Custom Web Controller Arguments with Spring MVC and Spring Boot

Spring MVC provides a very convenient programming model for creating web controllers. We declare a method signature and the method arguments will be resolved automatically by Spring. We can make it even more convenient by letting Spring pass custom objects from our domain into controller methods so we don’t have to map them each time.

Example Code

This article is accompanied by a working code example on GitHub.

Why Would I Want Custom Arguments in My Web Controllers?

Let’s say we’re building an application managing Git repositories similar to GitHub.

To identify a certain GitRepository entity, we use a GitRepositoryId value object instead of a simple Long value. This way, we cannot accidentally confuse a repository ID with a user ID, for example.

Now, we’d like to use a GitRepositoryId instead of a Long in the method signatures of our web controllers so we don’t have to do that conversion ourselves.

Another use case is when we want to extract some context object from the URL path for all our controllers. For example, think of the repository name on GitHub: every URL starts with a repository name.

So, each time we have a repository name in a URL, we’d like to have Spring automatically convert that repository name to a full-blown GitRepository entity and pass it into our web controller for further processing.

In the following sections, we’re looking at a solution for each of these use cases.

Converting Primitives into Value Objects with a Converter

Let’s start with the simple one.

Using a Custom Value Object in a Controller Method Signature

We want Spring to automatically convert a path variable into a GitRepositoryId object:

class GitRepositoryController {

  String getSomething(@PathVariable("repoId") GitRepositoryId repositoryId) {
    // ... load and return repository


We’re binding the repositoryId method parameter to the {repositoryId} path variable. Spring will now try to create a GitRepositoryId object from the String value in the path.

Our GitRepositoryId is a simple value object:

class GitRepositoryId {
  private final long value;

We use the Lombok annotation @Value so we don’t have to create constructors and getters ourselves.

Creating a Test

Let’s create a test and see if it passes:

@WebMvcTest(controllers = GitRepositoryController.class)
class GitRepositoryIdConverterTest {

  private MockMvc mockMvc;

  void resolvesGitRepositoryId() throws Exception {


This test performs a GET request to the endpoint /repositories/42 and checks is the response HTTP status code is 200 (OK).

By running the test before having the solution in place, we can make sure that we actually have a problem to solve. It turns out, we do, because running the test will result in an error like this:

Failed to convert value of type 'java.lang.String' 
  to required type '...GitRepositoryId';
  nested exception is java.lang.IllegalStateException: 
  Cannot convert value of type 'java.lang.String' 
  to required type '...GitRepositoryId': 
  no matching editors or conversion strategy found

Building a Converter

Fixing this is rather easy. All we need to do is to implement a custom Converter:

class GitRepositoryIdConverter implements Converter<String, GitRepositoryId> {

  public GitRepositoryId convert(String source) {
    return new GitRepositoryId(Long.parseLong(source));

Since all input from HTTP requests is considered a String, we need to build a Converter that converts a String value to a GitRepositoryId.

By adding the @Component annotation, we make this converter known to Spring. Spring will then automatically apply this converter to all controller method arguments of type GitRepositoryId.

If we run the test now, it’s green.

Providing a valueOf() Method

Instead of building a converter, we can also provide a static valueOf() method on our value object:

class GitRepositoryId {

  private final long value;

  public static GitRepositoryId valueOf(String value){
    return new GitRepositoryId(Long.parseLong(value));


In effect, this method does the same as the converter we built above (converting a String into a value object).

If a method like this is available on an object that is used as a parameter in a controller method, Spring will automatically call it to do the conversion without the need of a separate Converter bean.

Resolving Custom Arguments with a HandlerMethodArgumentResolver

The above solution with the Converter only works because we’re using Spring’s @PathVariable annotation to bind the method parameter to a variable in the URL path.

Now, let’s say that ALL our URLs start with the name of a Git repository (called a URL-friendly “slug”) and we want to minimize boilerplate code:

  • We don’t want to pollute our code with lots of @PathVariable annotations.
  • We don’t want every controller to have to check if the repository slug in the URL is valid.
  • We don’t want every controller to have to load the repository data from the database.

We can achieve this by building a custom HandlerMethodArgumentResolver.

Using a Custom Object in a Controller Method Signature

Let’s start with how we expect the controller code to look:

@RequestMapping(path = "/{repositorySlug}")
class GitRepositoryController {

  String listContributors(GitRepository repository) {
    // list the contributors of the GitRepository ...

  // more controller methods ...


In the class-level @RequestMapping annotation, we define that all requests start with a {repositorySlug} variable.

The listContributors() method will be called when someone hits the path /{repositorySlug}/contributors/. The method requires a GitRepository object as an argument so that it knows which git repository to work with.

We now want to create some code that will be applied to ALL controller methods and

  • checks the database if a repository with the given {repositorySlug} exists
  • if the repository doesn’t exist, returns HTTP status code 404
  • if the repository exists, hydrates a GitRepository object with the repository data and passes that into the controller method.

Creating a Test

Again, let’s start with a test to define our requirements:

@WebMvcTest(controllers = GitRepositoryController.class)
class GitRepositoryArgumentResolverTest {

  private MockMvc mockMvc;

  private GitRepositoryFinder repositoryFinder;

  void resolvesSiteSuccessfully() throws Exception {

        .willReturn(Optional.of(new GitRepository(1L, "my-repo")));


  void notFoundOnUnknownSlug() throws Exception {




We have two test cases:

The first checks the happy path. If the GitRepositoryFinder finds a repository with the given slug, we expect the HTTP status code to be 200 (OK).

The second test checks the error path. If the GitRepositoryFinder doesn’t find a repository with the given slug, we expect the HTTP status code to be 404 (NOT FOUND).

If we run the test without doing anything, we’ll get an error like this:

Caused by: java.lang.AssertionError: Expecting actual not to be null

This means that the GitRepository object passed into the controller methods is null.

Creating a HandlerMethodArgumentResolver

Let’s fix that. We do this by implementing a custom HandlerMethodArgumentResolver:

class GitRepositoryArgumentResolver implements HandlerMethodArgumentResolver {

  private final GitRepositoryFinder repositoryFinder;

  public boolean supportsParameter(MethodParameter parameter) {
    return parameter.getParameter().getType() == GitRepository.class;

  public Object resolveArgument(
      MethodParameter parameter,
      ModelAndViewContainer mavContainer,
      NativeWebRequest webRequest,
      WebDataBinderFactory binderFactory) {

    String requestPath = ((ServletWebRequest) webRequest)

    String slug = requestPath
        .substring(0, requestPath.indexOf("/", 1))
        .replaceAll("^/", "");
    return gitRepositoryFinder.findBySlug(slug)

In resolveArgument(), we extract the first segment of the request path, which should contain our repository slug.

Then, we feed this slug into GitRepositoryFinder to load the repository from the database.

If GitRepositoryFinder doesn’t find a repository with that slug, we throw a custom NotFoundException. Otherwise, we return the GitRepository object we found in the database.

Register the HandlerMethodArgumentResolver

Now, we have to make our GitRepositoryArgumentResolver known to Spring Boot:

class GitRepositoryArgumentResolverConfiguration implements WebMvcConfigurer {

  private final GitRepositoryFinder repositoryFinder;

  public void addArgumentResolvers(
      List<HandlerMethodArgumentResolver> resolvers) {
    resolvers.add(new GitRepositoryArgumentResolver(repositoryFinder));


We implement the WebMvcConfigurer interface and add our GitRepositoryArgumentResolver to the list of resolvers. Don’t forget to make this configurer known to Spring Boot by adding the @Component annotation.

Mapping NotFoundException to HTTP Status 404

Finally, we want to map our custom NotFoundException to the HTTP status code 404. We do this by creating a controller advice:

class ErrorHandler {

  ResponseEntity<?> handleHttpStatusCodeException(NotFoundException e) {
    return ResponseEntity.status(e.getStatusCode()).build();


The @ControllerAdvice annotation will register the ErrorHandler class to be applied to all web controllers.

In handleHttpStatusCodeException() we return a ResponseEntity with HTTP status code 404 in case of a NotFoundException.

What Arguments Can We Pass into Web Controller Methods by Default?

There’s a whole bunch of method arguments that Spring supports by default so that we don’t have to add any custom argument resolvers. The complete list is available in the docs.


With Converters, we can convert web controller method arguments annotated with @PathVariables or @RequestParams to value objects.

With a HandlerMethodArgumentResolver, we can resolve any method argument type. This is used heavily by the Spring framework itself, for example, to resolve method arguments annotated with @ModelAttribute or @PathVariable or to resolve arguments of type RequestEntity or Model.

You can view the example code on GitHub.

Tom Hombergs

As a professional software engineer, consultant, architect, general problem solver, I've been practicing the software craft for more fifteen years and I'm still learning something new every day. I love sharing the things I learned, so you (and future me) can get a head start. That's why I founded

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