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Servlets Tutorial

What are Servlets?

Java Servlet technology provides Web developers with a simple, consistent mechanism for extending the functionality of a Web server and for accessing existing business systems. A servlet can almost be thought of as an applet that runs on the server side--without a face. Java servlets make many Web applications possible.

Servlets are the Java platform technology of choice for extending and enhancing Web servers. Servlets provide a component-based, platform-independent method for building Web-based applications, without the performance limitations of CGI programs. And unlike proprietary server extension mechanisms (such as the Netscape Server API or Apache modules), servlets are server- and platform-independent. This leaves you free to select a "best of breed" strategy for your servers, platforms, and tools.

Servlets have access to the entire family of Java APIs, including the JDBC API to access enterprise databases. Servlets can also access a library of HTTP-specific calls and receive all the benefits of the mature Java language, including portability, performance, reusability, and crash protection.

Today servlets are a popular choice for building interactive Web applications. Third-party servlet containers are available for Apache Web Server, Microsoft IIS, and others. Servlet containers are usually a component of Web and application servers, such as BEA WebLogic Application Server, IBM WebSphere, Sun Java System Web Server, Sun Java System Application Server, and others.

You might want to check out the latest information on JavaServer Pages (JSP) technology.

What are Servlets?

Here's the outline of a basic servlet that handles GET requests. GET requests, for those unfamiliar with HTTP, are requests made by browsers when the user types in a URL on the address line, follows a link from a Web page, or makes an HTML form that does not specify a METHOD. Servlets can also very easily handle POST requests, which are generated when someone creates an HTML form that specifies METHOD="POST". We'll discuss that in later sections.

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

public class SomeServlet extends HttpServlet {

    public void doGet(HttpServletRequest request, HttpServletResponse response) throws ServletException, IOException {
      // Use "request" to read incoming HTTP headers (e.g. cookies)
      // and HTML form data (e.g. data the user entered and submitted)
      // Use "response" to specify the HTTP response line and headers
      // (e.g. specifying the content type, setting cookies).
      PrintWriter out = response.getWriter();
      // Use "out" to send content to browser


To be a servlet, a class should extend HttpServlet and override doGet or doPost (or both), depending on whether the data is being sent by GET or by POST. These methods take two arguments: an HttpServletRequest and an HttpServletResponse. The HttpServletRequest has methods that let you find out about incoming information such as FORM data, HTTP request headers, and the like. The HttpServletResponse has methods that lets you specify the HTTP response line (200, 404, etc.), response headers (Content-Type, Set-Cookie, etc.), and, most importantly, lets you obtain a PrintWriter used to send output back to the client. For simple servlets, most of the effort is spent in println statements that generate the desired page. Note that doGet and doPost throw two exceptions, so you are required to include them in the declaration. Also note that you have to import classes in java.io (for PrintWriter, etc.), javax.servlet (for HttpServlet, etc.), and javax.servlet.http (for HttpServletRequest and HttpServletResponse). Finally, note that doGet and doPost are called by the service method, and sometimes you may want to override service directly, e.g. for a servlet that handles both GET and POST request.

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