Spring MVC: Serving Static and Dynamic Content

April 6, 2010

I have been revisiting SpringMVC recently as a basis for creating a web application. I had a positive experience some time ago building out a RESTful abstraction layer across a range of disparate data-sources. primarily for programmatic access, so I wanted to build on that learning and create a fully featured web-app this time around.

Whilst I really like the Spring MVC framework, I am completely amazed that in some cases it is almost impossible to find simple explanations about relatively simple things involved in building out a web-application. This post is motivated by that lack of clarity, and after a few days of googling, I now believe I’ve evolved at least one of the myriad common-sense approaches to serving up both static and dynamic content from a Spring MVC applicaiton.

Firstly my environment:

Mac OS/X 10.6
Java 1.6.0_17
Spring 2.5.5
Tomcat 6.0.24

Secondly the goal was to create a simple presentation layer with a largely static html homepage, with embedded images, with links to Spring controllers which would deliver dynamic content through JSP’s. When I started down this road I had assumed this would be pretty common, but my experiences on google have proven that wrong so here goes…

As a backdrop for my own variations I used the very helpful article “Developing a Spring MVC Application step-by-step” which is great, but lulled me into a false sense of security before dropping me flat just as the real questions started emerging. I followed all steps in that tutorial and progressed very quickly to section 2, at which point I stopped, because I was less concerned with the addition of business logic, service PoJo’s and a persistence tier, than I was about breaking away from the text only presentation layer used in the example. So I have to point out – I’m not a presentation guy, I rarely move into the front-end discipline, but in this situation I have to – and as a result my inclination is immediatley to want to know how this static/dynamic stuff works.

So at section 2.1 in the tutorial I started to feel uneasy! Before I delve into this in detail let me backtrack.

1. I have a basic project structure as per the tutorial, with a web.xml and a <servlet>-context.xml for my primary controller. The relationship between these config files is covered in detail in the tutorial.

2. All of my JSP‘s live in the WEB-INF/jsp sub-folder of my source tree, and are packaged into that location in the WAR (I cover how these are located when I explain my view resolver later in the article) I deploy into tomcat.

3. I have a single index.jsp in the war/ root folder, and this index.jsp is referred to in my web.xml as follows:


No surprises here – I’m pushing all the HTM URL’s entering my application context (i.e. requests arriving at Tomcat for host/port/context-root) towards my frontEndController which I’ll come-back to in a short while, but more specifically you’ll see that I’m using the *.htm naming convention in my presentation layer for all the links into my application. In other words I’m not allowing users to directly reference *.JSP files in my app – I could use any suffix for that matter (*.private for example) given it is only relevant for routing requests for content into my controller so my MVC engine can deal with it.

Now – I did have a static HTML index.html as my welcome page in the WAR root folder from where it was directly accessible by Tomcat. As such I could type http://localhost:8080/myapp/index.html&#8217; and get my page back ok, but there is a Spring MVC/JSP convention for not doing this – but instead redirecting the request for the ‘welcome’ page into the MVC/JSP engine such that it becomes instrumented and visible to the spring context. This is covered in section 2.1 of the tutorial – but for the record my war/index.html is now war/index.jsp, and it contains the following:

<%@ include file=”/WEB-INF/jsp/include.jsp” %>
<%– Redirected – we can’t set the welcome page to a virtual URL. –%>
<c:redirect url=”/index.htm”/>
where include.jsp is the inclusion of the necessary JSP tag libraries to support features such as this redirecting:

<%@ page session=”false”%>
<%@ taglib prefix=”c” uri=”http://java.sun.com/jsp/jstl/core&#8221; %>
<%@ taglib prefix=”fmt” uri=”http://java.sun.com/jsp/jstl/fmt&#8221; %>

So what we have here is a request to my application for ‘/’ or ‘index.jsp’ will redirect to a request for virtual ‘index.htm’ page. This forces the request into my SpringMVC controller ‘frontEndController’ on the basis of the *.htm pattern-match. At that point I simply wanted to return a JSP, containing html source, but also containing static images. Try as I might I could not find a simple explanation of how to achieve this !!

So here it is. Firstly – only requests for dynamic content are be pushed into the frontEndController. The *.htm pattern is a ‘codename’ in my application context for ‘give me some JSP content’. Fine. But what about the statics that those dynamics might require?? !!WATCH-OUT!! I used a /ui/* pattern initially in my <servlet>-context.xml which caused me problems with static content. Any embedded CSS or IMG resources also fall under that path name, and as such all requests hitting tomcat for /ui/page.htm or /ui/img/banner.jpg were being pushed into my frontEndController – from where I could not serve the images, nor did I want to. As such changing to the *.htm pattern means that only the htm page names are pushed in the MVC controller and all embedded resources can be managed separately.

There are 3 key messages here. Firstly my index.jsp in the WEB-INF is not really dynamic (other than I have used a templating solution to assemble my pages but that is irrelevant here). But by handling it in this way I have ensured that ‘all’ html content is generated/served under the control of my MVC engine – and therefore visible to all the nice things such as logging, access control, and all the other stuff I aint even thought of yet that I’m able to implement as cross-cutters in my MVC context. I don’t have a blind-spot where my static content may be beign hammered yet I’m seeing low usage on my MVC generated content for example.

Secondly you do NOT have to implement a custom controller for JSP’s which ARE largely static content. The normal flow is that the <servlet>-context.xml for the relevant controller declated in web.xml offers a second level of routing. Normal convention would be to add an entry such as:

<property name=”urlMap”>
<entry key=”/index.htm” value-ref=”homepageController”></entry>

which pushed such requests to the POJO controller declared in that same XML file as below:

<bean name=”homepageController”
class=”com.myapp.web.HomepageController” />

But this forces me to implement a java object HomepageController to effectively do ‘nothing’ other than return a ‘view’name of ‘index.jsp’ which then returns the ‘static’ index.jsp to the client. Have no fear there is a better way – and we use something called the UrlFilenameViewController. As such – for any ‘pages’ that I want to serve in my MVC engine, which are static – I can re-wire the request as follows:

<property name=”urlMap”>
<entry key=”/index.htm” value-ref=”urlFilenameViewController” />
<entry key=”/static-about.htm” value-ref=”urlFilenameViewController” />
<entry key=”/termsandconditions.htm” value-ref=”urlFilenameViewController” />
<!– For direct mapping between URL (i.e. index.htm -> index) and the JSP to render –>
<bean id=”urlFilenameViewController”

By convention this means that I would need to have 3 JSP files in my WEB-INF/jsp index.jsp, static-about.jsp, and termsandconditions.jsp. The urlFilenameViewController simply converts the requested html resource name into a token, which is passed to the view-resolver in the same servlet context, which then needs to be configured to look in the WEB-INF/jsp folder as such:

<bean id=”viewResolver” class=”org.springframework.web.servlet.view.InternalResourceViewResolver”>
<property name=”viewClass” value=”org.springframework.web.servlet.view.JstlView” />
<property name=”prefix” value=”/WEB-INF/jsp/” />
<property name=”suffix” value=”.jsp” />

Hey presto ! We now have a consistent mechanism to serve up static html content as JSP from within the SpringMVC engine. I like symmetry and as such like to have my static and dynamic pages all being managed in a consistent way – but there may be plenty of counter arguments to suggest this approach has problems. (If so I’m very keen to hear them !).

Secondly the static content such as images, and CSS for example, should NOT be inside the WEB-INF folder, but instead such static resources referenced by the returned JSP pages, should live in the WAR root folder ‘where Tomcat can serve them directly’ to the user outside of the controller back-end. As such I have a war/img, and war/css folder alongside my war/WEB-INF folder. Any html content I generate from my JSP handling framework refers to static resources such as:

<img src=”img/application-logo.jpg” alt=”some text”/>

which means that User-Agents will resolve the address for the subsidiary resources to:


and this means that Tomcat can serve up those resources directly from the application without touching the SpringMVC engine. This now means that I have a seamless framework for taking all page requests into my controller architecture (even pages that may be largely static which I still want to be managed in a consistent way), and storing all supporting collateral in a simple place from where they can be served up.

This may seem like trivial or common-sense but it has taken me a long time to grind through the frustrating combination of too many option combinations offered by SpringMVC framework, and a lack of clear explanations on how to achieve this effectively including images or other static resources.

Hope this is useful.