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JavaServer Pages, 2nd Edition

JSTL 1.0: Standardizing JSP, Part 1

by Hans Bergsten, author of JavaServer Pages, 2nd Edition

June 11, 2002 started a new phase for JSP developers. That's when the JSP Standard Tag Library (JSTL) 1.0 specification was released. The Apache Taglibs project followed up with a reference implementation a few days later.

JSTL answers developers' demand for a set of standardized JSP custom actions to handle the tasks needed in almost all JSP pages, including conditional processing, internationalization, database access, and XML processing. This will speed up JSP development by more or less eliminating the need for scripting elements and the inevitable hard-to-find syntax errors, and by freeing up time previously spent on developing and learning zillions of project-specific custom actions for these common tasks.

This article is the first in a series of articles about how JSTL can simplify your life when using JSP, in applications large and small. In this article, I give you an overview of JSTL and show you how to use the most common JSTL actions. Future installments will focus on the internationalization and database access actions, how a servlet controller can interact with these actions, and how to use the JSTL classes as a base for your own custom actions. If you have suggestions for other areas you'd like to learn more about, please let me know.

JSTL Libraries Overview

JSTL 1.0 specifies a set of custom tag libraries based on the JSP 1.2 API. There are four separate tag libraries, each containing custom actions targeting a specific functional area. This table lists each library with its recommended tag prefix and default URI:

Description Prefix Default URI
Core c http://java.sun.com/jstl/core
XML Processing x http://java.sun.com/jstl/xml
I18N & Formatting fmt http://java.sun.com/jstl/fmt
Database Access sql http://java.sun.com/jstl/sql

The Core library contains actions for everyday tasks, such as including or excluding a piece of a page depending on a runtime condition, looping over a collection of items, manipulating URLs for session tracking, and correct interpretation by the target resource, as well as actions for importing content from other resources and redirecting the response to a different URL.

In This Series

JSTL 1.0: What JSP Applications Need, Part 2 -- Part 2 of our JSTL series focuses on internationization, localization, and database access.

JSTL 1.0: What JSP Applications Need, Part 3 -- In the final installment in this series on JSTL Hans Bergsten, author of JavaServer Pages, 2nd Edition, shows you how to leverage the JSTL classes when developing your own custom actions.

The XML library contains actions for -- you guessed it -- XML processing, including parsing an XML document and transforming it using XSLT. It also provides actions for extracting pieces of a parsed XML document, looping over a set of nodes, and conditional processing based on node values.

Internationalization (i18n) and general formatting are supported by the actions in the I18N & Formatting library. You can read and modify information stored in a database with the actions provided by the Database Access library.

Over time, you can expect all Web containers to include an implementation of the JSTL libraries, so no additional code will need to be installed. Until that happens, you can download and install the JSTL reference implementation (RI) instead. It's developed within the Apache Taglibs project as a library named Standard. The link to the Standard library page is included in the Resources section at the end of this article. Installing the RI is easy: just copy all of the JAR files from the distribution's lib directory to the WEB-INF/lib directory for your Web application. Note that JSTL 1.0 requires a JSP 1.2 container, so make sure your container is JSP-1.2-compliant before you try this.

JavaServer Pages

Related Reading

JavaServer Pages
By Hans Bergsten

To use a JSTL library, whether it's the implementation included with the container or the RI, you must declare the library using a taglib directive, just as you would for a regular custom tag library:

<%@ taglib prefix="c" uri="http://java.sun.com/jstl/core" %>

Note that you should always use the default URI, even though the JSP specification allows you to override it. A container is allowed to generate optimized code for the JSTL action in the class corresponding to a JSP page. This can result in better performance than when the generated code calls out to tag handlers through the standard API. It's only when you use the default URI, however, that a container is able to use an optimized implementation.

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