Serving and processing forms

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by Amuthan G | June 2014 | Beginner's Guides Open Source Web Development

In this article by Amuthan G, author of the book Spring MVC Beginner's Guide, we will see how to serve and process forms; we will also learn how to bind form data with a form-backing bean and read that bean in the controller.

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

Spring supports different view technologies, but if we are using JSP-based views, we can make use of the Spring tag library tags to make up our JSP pages. These tags provide many useful, common functionalities such as form binding, evaluating errors outputting internationalized messages, and so on. In order to use these tags, we must add references to this tag library in our JSP pages as follows:

<%@taglib prefix="form" uri="http://www.springframework.org/tags/form" %> <%@taglib prefix="spring" uri="http://www.springframework.org/tags" %>

The data transfer took place from model to view via the controller. The following line is a typical example of how we put data into the model from a controller:

model.addAttribute(greeting,"Welcome")

Similarly the next line shows how we retrieve that data in the view using the JSTL expression:

<p> ${greeting} </p>

JavaServer Pages Standard Tag Library (JSTL) is also a tag library provided by Oracle. And it is a collection of useful JSP tags that encapsulates the core functionality common to many JSP pages. We can add a reference to the JSTL tag library in our JSP pages as <%@ taglib prefix="c" uri="http://java.sun.com/jsp/jstl/core"%>.

However, what if we want to put data into the model from the view? How do we retrieve that data from the controller? For example, consider a scenario where an admin of our store wants to add new product information in our store by filling and submitting an HTML form. How can we collect the values filled in the HTML form elements and process it in the controller? This is where the Spring tag library tags help us to bind the HTML tag element's values to a form-backing bean in the model. Later, the controller can retrieve the form-backing bean from the model using the @ModelAttribute annotation (org.springframework.web.bind.annotation.ModelAttribute).

Form-backing beans (sometimes called form beans) are used to store form data. We can even use our domain objects as form beans; this works well when there's a close match between the fields on the form and the properties on our domain object. Another approach is to create separate classes for form beans, which are sometimes called Data Transfer Objects (DTOs).

Time for action – serving and processing forms

The Spring tag library provides some special <form> and <input> tags that are more or less similar to HTML form and input tags, but it has some special attributes to bind the form elements data with the form-backing bean. Let's create a Spring web form in our application to add new products to our product list by performing the following steps:

  1. We open our ProductRepository interface and add one more method declaration in it as follows:

    void addProduct(Product product);

  2. We then add an implementation for this method in the InMemoryProductRepository class as follows:

    public void addProduct(Product product) { listOfProducts.add(product); }

  3. We open our ProductService interface and add one more method declaration in it as follows:

    void addProduct(Product product);

  4. And, we add an implementation for this method in the ProductServiceImpl class as follows:

    public void addProduct(Product product) { productRepository.addProduct(product); }

  5. We open our ProductController class and add two more request mapping methods as follows:

    @RequestMapping(value = "/add", method = RequestMethod.GET) public String getAddNewProductForm(Model model) { Product newProduct = new Product(); model.addAttribute("newProduct", newProduct); return "addProduct"; } @RequestMapping(value = "/add", method = RequestMethod.POST) public String processAddNewProductForm
    (@ModelAttribute
    ("newProduct") Product newProduct) { productService.addProduct(newProduct); return "redirect:/products"; }

  6. Finally, we add one more JSP view file called addProduct.jsp under src/main/webapp/WEB-INF/views/ and add the following tag reference declaration in it as the very first line:

    <%@ taglib prefix="c" uri="http://java.sun.com/jsp/jstl/core"%> <%@ taglib prefix="form" uri="http://www.springframework.org/tags/form" %>

  7. Now, we add the following code snippet under the tag declaration line and save addProduct.jsp (note that I have skipped the <form:input> binding tags for some of the fields of the product domain object, but I strongly encourage that you add binding tags for the skipped fields when you try out this exercise):

    <html> <head> <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1"> <link rel="stylesheet"
    href="//netdna.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/3.0.0/css/bootstrap.min.css"> <title>Products</title> </head> <body> <section> <div class="jumbotron"> <div class="container"> <h1>Products</h1> <p>Add products</p> </div> </div> </section> <section class="container"> <form:form modelAttribute="newProduct" class="form-horizontal"> <fieldset> <legend>Add new product</legend> <div class="form-group"> <label class="control-label col-lg-2 col-lg-2" for="productId">
    Product Id</label> <div class="col-lg-10"> <form:input id="productId" path="productId" type="text"
    class="form:input-large"/> </div> </div> <!-- Similarly bind <form:input> tag for name,unitPrice,manufacturer,
    category,unitsInStock and unitsInOrder fields--> <div class="form-group"> <label class="control-label col-lg-2" for="description">Description</label> <div class="col-lg-10"> form:textarea id="description" path="description" rows = "2"/> </div> </div> <div class="form-group"> <label class="control-label col-lg-2" for="discontinued">
    Discontinued</label> <div class="col-lg-10"> <form:checkbox id="discontinued" path="discontinued"/> </div> </div> <div class="form-group"> <label class="control-label col-lg-2" for="condition">Condition</label> <div class="col-lg-10"> <form:radiobutton path="condition" value="New" />New <form:radiobutton path="condition" value="Old" />Old <form:radiobutton path="condition" value="Refurbished" />Refurbished </div> </div> <div class="form-group"> <div class="col-lg-offset-2 col-lg-10"> <input type="submit" id="btnAdd" class="btn btn-primary" value ="Add"/> </div> </div> </fieldset> </form:form> </section> </body> </html>

  8. Now, we run our application and enter the URL http://localhost:8080/webstore/products/add. We will be able to see a web page that displays a web form where we can add the product information as shown in the following screenshot:

    Add the product's web form

  9. Now, we enter all the information related to the new product that we want to add and click on the Add button; we will see the new product added in the product listing page under the URL http://localhost:8080/webstore/products.

What just happened?

In the whole sequence, steps 5 and 6 are very important steps that need to be observed carefully. I will give you a brief note on what we have done in steps 1 to 4.

In step 1, we created a method declaration addProduct in our ProductRepository interface to add new products. In step 2, we implemented the addProduct method in our InMemoryProductRepository class; the implementation is just to update the existing listOfProducts by adding a new product to the list. Steps 3 and 4 are just a service layer extension for ProductRepository. In step 3, we declared a similar method, addProduct, in our ProductService interface and implemented it in step 4 to add products to the repository via the productRepository reference.

Okay, coming back to the important step; we have done nothing but added two request mapping methods, namely, getAddNewProductForm and processAddNewProductForm, in step 5 as follows:

@RequestMapping(value = "/add", method = RequestMethod.GET) public String getAddNewProductForm(Model model) { Product newProduct = new Product(); model.addAttribute("newProduct", newProduct); return "addProduct"; } @RequestMapping(value = "/add", method = RequestMethod.POST) public String processAddNewProductForm(@ModelAttribute("newProduct")
Product productToBeAdded) { productService.addProduct(productToBeAdded); return "redirect:/products"; }

If you observe these methods carefully, you will notice a peculiar thing, which is that both the methods have the same URL mapping value in their @RequestMapping annotation (value = "/add"). So, if we enter the URL http://localhost:8080/webstore/products/add in the browser, which method will Spring MVC map that request to?

The answer lies in the second attribute of the @RequestMapping annotation (method = RequestMethod.GET and method = RequestMethod.POST). If you will notice again, even though both methods have the same URL mapping, they differ in request method.

So, what is happening behind the screen is that when we enter the URL http://localhost:8080/webstore/products/add in the browser, it is considered as a GET request. So, Spring MVC maps this request to the getAddNewProductForm method, and within this method, we simply attach a new empty Product domain object to the model under the attribute name, newProduct.

Product newProduct = new Product(); model.addAttribute("newProduct", newProduct);

So in the view addproduct.jsp, we can access this model object, newProduct. Before jumping into the processAddNewProductForm method, let's review the addproduct.jsp view file for some time so that we are able to understand the form processing flow without confusion. In addproduct.jsp, we have just added a <form:form> tag from the Spring tag library using the following line of code:

<form:form modelAttribute="newProduct" class="form-horizontal">

Since this special <form:form> tag is acquired from the Spring tag library, we need to add a reference to this tag library in our JSP file. That's why we have added the following line at the top of the addProducts.jsp file in step 6:

<%@ taglib prefix="form" uri="http://www.springframework.org/tags/form" %>

In the Spring <form:form> tag, one of the important attributes is modelAttribute. In our case, we assigned the value newProduct as the value of modelAttribute in the <form:form> tag. If you recall correctly, you will notice that this value of modelAttribute and the attribute name we used to store the newProduct object in the model from our getAddNewProductForm method are the same. So, the newProduct object that we attached to the model in the controller method (getAddNewProductForm) is now bound to the form. This object is called the form-backing bean in Spring MVC.

Okay, now notice each <form:input> tag inside the <form:form> tag shown in the following code. You will observe that there is a common attribute in every tag. This attribute name is path:

<form:input id="productId" path="productId" type="text" class="form:input-large"/>

The path attribute just indicates the field name that is relative to the form-backing bean. So, the value that is entered in this input box at runtime will be bound to the corresponding field of the form bean.

Okay, now is the time to come back and review our processAddNewProductForm method. When will this method be invoked? This method will be invoked once we press the submit button of our form. Yes, since every form submission is considered as a POST request, this time the browser will send a POST request to the same URL, that is, http://localhost:8080/webstore/products/add.

So, this time, the processAddNewProductForm method will get invoked since it is a POST request. Inside the processAddNewProductForm method, we simply call the service method addProduct to add the new product to the repository, as follows:

productService.addProduct(productToBeAdded);

However, the interesting question here is, how is the productToBeAdded object populated with the data that we entered in the form? The answer lies within the @ModelAttribute annotation (org.springframework.web.bind.annotation.ModelAttribute). Note the method signature of the processAddNewProductForm method shown in the following line of code:

public String processAddNewProductForm(@ModelAttribute("newProduct")
Product productToBeAdded)

Here, if you notice the value attribute of the @ModelAttribute annotation, you will observe a pattern. The values of the @ModelAttribute annotation and modelAttribute from the <form:form> tag are the same. So, Spring MVC knows that it should assign the form-bound newProduct object to the productToBeAdded parameter of the processAddNewProductForm method.

The @ModelAttribute annotation is not only used to retrieve an object from a model, but if we want to, we can even use it to add objects to the model. For instance, we rewrite our getAddNewProductForm method to something like the following code with the use of the @ModelAttribute annotation:

@RequestMapping(value = "/add", method = RequestMethod.GET) public String getAddNewProductForm(@ModelAttribute("newProduct")
Product newProduct) { return "addProduct"; }

You can notice that we haven't created any new empty Product domain object and attached it to the model. All we have done was added a parameter of the type Product and annotated it with the @ModelAttribute annotation so that Spring MVC would know that it should create an object of Product and attach it to the model under the name newProduct.

One more thing that needs to be observed in the processAddNewProductForm method is the logical view name, redirect:/products, that it returns. So, what are we trying to tell Spring MVC by returning a string redirect:/products? To get the answer, observe the logical view name string carefully. If we split this string with the : (colon) symbol, we will get two parts; the first part is the prefix redirect and the second part is something that looks like a request path, /products. So, instead of returning a view name, we simply instruct Spring to issue a redirect request to the request path, /products, which is the request path for the list method of our ProductController class. So, after submitting the form, we list the products using the list method of ProductController.

As a matter of fact, when we return any request path with the redirect: prefix from a request mapping method, Spring uses a special view object, RedirectView (org.springframework.web.servlet.view.RedirectView), to issue a redirect command behind the screen.

Instead of landing in a web page after the successful submission of a web form, we are spawning a new request to the request path /products with the help of RedirectView. This pattern is called Redirect After Post, which is a common pattern to use with web-based forms. We are using this pattern to avoid double submission of the same form; sometimes, if we press the browser's refresh button or back button after submitting the form, there are chances that the same form will be resubmitted.

Summary

This article introduced you to Spring and Spring form tag libraries in web form handling. You also learned how to bind domain objects with views and how to use message bundles to externalize label caption texts.

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Spring MVC Beginner’s Guide Your ultimate guide to building a complete web application using all the capabilities of Spring MVC with this book and ebook
Published: June 2014
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About the Author :


Amuthan G

Amuthan G has over six years of experience as a professional software developer. He currently works for a large cloud platform company and has strong product development experience in Java, Spring, JPA, and many other enterprise technologies. In his free time, he enjoys blogging on his site (http://www.madebycode.in). He can be contacted at mr.amuthan@gmail.com.

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