CSCI A348/A548

Lecture Notes 20

Fall 1999


Java servlets.

The Java Servlet API provides a standard way to extend the functionality of any kind of server that uses a protocol based on requests and responses.

Servlets are used primarily with web servers, where they provide Java-based replacement for CGI scripts.

In other words, on a web server that supports servlets (and there are many), you can use a Java servlet to create dynamic web content in much the same way you currently use a CGI script.

Servlets have many advantages over CGI scripts, however:

  1. For example, servlets are persistent between invocations, which dramatically improves performance relative to CGI programs.

  2. Servlets are also portable among operating systems and among servers.

  3. Finally, servlets have access to all the APIs of the Java platform, so, for example, it is easy to create a servlet that interacts with a database, using the JDBC API.

In terms of enterprise (or distributed) computing, servlets are a natural fit if you are using the web as your development platform.

  1. You can take advantage of web browsers as universally available thin clients;

  2. the web server becomes middleware that is responsible for running applications for these clients.

  3. Under this model,

  4. What's key here is that the servlet can use JNDI, Java IDL, and other Java Enterprise APIs to perform whatever tasks are necessary to fulfill the request.

The Servlet Life Cycle

When a client makes a request involving a servlet, the server loads and executes the appropriate Java classes. Those classes generate content, and the server sends the content back to the client. In most cases, the client is a web browser, the server is a web server, and the servlet returns standard HTML. On the server side, however, there is one important difference: persistence.

Note however that persistence is used here to mean "enduring between invocations," and not "written to permanent storage," as it is sometimes used.

Instead of shutting down at the end of each request,the servlet can remain loaded, ready to handle subsequent requests.

The request processing time for a servlet can vary, but it is typically quite fast when compared with a similar CGI program. The real advantage of a servlet, however, is that you incur most of the startup overhead only once.

When a servlet loads, its init() method is called.

You can use init() to create I/O intensive resources, such as database connections, for use across multiple invocations. If you have a high-traffic site, the performance benefits can be quite dramatic. Instead of putting up and tearing down a hundred thousand database connections, the server needs to create a connection only once. The servlet's destroy() method can clean up resources when the server shuts down.

Because servlets are persistent, you can actually remove a lot of filesystem (and/or database) accesses altogether. For example to implement a page counter, you can simply store a number in a static variable rather than consulting a file (or a database) for every request. Using this technique, you need to read and write to the disk only occasionally to preserve state.

Since a servlet remains active, it can perform other tasks when it is not servicing client requests, such as running a background processing thread (where clients connect to the servlet to view the result) or even acting as an RMI host, enabling a single servlet to handle connections from multiple types of clients. For example, if you write an order processing servlet, it can accept transactions from both an HTML form and an applet using RMI.

Servlet Basics

The Servlet API consists of two packages:

The javax part is there because servlets are a standard eXtension to Java, rather than a mandatory part of the API.

This means that while servlets are official Java, Java virtual machine developers are not required to include the classes for them in their Java development and execution environments.

The three core elements of the Servlet API are:

Normally, you create a servlet by subclassing one of the two classes, although if you are adding servlet capability to an existing object, you may find it easier to implement the interface.

The GenericServlet class is used for servlets that do not implement any particular communication protocol. Here's a basic servlet that demonstrates servlet structure by printing a short message.

tucotuco.cs.indiana.edu% pwd
/nfs/paca/home/user1/dgerman/November/jserv/servlets
tucotuco.cs.indiana.edu% cat BasicServlet.java
import javax.servlet.*; import java.io.*; public class BasicServlet extends GenericServlet { public void service(ServletRequest req, ServletResponse resp) throws ServletException, IOException { resp.setContentType("text/plain"); PrintWriter out = resp.getWriter(); out.println("Hello."); } }
tucotuco.cs.indiana.edu%
We create a script to compile servlets:
tucotuco.cs.indiana.edu% cat compileServlet
javac -classpath  .:/l/jsdk2.0/lib/jsdk.jar:/l/jdk1.1/lib/classes.zip $1 
tucotuco.cs.indiana.edu% date     
Tue Nov  2 13:11:11 EST 1999
Then use it to compile BasicServlet:
tucotuco.cs.indiana.edu% ./compileServlet BasicServlet.java
tucotuco.cs.indiana.edu% ls -l BasicServlet.*
-rw-r--r--   1 dgerman  students      685 Nov  2 13:11 BasicServlet.class
-rw-r--r--   1 dgerman  students      393 Nov  2 13:05 BasicServlet.java
-rw-r--r--   1 dgerman  students      374 Nov  2 13:05 BasicServlet.java~
tucotuco.cs.indiana.edu% 
And we check it from
http://tucotuco.cs.indiana.edu:59904/servlets/BasicServlet
BasicServlet extends the GenericServlet class and implements one method: service().

Whenever a server wants to use the servlet,

The servlet tells the server what type of response to expect, gets a printWriter from the response object, and transmits its output.

...To be continued in lecture notes 21 (for November 9, 1999).


Last updated: November 2, 1999 by Adrian German