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Spring Boot Configuration Binding

Phillip Webb edited this page Jun 8, 2020 · 1 revision

Spring Boot Configuration Binding

The purpose of this page is to describe in detail how configuration keys are bound to actual objects. It is primarily targeted to IDE developers though anyone interested in understanding how binding works will find valuable resources in this document.

Expected IDE features are described in a separate document.

Configuration structure

Regardless of the external format, the whole Environment boils down to a set of keys that is conceptually hierarchically structured. Let’s take an example:

  port: 7070
    max-threads: 20

This file contributes two keys: server.port and server.tomcat.max-threads. The latter belongs to the server.tomcat "group". Configuration items sharing a same concept are regrouped within the same prefix. Larger concepts have sub-concepts (for instance, the Apache Tomcat specific configuration is defined within the server.tomcat prefix).

Binding use cases

The most basic way to bind to a portion of the Environment is to define a POJO and inject a set of keys to it. As we will see later, Spring Boot offers several useful features in that area. But let’s first focus on the various binding use cases that are supported.

In the remainder of this section we will cover the following:

  • Simple property binding

  • Collection-based binding

  • Array-based binding

  • Map-based binding

  • Nested property

while field-based binding is theoretically possible, Spring Boot only uses regular getter/setter access.

Simple property binding

Let’s take an example:

public class Foo {

    private String id = "";
    private int port;

    public String getId() { ... }
    void setId(String id) { ... }

    public int getPort() { ... }
    public void setPort(int port) { ... }

This object exposes one singular value property (port). id is not exposed as the setter for it is not public. A singular value is defined as the last portion of the key.

the rule of thumb is that a valid public getter/setter pair should exist for the property to be exposed. In theory, the binder has enough information with only the setter but a singular property is exposed in the meta-data if both the getter and the setter are present.

Collection-based binding

When a property exposes a collection type, it is possible to contribute many values to it either by specifying the values in a comma-separated fashion or by using the bracket notation to indicate the index

public class Foo {

  private final List<String> items = new ArrayList<>();
  private Set<Integer> counters;

  public List<String> getItems() { .... }

  public Set<Integer> getCounters() { ... }
  public void setCounters(Set<Integer> counters) { ... }

The following keys will do what is expected (assuming foo is the context to which this object is bound to)



The rule of thumb is that a getter should be present to access the collection. If the collection needs to be initialized, a setter has to be provided.

If Collection properties are specified in multiple property sources, only the elements from the property source with the highest precedence will be used. Properties from different property sources will NOT be combined when binding to a Collection. For example, if a .properties file has
foo[0] = 1
foo[1] = 2

and the Environment has


the bound collection will only contain the elements 3 and 4.

Array-based binding

Binding of arrays requires a setter.

Map-based binding

As for collections, it is possible to contribute arbitrary values to a map by specifying the key using the bracket notation or using a navigation dot. A setter is only necessary if the map needs to be initialized

public class Foo {

  private final Map<String,Integer> items = new HashMap<>();

  public Map<String,Integer> getItems() { .... }

  private final Map<String,Map<String, Integer>> nested = new HashMap<>();

  public Map<String,Map<String, Integer>> getNested() { .... }

Here are some valid examples
If the key contains a dot, you must use the bracket notation if it is a nested Map. For example, for the above scenario, a valid example that will use the key bar.baz is

For YAML files, the brackets need to be surrounded by quotes for the key to be parsed properly.

      bling: 2

Nested property

There are several levels of nesting. So far we’ve used simple values but more complex objects can be processed. Let’s imagine the following object

public class Bar {
    private String id;
    private Integer counter;
    private boolean active;

    // getter and setter

A simple nesting would work as follows:

public class Foo {

  private final Bar bar = new Bar();

  public Bar getBar() { ... }


which would allow you to write the following
If you want Bar to be created on demand you can leave it null and add a setter instead.

Nesting works also for Collections and Arrays

public class Foo {

  private List<Bar> bars = new ArrayList<>();

  public List<Bar> getBars() { .... }
  public void setBars(List<Bar> bars) { ... }

which permits the nesting on an index element

it is not possible to give a comma separated-view of such object unless a Converter<String,Bar> is registered in the ConversionService of the binder.

As you may imagine, this works for maps as well:

public class Foo {

  private Map<String, Bar> bars = new HashMap<>();

  public Map<String, Bar> getBars() { .... }

Finally, nesting can use as many level as you want. The . is used as the character to navigate between those relationships. Let’s consider this rather complex key:

foo.items.myKey.customer.address.street=Acme street

This sets the street of the customer that is referenced with the key myKey in the items map, something like (assuming foo is the reference of our root object):

foo.get("myKey").getCustomer().getAddress().setStreet("Acme street")
If an intermediate relationship is null, a new instance will be created using the default constructor and the related setter will be called with it.

Wrapping Up

The table below describes the rules regarding getter/setter presence

Table 1. Getter and setter

Binding type





Not technically necessary




Not required if collection is initialized




Not required if the collection is initialized








Not required if the map is initialized



Not required if the instance is initialized

Declarative binding

Spring Boot provides a @ConfigurationProperties annotation that can be placed on any object to declare its root prefix. It then uses that with an augmented binder to automatically bind properties from the Environment for matching prefixes. It also exposes the object as a Spring Bean automatically.

public class FooProperties {

    private String id = "";
    private final Bar bar = new Bar;

    public String getId() { ... }
    pulic void setId(String id) { ... }

    public Bar getBar() { ... }

    static class Bar {
        private String name;
        private boolean active;

        public String getName() { ... }
        public void setName(String name) { ... }

        public boolean isActive() { ... }
        public void setActive(boolean active) { ... }

If the processing of that object is registered via, for instance, @EnableConfigurationProperties(FooProperties.class), a bean of type FooProperties will be automatically registered in the context and the following keys will be bound as you expect:
All the other binding types that we have seen above would obviously work here as well.

You could also apply the same mechanism on a @Bean declaration. In that case, binding will be applied once the object has been built. This is typically useful to provide a friendly configuration for a third party object.

Let’s consider that FooProperties is some 3rd party Foo class that we use within our Spring Boot application:

public class MyConfig {

  public Foo foo() {
      Foo foo = new Foo();
      foo.setId("some id");
      return foo;

This will expose the exact same set of properties (since we used the same prefix as the example above). Note also that if the configuration define a entry, the id of that bean will be ultimately anotherId as property binding is applied once the object has been built.

Relaxed binding

Because keys can be defined in various formats and certain sources have some limitations, Spring Boot uses a relaxed binder. Consider the following

public class FooProperties {

    private String id;
    private String firstName;
    private String lastName;

    // getters and setters


Spring Boot uses a canonical format that is lower case and use hyphen to separate words. But other formats are supported as defined in the table below:

Table 2. Key formats



uniform - foo.first-name - foo.last-name

camel case - foo.firstName - foo.lastName

underscore - foo.first_name - foo.last_name

upper case


There are actually many more variants that are supported

The main reason behind relaxed binding is to offer flexibility, particularly when the property source does not support certain characters: OS environment variables must be upper case or could not contain a dot on certain OSes. Details about relaxed binding as per property source can be found here.

Configuration meta-data

This section describes how meta-data is concretely discovered and some of the limitations around it.

If you haven’t done so, you should first read the configuration meta-data section of the developer guide as it defines the base concepts used in this section.

The purpose of the meta-data is to provide a static model of the configuration keys so that tools can benefit from it and offer content assistance to the users. Meta-data is generated automatically during the compilation when the spring-boot-configuration-processor is available.

The properties are a finite set of what is exposed by the current module. While for instance foo.items[myKey].address.street is a valid configuration key, the meta-data will only expose the foo.items key with a type that offers the necessary to discover the rest, that is:

  • The type is a Map

  • The key is a java.lang.String

  • The value is com.acme.Person (referenced in the rest of this document as a Simple POJO) that could be further investigated for additional accessors (a Person has an Address and an Address has a street)

Singular value vs. nested property

Cases such as Collection or Map-based bindings are easy to discover because the type of the property says so. It is harder to figure out whether any other type of property is a single value or represent a concept we should navigate to.

To take back the previous example, we could have wrote which would have failed obviously since there is not setter and the intention of that object is to offer an object exposing additional properties.

Spring Boot uses the following rule:

  1. If the type of the property is an inner class of the current object, it is considered to be a nested property (we use this pattern a lot and found it nice that it could be auto-discovered. Check ServerProperties for instance)

  2. If the property is flagged with @NestedConfigurationProperty, Spring Boot consider it to be a nested property (See Ssl for an example)

  3. In all other cases, the property is supposed to be a singular value.

Let’s consider that Bar is now defined in a different area (in the same package or in a different package but not as an inner class), we could rewrite our class to ensure that meta-data are discovered in the same way:

import com.acme.Bar;

public class FooProperties {

    private String id = "";

    private final Bar bar = new Bar;

    public String getId() { ... }
    public void setId(String id) { ... }

    public Bar getBar() { ... }


Default value

Default values can only be discovered by using low-level utility of the compiler API. Spring Boot has support for the Oracle JDK but does not support yet the Eclipse compiler (APT).

The default value should be set preferably in the field declaration itself. If a public static constant is set in the class itself, the processor will discover it as well.

For instance

public class MyProperties {

    public static final int DEFAULT_INDEX = 0;

    private String name = "myName";
    private int index = DEFAULT_INDEX;

    // getter and setter


Documentation is only extracted from field Javadoc. The main reason behind this decision is that the description of a configuration key may greatly differ from the one you usually write for a setter. Besides, the processor does not clean any of the Javadoc tag that is present so having a separate location for the documentation is necessary.

If the property does not have a related field or if the field does not match the convention, the documentation is not available.

The Javadoc is only obviously accessible if the source code is available. No description is therefore available for:

  1. Keys defined in the parent of a @ConfigurationProperties class if said base class is not in the current compilation unit (i.e. module).

  2. @Bean exposing a third party class

One way to mitigate that problem is to upgrade the IDE support so that it can fetch that documentation live if it exists rather than only relying on the meta-data.

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