Friday, April 20, 2012

Build distributed applications using Spring HTTP Invoker

Buliding distributed applications involves calling methods on objects that are remote - on different machines and/or different JVMs. Code running on machine A invokes a method on an object running on machine B and it works just as if the caller and the target were in the same JVM. In the past, CORBA, RMI and EJBs were technologies used for remote invocation. But they are complicated to use. The protocols are binary and difficult to troubleshoot. Also they are not suitable for use across intranets because they use ports that networks admins hate to open.

Since 2000, SOAP based web services enabled remote invocation using HTTP as the transport and XML for payload. While HTTP solved the problems of troubleshooting and firewalls, the performance of using XML was not very good. Some developers prefer web services using JSON over HTTP, but that requires modeling the data in JSON.

Spring HTTP Invoker is a remoting mechanism, where the programming model is plain java, but HTTP is used as the transport and the payload is created using java serialization. Spring HTTP gives developers the benefit of HTTP without the performance overhead of XML based web services. In the rest of the article, we explain with a simple example remoting using Sprint HTTP Invokers.

For this tutorial you will need

(1) Spring
(2) JDK
(3) Eclipse
(4) Tomcat

In this example, we create a service AccountService, with a method getAccount. The service is deployed to tomcat. We invoke the getAccount method from J2SE client in a different JVM. You may download the full source code for this sample at RemoteService

Step 1: create the service and implementation

Let us define an interface AccountService and its implementation AccountServiceImpl in plain JAVA.
public interface AccountService {
  public Account getAccount(int id) ;
public class AccountServiceImpl implements AccountService {
 public Account getAccount(int id) {
  // TODO Auto-generated method stub
  return new Account(id,"testacct",100,2999.99F) ;
Step 2: Spring Application context for server side
The Spring application context is defined in the file remoting-servlet.xml.
    <bean id="accountService" class="com.mj.account.AccountServiceImpl"/>
    <bean> name="/AccountService" class="org.springframework.remoting.httpinvoker.HttpInvokerServiceExporter">
       <property name="service" ref="accountService"/>
       <property name="serviceInterface" value="com.mj.account.AccountService"/>
The first bean accountService needs no explanation - it is a simple spring bean. The 2nd exports a bean /AccountService. This is exported by HttpInvokerServiceExporter, a Spring provided class. The service exported is accountService defined by the 1st bean. Since we will be invoking using HTTP, the url is /AccountService. (by convention).

Step 3: package as war and deploy to tomcat

The classes and context xml needs to be packaged as a war and deployed to tomcat. The standard spring MVC dispatcherServlet needs to be wired into the web.xml.
Step 4: Create a application context for the client with the entry
<bean id="AccountProxy" class="org.springframework.remoting.httpinvoker.HttpInvokerProxyFactoryBean">
     <property name="serviceUrl" value="http://localhost:8080/remoteservice/AccountService"/>
     <property name="serviceInterface" value="com.mj.account.AccountService"/>
This defines a bean AccountProxy whose implementation is the HttpInvokerProxyFactorybean, which will create the Http invoker. The url to invoke is http://localhost:8080/remoteservice/AccountService. http://localhost:8080 is where the target web server is listening. /remoteservice is the tomcat context ( I deployed the service as remoteservice.war). We defined /AccountService as the url for our bean in remoting-servlet.xml.

Step 5: Remote invoke the service
public class AccountServiceClient {
 public static void main(String[] args) {
   ApplicationContext applicationContext = new ClassPathXmlApplicationContext("remoteclient.xml");  
   AccountService testService = (AccountService) applicationContext.getBean("AccountProxy");  
   Account a = testService.getAccount(25) ;   
   System.out.println(a) ;
You should see the output 25 testacct 100 2999.99

In summary, it is very easy to do remote invocation and distribute services using Spring HTTP invokers. You get the ease of plain JAVA programming and the ease of maintainence and troubleshooting because of HTTP. There is simply no reason to use RMI like protocols any more.