Spring MVC - Page caching and If-Modified-Since

Spring (and in general Java/groovy etc) support a range of caching layers for your web application - with options for Hibernate first/second level cache, Spring's @Cacheable and simple integration with lots of providers (EHCache, Redis, etc), but aside from server side caching, you can also implement page level caching using the standard If-Modified-Since cache headers.

If your web application is sitting behind an apache web server, then using this mechanism, you can set it up such that Apache will do a lot of the work, and a lot of requests never even trouble our web application.  This will of course only work if you have fairly static pages that don't update to frequently, and aren't user specific (e.g. so its actually possible to cache at a web-page level - user account pages obviously are harder to cache at this level as they are very user specific).  Even without Apache in the mix, most modern browsers are built to handle If-Modified-Since headers and 304 response codes, so using the approach can mean that browsers are less eager to even request the page from your server whilst a user is browsing the site if we have said its cache-able.

Thankfully, the machinery for this stuff is all baked into Spring MVC.

Updating the RequestMappingHandlerAdapter

This walkthrough is assuming that your app is using standard @Controller annotations and a standard RequestMappingHandlerAdapter to route the requests - although there are still relatively easy mechanisms to do this if you are using other Controller/HandlerAdapter patterns.

The RequestMappingHandlerAdapter class has a method that can be overridden called getLastModifiedInternal() - This method simply returns a long value (the epoch time) that the requested resource was last modified. All we need to do is extend the RequestMappingHandlerAdapter and implement this method to return a timestamp.  For example:

The above assumes we have initialised a timestamp at startup (easy to do using Java config) and assumes that if you have visited the site since last app startup, then there is no change (in reality, we will likely need something more complicated to calculate this)

And that's really all we need, as Spring will handle the rest for us - from this, if a brand new request comes in with no If-Modified-Since headers, then Spring will take this date/time stamp and return it with our response as the Last-Modified date (HTTP standard header - this will inform the browsers/web servers action next time).  If however, a user has already visited your site and the browser has received a valid Last-Modified timestamp, then on the next request it will include this value in the request If-Modified-Since header, when Spring recieves this request, it compares the timestamp against the value that is returned from our getLastModifiedInternal() method, and if there has been no change then Spring will automatically return the response to the client with a 304 response - so none of the Controller code will be executed.

As you can probably guess, this can provide huge efficiencies and improvement on latency, server overhead etc.

More complex Last Modified Dates

As mentioned, in all likelyhood you will need a more sophisticated mechanism than just checking the application start time - So we have plenty of options here: we could query the DB for changes, we could have other flags/properties set for when particular resources are set (bare in mind that if static resources like CSS are changed, these need to be considered)

If you need to consider a fairly unique LastModified date for every endpoint, then this solution isn't a good fit, as this is the more generic approach - you can alternatively implement a similar last modified method on your (every) controllers.

Another option that I have considered is a halfway compromise - where I need endpoints to have specific considerations, but I only have a set of 4-5 (or relatively manageable) specific queries/checks that need to happen, and every endpoint will just need to check some subset of these conditions - this solution involves custom annotations and marking up Controller methods with this annotation to signal to our HandlerAdapter what checks should be considered for the Last Modified timestamp.  This has the advantage of relatively little intrusion in all my controller endpoints, but granular enough to provide enough control for effective page caching.

A custom annotation

First we define a simple annotation that can be used to mark up Controller methods to indicate which conditions are important to the endpoint:

The above code shows the annotation code, a sample enum (just to provide some type safety whilst using the annotation - this could be a string or anything else) and an example of the annotation on a controller endpoint.

Updating our Last Modified method

Now, in our last modified method, we have access to the Handler (e.g. the controller method being invoked) so we can quite simply check the controller method for our annotation, and if found we can just check the values said and perform the appropriate checks to work out what the last modified date needs to consider:

As mentioned, this won't work if there are lots of pages with lots of different requirements, but if you have a manageable of changing entities in your application this can strike a nice balance between clean code and flexibility.

rob hinds

I'm on to the next one, on to the next one..

1 comment:

  1. Hello Mr Hinds,

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    Eleftheria Kiourtzoglou