Thoughts on SpringBoot

In its new avatar, Spring enters the opinionated frameworks marketspace, and finally takes the Sinatra/Scalatra/Ratpack/Dropwizard/Spark route, where embedded containers (ie no external server containers) will start dictating the future. Whats an opinionated framework anyway? Aint all frameworks opinionated? To me every piece of code is just as opinionated as the developer who wrote it. Here are my observations about SpringBoot, after having worked with it for about 6 weeks.

1. Build support for gradle (+)
SpringBoot apps can be built using both maven and gradle. But I believe Gradle will eventually dominate the world of buildscripts. So the sooner your team moves to gradle, better will be your quality of this life and perhaps, next life too. Are you listening, .Net?

2. Starter poms (+)
Remember your 500 line pom.xml, where the tag <dependency> occurs 25000 times? Say good bye and start using starter-poms. Combined with gradle, a typical build file is now about 30 lines.

3. Configurations (+/-)
Spring is among the last standing action heros of xml-based application configuration in jvm world. Super hit when introduced, but soon became a liability. Thankfully, many developers challenged the xml tag soup and created innovative web frameworks (Wicket, Play etc.). Those who work with the Spring-based framework Grails, may have not touched an xml for a good period of time. If Spring MVC developers are still stuck with Spring without adapting Grails, I fail to understand why (well except for business impositions).

Ironically, SpringBoot seems to have many opinions when it comes to configuration – it supports 3 flavors of bean configurations: xml, annotation and groovy dsl. Having worked with Grails and other non-xml based applications for the last few years, picking up SpringBoot was bit of a chore. Grails autowires beans by name, and when custom beans are required, there is this wonderful bean builder. For me, java annotations are no better than xml configuration. Xml configuration proliferates verbosity but annotations defeat the purpose of wiring objects separate from code. While it brings type-safety, it also lets you mix code, configuration and logic and I think its a total mess. Annotations are like antibiotics – good in small doses (@ToString, @RestController, @AutoClone etc.), too many side-effects with overdose – building whole applications using annotations is @NotMyStyleOfTea.

A typical SpringBoot application has many many annotations – @EnableAutoConfiguration, @Configuration, @ComponentScan, @Conditional etc. Sometimes you end up with more annotations than the code itself and its not intuitive which is doing what when how. SpringBoot is certainly simpler for developers from xml background, but to me as a Grails developer, annotations have been a bit intimidating and sprawling. I don’t see CoC (Convention-over-Configuration), instead I see CoC (Configuration-over-Code).

Thankfully, SpringBoot has great (although not 1:1 xml equivalent) support for groovy beans dsl (via the GroovyBeanDefinitionReader). Groovy dsl is elegant, concise, intuitve and very readable. For some loss of type-safety (which could have been compensated by good tooling support), it comes with a great punch – wiring beans, environmental configurations, programmatic startup logic (as opposed to declarative) etc. I feel Spring can standardize groovy bean as the only configuration mechanism and shed all the fat of xmls and annotations. It would make the framework pretty lean and competitive in the already crowding lean frameworks market. May be thats what grails-boot is?

4. Properties (+/-)
Just like configurations, there are a few ways of defining and injecting properties. Coming from Grails background, the many ways of injecting properties was a bit confusing. SpringBoot supports both .properties and .yaml files. AutoConfiguration uses many default values for properties, but there is no comprehensive documentation on these properties on whats default. Again there are many annotations related to properties @ConfigurationProperties, @PropertySource, @Value, @EnableConfigurationProperties etc. Grails has this amazing single-point grailsApplication bean based on ConfigObject (a glorified Map) and allows nested and runtime evaluate-able configurations – helpful in dynamic scenarios. Again I wish Spring had defacto support for this (injecting properties from a config.groovy).

5. Rest Support (+)
SpringBoot makes it very easy to create rest controllers via @RestController. Instead of creating full-blown web applications, Spring’s eco can be used to create well-rounded rest services backed by Batch/Data/Integration/Security and use js frameworks like Angular/Knockout/Backbone etc. for front end. If using rest over json, Groovy 2.3 is promising to come up with fast json marshaller. While I like the cleanliness of Thymeleaf, the modern js frameworks have a clear advantage over server-side html generators.

6. Logging (+/-)
Yet again, too many logging frameworks in the bag: log4j, log4j2, slf4j, slf4j2, commons.log, java.util.log, logback. I spent some time resolving dependency conflicts, until I finally gave up and switched to logback. Spring team strongly recommends logback – Just Go with it – there is probably a good reason.

7. Data Access (+)
No question about Spring’s versatility here. Name any db and you have SpringBoot autoconfiguration support. Plus the Grails team has done a great job of spinning-off Gorm to standalone component. TexMex, I would say.

8. Testing (+/-)
Many examples still show use of JUnit, but here is a good start on how to use the incredible Spock framework in SpringBoot. Spock is like mom’s recipe – once you taste it, others aint the best.

9. Documentation (+)
It has improved a lot with newer minor releases. It takes time to sift through some old examples in the community, but lets just blame Google for not knowing what you exactly want, though it seems to know all about what food you want to eat when you are near a restaurant.

10. Finally
I think Grails3 (grails-boot?) is going down the trending route of embedded container deployments. I think that’s the only thing against Grails in the current trend. SpringBoot has got there first but I still feel it lacks the simplicity of Grails or the leanness of Play. It has certainly been simplified, but not simple.

If your existing eco system depends a lot on Spring based frameworks, it is worthwhile to adapt SpringBoot. Honestly, Im hoping Grails3 isn’t far off!

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One Response to Thoughts on SpringBoot

  1. John H Goyer says:

    Ran across this blog — I TOTALLY agree with you on the subject of Annotations not being an improvement over XML. They violate the separation of concerns principle. I am on a project now where a lot of mid-level developers have autowired the code into spaghetti. Good post, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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