Jakarta Struts: Seven Lessons from the Trenchesby Chuck Cavaness, author of Programming Jakarta Struts
Editor's note: After his Internet company decided to adopt the Struts framework, Chuck Cavaness spent months trying to figure out how to use it in order to build a company application. If you're a Java programmer charged with developing Web applications with servlets and JSPs, you'll find a lot of insight and valuable information in the lessons Chuck had to learn the hard way. He describes some of them here.
The Jakarta Struts framework has only been around for a short time, but the impact it has made for Web developers is significant. The framework is based on widely accepted design patterns and is very extensible. Although the learning curve for Struts is manageable, there are still best practices when using the framework. These lessons become apparent during development of any medium- to large-size development project. However, a much faster way to get up to speed is to leverage lessons learned by others in the Struts community. Several of those lessons are offered here and are designed to increase your productivity and efficiency when building applications using Struts.
1. Extend When You Must
There are several characteristics of a good framework. One is that it must meet the needs of its intended audience. The Struts framework does this by providing a general infrastructure for building Web applications. This allows developers to focus more on solving the business problem. Another characteristic is that a good framework must provide extension points in the appropriate places to allow applications to extend the framework to better suit their needs.
It would be great if the Struts framework worked for every application in every situation. Realistically, no framework can make that claim. Some applications have requirements that can't be foreseen by the developers of a framework, and therefore the next best thing is to provide enough extension points where developers can twist and mold the framework to better fit their specific requirements.
There are many places where the Struts framework can be stretched and customized to
allow for customized behavior. Almost every configuration class in the Struts framework
can be substituted for a customized version. This is accomplished by simple editing of the
Struts configuration file. Other components such as the
RequestProcessor can also be replaced with a specialized version. Even the new features
of Struts 1.1 are designed with extension in mind. The declarative Exception Handling
mechanism for example, allows for custom exception handlers to be used to better
respond to application failures.
The ability to pull and shape a framework to better suit your domain can have a dramatic impact on the outcome of a development project. First and foremost, since you are relying on an existing, mature, and stable framework like Struts, the number of defects found during testing should be reduced. You also can reduce the development time and number of required resources, since resources won't have to be spent on developing infrastructure code.
However, with this great power comes great responsibility. You must be careful not to overextend the application needlessly. There are many existing features spread throughout the framework classes, both in the core package and in the various utility packages that Struts relies on. Don't fall into the trap of extending the framework blindly without looking at other ways of doing the same thing with existing functionality. Make sure that when you decide to extend the framework that the functionality doesn't already exist somewhere else. Not doing so will result in redundant behavior and a bigger mess to clean up later.
2. Use Declarative Exception Handling
Specifying runtime behavior outside of the source code rather than hardcoding it within the application is almost always preferred; the world of J2EE is filled with examples of this. From the security and transactional behavior of Enterprise JavaBeans to the relationships between JMS messages and destinations, many of the runtime aspects can be declared outside of the application.
The Struts architects have taken this approach from the beginning by utilizing the Struts
configuration file to specify runtime aspects of an application. That approach continues
with the new 1.1 features, including the new exception-handling capabilities. In earlier
versions of the framework, developers were left to their own devices when handling error
situations that occurred in a Struts application. With the latest version, that's no longer
the case. The framework includes a class called
ExceptionHandler that by default is
responsible for processing any exceptions that occur during action execution. As the
previous tip on extending the framework mentioned, this is one of the many extension
points that is available within the framework.
The default Struts exception handler class creates an
ActionError object and stores it in the appropriate scope object. This allows the JSP pages to use the errors to inform the user of a problem. If this behavior does not fulfill your requirements, you are free to plug
in one of your own
Customizing the Exception Handling
To install your customized exception handler, the first step is to create a class that
org.apache.struts.action.ExceptionHandler. There are two methods that you can
storeException(). In most cases, however, you will just need to override the
execute() method. The signature for the
execute() method in the
ExceptionHandler class is shown here:
public ActionForward execute( Exception ex, ExceptionConfig exConfig, ActionMapping mapping, ActionForm formInstance, HttpServletRequest request, HttpServletResponse response ) throws ServletException;
The method takes in several arguments, including the original exception, and returns an
ActionForward object, which directs the controller as to where the request should be
forwarded after the exception is dealt with.
You can perform whatever behavior you like, but generally you should inspect the
exception that was thrown and do something based on the type of exception. Again, the
default behavior is to create an error message and forward to the resource specified in the
configuration file. An example of why you would want or need to customize this
functionality is to support nested exceptions. Suppose the exception contained nested
exceptions, and those exceptions also may contain other exceptions. You would need to
execute() method to create error messages for each of these.
Once you have created your specialized
ExceptionHandler class, you will need to inform the Struts framework to use your version instead of the default Struts exception handler.
To do this, you will just need to declare your class in the Struts configuration file; this is
the declarative part.
You can configure your
ExceptionHandler to be used by certain Action mappings or by all Actions. For specific Action mappings, you include an
<exception> element inside of the
<action> element. To utilize the
ExceptionHandler for all Action mappings, you can specify it inside the
<global-sections> element. For example, suppose we want to use a customized exception handler called
CustomizedExceptionHandler for all Action
<global-exceptions> element might look like this:
<global-exceptions> <exception handler="com.cavaness.storefront.CustomizedExceptionHandler" key="global.error.message" path="/error.jsp" scope="request" type="java.lang.Exception"/> </global-exceptions>
There are various attributes that you can specify for the
<exception> element. The most important of these, for this discussion, is the handler attribute. This attribute is the fully-
qualified class name of the
ExceptionHandler subclass. If this attribute is not specified, the framework will default to the one provided by the Struts framework. The other
attributes are also important, but this one is of the utmost importance if you are trying to override
the default behavior.
One final thing should be pointed out. You can have different exception handlers for
different exceptions. In the example above, the
configured to process any exceptions that were children of
java.lang.Exception. However, you can create multiple exception handlers, each one worrying about different exception
trees. The following XML fragment shows how this can be configured:
<global-exceptions> <exception handler="com.cavaness.storefront.CustomizedExceptionHandler" key="global.error.message" path="/error.jsp" scope="request" type="java.lang.Exception"/> <exception handler="com.cavaness.storefront.SecurityExceptionHandler" key="security.error.message" path="/login.jsp" scope="request" type="com.cavaness.storefront.SecurityException"/> </global-exceptions>
In this case, when an exception is thrown, the framework will attempt to find an
ExceptionHandler configured for the exact match. If there's no exact match, the
framework will proceed up the superclass chain of the exception until a match is found.
With this approach, you can have a hierarchical relationship of handlers, and all of it