the framework, we’ve refactored existing BeanDefinitionParsers to delegate to FeatureSpecifications internally. This greatly simplifies the implementation of a parser, and also ensures reuse of critical bean registration logic across the XML and @Configuration styles. We encourage you to consider this same refactoring wherever appropriate.

A note to the happy XML user

While Spring continues to move forward with code-based configuration, it must be noted again and again that we are in no way eliminating, deprecating or otherwise encouraging users to phase out the use of XML to configure the container. Spring XML remains popular and many users are satisfied with it, especially considering the advanced tooling options that the SpringSource Tool Suite provides for authoring bean configuration files. @Configuration – and now @FeatureConfiguration – classes provide another first-class configuration approach for those that prefer to work in Java as much as possible. So rest assured that Spring XML isn’t going anywhere – indeed, with Spring 3.1 M1 we’ve given plenty of attention to XML with the addition of nested elements, the c: namespace for more convenient constructor injection, and the cache: nampespace to configure Spring’s new caching feature.


We hope you’ll find FeatureSpecification classes to be a natural, powerful extension of the existing @Configuration class model. Take a look at the sample application accompanying this post, and please do provide feedback!

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