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  1. Understanding BeanUtils
  2. Using BeanUtils to Generate Forms
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This chapter is from the book

Using BeanUtils to Generate Forms

Given the information already present in a JavaBean, the sample application will use BeanUtils to create a new library based on a new class, FormBean. FormBean generates an HTML form directly from the JavaBean information as rendered by BeanUtils. Each property results in a single label and a single text field. The label is generated automatically from the property name (for example, getFirstName is automatically labeled First Name). When the form is submitted, FormBean will attempt to set the JavaBean properties using the submitted values.

Although FormBean is not a complete framework (for example, array-based properties are not supported), it does illustrate the power of JavaBeans in conjunction with BeanUtils.

Sample JavaBeans

This example is based on the simple JavaBean shown in Listing 7-1. Note the three properties: two of type String, one of type int.

In order to demonstrate the lifecycle as handled by FormBean, the application needs to have some mechanism for storing a value. Listing 7-2 shows how the application tracks the user.

Listing 7-2 Tracking the User

package com.cascadetg.ch07;

public class UserManager
    static private User user = new User();

    static public User getUser() { return user; }

    static public void setUser(User in) { user = in; }

Presenting the Form

Given the User JavaBean, FormBean generates a form, as shown in Figure 7-2.

If a user enters incorrect data for the required property type, FormBean automatically generates and reports the error, as shown in Figure 7-3.

Figure 7.2Figure 7-2 Initial FormBean form.

Figure 7.3Figure 7-3 Handling a FormBean form error.

After the user corrects any errors and resubmits the form, FormBean is used to accept the submission, as shown in Figure 7-4.

Figure 7.4Figure 7-4 Corrected FormBean form.

The entire JSP file to generate and handle this form is shown in Listing 7-3. Note the .error style defined to highlight the errors.

Listing 7-3 FormBean JSP

<%@ page language="java" im-
port="com.cascadetg.ch07.*,org.apache.commons.beanutils.*" errorPage="" %>
    FormBean myFormBean = new FormBean(User.class, UserManager.getUser());
    String notification = "Welcome!";
    if(request.getParameter("Submit") != null)
            notification = "Form accepted!";
            notification = "Form incorrect: fix errors";
<head><title>BeanUtils Demo</title>
<style type="text/css">
.error { color: #FF0000; }
<link href="../ch03/default.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css">
<form name="form1" method="post" action="">
<%= myFormBean.toHTMLForm()%>
<tr><td colspan="3"><input type="submit" name="Submit" value="Submit">
<p><%= notification %></p>

Even a simple form with minimal update and validation logic would be painful to implement by hand with JSP. For a web application with dozens of such forms, a lot of tedious work could be eliminated through the use of a framework like FormBean.


The initialization of the FormBean is shown in Listing 7-4. As you can see, the FormBean uses the class and optionally an instance to configure the form. If no instance is passed in, FormBean will attempt to instantiate one. Either way, the FormBean keeps track of both the original class and instance, and then it wraps the class in a DynaClass and the instance in a DynaBean (using WrapDynaClass).

Listing 7-4 FormBean Initialization

package com.cascadetg.ch07;

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

import javax.servlet.http.HttpServletRequest;

import org.apache.commons.beanutils.BeanUtils;

import org.apache.commons.beanutils.DynaBean;
import org.apache.commons.beanutils.DynaClass;
import org.apache.commons.beanutils.DynaProperty;
import org.apache.commons.beanutils.WrapDynaBean;
import org.apache.commons.beanutils.WrapDynaClass;

public class FormBean
    private HashMap errors = new HashMap();

    // The class refers to the compiled version of the class
    private Class baseClass;
    private DynaClass dynaClass;

    // The object refers to the runtime (in-memory) version
    private Object baseObject;
    private DynaBean dynaObject;

    private DynaProperty[] properties;

    // Used to help format the resulting text boxes
    private int displayStringLength = 40;
    private int maxStringLength = 100;

    /** For creation forms */
    public FormBean(Class myClass)
        baseClass = myClass;
        dynaClass = WrapDynaClass.createDynaClass(baseClass);
        properties = dynaClass.getDynaProperties();
            baseObject = myClass.newInstance();
            dynaObject = new WrapDynaBean(baseObject);
        } catch (Exception e)
                    .println("FATAL ERROR: Unable to instantiate "
                            + dynaClass.getName());

    /** For update forms */
    public FormBean(Class myClass, Object myObject)
        baseObject = myObject;
        dynaObject = new WrapDynaBean(baseObject);
        baseClass = myClass;
        dynaClass = WrapDynaClass.createDynaClass(baseClass);
        properties = dynaClass.getDynaProperties();

Given the class and an instance, FormBean has the information it needs to create a form. As shown in Listing 7-5, FormBean loops through the properties to generate the label and the input form and to set the default values for the form based on the object instance. Note that errors are collected in a java.util.Map, with the key being the property and the value being the error message.

Listing 7-5 FormBean Form Generation

/** Converts the object into a simple HTML form. */
    public String toHTMLForm()
        StringBuffer output = new StringBuffer();

        for (int i = 0; i < properties.length; i++)
            String currentProperty = properties[i].getName();
            if (currentProperty.compareTo("class") != 0)

                // Start the row

                // The cell for the label

                // The cell for the input form element
                output.append("<input ");
                FormBeanUtils.appendAttribute(output, "name",

                // The cell for the current value, if there is
                // one
                if (this.dynaObject.get(currentProperty) != null)
                            "value", this.dynaObject.get(

                // Finish the input cell
                FormBeanUtils.appendAttribute(output, "size",
                        displayStringLength + "");
                        "maxlength", maxStringLength + "");

                // This cell displays any errors for this
                // property
                output.append("<td class='error'>");
                if (errors.containsKey(currentProperty))

                // Finish up this row

        return output.toString();

Listing 7-6 shows how a submitted form is handled. Note that the logic is expressed in terms of a Map (not explicitly tied in to the servlet model), allowing the FormBean to be tested outside of the context of a container. The BeanUtils class is used to attempt to set the values of the bean using the string submitted by the user. A try/catch block wraps the conversion attempt, and failures are logged to a Map for later display to the user.

Listing 7-6 FormBean Update Request

     * Returns true if all of the values pass validation.
     * Otherwise, returns false (the user should therefore be
     * prompted to correct the errors).
     * The incoming Map should contain a set of values, where the
     * incoming values are a single key String and the values are
     * String[] objects.
    public boolean updateValue(Map in)
        // Initialize the converters - we want format exceptions.

        boolean isGoodUpdate = true;

        for (int i = 0; i < properties.length; i++)
            String key = properties[i].getName();
            Object value = in.get(key);
                BeanUtils.setProperty(baseObject, key, value);
            } catch (Exception e)
                if (value != null)
                    errors.put(key, "Value of "
                            + FormBeanUtils.formatName(key)
                            + " may not be '"
                            + ((String[]) value)[0].toString()
                            + "'");
                } else
                    errors.put(key, "Value may not be null");
                isGoodUpdate = false;

        return isGoodUpdate;

     * Returns true if all of the values pass validation.
     * Otherwise, returns false (the user should therefore be
     * prompted to correct the errors).
    public boolean updateValue(HttpServletRequest request)
        Map in = request.getParameterMap();
        return this.updateValue(in);

Listing 7-7 demonstrates how the FormBean was developed—outside of a servlet container.

Listing 7-7 FormBean

     * Note that this particular design allows you to test your
     * bean programmatically, outside of the context of a web
     * application server.
    public static void main(String[] args)
        FormBean myFormBean = new FormBean(User.class);

        User myUser = new User();

        myFormBean = new FormBean(User.class, new WrapDynaBean(myUser));

        Map myMap = new HashMap();
        myMap.put("firstName", new String[] { "Ralph"});
        myMap.put("lastName", new String[] { "Bingo"});
        myMap.put("clearance", new String[] { "5"});

        myMap.put("clearance", new String[] { "invalid"});


A few utility methods are needed to support the FormBean, as shown in Listing 7-8. The formatName method is used to generate proper English labels from JavaBean properties. The appendAttribute method is used to ease the generation of HTML-style attribute values. Most importantly, the initConverters method is used to cause the BeanUtils property setter to throw an exception in the event of a failed conversion attempt. By default, BeanUtils will silently fail if a conversion attempt fails. By installing the converter as shown, failed attempts to convert a String to an int or Integer value will generate an exception. If you wish to support additional property types and generate errors for failed conversions, you can install additional converters. The BeanUtils package includes converters for all core Java types (as listed earlier in this chapter), and you can create your own customer converters as well.

Listing 7-8 FormBean Utilities

package com.cascadetg.ch07;

import org.apache.commons.beanutils.ConvertUtils;
import org.apache.commons.beanutils.Converter;
import org.apache.commons.beanutils.converters.IntegerConverter;

public class FormBeanUtils
     * A utility function, takes a standard JavaBean property
     * name and converts it to a nice US English spacing.
     * For example, firstName = First Name   */
    public static String formatName(String in)
        String result = new String();

        for (int i = 0; i < in.length(); i++)
            if (Character.isUpperCase(in.charAt(i)))
            { result = result + (" "); }
            result = result + (in.charAt(i) + "");

        String result2 = new String();

        for (int i = 0; i < result.length(); i++)
            if (Character.isDigit(result.charAt(i)))
            { result2 = result2 + (" "); }
            result2 = result2 + (result.charAt(i) + "");

        char titleChar = result2.charAt(0);
        String result3 = Character.toUpperCase(titleChar) + "";

        result3 = result3
                + (result2.substring(1, result2.length()));

        return result3;

     * A utility method, used to add an attribute in the form
     * attribute='value' with a space afterward.
    public static void appendAttribute(StringBuffer in,
            String attribute, String value)
        in.append("' ");

    static private boolean convertersInitialized = false;

    static public void initConverters()
        if (!convertersInitialized)
            // No-args constructor gets the version that throws
            // exceptions
            Converter myConverter = new IntegerConverter();

            // Convert the primitive values
            ConvertUtils.register(myConverter, Integer.TYPE);

            // Convert the object version
            ConvertUtils.register(myConverter, Integer.class);
            convertersInitialized = true;
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