Sunday, December 18, 2016

Spring Boot and Application Context Hierarchy

Spring Boot supports a simple way of specifying a Spring application context hierarchy.

This post is simply demonstrating this feature, I am yet to find a good use of it in the projects I have worked on. Spring Cloud uses this feature for creating a bootstrap context where properties are loaded up, if required, from an external configuration server which is made available to the main application context later on.

To quickly take a step back - a Spring Application Context manages the lifecycle of all the beans registered with it. Application Context hierarchies provide a way to reuse beans, beans defined in the parent context is accessible in the child contexts.

Consider a contrived use-case of using multiple application contexts and application context hierarchy - this is to provide two different ports with different set of endpoints at each of these ports.

Child1 and Child2 are typical Spring Boot Applications, along these lines:

package child1;

import org.springframework.beans.factory.annotation.Value;
import org.springframework.boot.autoconfigure.SpringBootApplication;
import org.springframework.context.annotation.Bean;
import org.springframework.context.annotation.PropertySource;
import root.RootBean;

public class ChildContext1 {

    public ChildBean1 childBean(RootBean rootBean, @Value("${}") String someProperty) {
        return new ChildBean1(rootBean, someProperty);

Each of the application resides in its own root package to avoid collisions when scanning for beans. Note that the bean in the child contexts depend on a bean that is expected to come from the root context.

The port to listen on is provided as properties, since the two contexts are expected to listen on different ports I have explicitly specified the property file to load with a content along these lines:


Given this set-up, Spring Boot provides a fluid interface to load up the root context and the two child contexts:

SpringApplicationBuilder appBuilder =
       new SpringApplicationBuilder()

ConfigurableApplicationContext applicationContext  =;

The application context returned by the SpringBootApplicationBuilder appears to be the final one in the chain, defined via ChildContext2 above.

If the application is now started up, there would be a root context with two different child contexts each exposing an endpoint via a different port. A visualization via the /beans actuator endpoint shows this:

Not everything is clean though, there are errors displayed in the console related to exporting jmx endpoints, however these are informational and don't appear to affect the start-up.

Samples are available in my github repo


  1. I have confusion on a different situation where the root application context is similar to that loaded by the context loader listener and a servlet context loaded by the dispatcherServlet. Given that the aforementioned is part of traditional approach using web.xml,what is the relevant scenario in case of a spring boot application.

  2. what will be the port number for the root context