Spring WebApplicationInitializer provides a programatic way to configure the Spring DispatcherServlet and ContextLoaderListener in Servlet 3.0+ compliant servlet containers , rather than adding this configuration through a web.xml file.
This is a quick note to show how implementation through WebApplicationInitializer interface internally works, given that this interface does not derive from any Servlet related interface!
The answer is the ServletContainerInitializer interface introduced with Servlet 3.0 specification, implementors of this interface are notified during the context startup phase and can perform any programatic registration through the provided ServletContext.
Spring implements the ServletContainerInitializer through SpringServletContainerInitializer class. Per the Servlet specs, this implementation must be declared in a META-INF/services/javax.servlet.ServletContainerInitializer file of the libraries jar file - Spring declares this in spring-web*.jar jar file and has an entry `org.springframework.web.SpringServletContainerInitializer`
SpringServletContainerInitializer class has a @HandlerTypes annotation with a value of WebApplicationInitializer, this means that the Servlet container will scan for classes implementing the WebApplicationInitializer implementation and call the onStartUp method with these classes and that is where the WebApplicationInitializer fits in.
A little convoluted, but the good thing is all these details are totally abstracted away within the spring-web framework and the developer only has to configure an implementation of WebApplicationInitializer and live in a web.xml free world.