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2.6 The Servlet Equivalent of the Standard CGI Variables

If you come to servlets with a background in traditional Common Gateway Interface (CGI) programming, you are probably used to the idea of "CGI variables." These are a somewhat eclectic collection of information about the current request. Some are based on the HTTP request line and headers (e.g., form data), others are derived from the socket itself (e.g., the name and IP address of the requesting host), and still others are taken from server installation parameters (e.g., the mapping of URLs to actual paths).

Although it probably makes more sense to think of different sources of data (request data, server information, etc.) as distinct, experienced CGI programmers may find it useful to see the servlet equivalent of each of the CGI variables. If you don't have a background in traditional CGI, first, count your blessings; servlets are easier to use, more flexible, and more efficient than standard CGI. Second, just skim this section, noting the parts not directly related to the incoming HTTP request. In particular, observe that you can use getServletContext().getRealPath to map a URI (here, URI refers to the part of the URL that comes after the host and port) to an actual path and that you can use request.getRemoteHost() and request.getRemoteAddress() to get the name and IP address of the client.


If an Authorization header was supplied, this variable gives the scheme specified (basic or digest). Access it with request.getAuthType().


For POST requests only, this variable stores the number of bytes of data sent, as given by the Content-Length request header. Technically, since the CONTENT_LENGTH CGI variable is a string, the servlet equivalent is String.valueOf(request.getContentLength()) or request.getHeader("Content-Length"). You'll probably want to just call request.getContentLength(), which returns an int.


CONTENT_TYPE designates the MIME type of attached data, if specified.

See Table 2.1 in Section 2.8 (The Server Response: HTTP Response Headers) for the names and meanings of the common MIME types. Access CONTENT_TYPE with request.getContentType().


The DOCUMENT_ROOT variable specifies the real directory corresponding to the URL http://host/. Access it with getServletContext().getRealPath("/"). In older servlet specifications, you accessed this variable with request.getRealPath("/"); however, the older access method is no longer supported. Also, you can use getServletContext().getRealPath to map an arbitrary URI (i.e., URL suffix that comes after the hostname and port) to an actual path on the local machine.


Variables of the form HTTP_HEADER_NAME were how CGI programs obtained access to arbitrary HTTP request headers. The Cookie header became HTTP_COOKIE, User-Agent became HTTP_USER_AGENT, Ref_erer became HTTP_REFERER, and so forth. Servlets should just use request.getHeader or one of the shortcut methods described in Section 2.5 (The Client Request: HTTP Request Headers).


This variable supplies any path information attached to the URL after the address of the servlet but before the query data. For example, with http://host/servlet/moreservlets.SomeServlet/foo/bar?baz=quux, the path information is /foo/bar. Since servlets, unlike standard CGI programs, can talk directly to the server, they don't need to treat path information specially. Path information could be sent as part of the regular form data and then translated by getServletContext().getRealPath. Access the value of PATH_INFO by using request.getPathInfo().


PATH_TRANSLATED gives the path information mapped to a real path on the server. Again, with servlets there is no need to have a special case for path information, since a servlet can call getServletContext().getRealPath() to translate partial URLs into real paths. This translation is not possible with standard CGI because the CGI program runs entirely separately from the server. Access this variable by means of request.getPathTranslated().


For GET requests, this variable gives the attached data as a single string with values still URL-encoded. You rarely want the raw data in servlets; instead, use request.getParameter to access individual parameters, as described in Section 2.5 (The Client Request: HTTP Request Headers). However, if you do want the raw data, you can get it with request.getQueryString().


This variable designates the IP address of the client that made the request, as a String (e.g., ""). Access it by calling request.getRemoteAddr().


REMOTE_HOST indicates the fully qualified domain name (e.g., white_house.gov) of the client that made the request. The IP address is returned if the domain name cannot be determined. You can access this variable with request.getRemoteHost().


If an Authorization header was supplied and decoded by the server itself, the REMOTE_USER variable gives the user part, which is useful for session tracking in protected sites. Access it with request.getRemoteUser().


This variable stipulates the HTTP request type, which is usually GET or POST but is occasionally HEAD, PUT, DELETE, OPTIONS, or TRACE. Servlets rarely need to look up REQUEST_METHOD explicitly, since each of the request types is typically handled by a different servlet method (doGet, doPost, etc.). An exception is HEAD, which is handled automatically by the service method returning whatever headers and status codes the doGet method would use. Access this variable by means of request.getMethod().


This variable specifies the path to the server-side program (i.e., the servlet in our case), relative to the server's root directory. It can be accessed through request.getServletPath().


SERVER_NAME gives the host name of the server machine. It can be accessed by means of request.getServerName().


This variable stores the port the server is listening on. Technically, the servlet equivalent is String.valueOf(request.getServerPort()), which returns a String. You'll usually just want request.getServerPort(), which returns an int.


The SERVER_PROTOCOL variable indicates the protocol name and version used in the request line (e.g., HTTP/1.0 or HTTP/1.1). Access it by calling request.getProtocol().


This variable gives identifying information about the Web server. Access it with getServletContext().getServerInfo().

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