4 Implementing the Tag Handler

The following sections describe how to write Java classes that implement the functionality of an extended tag:

Simple Tag Handler Life Cycle (SimpleTag Interface)

Simple tag handlers present a much simpler invocation protocol than do classic tag handlers. The tag library descriptor maps tag library declarations to their physical underlying implementations. A simple tag handler is represented in Java by a class that implements the SimpleTag interface.

The life cycle of a simple tag handler is straightforward and is not complicated by caching semantics. Once a simple tag handler is instantiated by the container, it is executed and then discarded. The same instance must not be cached and reused. Initial performance metrics show that caching a tag handler instance does not necessarily lead to greater performance. To accommodate such caching makes writing portable tag handlers difficult and makes the tag handler prone to error.

In addition to being simpler to work with, simple tag extensions do not rely directly on any servlet APIs, which allows for potential future integration with other technologies. This capability is facilitated by the JspContext class, which Page-Context extends. JspContext provides generic services such as storing the JspWriter and keeping track of scoped attributes, whereas PageContext has functionality specific to serving JSPs in the context of servlets. Whereas the Tag interface relies on PageContext, SimpleTag only relies on JspContext. The body of SimpleTag, if present, is translated into a JSP fragment and passed to the setJspBody method. The tag can then execute the fragment as many times as needed. See JSP Fragments.

Unlike classic tag handlers, the SimpleTag interface does not extend Tag. Instead of supporting doStartTag() and doEndTag(), the SimpleTag interface provides a simple doTag() method, which is called once and only once for any given tag invocation. All tag logic, iteration, body evaluations, and so on are performed in this single method. Thus, simple tag handlers have the equivalent power of BodyTag, but with a much simpler life cycle and interface.

To support body content, the setJspBody() method is provided. The container invokes the setJspBody() method with a JspFragment object encapsulating the body of the tag. The tag handler implementation can call invoke() on that fragment to evaluate the body. The SimpleTagSupport convenience class provides getJsp-Body() and other useful methods to make this even easier.

Events in the Simple Tag Handler Life Cycle

The following describes the life cycle of simple tag handlers, from creation to invocation. When a simple tag handler is invoked, the following events occur (in order):

  1. Simple tag handlers are created initially using a zero argument constructor on the corresponding implementation class. Unlike classic tag handlers, a simple tag handler instance must never be pooled by the container. A new instance must be created for each tag invocation.

  2. The setJspContext() and setParent() methods are invoked on the tag handler. The setParent() method need not be called if the value being passed in is null. In the case of tag files, a JspContext wrapper is created so that the tag file can appear to have its own page scope. Calling getJspContext() must return the wrapped Jsp-Context.

  3. The attributes specified as XML element attributes (if any) are evaluated next, in the order in which they are declared, according to the following rules (referred to as "evaluating an XML element attribute" below). The appropriate bean property setter is invoked for each. If no setter is defined for the specified attribute but the tag accepts dynamic attributes, the setDynamicAttribute() method is invoked as the setter.

    If the attribute is a scripting expression (for example, "<%= 1+1 %>" in JSP syntax, or "%= 1+1 %" in XML syntax), the expression is evaluated, and the result is converted and passed to the setter.

    Otherwise, if the attribute contains any expression language expressions (for example, "Hello ${name}"), the expression is evaluated, and the result is converted and passed to the setter.

    Otherwise, the attribute value is taken verbatim, converted, and passed to the setter.

  4. The value for each <jsp:attribute> element is evaluated, and the corresponding bean property setter methods are invoked for each, in the order in which they appear in the body of the tag. If no setter is defined for the specified attribute but the tag accepts dynamic attributes, the setDynamicAttribute() method is invoked as the setter.

    Otherwise, if the attribute is not of type JspFragment, the container evaluates the body of the <jsp:attribute> element. This evaluation can be done in a container-specific manner. Container implementors should note that in the process of evaluating this body, other custom actions may be invoked.

    Otherwise, if the attribute is of type JspFragment, an instance of a Jsp-Fragment object is created and passed in.

  5. The value for the body of the tag is determined, and if a body exists the setJsp-Body() method is called on the tag handler.

    If the tag is declared to have a body-content of empty or no body or an empty body is passed for this invocation, then setJspBody() is not called.

    Otherwise, the body of the tag is either the body of the <jsp:body> element, or the body of the custom action invocation if no <jsp:body> or <jsp:attribute> elements are present. In this case, an instance of a Jsp-Fragment object is created and it is passed to the setter. If the tag is declared to have a body-content of tagdependent, the JspFragment must echo the body's contents verbatim.

    Otherwise, if the tag is declared to have a body-content of type scriptless, the JspFragment must evaluate the body's contents as a JSP scriptless body.

  6. The doTag() method is invoked.

  7. The implementation of doTag() performs its function, potentially calling other tag handlers (if the tag handler is implemented as a tag file) and invoking fragments.

  8. The doTag() method returns, and the tag handler instance is discarded. If Skip-PageException is thrown, the rest of the page is not evaluated and the request is completed. If this request was forwarded or included from another page (or servlet), only the current page evaluation stops.

  9. For each tag scripting variable declared with scopes AT_BEGIN or AT_END, the appropriate scripting variables and scoped attributes are declared, as with classic tag handlers.

JSP Fragments

A JSP fragment is a portion of JSP code passed to a tag handler that can be invoked as many times as needed. You can think of a fragment as a template that is used by a tag handler to produce customized content. Thus, unlike simple attributes which are evaluated by the container, fragment attributes are evaluated by tag handlers during tag invocation.

JSP fragments can be parameterized using the JSP expression language (JSP EL) variables in the JSP code that composes the fragment. The JSP EL variables are set by the tag handler, thus allowing the handler to customize the fragment each time it is invoked. For more information on the JSP expression language, see "WebLogic JSP Reference" in Oracle Fusion Middleware Developing Web Applications, Servlets, and JSPs for Oracle WebLogic Server.

During the simple tag handler life cycle, the body of a SimpleTag, if present, is translated into a JSP fragment and passed to the setJspBody method. During the translation phase, various sections of the page are translated into implementations of the javax.servlet.jsp.tagext.JspFragment abstract class, before being passed to a tag handler. This is done automatically for any JSP code in the body of a named attribute (one that is defined by <jsp:attribute>) that is declared to be a fragment, or of type JspFragment, in the tag library descriptor (TLD). This is also automatically done for the body of any tag handled by a simple tag handler. Once passed in, the tag handler can then evaluate and re-evaluate the fragment as many times as needed, or even pass it along to other tag handlers, in the case of tag files.

A JSP fragment can be parameterized by a tag handler by setting page-scoped attributes in the JspContext associated with the fragment. These attributes can then be accessed by way of the expression language.

A translation error must occur if a piece of JSP code that is to be translated into a JSP fragment contains scriptlets or scriptlet expressions.

Tag Handler Life Cycle (Tag and BodyTag Interfaces)

The methods inherited from the Tag or BodyTag interfaces and implemented by the tag handler class are invoked by the JSP engine at specific points during the processing of the JSP page. These methods signify points in the life cycle of a tag and are executed in the following sequence:

  1. When the JSP engine encounters a tag in a JSP page, a new tag handler is initialized. The setPageContext() and setParent() methods of the javax.servlet.jsp.tagext.Tag interface are invoked to set up the environment context for the tag handler. As a tag developer, you need not implement these methods if you extend the TagSupport or BodyTagSupport base classes.

  2. The setXXXX() JavaBean-like methods for each tag attribute are invoked. For more details, see Handling Exceptions within a Tag Body.

  3. The doStartTag() method is invoked. You can define this method in your tag handler class to initialize your tag handler or open connections to any resources it needs, such as a database.

    At the end of the doStartTag() method, you can determine whether the tag body should be evaluated by returning one of the following value constants from your tag handler class:

    SKIP_BODY—Directs the JSP engine to skip the body of the tag. Return this value if the tag is an empty-body tag. The body-related parts of the tag's life cycle are skipped, and the next method invoked is doEndTag().

    EVAL_BODY_INCLUDE—Directs the JSP engine to evaluate and include the content of the tag body. The body-related parts of the tag's life cycle are skipped, and the next method invoked is doEndTag().

    You can only return this value for tags that implement the Tag interface. This allows you to write a tag that can determine whether its body is included, but is not concerned with the contents of the body. You cannot return this value if your tag implements the BodyTag interface (or extends the BodyTagSuport class).

    EVAL_BODY_TAG—Instructs the JSP engine to evaluate the tag body, then invokes the doInitBody() method. You can only return this value if your tag implements the BodyTag interface (or extends the BodyTagSupport class).

  4. The setBodyContent() method is invoked. At this point, any output from the tag is diverted into a special JspWriter called BodyContent, and is not sent to the client. All content from evaluating the body is appended to the BodyContent buffer. This method allows the tag handler to store a reference to the BodyContent buffer so it is available to the doAfterBody() method for post-evaluation processing.

    If the tag is passing output to the JSP page (or the surrounding tag scope if it is nested), the tag must explicitly write its output to the parent-scoped JspWriter between this point in the tag life cycle and the end of the doEndTag() method. The tag handler can gain access to the enclosing output using the getEnclosingWriter() method.

    You do not need to implement this method if you are using the BodyTagSupport convenience class, because the tag keeps a reference to the BodyContent and makes the reference available through the getBodyContent() method.

  5. The doInitBody() method is invoked. This method allows you to perform some work immediately before the tag body is evaluated for the first time. You might use this opportunity to set up some scripting variables, or to push some content into the BodyContent before the tag body. The content you prepend here will not be evaluated as JSP—unlike the tag body content from the JSP page.

    The significant difference between performing work in this method and performing work at the end of the doStartTag() method (once you know you are going to return EVAL_BODY_TAG) is that with this method, the scope of the tag's output is nested and does not go directly to the JSP page (or parent tag). All output is now buffered in a special type of JspWriter called BodyContent.

  6. The doAfterBody() method is invoked. This method is called after the body of the tag is evaluated and appended to the BodyContent buffer. Your tag handler should implement this method to perform some work based on the evaluated tag body. If your handler extends the convenience class BodyTagSupport, you can use the getBodyContent() method to access the evaluated body. If you are simply implementing the BodyTag interface, you should have defined the setBodyContent() method where you stored a reference to the BodyContent instance.

    At the end of the doAfterBody() method, you can determine the life cycle of the tag again by returning one of the following value constants:

    SKIP_BODY—Directs the JSP engine to continue, not evaluating the body again. The life cycle of the tag skips to the doEndTag() method.

    EVAL_BODY_TAG—Directs the JSP engine to evaluate the body again. The evaluated body is appended to the BodyContent and the doAfterBody() method is invoked again.

    At this point, you may want your tag handler to write output to the surrounding scope. Obtain a writer to the enclosing scope using the BodyTagSupport.getPreviousOut() method or the BodyContent.getEnclosingWriter() method. Either method obtains the same enclosing writer.

    Your tag handler can write the contents of the evaluated body to the surrounding scope, or can further process the evaluated body and write some other output. Because the BodyContent is appended to the existing BodyContent upon each iteration through the body, you should only write out the entire iterated body content once you decide you are going to return SKIP_BODY. Otherwise, you will see the content of each subsequent iteration repeated in the output.

  7. The out writer in the pageContext is restored to the parent JspWriter. This object is actually a stack that is manipulated by the JSP engine on the pageContext using the pushBody() and popBody() methods. Do not, however, attempt to manipulate the stack using these methods in your tag handler.

  8. The doEndTag() method is invoked. Your tag handler can implement this method to perform post-tag, server side work, write output to the parent scope JspWriter, or close resources such as database connections.

    Your tag handler writes output directly to the surrounding scope using the JspWriter obtained from pageContext.getOut() in the doEndTag() method. The previous step restored pageContext.out to the enclosing writer when popBody() was invoked on the pageContext.

    You can control the flow for evaluation of the rest of the JSP page by returning one of the following values from the doEngTag() method:

    EVAL_PAGE—Directs the JSP engine to continue processing the rest of the JSP page.

    SKIP_PAGE—Directs the JSP engine to skip the rest of the JSP page.

  9. The release() method is invoked. This occurs just before the tag handler instance is de-referenced and made available for garbage collection.

Iteration Over a Body Tag (IterationTag Interface)

A tag that implements the javax.servlet.jsp.tagext.IterationTag interface has a method available called doAfterBody() that allows you to conditionally re-evaluate the body of the tag. If doAFterBody() returns IterationTag.EVAL_BODY_AGAIN the body is re-evaluated, if doAFterBody() returns Tag.SKIP_BODY, the body is skipped and the doEndTag() method is called. For more information, see the Java EE Javadocs for this interface. (You can download the Javadocs from Sun Microsystems at http://java.sun.com/products/jsp/index.jsp.)

Handling Exceptions within a Tag Body

You can catch exceptions thrown from within a tag by implementing the doCatch() and doFinally() methods of the javax.servlet.jsp.tagext.TryCatchFinally interface. For more information, see the J2EE Javadocs for this interface. (You can download the Javadocs from Sun Microsystems at http://java.sun.com/products/jsp/index.jsp.)

Using Tag Attributes

Your custom tags can define any number of attributes that can be specified from the JSP page. You can use these attributes to pass information to the tag handler and customize its behavior.

You declare each attribute name in the TLD, in the <attribute> element. This declares the name of the attribute and other attribute properties.

Your tag handler must implement setter and getter methods based on the attribute name, similar to the JavaBean convention. For example, if you declare an attribute named foo, your tag handler must define the following public methods:

public void setFoo(String f);
public String getFoo();

Note that the first letter of the attribute name is capitalized after the set/get prefix.

The JSP engine invokes the setter methods for each attribute appropriately after the tag handler is initialized and before the doStartTag() method is called. Generally, you should implement the setter methods to store the attribute value in a member variable that is accessible to the other methods of the tag handler.

Defining New Scripting Variables

Your tag handler can introduce new scripting variables that can be referenced by the JSP page at various scopes. Scripting variables can be used like implicit objects within their defined scope.

Define a new scripting variable by using the <tei-class> element to identify a Java class that extends javax.servlet.jsp.tagext.TagExtraInfo. For example:


Then write the TagExtraInfo class. For example:

package weblogic.taglib.session;
import javax.servlet.jsp.tagext.*;
public class ListTagExtraInfo extends TagExtraInfo {

public VariableInfo[] getVariableInfo(TagData data) {
 return new VariableInfo[] {
  new VariableInfo("username",
    new VariableInfo("dob",

The example above defines a single method, getVariableInfo(), which returns an array of VariableInfo elements. Each element defines a new scripting variable. The example shown above defines two scripting variables called username and dob, which are of type java.lang.String and java.util.Date, respectively.

The constructor for VariableInfo() takes four arguments.

  • A String that defines the name of the new variable.

  • A String that defines the Java type of the variable. Give the full package name for types in packages other than the java.lang package.

  • A boolean that declares whether the variable must be instantiated before use. Set this argument to "true" unless your tag handler is written in a language other than Java.

  • An int declaring the scope of the variable. Use a static field from VariableInfo shown here:

    VariableInfo.NESTED—Available only within the start and end tags of the tag.

    VariableInfo.AT_BEGIN—Available from the start tag until the end of the page.

    VariableInfo.AT_END—Available from the end tag until the end of the page.

Configure your tag handler to initialize the value of the scripting variables via the page context. For example, the following Java source could be used in the doStartTag() method to initialize the values of the scripting variables defined above:

pageContext.setAttribute("name", nameStr); 
pageContext.setAttribute("dob", bday);

Where the first parameter names the scripting variable, and the second parameter is the value assigned. Here, the Java variable nameStr is of type String and bday is of type java.util.Date.

You can also access variables created with the TagExtraInfo class by referencing it the same way you access a JavaBean that was created with useBean.

Dynamically Named Scripting Variables

It is possible to define the name of a new scripting variable from a tag attribute. This definition allows you to use multiple instances of a tag that define a scripting variable at the same scope, without the scripting variables of the tag clashing. In order to achieve this from your class that extends TagExtraInfo, you must get the name of the scripting variable from the TagData that is passed into the getVariableInfo() method.

From TagData, you can retrieve the value of the attribute that names the scripting variable using the getAttributeString() method. There is also the getId() method that returns the value of the id attribute, which is often used to name a new implicit object from JSP tag.

Defining Variables in the Tag Library Descriptor

You can define variables in the TLD. For more information, see Define scripting variables (optional).

Writing Cooperative Nested Tags

You can design your tags to implicitly use properties from tags they are nested within. For example, in the code example called SQL Query (see the samples/examples/jsp/tagext/sql directory of your WebLogic Server installation) a <sql:query> tag is nested within a <sql:connection> tag. The query tag searches for a parent scope connection tag and uses the JDBC connection established by the parent scope.

To locate a parent scope tag, your nested tag uses the static findAncestorWithClass() method of the TagSupport class. The following is an example taken from the QueryTag example.

try {
  ConnectionTag connTag = (ConnectionTag)
  } catch(ClassNotFoundException cnfe) {
    throw new JspException("Query tag connection "+
                           "attribute not nested "+
                           "within connection tag");

This example returns the closest parent tag class whose tag handler class matched the class given. If the direct parent tag is not of this type, then it is parent is checked and so on until a matching tag is found, or a ClassNotFoundException is thrown.

Using this feature in your custom tags can simplify the syntax and usage of tags in the JSP page.

Using a Tag Library Validator

A Tag Library Validator is a user-written Java class that you can use to perform validation of the XML view of a JSP page. validate(String, String, PageData) on the validator class is invoked by the JSP compiler at translation time (when the JSP is converted to a servlet) and returns a null string if the page is validated or a string containing error information it the validation fails.

To implement a Tag Library Validator:

  1. Write the validator class. A validator class extends the javax.servlet.jsp.tagext.TagLibraryValidator class.

  2. Reference the validator in the tag library descriptor. For example:

  3. (Optional) Define initialization parameters. Your validator class can get and use initialization parameters. For example:

  4. Package the validator class in the WEB-INF/classes directory of a Web application.You can also package the classes in a tag library jar file; for more information, see Packaging a JSP Tag Library as JAR File.