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Eclipse JavaServer Faces Tooling Development Guide
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JSF Expression Language Tooling


The JSF Expression Language (JSF EL) tooling provides basic support for design time evaluation of JSF 1.1 EL.  It implements parts of the following specifications:

JSF 1.1 Specification -- particularly chapters 5 and 9.

JSP 2.0 Specification -- particularly chapter 2.

In order to support design-time evaluation of expressions, the tooling has the following basic capabilities:
  • syntax parsing
  • design-time variable, property and method resolution
  • semantic type analysis
  • static expression evaluation

Syntax Parsing

The WTP JSP tooling provides an EL parser that the JSF EL tooling leverage because of the syntactic commonality between JSP and JSF EL.  The parser is based on JavaCC and constructs an abstract syntax tree (AST) that is further processed by the framework.  The parser reports syntax errors in expressions.

Design-time variable, property and method resolution

JSF EL expressions may contain variable and method bindings that reference external objects.  At runtime, this is accomplished through several mechanisms that convert different types of identifier symbols into objects and methods.  At design-time the JSF tooling tries to parallel these as closely as possible.  These mechanisms are:

  • VariableResolver
  • PropertyResolver
  • MethodBinding
For more information on pluggable resolvers, see The Design Time Application Manager.

Semantic type analysis

Type analysis of literals is performed for all expressions.  Analysis is done on all variables, properties and methods that can be resolved.  Type analysis can verify that:
  • operator arguments are of a valid type or can be coerced to one.
  • EL attribute values resolve to a type that is expected by its tag attribute
  • the result of an EL expression supports the assignment properties expected by its tag attribute 

Argument Coercability

Many EL operators expect arguments with a particular type.  For example, the arithmetic addition operator, '+', expects that both of its operands are numeric.  EL does provide for automatic type coercions and conversions, however some operands cannot be coerced and will cause runtime errors.  The following are examples of syntactically valid EL expressions that will cause type coercions exceptions at runtime:

myBean.stringArrayProperty + myBean.booleanProperty
The first operand is an array of strings.  Arrays cannot be coerced to a numeric type supported by the addition operator
Boolean 'false' cannot be coerced to a numeric type expected by the unary minus operator.
The numeric value '5' cannot be coerced to a boolean required by the unary not operator (Note this is what the specification says; some implementation use a C-style number-to-boolean coercion and flag a warning).

Attribute value compatibility

For those tag attributes that are annotated with JSF tooling meta-data providing type information, EL type information can be compared to what is expected by the attribute.  Below are some examples of attribute values being assigned EL expressions that have incompatible types.  The tag prefix "h" represents the built-in JSF "html" tag library.

<h:inputText rendered="#{myBean.arrayProperty}"/>
The rendered attribute expects a boolean value.  An array value can be coerced or converted to boolean
<h:dataTable binding="#{myBeanSubClass.booleanProperty}"/>
The binding attribute expects a binding to a UIComponent object.  The boolean property can be neither converted or coerced to a valid type.

Assignability analysis

Some JSF tag attributes support the writing back of data to an identified object, such as a bean property:

e.g. <h:inputText value=#{bean.readOnlyProperty}/>

For tags that are annotated with JSF tooling meta-data, the framework can check if the property is writable as expected.  In the example above, the inputText will write back the value entered by the user to bean.readOnlyProperty.  However, if the bean doesn't implement a setter for this property, the user will be issued a warning that the tag logic may not work completely as expected.

Static Expression Evaluation

The JSF EL validation component performs design time expression evaluation on an AST provided by the parser.  The expression evaluator is able to do the following expression evaluations:

  • constant expression detection
  • logical short-circuit analysis
  • possible division by zero

Constant expression detection

Certain types of expressions can be statically analyzed for deterministic evaluation.  Such deterministic evaluation may imply programmer error.  For example the following expressions always evaluate to a constant value regardless of runtime conditions:

Constant Evaluation
All values in the expression are constant at design time.
empty 'notEmpty'
Empty operator always returns false for non-null, non-empty strings.
empty 5
The empty operator always returns false if the argument is not a string, collection, array or map.
The minus operator treats null as 0.

Logical short-circuit analysis

JSF EL supports short-circuit evaluation of boolean expressions.  Short-circuit evaluation can cause entire sub-expressions to not be evaluated and important side-effects may not occur.  The following are examples of EL expressions that will be short-circuited:

false && myBean.x
This logical predicate always evaluates to false regardless of the value of myBean.x.  Because this expression "short-circuits" on the first argument, myBean.x will never be evaluated meaning any expected side-effects will not occur.
true || myBean.x
Similar to the above, myBean.x will never be evaluated because true or'd with any value is guaranteed to be true.

Possible division by zero

Division by zero can cause runtime exceptions in a JSF application.  The following are examples of EL expressions that may result in a divide-by-zero error:

'x / 0'
'x / (5-5)'

  Published under the terms of the Eclipse Public License Version 1.0 ("EPL") Design by Interspire