Using Faces Flows
Java Platform, Enterprise Edition (Java EE) 8
The Java EE Tutorial

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Using Faces Flows

The Faces Flows feature of JavaServer Faces technology allows you to create a set of pages with a scope, FlowScoped, that is greater than request scope but less than session scope. For example, you might want to create a series of pages for the checkout process in an online store. You could create a set of self-contained pages that could be transferred from one store to another as needed.

Faces Flows are somewhat analogous to subroutines in procedural programming, in the following ways.

  • Like a subroutine, a flow has a well defined entry point, list of parameters, and return value. However, unlike a subroutine, a flow can return multiple values.

  • Like a subroutine, a flow has a scope, allowing information to be available only during the invocation of the flow. Such information is not available outside the scope of the flow and does not consume any resources once the flow returns.

  • Like a subroutine, a flow may call other flows before returning. The invocation of flows is maintained in a call stack: a new flow causes a push onto the stack, and a return causes a pop.

An application can have any number of flows. Each flow includes a set of pages and, usually, one or more managed beans scoped to that flow. Each flow has a starting point, called a start node, and an exit point, called a return node.

The data in a flow is scoped to that flow alone, but you can pass data from one flow to another by specifying parameters and calling the other flow.

Flows can be nested, so that if you call one flow from another and then exit the second flow, you return to the calling flow rather than to the second flow’s return node.

You can configure a flow programmatically, by creating a class annotated @FlowDefinition, or you can configure a flow by using a configuration file. The configuration file can be limited to one flow, or you can use the faces-config.xml file to put all the flows in one place, if you have many flows in an application. The programmatic configuration places the code closer to the rest of the flow code and enables you to modularize the flows.

Figure 16-1 shows two flows and illustrates how they interact.

Figure 16-1 Two Faces Flows and Their Interactions

This figure shows two Faces flows, Flow A and Flow B. Each has a start node and two additional pages. Each has an associated managed bean. Each defines a return node, and each defines two parameters to be passed to the other flow.

In this figure, Flow A has a start node named flow-a and two additional pages, next_a1 and next_a2. From next_a2, a user can either exit the flow using the defined return node, taskFlowReturn1, or call Flow B, passing two parameters. Flow A also defines two inbound parameters that it can accept from Flow B. Flow B is identical to Flow A except for the names of the flow and files. Each flow also has an associated managed bean; the beans are Flow_a_Bean and Flow_b_Bean.

Packaging Flows in an Application

Typically, you package flows in a web application using a directory structure that modularizes the flows. In the src/main/webapp directory of a Maven project, for example, you would place the Facelets files that are outside the flow at the top level as usual. Then the webapp files for each flow would be in a separate directory, and the Java files would be under src/main/java. For example, the files for the application shown in Figure 16-1 might look like this:

src/main/webapp/
    index.xhtml
    return.xhtml
    WEB_INF/
        beans.xml
        web.xml
    flow-a/
        flow-a.xhtml
        next_a1.xhtml
        next_a2.xhtml
    flow-b/
        flow-b-flow.xml
        next_b1.xhtml
        next_b2.xhtml
src/main/java/javaeetutorial/flowexample
            FlowA.java
            Flow_a_Bean.java
            Flow_b_Bean.java

In this example, flow-a is defined programmatically in FlowA.java, while flow-b is defined by the configuration file flow-b-flow.xml.

The Simplest Possible Flow: The simple-flow Example Application

The simple-flow example application demonstrates the most basic building blocks of a Faces Flows application and illustrates some of the conventions that make it easy to get started with iterative development using flows. You may want to start with a simple example like this one and build upon it.

This example provides an implicit flow definition by including an empty configuration file. A configuration file that has content, or a class annotated @FlowDefinition, provides an explicit flow definition.

The source code for this application is in the tut-install`/examples/web/jsf/simple-flow/` directory.

The file layout of the simple-flow example looks like this:

src/main/webapp
    index.xhtml
    simple-flow-return.xhtml
    WEB_INF/
        web.xml
    simple-flow
        simple-flow-flow.xml
        simple-flow.xhtml
        simple-flow-page2.xhtml

The simple-flow example has an empty configuration file, which is by convention named flow-name-flow.xml. The flow does not require any configuration for the following reasons.

  • The flow does not call another flow, nor does it pass parameters to another flow.

  • The flow uses default names for the first page of the flow, flow-name`.xhtml`, and the return page, flow-name`-return.xhtml`.

This example has only four Facelets pages.

  • index.xhtml, the start page, which contains almost nothing but a button that navigates to the first page of the flow:

    <p><h:commandButton value="Enter Flow" action="simple-flow"/></p>
  • simple-flow.xhtml and simple-flow-page2.xhtml, the two pages of the flow itself. In the absence of an explicit flow definition, the page whose name is the same as the name of the flow is assumed to be the start node of the flow. In this case, the flow is named simple-flow, so the page named simple-flow.xhtml is assumed to be the start node of the flow. The start node is the node navigated to upon entry into the flow. It can be thought of as the home page of the flow.

    The simple-flow.xhtml page asks you to enter a flow-scoped value and provides a button that navigates to the next page of the flow:

    <p>Value: <h:inputText id="input" value="#{flowScope.value}" /></p>
    
    <p><h:commandButton value="Next" action="simple-flow-page2" /></p>

    The second page, which can have any name, displays the flow-scoped value and provides a button that navigates to the return page:

    <p>Value: #{flowScope.value}</p>
    
    <p><h:commandButton value="Return" action="simple-flow-return" /></p>
  • simple-flow-return.xhtml, the return page. The return page, which by convention is named flow-name`-return.xhtml`, must be located outside of the flow. This page displays the flow-scoped value, to show that it has no value outside of the flow, and provides a link that navigates to the index.xhtml page:

    <p>Value (should be empty):
        "<h:outputText id="output" value="#{flowScope.value}" />"</p>
    
    <p><h:link outcome="index" value="Back to Start" /></p>

The Facelets pages use only flow-scoped data, so the example does not need a managed bean.

To Build, Package, and Deploy the simple-flow Example Using NetBeans IDE

  1. Make sure that GlassFish Server has been started (see Starting and Stopping GlassFish Server).

  2. From the File menu, choose Open Project.

  3. In the Open Project dialog box, navigate to:

    tut-install/examples/web/jsf
  4. Select the simple-flow folder.

  5. Click Open Project.

  6. In the Projects tab, right-click the simple-flow project and select Build.

    This command builds and packages the application into a WAR file, simple-flow.war, that is located in the target directory. It then deploys the application to the server.

To Build, Package, and Deploy the simple-flow Example Using Maven

  1. Make sure that GlassFish Server has been started (see Starting and Stopping GlassFish Server).

  2. In a terminal window, go to:

    tut-install/examples/web/jsf/simple-flow/
  3. Enter the following command:

    mvn install

    This command builds and packages the application into a WAR file, simple-flow.war, that is located in the target directory. It then deploys the application to the server.

To Run the simple-flow Example

  1. Enter the following URL in your web browser:

    http://localhost:8080/simple-flow
  2. On the index.xhtml page, click Enter Flow.

  3. On the first page of the flow, enter any string in the Value field, then click Next.

  4. On the second page of the flow, you can see the value you entered. Click Return.

  5. On the return page, an empty pair of quotation marks encloses the inaccessible value. Click Back to Start to return to the index.xhtml page.

The checkout-module Example Application

The checkout-module example application is considerably more complex than simple-flow. It shows how you might use the Faces Flows feature to implement a checkout module for an online store.

Like the hypothetical example in Figure 16-1, the example application contains two flows, each of which can call the other. Both flows have explicit flow definitions. One flow, checkoutFlow, is specified programmatically. The other flow, joinFlow, is specified in a configuration file.

The source code for this application is in the tut-install`/examples/web/jsf/checkout-module/` directory.

For the checkout-module application, the directory structure is as follows (there is also a src/main/webapp/resources directory with a stylesheet and an image):

src/main/webapp/
    index.xhtml
    exithome.xhtml
    WEB_INF/
        beans.xml
        web.xml
    checkoutFlow/
        checkoutFlow.xhtml
        checkoutFlow2.xhtml
        checkoutFlow3.xhtml
        checkoutFlow4.xhtml
    joinFlow/
        joinFlow-flow.xml
        joinFlow.xhtml
        joinFlow2.xhtml
src/main/java/javaeetutorial/checkoutmodule
            CheckoutBean.java
            CheckoutFlow.java
            CheckoutFlowBean.java
            JoinFlowBean.java

For the example, index.xhtml is the beginning page for the application as well as the return node for the checkout flow. The exithome.xhtml page is the return node for the join flow.

The configuration file joinFlow-flow.xml defines the join flow, and the source file CheckoutFlow.java defines the checkout flow.

The checkout flow contains four Facelets pages, whereas the join flow contains two.

The managed beans scoped to each flow are CheckoutFlowBean.java and JoinFlowBean.java, whereas CheckoutBean.java is the backing bean for the index.php page.

The Facelets Pages for the checkout-module Example

The starting page for the example, index.xhtml, summarizes the contents of a hypothetical shopping cart. It allows the user to click either of two buttons to enter one of the two flows:

<p><h:commandButton value="Check Out" action="checkoutFlow"/></p>
...
<p><h:commandButton value="Join" action="joinFlow"/></p>

This page is also the return node for the checkout flow.

The Facelets page exithome.xhtml is the return node for the join flow. This page has a button that allows you to return to the index.xhtml page.

The four Facelets pages within the checkout flow, starting with checkoutFlow.xhtml and ending with checkoutFlow4.xhtml, allow you to proceed to the next page or, in some cases, to return from the flow. The checkoutFlow.xhtml page allows you to access parameters passed from the join flow through the flow scope. These appear as empty quotation marks if you have not called the checkout flow from the join flow.

<p>If you called this flow from the Join flow, you can see these parameters:
    "<h:outputText value="#{flowScope.param1Value}"/>" and
    "<h:outputText value="#{flowScope.param2Value}"/>"
</p>

Only checkoutFlow2.xhtml has a button to return to the previous page, but moving between pages is generally permitted within flows. Here are the buttons for c`heckoutFlow2.xhtml`:

<p><h:commandButton value="Continue" action="checkoutFlow3"/></p>
<p><h:commandButton value="Go Back" action="checkoutFlow"/></p>
<p><h:commandButton value="Exit Flow" action="returnFromCheckoutFlow"/></p>

The action returnFromCheckoutFlow is defined in the configuration source code file, CheckoutFlow.java.

The final page of the checkout flow, checkoutFlow4.xhtml, contains a button that calls the join flow:

<p><h:commandButton value="Join" action="calljoin"/></p>
<p><h:commandButton value="Exit Flow" action="returnFromCheckoutFlow"/></p>

The calljoin action is also defined in the configuration source code file, CheckoutFlow.java. This action enters the join flow, passing two parameters from the checkout flow.

The two pages in the join flow, joinFlow.xhtml and joinFlow2.xhtml, are similar to those in the checkout flow. The second page has a button to call the checkout flow as well as one to return from the join flow:

<p><h:commandButton value="Check Out" action="callcheckoutFlow"/></p>
<p><h:commandButton value="Exit Flow" action="returnFromJoinFlow"/></p>

For this flow, the actions callcheckoutFlow and returnFromJoinFlow are defined in the configuration file joinFlow-flow.xml.

Using a Configuration File to Configure a Flow

If you use an application configuration resource file to configure a flow, it must be named flowName`-flow.xml`. In this example, the join flow uses a configuration file named joinFlow-flow.xml. The file is a faces-config file that specifies a flow-definition element. This element must define the flow name using the id attribute. Under the flow-definition element, there must be a flow-return element that specifies the return point for the flow. Any inbound parameters are specified with inbound-parameter elements. If the flow calls another flow, the call-flow element must use the flow-reference element to name the called flow and may use the outbound-parameter element to specify any outbound parameters.

The configuration file for the join flow looks like this:

<faces-config version="2.2" xmlns="http://xmlns.jcp.org/xml/ns/javaee"
              xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
              xsi:schemaLocation="http://xmlns.jcp.org/xml/ns/javaee \
              http://xmlns.jcp.org/xml/ns/javaee/web-facesconfig_2_2.xsd">

    <flow-definition id="joinFlow">
        <flow-return id="returnFromJoinFlow">
            <from-outcome>#{joinFlowBean.returnValue}</from-outcome>
        </flow-return>

        <inbound-parameter>
            <name>param1FromCheckoutFlow</name>
            <value>#{flowScope.param1Value}</value>
        </inbound-parameter>
        <inbound-parameter>
            <name>param2FromCheckoutFlow</name>
            <value>#{flowScope.param2Value}</value>
        </inbound-parameter>

        <flow-call id="callcheckoutFlow">
            <flow-reference>
                <flow-id>checkoutFlow</flow-id>
            </flow-reference>
            <outbound-parameter>
                <name>param1FromJoinFlow</name>
                <value>param1 joinFlow value</value>
            </outbound-parameter>
            <outbound-parameter>
                <name>param2FromJoinFlow</name>
                <value>param2 joinFlow value</value>
            </outbound-parameter>
        </flow-call>
    </flow-definition>
</faces-config>

The id attribute of the flow-definition element defines the name of the flow as joinFlow. The value of the id attribute of the flow-return element identifies the name of the return node, and its value is defined in the from-outcome element as the returnValue property of the flow-scoped managed bean for the join flow, JoinFlowBean.

The names and values of the inbound parameters are retrieved from the flow scope in order (flowScope.param1Value, flowScope.param2Value), based on the way they were defined in the checkout flow configuration.

The flow-call element defines how the join flow calls the checkout flow. The id attribute of the element, callcheckoutFlow, defines the action of calling the flow. Within the flow-call element, the flow-reference element defines the actual name of the flow to call, checkoutFlow. The outbound-parameter elements define the parameters to be passed when checkoutFlow is called. Here they are just arbitrary strings.

Using a Java Class to Configure a Flow

If you use a Java class to configure a flow, it must have the name of the flow. The class for the checkout flow is called CheckoutFlow.java.

import java.io.Serializable;
import javax.enterprise.inject.Produces;
import javax.faces.flow.Flow;
import javax.faces.flow.builder.FlowBuilder;
import javax.faces.flow.builder.FlowBuilderParameter;
import javax.faces.flow.builder.FlowDefinition;

class CheckoutFlow implements Serializable {

    private static final long serialVersionUID = 1L;

    @Produces
    @FlowDefinition
    public Flow defineFlow(@FlowBuilderParameter FlowBuilder flowBuilder) {

        String flowId = "checkoutFlow";
        flowBuilder.id("", flowId);
        flowBuilder.viewNode(flowId,
                "/" + flowId + "/" + flowId + ".xhtml").
                markAsStartNode();

        flowBuilder.returnNode("returnFromCheckoutFlow").
                fromOutcome("#{checkoutFlowBean.returnValue}");

        flowBuilder.inboundParameter("param1FromJoinFlow",
                "#{flowScope.param1Value}");
        flowBuilder.inboundParameter("param2FromJoinFlow",
                "#{flowScope.param2Value}");

        flowBuilder.flowCallNode("calljoin").flowReference("", "joinFlow").
                outboundParameter("param1FromCheckoutFlow",
                    "#{checkoutFlowBean.name}").
                outboundParameter("param2FromCheckoutFlow",
                    "#{checkoutFlowBean.city}");
        return flowBuilder.getFlow();
    }
}

The class performs actions that are almost identical to those performed by the configuration file joinFlow-flow.xml. It contains a single method, defineFlow, as a producer method with the @FlowDefinition qualifier that returns a javax.faces.flow.Flow class. The defineFlow method takes one parameter, a FlowBuilder with the qualifier @FlowBuilderParameter, which is passed in from the JavaServer Faces implementation. The method then calls methods from the javax.faces.flow.Builder.FlowBuilder class to configure the flow.

First, the method defines the flow id as checkoutFlow. Then, it explicitly defines the start node for the flow. By default, this is the name of the flow with an .xhtml suffix.

The method then defines the return node similarly to the way the configuration file does. The returnNode method sets the name of the return node as returnFromCheckoutFlow, and the chained fromOutcome method specifies its value as the returnValue property of the flow-scoped managed bean for the checkout flow, CheckoutFlowBean.

The inboundParameter method sets the names and values of the inbound parameters from the join flow, which are retrieved from the flow scope in order (flowScope.param1Value, flowScope.param2Value), based on the way they were defined in the join flow configuration.

The flowCallNode method defines how the checkout flow calls the join flow. The argument, calljoin, specifies the action of calling the flow. The chained flowReference method defines the actual name of the flow to call, joinFlow, then calls outboundParameter methods to define the parameters to be passed when joinFlow is called. Here they are values from the CheckoutFlowBean managed bean.

Finally, the defineFlow method calls the getFlow method and returns the result.

The Flow-Scoped Managed Beans

Each of the two flows has a managed bean that defines properties for the pages within the flow. For example, the CheckoutFlowBean defines properties whose values are entered by the user on both the checkoutFlow.xhtml page and the checkoutFlow3.xhtml page.

Each managed bean has a getReturnValue method that sets the value of the return node. For the CheckoutFlowBean, the return node is the index.xhtml page, specified using implicit navigation:

public String getReturnValue() {
    return "index";
}

For the JoinFlowBean, the return node is the exithome.xhtml page.

To Build, Package, and Deploy the checkout-module Example Using NetBeans IDE

  1. Make sure that GlassFish Server has been started (see Starting and Stopping GlassFish Server).

  2. From the File menu, choose Open Project.

  3. In the Open Project dialog box, navigate to:

    tut-install/examples/web/jsf
  4. Select the checkout-module folder.

  5. Click Open Project.

  6. In the Projects tab, right-click the checkout-module project and select Build.

    This command builds and packages the application into a WAR file, checkout-module.war, that is located in the target directory. It then deploys the application to the server.

To Build, Package, and Deploy the checkout-module Example Using Maven

  1. Make sure that GlassFish Server has been started (see Starting and Stopping GlassFish Server).

  2. In a terminal window, go to:

    tut-install/examples/web/jsf/checkout-module/
  3. Enter the following command:

    mvn install

    This command builds and packages the application into a WAR file, checkout-module.war, that is located in the target directory. It then deploys the application to the server.

To Run the checkout-module Example

  1. Enter the following URL in your web browser:

    http://localhost:8080/checkout-module
  2. The index.xhtml page presents hypothetical results of the shopping expedition. Click either Check Out or Join to enter one of the two flows.

  3. Follow the flow, providing input as needed and choosing whether to continue, go back, or exit the flow.

    In the checkout flow, only one of the input fields is validated (the credit card field expects 16 digits), so you can enter any values you like. The join flow does not require you to check any boxes in its checkbox menus.

  4. On the last page of a flow, select the option to enter the other flow. This allows you to view the inbound parameters from the previous flow.

  5. Because flows are nested, if you click Exit Flow from a called flow, you will return to the first page of the calling flow. (You may see a warning, which you can ignore.) Click Exit Flow on that page to go to the specified return node.


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