Book Home Java Servlet Programming Search this book

3.3. Init and Destroy

Just like applets, servlets can define init() and destroy() methods. A servlet's init(ServletConfig) method is called by the server immediately after the server constructs the servlet's instance. Depending on the server and its configuration, this can be at any of these times:

  • When the server starts

  • When the servlet is first requested, just before the service() method is invoked

  • At the request of the server administrator

In any case, init() is guaranteed to be called before the servlet handles its first request.

The init() method is typically used to perform servlet initialization--creating or loading objects that are used by the servlet in the handling of its requests. Why not use a constructor instead? Well, in JDK 1.0 (for which servlets were originally written), constructors for dynamically loaded Java classes (such as servlets) couldn't accept arguments. So, in order to provide a new servlet any information about itself and its environment, a server had to call a servlet's init() method and pass along an object that implements the ServletConfig interface. Also, Java doesn't allow interfaces to declare constructors. This means that the javax.servlet.Servlet interface cannot declare a constructor that accepts a ServletConfig parameter. It has to declare another method, like init(). It's still possible, of course, for you to define constructors for your servlets, but in the constructor you don't have access to the ServletConfig object or the ability to throw a ServletException.

This ServletConfig object supplies a servlet with information about its initialization (init) parameters. These parameters are given to the servlet itself and are not associated with any single request. They can specify initial values, such as where a counter should begin counting, or default values, perhaps a template to use when not specified by the request. In the Java Web Server, init parameters for a servlet are usually set during the registration process. See Figure 3-3.

figure

Figure 3-3. Setting init parameters in the Java Web Server

Other servers set init parameters in different ways. Sometimes it involves editing a configuration file. One creative technique you can use with the Java Web Server, but currently by no other servers, is to treat servlets as JavaBeans. Such servlets can be loaded from serialized files or have their init properties set automatically by the server at load time using introspection. See the Java Web Server documentation for more information.

The ServletConfig object also holds a reference to a ServletContext object that a servlet may use to investigate its environment. See Chapter 4, "Retrieving Information", for a full discussion of this ability.

The server calls a servlet's destroy() method when the servlet is about to be unloaded. In the destroy() method, a servlet should free any resources it has acquired that will not be garbage collected. The destroy() method also gives a servlet a chance to write out its unsaved cached information or any persistent information that should be read during the next call to init().

3.3.1. A Counter with Init

Init parameters can be used for anything. In general, they specify initial values or default values for servlet variables, or they tell a servlet how to customize its behavior in some way. Example 3-3 extends our SimpleCounter example to read an init parameter (named initial) that stores the initial value for our counter.

Example 3-3. A counter that reads init parameters

import java.io.*;
import javax.servlet.*;
import javax.servlet.http.*;

public class InitCounter extends HttpServlet {

  int count;

  public void init(ServletConfig config) throws ServletException {
    super.init(config);
    String initial = config.getInitParameter("initial");
    try {
      count = Integer.parseInt(initial);
    }
    catch (NumberFormatException e) {
      count = 0;
    }
  }

  public void doGet(HttpServletRequest req, HttpServletResponse res) 
                           throws ServletException, IOException {
    res.setContentType("text/plain");
    PrintWriter out = res.getWriter();
    count++;
    out.println("Since loading (and with a possible initialization");
    out.println("parameter figured in), this servlet has been accessed");
    out.println(count + " times.");
  }
}

The init() method accepts an object that implements the ServletConfig interface. It uses the config object's getInitParameter() method to get the value for the init parameter named initial. This method takes the name of the parameter as a String and returns the value as a String. There is no way to get the value as any other type. This servlet therefore converts the String value to an int or, if there's a problem, defaults to a value of 0.

Take special note that the first thing the init() method does is call super.init(config). Every servlet's init() method must do this!

Why must the init() method call super.init(config)? The reason is that a servlet is passed its ServletConfig instance in its init() method, but not in any other method. This could cause a problem for a servlet that needs to access its config object outside of init(). Calling super.init(config) solves this problem by invoking the init() method of GenericServlet, which saves a reference to the config object for future use.

So, how does a servlet make use of this saved reference? By invoking methods on itself. The GenericServlet class itself implements the ServletConfig interface, using the saved config object in the implementation. In other words, after the call to super.init(config), a servlet can invoke its own getInitParameter() method. That means we could replace the following call:

String initial = config.getInitParameter("initial");

with:

String initial = getInitParameter("initial");

This second style works even outside of the init() method. Just remember, without the call to super.init(config) in the init() method, any call to the GenericServlet's implementation of getInitParameter() or any other ServletConfig methods will throw a NullPointerException. So, let us say it again: every servlet's init() method should call super.init(config) as its first action. The only reason not to is if the servlet directly implements the javax.servlet.Servlet interface, where there is no super.init().

3.3.2. A Counter with Init and Destroy

Up until now, the counter examples have demonstrated how servlet state persists between accesses. This solves only part of the problem. Every time the server is shut down or the servlet is reloaded, the count begins again. What we really want is persistence across loads--a counter that doesn't have to start over.

The init() and destroy() pair can accomplish this. Example 3-4 further extends the InitCounter example, giving the servlet the ability to save its state in destroy() and load the state again in init(). To keep things simple, assume this servlet is not registered and is accessed only as http://server:port/servlet/InitDestroyCounter. If it were registered under different names, it would have to save a separate state for each name.

Example 3-4. A fully persistent counter

import java.io.*;
import javax.servlet.*;
import javax.servlet.http.*;

public class InitDestroyCounter extends HttpServlet {

  int count;

  public void init(ServletConfig config) throws ServletException {
    // Always call super.init(config) first  (servlet mantra #1)
    super.init(config);

    // Try to load the initial count from our saved persistent state
    try {
      FileReader fileReader = new FileReader("InitDestroyCounter.initial");
      BufferedReader bufferedReader = new BufferedReader(fileReader);
      String initial = bufferedReader.readLine();
      count = Integer.parseInt(initial);
      return;
    }
    catch (FileNotFoundException ignored) { }  // no saved state
    catch (IOException ignored) { }            // problem during read
    catch (NumberFormatException ignored) { }  // corrupt saved state

    // No luck with the saved state, check for an init parameter
    String initial = getInitParameter("initial");
    try {
      count = Integer.parseInt(initial);
      return;
    }
    catch (NumberFormatException ignored) { }  // null or non-integer value

    // Default to an initial count of "0"
    count = 0;
  }

  public void doGet(HttpServletRequest req, HttpServletResponse res) 
                               throws ServletException, IOException {
    res.setContentType("text/plain");
    PrintWriter out = res.getWriter();
    count++;
    out.println("Since the beginning, this servlet has been accessed " +
                count + " times.");
  }

  public void destroy() {
    saveState();
  }

  public void saveState() {
    // Try to save the accumulated count
    try {
      FileWriter fileWriter = new FileWriter("InitDestroyCounter.initial");
      String initial = Integer.toString(count);
      fileWriter.write(initial, 0, initial.length());
      fileWriter.close();
      return;
    }
    catch (IOException e) {  // problem during write
      // Log the exception. See Chapter 5, "Sending HTML Information".
    }
  }
}

Each time this servlet is about to be unloaded, it saves its state in a file named InitDestroyCounter.initial. In the absence of a supplied path, the file is saved in the server process' current directory, usually the server_root.[4] This file contains a single integer, saved as a string, that represents the latest count.

[4] The exact location of the current user directory can be found using System.getProperty("user.dir").

Each time the servlet is loaded, it tries to read the saved count from the file. If, for some reason, the read fails (as it does the first time the servlet runs because the file doesn't yet exist), the servlet checks if an init parameter specifies the starting count. If that too fails, it starts fresh with zero. You can never be too careful in init() methods.

Servlets can save their state in many different ways. Some may use a custom file format, as was done here. Others may save their state as serialized Java objects or put it into a database. Some may even perform journaling, a technique common to databases and tape backups, where the servlet's full state is saved infrequently while a journal file stores incremental updates as things change. Which method a servlet should use depends on the situation. In any case, you should always be watchful that the state being saved isn't undergoing any change in the background.

Right now you're probably asking yourself "What happens if the server crashes?" It's a good question. The answer is that the destroy() method will not be called.[5] This doesn't cause a problem for destroy() methods that only have to free resources; a rebooted server does that job just as well (if not better). But it does cause a problem for a servlet that needs to save its state in its destroy() method. For these servlets, the only guaranteed solution is to save state more often. A servlet may choose to save its state after handling each request, such as a "chess server" servlet should do, so that even if the server is restarted, the game can resume with the latest board position. Other servlets may need to save state only after some important value has changed--a "shopping cart" servlet needs to save its state only when a customer adds or removes an item from her cart. Last, for some servlets, it's fine to lose a bit of the recent state changes. These servlets can save state after some set number of requests. For example, in our InitDestroyCounter example, it should be satisfactory to save state every 10 accesses. To implement this, we can add the following line at the end of doGet():

[5] Unless you're so unlucky that your server crashes while in the destroy() method. In that case, you may be left with a partially-written state file--garbage written on top of your previous state. To be perfectly safe, a servlet should save its state to a temporary file and then copy that file on top of the official state file in one command.

if (count % 10 == 0) saveState();

Does this addition make you cringe? It should. Think about synchronization issues. We've opened up the possibility for data loss if saveState() is executed by two threads at the same time and the possibility for saveState() not to be called at all if count is incremented by several threads in a row before the check. Note that this possibility did not exist when saveState() was called only from the destroy() method: the destroy() method is called just once per servlet instance. Now that saveState() is called in the doGet() method, however, we need to reconsider. If by some chance this servlet is accessed so frequently that it has more than 10 concurrently executing threads, it's likely that two servlets (10 requests apart) will be in saveState() at the same time. This may result in a corrupted data file. It's also possible the two threads will increment count before either thread notices it was time to call saveState(). The fix is easy: move the count check into the synchronized block where count is incremented:

  int local_count;
  synchronized(this) {
    local_count = ++count;
    if (count % 10 == 0) saveState();
  }
  out.println("Since loading, this servlet has been accessed " +
              local_count + " times.");

The moral of the story is harder: always be vigilant to protect servlet code from multithreaded access problems.

Even though this series of counter examples demonstrates the servlet life cycle, the counters themselves aren't particularly useful because they count only the number of times they themselves have been accessed. You can find two truly useful counters--that count accesses to other pages--in the next chapter.



Library Navigation Links

Copyright © 2001 O'Reilly & Associates. All rights reserved.