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Aspect-Oriented Programming and JBoss

by Bill Burke and Adrian Brock


Aspect-oriented programming (AOP) is an exciting new paradigm that should have the same effect on software development that object-oriented programming (OOP) had 15-20 years ago. AOP and OOP are not competing technologies, but actually complement each other quite nicely. OOP is great for modeling common behavior on a hierarchy of objects. Its weakness is in applying common behavior that spans multiple non-related object models; this is where AOP comes in. AOP allows you to define cross-cutting concerns that can be applied across separate, and very different, object models. It allows you to layer — rather than embed — functionality so that code is more readable and easier to maintain. We like to think of OOP as top-down software development, while AOP is left-right; they're completely orthogonal technologies that complement each other quite nicely.

Where the tools of OOP are inheritance, encapsulation, and polymorphism, the components of AOP are advices/interceptors, introductions, metadata, and pointcuts. Let's take a look at these definitions.


An advice is logic that is triggered by a certain event. It is behavior that can be inserted between a caller and a callee, a method invoker and the actual method. Advices are really the key to AOP. These constructs allow you to define cross-cutting behavior. Advices allow you to transparently apply things like logging and metrics to an existing object model.

In JBoss AOP, we implement advices using interceptors. You can define interceptors that intercept method invocations, constructor invocations, and field access. Later, we'll examine how to apply these interceptions to an existing object model.


Introductions are a way to add methods or fields to an existing class. They allow you to even change the interfaces an existing class currently implements and to introduce a mix-in class that implements these new interfaces. Introductions allow you to bring multiple inheritance to plain Java classes. A great use case for an introduction is when you have an aspect for which you want to have a runtime interface. You want to apply your aspect across different object hierarchies, but you still want application developers to be able to invoke aspect-specific APIs.

Apple apple        = new Apple();
LoggingAPI logging = (LoggingAPI)apple;

Introductions can be a means to attach a new API to an existing object model.


Metadata is additional information that can be attached to a class, either statically or at runtime. It's even more powerful when you can dynamically attach metadata to a given instance of an object. Metadata is great when you are writing truly generic aspects that can be applied to any object, but the logic needs to know class-specific information. A good analogy of metadata in use is the EJB specification. In EJB XML deployment descriptors, you define transaction attributes on a per-method basis. The application server knows when and where to begin, suspend, or commit a transaction because you have defined methods as Required, RequiresNew, Supports, etc., within metadata bindings between your EJB class and the transaction manager, in the bean's XML configuration files.

C# has metadata built right into the language. XDoclet is another fine example of metadata in action. If you have ever used XDoclet to generate EJB files and deployment descriptors, you know the power of metadata. The Java Community Process (JCP) agrees, as metadata is being added to the Java language in JDK 1.5 (see JSR175). Until JSR 175 becomes a reality, though, a good AOP framework should provide a mechanism to declare class-level metadata that is available at runtime.


If interceptors, introductions, and metadata are the features of AOP, pointcuts are the glue. Pointcuts tell the AOP framework which interceptors to bind to which classes, what metadata to apply to which classes, or what classes to which an introduction will be introduced. Pointcuts define how various AOP features are applied to the classes in your application.

AOP in Action

Example 1. Using Interceptors

JBoss 4.0 comes with an AOP framework. This framework is tightly integrated with the JBoss application server, but you can also run it standalone on your own applications as well. You can never truly understand a concept until you have seen it in action, so let's use examples from JBoss AOP to illustrate how all of this stuff works together. In the rest of this article, we will build a simple tracing framework using AOP.

Defining an Interceptor

The first thing that must be done to implement our little tracing framework is to define the interceptor that will do the actual work. All interceptors in JBoss AOP must implement the org.jboss.aop.Interceptor interface.

public interface Interceptor
   public String getName();
   public InvocationResponse invoke(Invocation invocation) throws Throwable;

All fields, constructors, and methods that are intercepted in JBoss AOP get turned into a generic invoke call. Method parameters are stuffed into an Invocation object, and the return value of a method, field access, or constructor is stuffed into an InvocationResponse object. The Invocation object also drives the interceptor chain. In the interest of clarification, let's see how all of these objects fit together in an example.

import org.jboss.aop.*;
import java.lang.reflect.*;

public class TracingInterceptor implements Interceptor
   public String getName() { return TracingInterceptor; }
   public InvocationResponse invoke(Invocation invocation) 
       throws Throwable
      String message = null;

      if (invocation.getType() == InvocationType.METHOD)
         Method method = MethodInvocation.getMethod(invocation);
         message       = method:  + method.getName();
      else if (invocation.getType() == InvocationType.CONSTRUCTOR)
         Constructor c = ConstructorInvocation.getConstructor(invocation);
         message       = constructor:  + c.toString();
         // Do nothing for fields.  Just too verbose.
         return invocation.invokeNext();

      System.out.println(Entering  + message);

      // Continue on.  Invoke the real method or constructor.
      InvocationResponse rsp = invocation.invokeNext();
      System.out.println(Leaving  + message);
      return rsp;

The above interceptor will intercept all calls to a field, constructor, or method. If the invocation type is a method or constructor, a trace message with the signature of the method or constructor will be output to the console.

Attaching an Interceptor

Okay, so we've defined the interceptor. But how do we attach the interceptor to an actual class? To do this, we need to define a pointcut. For JBoss AOP, pointcuts are defined within an XML file. Let's see what this looks like.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8">
   <interceptor-pointcut class="POJO">
         <interceptor class="TracingInterceptor" />

The pointcut above attaches the TracingInterceptor to a class named POJO. This seems a bit cumbersome; do we have to create a pointcut for each class we want to trace? Luckily, the class attribute of interceptor-pointcut can take any regular expression. So if you wanted to trace every class loaded by the JVM, the class expression would change to .*. If you only wanted to trace a particular package, then the expression would be com.acme.mypackge.*.

When running JBoss AOP standalone, any XML file that fits the META-INF/jboss-aop.xml pattern will be loaded by the JBoss AOP runtime. If that relative path is contained in any JAR or directory in your CLASSPATH, that particular XML file will be loaded by the JBoss AOP runtime at startup.

Running the Example

We'll use the pointcut defined above to run the example. The POJO class looks like this:

public class POJO
   public POJO() {}
   public void helloWorld() { System.out.println(Hello World!); }
   public static void main(String[] args)
      POJO pojo = new POJO();

The TracingInterceptor will intercept calls to main(), POJO(), and helloWorld(). The output should look like this:

Entering method: main
Entering constructor: public POJO()
Leaving constructor: public POJO()
Entering method: helloWorld
Hello World!
Leaving method: helloWorld
Leaving method: main

You can download JBoss AOP and sample code here. To compile and execute:

$ cd oreilly-aop/example1
$ export CLASSPATH=.;jboss-common.jar;jboss-aop.jar;javassist.jar
$ javac *.java
$ java -Djava.system.class.loader=org.jboss.aop.standalone.SystemClassLoader POJO

JBoss AOP does bytecode manipulation to attach interceptors. Because there is no compilation step, the AOP runtime must have total control of the ClassLoader. So you must override the system classloader with a JBoss-specific one if you are running outside of the JBoss application server.

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