Marshalling II: APIs

Http webservices can be implemented to act on data configured in various formats, common formats being JSON, XML or even YAML. As an application developer, the actual format might not matter to the implementation of the underlying business logic. One might prefer to handle the encoding and decoding into and from these formats transparently. In order to support this, HttpMaid can perform so-called unmarshalling and marshalling operations.

What is (un)marshalling?

The concept of marshalling in the context of HttpMaid is the process of translating a Map<String, Object> into a String of a given format like JSON, XML or YAML. Vice versa, unmarshalling is the process of translating a String in the given format to a Map<String, Object>. As this might sound a little bit academic, the following example will clarify things.

Given a simple http request, depending on the format being used in the webservice, the body might be encoded as Json:

  "surname": "Joe",
  "name": "Doe",
  "address": {
    "country": "USA",
    "zip": "TX 78023",
    "street": "340 San Carlos Drive"

or as XML:

        <zip>TX 78023</zip>
        <street>340 San Carlos Drive</street>

or as YAML:

surname: Joe
name: Doe
  country: USA
  zip: TX 78023
  street: 340 San Carlos Drive

In order to handle the incoming request transparently, all these format would be translated into the same Map<String, Object> with this content:

"surname" = "Joe"
"name" = "Doe"
"address" = Map(
                "country" = "USA"
                "zip" = "TX 78023" 
                "street" = "340 San Carlos Drive"

This way, the request handler does not need to bother about parsing. In the response, the request just needs to provide a Map<String, Object> with the content it likes to respond with, and HttpMaid will manage the translation into the correct format. The handler might e.g. answer with a Map<String, Object> with this content:

"orderId" = "qwefgfd-gt-yeetgtr"
"status" = "SHIPPING"

Depending on the format to be used in the response, HttpMaid will convert the map either to Json:

  "orderId": "qwefgfd-gt-yeetgtr",
  "status": "SHIPPING"  

or to XML:


or to YAML:

orderId: qwefgfd-gt-yeetgtr
status: SHIPPING

Configuring (un)marshalling

In order to configure HttpMaid to (un)marshall requests and responses, the marshalling module needs to be configured. Example:

                        .unmarshallingContentTypeInRequests(fromString("application/json")).with(body -> GSON.fromJson(body, Map.class))
                        .marshallingContentTypeInResponses(fromString("application/json")).with(map -> GSON.toJson(map))

In the example, HttpMaid is configured to (un)marshall Json using the Gson library. The last line configures the default Content-Type, which is the Content-Type that is assumed if a request does not provide its own Content-Type header.

(Un)marshalling in practice

The unmarshalled bodies will be available to any request handlers. The following example will highlight how to use them:

public final class MyHandler implements HttpHandler {
    public void handle(final HttpRequest request, final HttpResponse response) {
        final Map<String, Object> requestMap = request.bodyAsMap().orElseThrow();
        final Map<String, Object> responseMap = Map.of(
                "orderId", "qwefgfd-gt-yeetgtr",
                "status", "SHIPPING");

The unmarshalled request body can be queried with the bodyAsMap() method of the request object. If you call the setBody() method of the response object with a map as parameter, HttpMaid will continue to marshall the provided map according to its configuration.

Multiple formats

Some applications might want to facilitate multiple formats for (un)marshalling depending on circumstances like user customization. In order to achieve this with the marshalling integration, it is only necessary to configure all supported formats. HttpMaid will then properly unmarshall all incoming requests according to their Content-Type. Marshalling the responses is a little bit more tricky, since HttpMaid needs to have a way to know the format it has to marshall to. There are two ways of solving this problem: either by explicitly setting the response Content-Type or by calculating the response Content-Type in a smart way according to criteria like the request Content-Type and possibly an Accept header in the request. Both ways are explained in the following two paragraphs.

Explicitly setting the response Content-Type

The Content-Type to be used in the response can be explicitly configured using the setContentType() method of the response object:

public final class MarshallingHandlerWithContentType implements HttpHandler {
    public void handle(final HttpRequest request, final HttpResponse response) {
        final Map<String, Object> responseMap = Map.of(
                "orderId", "qwefgfd-gt-yeetgtr",
                "status", "SHIPPING");

Automatically determining the response Content-Type

HttpMaid offers the option to set the response Content-Type i.e. marshall responses dynamically, so that users can choose their preferred format. The dynamic handling does not need to be explicitly configured and will be active on any response whose Content-Type header has not explicitly been set.

The first thing HttpMaid looks at when dynamically calculating the response Content-Type is any Accept header in the request. HttpMaid will only further consider any Content-Types that have been mentioned in the Accept header. If no Accept header has been found, HttpMaid will assume an Accept header that accepts all Content-Types.

In the next step, HttpMaid will look at all Content-Types that it actually knows how to marshall, i.e. for which a marshaller has been configured. It will only further consider Content-Types that are accepted by the Accept header and it knows how to marshall. If this set is empty, it will instead continue with all Content-Types it knows how to marshall.

From this set of accepted and supported Content-Types, it will pick a Content-Type. If the Content-Type of the request is in this set, this one will be picked in order to maintain consistency between the request’s and the response’s Content-Type. Otherwise, it will pick any Content-Type of the set. If the set is empty, it will pick the default Content-Type according to the HttpMaid configuration (if a marshaller is configured for it).