Java Platform, Enterprise Edition: The Java EE Tutorial

17.2 Servlet Lifecycle

The lifecycle of a servlet is controlled by the container in which the servlet has been deployed. When a request is mapped to a servlet, the container performs the following steps.

  1. If an instance of the servlet does not exist, the web container:

    1. Loads the servlet class

    2. Creates an instance of the servlet class

    3. Initializes the servlet instance by calling the init method (initialization is covered in Creating and Initializing a Servlet)

  2. The container invokes the service method, passing request and response objects. Service methods are discussed in Writing Service Methods.

If it needs to remove the servlet, the container finalizes the servlet by calling the servlet's destroy method. For more information, see Finalizing a Servlet.

17.2.1 Handling Servlet Lifecycle Events

You can monitor and react to events in a servlet's lifecycle by defining listener objects whose methods get invoked when lifecycle events occur. To use these listener objects, you must define and specify the listener class. Defining the Listener Class

You define a listener class as an implementation of a listener interface. Table 17-1 lists the events that can be monitored and the corresponding interface that must be implemented. When a listener method is invoked, it is passed an event that contains information appropriate to the event. For example, the methods in the HttpSessionListener interface are passed an HttpSessionEvent, which contains an HttpSession.

Table 17-1 Servlet Lifecycle Events

Object Event Listener Interface and Event Class

Web context

Initialization and destruction

javax.servlet.ServletContextListener and ServletContextEvent

Web context

Attribute added, removed, or replaced

javax.servlet.ServletContextAttributeListener and ServletContextAttributeEvent


Creation, invalidation, activation, passivation, and timeout

javax.servlet.http.HttpSessionListener, javax.servlet.http.HttpSessionActivationListener, and HttpSessionEvent


Attribute added, removed, or replaced

javax.servlet.http.HttpSessionAttributeListener and HttpSessionBindingEvent


A servlet request has started being processed by web components

javax.servlet.ServletRequestListener and ServletRequestEvent


Attribute added, removed, or replaced

javax.servlet.ServletRequestAttributeListener and ServletRequestAttributeEvent

Use the @WebListener annotation to define a listener to get events for various operations on the particular web application context. Classes annotated with @WebListener must implement one of the following interfaces:


For example, the following code snippet defines a listener that implements two of these interfaces:

import javax.servlet.ServletContextAttributeListener;
import javax.servlet.ServletContextListener;
import javax.servlet.annotation.WebListener;

public class SimpleServletListener implements ServletContextListener,
        ServletContextAttributeListener {

17.2.2 Handling Servlet Errors

Any number of exceptions can occur when a servlet executes. When an exception occurs, the web container generates a default page containing the following message:

A Servlet Exception Has Occurred

But you can also specify that the container should return a specific error page for a given exception.

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