Understanding Application Context

The ApplicationContext is the central interface within a Spring application for providing configuration information to the application. It is read-only at run time, but can be reloaded if necessary and supported by the application. A number of classes implement the ApplicationContext interface, allowing for a variety of configuration options and types of applications.

The ApplicationContext provides:

  • Bean factory methods for accessing application components.
  • The ability to load file resources in a generic fashion.
  • The ability to publish events to registered listeners.
  • The ability to resolve messages to support internationalization.
  • Inheritance from a parent context.

NOTE: This understanding guide provides details about Spring's usage of the application context. But in most situations, developers do NOT need to directly access the application context.

Access the application context

There are a few methods for obtaining a reference to the application context. You can implement ApplicationContextAware as in the following example:

package hello;

import org.springframework.beans.BeansException;
import org.springframework.context.ApplicationContext;
import org.springframework.context.ApplicationContextAware;

public class A implements ApplicationContextAware {

    private ApplicationContext applicationContext;

    public void setApplicationContext(ApplicationContext applicationContext) throws BeansException {
        this.applicationContext = applicationContext;


There are other options like field injection, but that technique is best avoided due to issues that may arise.

Before using the application context to find beans, there are better techniques to use first.

public class Application {

	RedisMessageListenerContainer container(RedisConnectionFactory connectionFactory,
			MessageListenerAdapter listenerAdapter) {

		RedisMessageListenerContainer container = new RedisMessageListenerContainer();
		container.addMessageListener(listenerAdapter, new PatternTopic("chat"));

		return container;

In the code above, there are two arguments to the bean definition: RedisConnectionFactory and MessageListenerAdapter. The method expresses its needs and Spring's DI container will supply them assuming they are available. While it's possible to fetch these beans directly the an instance of ApplicationContext, such a solution leans too heavily on container APIs and is not necessary.