How Spring achieves compatibility with Java 6, 7 and 8

Engineering | Stéphane Nicoll | April 03, 2015 | ...

As of Spring Framework 4.0, Java 8 is supported as a first-class citizen and we've seen some confusion in the Spring community since then. How do we manage to support Java 8 and remain compatible with Java 6 and Java 7 after all? This blog post provides some insight into how we're handling this within the framework codebase.

Java 8 language features vs. Java 8 APIs

First, a distinction must be made between using new language features and new APIs in a given Java generation such as Java 8. If a class uses a Java 8 language feature such as a lambda expression, it has to be compiled with -source 1.8 -target 1.8 and therefore the whole compilation unit will only work on Java 8+. However, if a particular class in a library optionally uses a new Java 8 interface such as, the library can still run on a previous Java generation as long as it is being compiled with e.g. -source 1.6 -target 1.6 - and as long as the use of that particular Stream-based class is guarded to only kick in when actually running on Java 8+. As you may have guessed, we're making extensive use of such arrangements within the Spring Framework codebase!

We've advertised how Spring Framework 4.0 naturally fits with Java 8 lambdas. For instance, retrieving the catalog of a given JDBC connection with a ConnectionCallback can be written as follows:

jdbcTemplate.execute(connection -> connection.getCatalog())

In fact, Spring Framework had now-so-called functional interfaces for years and we did not have to change any of those APIs to be compliant with Java 8's compiler rules for functional interfaces. Lambda-based code such as the above, calling into Spring APIs, can be used in any Spring application - which then requires a Java 8 runtime, obviously. However, if you choose to write such code with a traditional inner class approach, against the very same Spring APIs in the very same Spring version, you can do so as well with a Java 6+ runtime:

jdbcTemplate.execute(new ConnectionCallback<String>() {
    public String doInConnection(Connection con) throws SQLException {
        return con.getCatalog();

The bottom line is that the choice is yours: We carefully designed Spring Framework 4.x to be naturally compatible with Java 6, 7 and 8, with the same Spring jars and no special setup steps. We don't use any Java 8 language features in our own code, so we can compile our framework codebase with -source 1.6 -target 1.6, and we autodetect and automatically activate many Java 8 API features (if available at runtime) within that codebase arrangement. Your application code may then choose to use Java 6, 7 or 8 language level itself, interacting with our framework arrangement and naturally getting the most out of the JDK that you happen to be using - without any extra setup, just through combining Spring with your JDK at runtime.

Which Java 8 API features do we support?

We have dedicated support for a number of Java 8 specific API features such as java.util.Optional,, java.time (JSR-310), repeatable annotations, method/constructor parameter names, and even the java.util.Base64 utility class. Those features get reflectively detected when you choose to use them in your own application classes, with the Spring Framework conditionally activating its support for those Java 8 features, e.g. registering default converters for Optional and Stream when Java 8 is present at runtime.

Let's have a look at an example. In the upcoming Spring Framework 4.2, if you define a value of type Collection or array, you can inject it as a Stream and we will convert that for you. You can find the full code of StreamConverter on github but here's an excerpt:

import java.util.*;

import org.springframework.core.convert.*;
import org.springframework.lang.UsesJava8;

public class StreamConverter implements ConditionalGenericConverter {

StreamConverter is an isolated class using Java 8 specific APIs, so what we need to do now is to conditionally add StreamConverter to DefaultConverterService if Java 8 is present at runtime.

public class DefaultConversionService extends GenericConversionService {

    /** Java 8's class available? */
    private static final boolean streamAvailable = ClassUtils.isPresent(

    private static void addCollectionConverters(
            ConverterRegistry converterRegistry) {

        if (streamAvailable) {
                    new StreamConverter(conversionService));

We conditionally check if the API is present at runtime and make a decision based on that, with you as a user simply experiencing fully Java 8 adapted setup by default. This is somewhat similar to the conditions infrastructure in Spring Boot except it is more low-level and internal.

Checking Java 6 compatibility

Since we are using Java 8 specific APIs in several isolated places, we need JDK 8 to compile the framework codebase overall. As a result, there is a risk that we accidentally introduce Java 8 specific API calls in places where we need to remain Java 6 compatible.

Fortunately, our CI build plan is configured to execute Animal Sniffer with each build. This checks our code against a given Java API signature (in our case Java 6 update 18) and fails the build if some incorrect usage happens to be found. So what about legitimate use cases then where we do need to call Java 7 or 8 APIs? You can configure the sniffer to exclude a list of classes or, better yet, provide a set of annotations that flag such exceptional cases.

That's exactly what the @UsesJava8 annotation on StreamConverter (see above) indicates: It demarcates the whole class as an exception to the Java 6 API compatibility rule. You can flag an inner class or even a method in a similar manner. By looking at our usage of that annotation, we know all the places where Java 7/8 specific APIs are used in our codebase.

The Animal Sniffer configuration is pretty straightforward: check out our build or the official documentation for more details.

Wrapping Up

We chose not to use any Java 7 or Java 8 language features in our own codebase in order to give you the flexibility to write your Spring 4 applications for Java 6, 7 or 8. At the same time, we allow you to experience a very natural approach if you decide to use Java 8, with the Spring Framework essentially appearing as Java 8 based to you in such a scenario.

Fortunately, Java 8's functional interface convention isn't new for us. Many existing Spring APIs can be seamlessly used with Java 8 lambdas since they are naturally following the same convention. New Java 8 APIs such as java.time (JSR-310), Optional and Stream are automatically supported by the framework if you choose to use them in your own code.

On a forward-looking note, as of 4.2, our codebase is even being checked with early JDK 9 builds already! This will lead to a unique situation in the framework once JDK 9 becomes generally available next year: supporting four Java generations in the same release line - your choice of JDK 6, 7, 8 or 9 in combination with the same Spring Framework generation!

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