REST enabled Java app, part 3

Sep 18, 2013

Embedded Jetty

This post is part 3 of a series that started here and continued here. There will be at least one more post in this series, to discuss Spring WebMVC as a client. All of the code is available as a project on GitHub.

As I discussed previously, the Spring WebMVC example I provided is a complete web application, with the three files web.xml, rest-servlet.xml, and the controller class.

But one of the reasons I wanted to put together this example is to show the class I was teaching the possibility of embedding this into an existing Java program. A REST API for an existing capability is often a good way of moving a distributed client-server application from Java-only to language-agnostic, and introducing a separate web container like Tomcat can add complexity. Fortunately Jetty makes it quite easy to run an embedded servlet container on any port from within a Java SE application.

Of course, there’s an excellent jetty-maven-plugin that will run Jetty as if the Maven target directory were an “exploded WAR”. But in deployment, we don’t want to require Maven to still be around, so we want to do something similar using plain Java.

Embedded Server Class

In the webapp I have the following Java class:

package org.anvard.webmvc.server;


import org.eclipse.jetty.server.Connector;
import org.eclipse.jetty.server.Server;
import org.eclipse.jetty.server.ServerConnector;
import org.eclipse.jetty.webapp.WebAppContext;

public class EmbeddedServer {

     * @param args
     * @throws Exception
    public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception {
        Server server = new Server();
        ServerConnector connector = new ServerConnector(server);

        server.setConnectors(new Connector[] { connector});

        WebAppContext context = new WebAppContext();

        ProtectionDomain protectionDomain = 
        URL location = 

        while (true) {
            try {
            } catch (Exception e) {
        try {
        } catch (Exception e) {

Embedded Jetty Setup

Here the embedded server happens in a main, but it could just as easily happen in a regular Java class that’s instantiated as one small part of a major program. The first thing the code does is instantiate a Jetty Server class. Then, it instantiates a server connector and tells it a port number. I’ve chosen to stay away from the usual port 80 or 8080; we may have lots of Java programs that each expose their own REST API. Also notice that we actually pass a connector array to the server — a single Jetty server may have multiple server connectors, each providing their own mechanism to route requests into the server (e.g. HTTP, HTTP/S).

The Jetty server is essentially just a dispatcher for requests. It dispatches requests to a handler. In our example, we use a WebAppContext as a handler; this is a class that supports a single web application. There are many other types of Jetty handlers. For example, if we needed to support multiple completely separate web application contexts within a single embedded Jetty server, we could create a ContextHandlerCollection and add multiple WebAppContext instances to it.

Since we create a single WebAppContext and tell it to use / as its context path, it will try to handle everything from the context root. Lines 28-32 then tell the WebAppContext where it should search for its WEB-INF/web.xml file, Java code, and static resources. Essentially, what those three statements do is start from the EmbeddedServer class itself, find the root of that classpath location, then convert it to URL form. This might be a file URL for a regular directory, a file URL that provides an entry into a JAR or WAR, or even something esoteric like an HTTP location.

The WebAppContext reads the web.xml and instantiates servlets. Any servlets will then be used to handle matching requests. Requests that do not match a servlet will be matched against the classpath for static resources. Anything that hasn’t matched by this point will be handed off to Jetty’s default handler, which provides a 404 response.

We can use this ability to match against static resources to include ordinary HTML, JavaScript, or CSS in our web application. An example can be seen with the index.html file in the sample application. However, note that there is a potentially undesirable side effect, in that other files included in the directory or archive can be accessed this way. This applies to all files except for those in the WEB-INF directory; even the Java class files can be downloaded. To see this, try accessing the URL http://<server>:<port>/clientContext.xml when running the example application. Fortunately, Jetty provides some limits to this; it does not support relative paths that would allow us to access other locations on the disk, and it will not follow softlinks.


Hopefully these posts together have illustrated the power of Spring WebMVC to “REST-enable” existing Java code, as well as the ability of Jetty to “web-enable” an existing Java SE application. These two technologies are independent but work well when combined together.

This post ran long, and I still need to cover the client, so there will be at least one more post. I’d also like to discuss techniques for applying WebMVC to existing Java applications that might not be using Spring.