Spring 3.1 M2: Configuration Enhancements

Engineering | Chris Beams | June 10, 2011 | ...

As Juergen mentioned in his post yesterday, and as I've mentioned in my previous posts on 3.1 M1, one of the major themes of Spring 3.1 is completing our vision for code-based configuration in Spring. We think a modern enterprise Java application should have a choice between Java and XML as first class options for its configuration. In this post we'll see how Spring 3.1 M2 helps make this a reality.

Note that although Java-based configuration has been available since Spring 3.0, with this release it is now on par with many more of the XML-based features that have been developed over the years. We think the result is very appealing, and in some cases even offering clear advantages over XML-based configuration. In short: if you didn't consider it in 3.0 you really should look at it closely this time around.

Code equivalents for Spring's XML namespaces

If you've been watching things closely, you'll recall that we introduced the idea of FeatureSpecification classes and @Feature methods in 3.1 M1. As it turns out, we've decided to replace this with a different mechanism in 3.1 M2. Why? Because although FeatureSpecification classes provided a convenient mechanism for configuring features of the Spring container like annotation-driven transaction management and component-scanning, that convenience came with two downsides: lack of extensibility, and lack of implementation transparency. The more we thought about it, the more we realized we could do even better. While FeatureSpecification classes mirrored the XML namespaces closely through fluent APIs, the new solution takes a different shape - one specifically designed to take advantage of Java on its own terms.

For short, we call the new mechanism "@Enable" annotations. These annotations are applied at the type level on @Configuration classes. Let's take @EnableTransactionManagement for an example. Most users will be familiar with the following Spring XML snippet:


This of course enables Spring's support for transaction management using the @Transactional annotation. Now let's see the equivalent configuration in code:

public class AppConfig {
     // ...

Pretty simple, huh? Of course there's much more to say, and I would encourage everyone to take a look at the Javadoc for the @Enable annotations we've delivered in this release. You'll find they contain plenty of context, examples and references to important related types. It should be everything you need to get started. Of course, we'll also be updating the reference documentation prior to 3.1 GA, but we skipped this for M2 simply because the Javadoc has seen a lot of love.

Take a look as well at the Javadoc for @Configuration, which has been revised considerably in M2 to show off the major integrations with other annotations and mechanisms like the new Environment abstraction.

Regarding the @EnableWebMvc annotation, this is one great example where Java-based configuration proves to have real benefits over the XML namespace alternative. Rossen will be posting on this topic in detail later in this series, so stay tuned for that.

Hibernate SessionFactory builder APIs

Spring's support for Hibernate has always been one of the more popular features of the framework, and it's always been configured via XML. In M2 we've introduced the SessionFactoryBuilder and AnnotationSessionFactoryBuilder APIs which make code-based configuration of the Hibernate SessionFactory a snap. Check it out:

public class DataConfig {
     public SessionFactory sessionFactory() {
         return new AnnotationSessionFactoryBuilder()

See the Javadoc for more examples and specific details:

XML-free JPA configuration

Spring users working with JPA will be familiar with our LocalContainerEntityManagerFactoryBean. We've added a 'packagesToScan' property that allows you to drop persistence.xml altogether! This is, by the way, very similar to the property of the same name on Spring's Hibernate AnnotationSessionFactoryBean. Here's an example:

public class DataConfig {
     public LocalContainerEntityManagerFactoryBean entityManagerFactory() {
         LocalContainerEntityManagerFactoryBean emf =
             new LocalContainerEntityManagerFactoryBean();
         return emf;   

Leaving web.xml behind

Servlet 3.0 introduces some very interesting new facilities for code-based configuration of the servlet container. Essentially, the ServletContext API has been enhanced to allow users to register servlets, filters and listeners in a class-based or instance-based fashion. Take a look:

This means that it's now possible to register servlet-oriented components like Spring's DispatcherServlet and ContextLoaderListener programmatically, instead of declaratively via web.xml.

All that's missing is a bootstrap mechanism -- a place to perform these registrations at a well-defined point in the servlet container lifecycle. Fortunately, Servlet 3.0 addresses this as well, with ServletContainerInitializer.

ServletContainerInitializer is a low-level SPI primarily targeted for use by frameworks like Spring. I'll leave the details to the Javadoc (links below), but in short, Spring 3.1 M2 now provides a very convenient WebApplicationInitializer interface that works in concert with the ServletContainerInitializer SPI to allow you to bootstrap the servlet container programmatically. Here's a quick example:

public class MyWebAppInitializer implements WebApplicationInitializer {

    public void onStartup(ServletContext container) {
      XmlWebApplicationContext appContext = new XmlWebApplicationContext()

      ServletRegistration.Dynamic dispatcher =
        container.addServlet("dispatcher", new DispatcherServlet(appContext));


As you can see, DispatcherServlet now sports a constructor that accepts a WebApplicationContext. Here's the Javadoc:

And while we used an XmlWebApplicationContext above, you can of course opt for AnnotationConfigWebApplicationContext instead and bootstrap completely via @Configuration classes.

When the spring-web module JAR is present on your classpath, your WebApplicationInitializer implementation(s) are detected and processed automatically by Spring in conjunction with the ServletContainerInitializer mechanism. This means you can package them exactly as you see fit in your application (goodbye, WEB-INF!) We've tested all of this successfully on Glassfish 3.1 and Tomcat 7.0.15, so now is a great time to get your feet wet with both Spring 3.1 and Servlet 3.0.

For complete usage instructions, take a look at the Javadoc for WebApplicationInitializer itself:

And for a complete (and concise) example of migrating from web.xml WebApplicationInitializer, check out this commit from the 'servlet3' branch of Spring's Greenhouse reference application:

Improved support for externalized values

M1 introduced the Environment abstraction and a unified PropertySource API. In M2, our goal is to make these components as easy to configure and use as possible. The new @PropertySource annotation allows you to contribute property sources to the environment from within your @Configuration classes:

 public class AppConfig {
     Environment env;

     public TestBean testBean() {
         TestBean testBean = new TestBean();
         return testBean;

This is a different approach from the traditional PropertyPlaceholderConfigurer (<context:property-placeholder>) approach. Here, we're contributing a property source to the environment, injecting the environment into our @Configuration class, and then looking up the properties needed using the environment's #getProperty family of methods. Check out the Javadoc for @PropertySource and Environment for full details.


As you can see, we really do have a major theme going on here. From Java-based alternatives to Spring's XML namespaces and FactoryBeans to eliminating even non-Spring XML like web.xml and persistence.xml, we can now proudly say that Spring's code-based configuration is first-class throughout the framework. The only thing remaining is your feedback!

As Juergen mentioned, now is the time to try out 3.1 if you haven't already started. We're moving into the release candidate phase now, which is the perfect time to make improvements based on your real-world usage. Please let us know how it goes!

Oh, and one more thing... If you haven't already noticed, Spring is now on Twitter! Follow @springframework to stay up to date with releases and for insights into Spring from the framework itself. Hope to see you there and thanks for reading!

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