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Spring 3 WebMVC - Optional Path Variables

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To bind requests to controller methods via request pattern, Spring WebMVC's REST-feature is a perfect choice. Take a request like http://example.domain/houses/213234 and you can easily bind it to a controller method via annotation and bind path variables:


public String handleHouse(@PathVariable long id) {
return "viewHouse";


But the problem was, I needed optional path segments small and preview. That means, it would like to handle requests like /houses/preview/small/213234, /houses/small/213234, /houses/preview/213234 and the original /houses/213234. Why can't I use only one @RequestMapping for that.

Ok, I could introduce three new methods with request mappings:


public String handleHouse(@PathVariable long id) {
return "viewHouse";




But imagine I have 3 or 4 optional path segments. I would had 8 or 16 methods to handle all request. So, there must be another option.

Browsing through the source code, I found an org.springframework.util.AntPathMatcher which is reponsable for parsing the request uri and extract variables. It seems to be the right place for an extension.

Here is, how I would like to write my handler method:

public String handlePreview(@PathVariable long id, @PathVariable("preview/") boolean preview, @PathVariable("small/") boolean small) {
return "view";


Let's do the extension:

package de.herold.spring3;

import java.util.HashMap;
import java.util.Map;

import org.springframework.util.AntPathMatcher;

* Extends {@link AntPathMatcher} to introduce the feature of optional path
* variables. It's supports request mappings like:
* <pre>
* @RequestMapping("/houses/[preview/][small/]{id}")
* public String handlePreview(@PathVariable long id, @PathVariable("preview/") boolean preview, @PathVariable("small/") boolean small) {
* ...
* }
* </pre>
public class OptionalPathMatcher extends AntPathMatcher {

public static final String ESCAPE_BEGIN = "[";
public static final String ESCAPE_END = "]";

* stores a request mapping pattern and corresponding variable
* configuration.
protected static class PatternVariant {

private final String pattern;
private Map variables;

public Map getVariables() {
return variables;

public PatternVariant(String pattern) {
this.pattern = pattern;

public PatternVariant(PatternVariant parent, int startPos, int endPos, boolean include) {
final String p = parent.getPattern();
final String varName = p.substring(startPos + 1, endPos);
this.pattern = p.substring(0, startPos) + (include ? varName : "") + p.substring(endPos + 1);

this.variables = new HashMap();
if (parent.getVariables() != null) {
this.variables.put(varName, Boolean.toString(include));

public String getPattern() {
return pattern;

* here we use {@link AntPathMatcher#doMatch(String, String, boolean, Map)}
* to do the real match against the
* {@link #getPatternVariants(PatternVariant) calculated patters}. If
* needed, template variables are set.
protected boolean doMatch(String pattern, String path, boolean fullMatch, Map uriTemplateVariables) {
for (PatternVariant patternVariant : getPatternVariants(new PatternVariant(pattern))) {
if (super.doMatch(patternVariant.getPattern(), path, fullMatch, uriTemplateVariables)) {
if (uriTemplateVariables != null && patternVariant.getVariables() != null) {
return true;

return false;

* build recursicly all possible request pattern for the given request
* pattern. For pattern: /houses/[preview/][small/]{id}, it
* generates all combinations: /houses/preview/small/{id},
* /houses/preview/{id} /houses/small/{id}
* /houses/{id}
protected PatternVariant[] getPatternVariants(PatternVariant variant) {
final String pattern = variant.getPattern();
if (!pattern.contains(ESCAPE_BEGIN)) {
return new PatternVariant[] { variant };
} else {
int startPos = pattern.indexOf(ESCAPE_BEGIN);
int endPos = pattern.indexOf(ESCAPE_END, startPos + 1);
PatternVariant[] withOptionalParam = getPatternVariants(new PatternVariant(variant, startPos, endPos, true));
PatternVariant[] withOutOptionalParam = getPatternVariants(new PatternVariant(variant, startPos, endPos, false));
return concat(withOptionalParam, withOutOptionalParam);

* utility function for array concatenation
private static PatternVariant[] concat(PatternVariant[] A, PatternVariant[] B) {
PatternVariant[] C = new PatternVariant[A.length + B.length];
System.arraycopy(A, 0, C, 0, A.length);
System.arraycopy(B, 0, C, A.length, B.length);
return C;

Now let Spring use our new path matcher. Here you have the Spring application context:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<beans xmlns="http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans"
xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans/spring-beans-2.5.xsd http://www.springframework.org/schema/context http://www.springframework.org/schema/context/spring-context-3.0.xsd">

<bean class="org.springframework.web.servlet.mvc.annotation.DefaultAnnotationHandlerMapping" />
<bean class="org.springframework.web.servlet.mvc.annotation.AnnotationMethodHandlerAdapter">
<property name="pathMatcher">
<bean class="de.herold.webapp.spring3.OptionalPathMatcher" />
<context:component-scan base-package="de.herold" />

That's it. Just set the pathMatcher property of AnnotationMethodHandlerAdapter.


I know this implementation is far from being elegant or effective. My intention was to show an extension of the AntPathMatcher. Maybe someone gets inspired and provides an extension to handle pattern like:

public String handleHouse(@PathVariable long id, @PathVariable("**") String inBetween) {
return "viewHouse";

to get the "**" as a concrete value.

The sources for a little prove of concept are attached.

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