Thursday, October 1, 2009

Quick Webserver setup with Jersey and Jetty

No More Hand Rolling

In our data pipeline, we have different components that we communicate with via web services.  In the beginning, there were only three commands needed: pause, restart, and reload. So I wrote a quick Servlet, loaded up embedded Jetty, and called it good. The Servlet contained some method handling code to parse path strings:

String path = request.getPathInfo();
        if(path.equals(ROOT)) {
        else if(path.equals(STATS)) {
            JSONObject responseObject = new JSONObject();
            responseObject.put("service", name);
            responseObject.put("statistics", jobStatsAnalyzer.toJSON());
        else if(path.startsWith(SERVICE_PREFIX)) {
            responseCode =  
        else {
And the processServiceRequest call is equally complex because it has to parse the next section of the path. Still, because there were only three methods and it took little time to code up, I felt fine about hand rolling the Servlet, even through there was a lot of boilerplate path parsing code.

One of our components now needs (much) more path handling. It is a validation component -- it collects transformation exceptions thrown by the view processing components. Those exceptions are dumped to an SQS queue, picked up by the validator, and dumped into a Lucene index that allows us to query for exceptions by various exception metadata. The validator needs to expose a more complex Rest Interface  that allows a data curator to find exception (resources) by that various metadata (sub resources), i.e. by exception type. They can then fix the the root cause of the exceptions, and validate that the exceptions go away via a set of scripts that query the validator web service.

One option to extend the current web service functionality would be to subclass the custom Servlet, but that's a lot more boilerplate code and I know that we are probably going to need to extend another component in another way, which would mean more code. More code to debug, more code to maintain, more code to understand.

Jersey aka JAX-RS aka JSR 311 allows you to compose restful services using annotations.  It is an alternative to hand rolling servlets that lets you declaratively bind REST methods (GET/PUT/POST/etc), paths, and handler functions. It handles serializing data from POJOs to XML/JSON and vice versa. I had been wanting to check it out for some time now, but simply didn't have a concrete need to do so.

Jersey And Jetty

I decided to stick with Jetty as my servlet container because launching an embedded instance was so brain dead. But I decided to use the Jersey servlet and see how hard it would be to re-implement my hand rolled servlet. The way to bind the Jersey Servlet to Jetty uses Jetty's ServletHolder class to instantiate the Jersey servlet and initialize it's annotation location as well as the location of the resources it is going to use to handle web requests. The code below shows how the Jetty ServletHolder is initalized with the Jersey ServletContainer (which actually implements the standard Servlet interface) and then bound to a context that allows the ServletContainer to handle all requests to the server.
sh = new ServletHolder(ServletContainer.class);
sh.setInitParameter("", RESOURCE_CONFIG);
sh.setInitParameter("", handlerPackageLocation);
server = new Server(port);
Context context = new Context(server, "/", Context.SESSIONS);
context.addServlet(sh, "/*");

The parameter points to the location of the Jersey annotated resources that the Jersey ServletContainer uses when handling requests. Those resources are simply POJOs (Plain Old Java Objects) marked up with Jersey annotations.

Jersey Resources

In order to parse a specific path, you create and object and use the @Path annotation. A method in the POJO is bound to that path by default. You can also parse subpaths by binding them to other methods via the @Path annotation. Here is an example:
public class DefaultMasterDaemonService {

    private ServiceHandler serviceHandler;

    // this one handles root requests
    public String getInformation() {
        return serviceHandler.getInfo();
    // this one handles /stats requests
    public DaemonStatus getStatus() {
        return serviceHandler.getStatus();

Basic Annotations

There are a couple of annotations above worth discussing in addition to the @Path annotation.
The HTTP method that is bound to the POJO method is specified via the @GET, @POST, @PUT, @DELETE, and @HEAD annotations.
The returned content Mime type is specified with the @Produces annotation. In the example above, a request to the root path returns some informational text, and a request to /stats returns JSON.

Returning JSON and XML

In order to return JSON/XML, you need to leverage JAXB annotations to make your data objects serializable to JSON/XML. Note: remember to always include a default constructor on your data objects. Otherwise you get exceptions trying to serialize those objects.

I also found that unless I did _not_ declare getters and setters, I would also get serialization errors. I had not seen this before, and therefore assume that it is something specific to Jersey Serialization.

Here is an example of a JAXB annotated object that I use to return Status:
public class DaemonStatus {
    // apparently methods to access these are added at serialization time??
    public String serviceName;
    public String status;
    public JobStatsData jobStatsData;
    // need this one!
    public DaemonStatus() {
    public DaemonStatus(String serviceName,String status,JobStatsData jobStatsData) {
        this.serviceName = serviceName;
        this.status = status;
        this.jobStatsData = jobStatsData;
So all I needed to do to get JSON/XML in my return type was to create a JAXB annotated object, and specify what I wanted the method to produce via the Jersey @Produces annotation. Less code = more fun!

Parameterizing Path Components

Our components have Pause/Restart/Reload functionality accessible via the http://host/services/{pause|restart|reload} path, using POST. Jersey lets me parameterize the last part of the path, which makes the syntax of the command explicit while allowing me to only code string matching for the parameterized part:

public void doAction(@PathParam("action") String action) throws Exception {
  if(action.equals(MasterDaemon.PAUSE)) {
  else if(action.equals(MasterDaemon.RELOAD)) {
  else if(action.equals(MasterDaemon.RESUME)) {
  else {
    throw new Exception("No such action supported: "+action);
I've delegated the real meat of the action to a serviceHandler component, but this kind of path handling is about as easy as it gets. Note that the action parameter is specified via the @PathParam annotation directly in the method argument list.


I only really scratched the surface of what Jersey can do. In my case I don't have to parse query parameters, but that is easily done by specifying a @QueryParam argument to the handler method in the same way I specified the @PathParam. From what I've been able to understand, you can only access query params as strings (but that's pretty reasonable).

I really liked how quickly I was able to toss out my hand coded servlet and trade up to the Jersey one. Other people on the team were able to wire up rich REST interfaces on several components almost immediately, which let all of us go back to focusing on real requirements.

I usually 'cast a jaundiced eye' towards anything that even has a hint of framework in it, but Jersey was super fast to learn and using it instead of hand coded servlets has already saved us a lot of time and finger strain.


  1. I originally stumbled upon Jetty, an open source HTTP servlet server written in 100% Java from MortBay, in 1999 while looking for a small Web server to ship with a book. The most popular alternative at the time (Apache with Jakarta) was bulky and difficult to install.

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