Http Message Converters with the Spring

In this post, we will cover Spring HttpMessageConverters.We will discuss how to configure and create custom converters in Spring MVC.



To put in laymen terms, message converters are to marshal and unmarshal object in a different format (like JSON, XML etc.).Spring MVC uses the HttpMessageConverter interface to convert HTTP requests and responses.Spring MVC provides some out of the box default configurations for the converters.


1. MVC Configurations

To enable support for the Http message converters with the Spring MVC, we need to enable Spring MVC support either using Java config or the traditional XML based configuration.

public class WebMVCConfig implements WebMvcConfigurer {
// Implement configuration methods...

For the XML, used <mvc:annotation-driven>/p>

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<beans xmlns=""


Above configurations help Spring MVC in 

  • Register and enable a number of core/infrastructure beans (e.g HandlerMapper, ViewResolver, ThemeResolver, LocalResolver etc. Beans).
  • Configure and enable different message converter (e.g JSOn, XML etc.)


1. The Default Message Converters

By default, the following HttpMessageConverters are loaded by Spring

  • ByteArrayHttpMessageConverter – that can read and write byte arrays
  • ResourceHttpMessageConverter -can read/write Resources and supports byte range request
  • SourceHttpMessageConverter – can read and write Source objects.
  • StringHttpMessageConverter – read and write strings
  • FormHttpMessageConverter – read and write ‘normal’ HTML forms .

Spring provides other sets of message converters, but they will only be registered when the related library is in the classpath, here are some of the popular converters from the list

  • MappingJacksonHttpMessageConverter –  For converting JSON 
  • Jaxb2RootElementHttpMessageConverter –  To convert Java objects to/from XML
  • MappingJackson2HttpMessageConverter – To convert JSON.

Read HttpMessageConverter for more detail.


2. Spring MVC Content Negotiation

Http message converters work in close relation with the content negotiation.Before getting into more details, let’s discuss how content negotiation works in Spring.

  1. With the new request, Spring use “Accept” header to find what type of representation required on the client side.
  2. Content-Type: This header tells about the media type of the body of the request.
  3. This header helps server or the client to select the correct approach to handle and eventually parse the data by selecting right converter.
  4. Based on this, Spring will try to find a converter which can handle and parse this request.

Let’s take a simple example to understand this more clearly.

  • Client or browser send GET request to /customer resource with Accept header as application/json.
  • Based on the Accept header, Spring will choose appropriate converter to parse the incoming request (In our example, it will choose JSON message converter).
  • If no right converter is found, Spring will throw the exception.

Read Content Negotiation for more detail.Let’s take a deeper look at @RequestBody and @ResponseBody annotation to see how they work with Http message converters the Spring.


2.1 @RequestBody Annotation

Annotation indicating a method parameter should be bound to the body of the web request. It works with “Content-Type” header passed by the client.Spring use this header value to find the right converter.

@PostMapping(value = "/greeting")
public @ResponseBody void greeting(@RequestBody Customer customer){
   //create customer

Use any REST client or curl to execute code, we will get 200 OK response.

curl -i -X POST -H "Content-Type: application/json" -d '{"id":"14","name":"Java Dev Journal"}' http://localhost:8080/greeting
HTTP/1.1 200 
Content-Length: 0
Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2018 04:28:23 GMT
2.2 @ResponseBody Annotation

@ResponseBody is used on the argument of a Controller method.This annotation tells Spring that the return value of the method serialized directly to the body of the HTTP Response.

@ResponseBody annotation work with “Accept” header passed by the client to decide what type of representation required on the client side.

@GetMapping(value = "/greeting")
public @ResponseBody Customer greeting(){
  Customer customer = new Customer(14, "Java Dev Journal");
  return customer;


curl --header "Accept: application/json" http://localhost:8080/greeting
   "name":"Java Dev Journal"


3. Custom Converter

To create a custom message converter in Spring, we should overrideconfigureMessageConverters() by extending WebMvcConfigurerAdapter class.

public class WebConfig implements configureMessageConverters {

 public void configureMessageConverters(List<HttpMessageConverter<?>> converters) {

   MarshallingHttpMessageConverter xmlConverter =new MarshallingHttpMessageConverter();
   XStreamMarshaller xstream = new XStreamMarshaller();

[pullquote align=”normal”]We need Xtream library in the classpath [/pullquote]

Let’s check what we did in this example

  • We are overriding configureMessageConverters() method under configureMessageConverters to define our own custom converter.
  •  Created instance of MarshallingHttpMessageConverter to read and write XML using Spring’s Marshaller and Unmarshaller.
  • We created XStreamMarshaller instance and set Marshaller and Unmarshaller for the MarshallingHttpMessageConverter.
  • Finally, we added this converter to the list of converters.

Let’s see our custom converter in action

curl --header "Accept: application/json" http://localhost:8080/greeting
curl --header "Accept: application/xml" http://localhost:8080/greeting


   "name":"Java Dev Journal"
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
   <name>Java Dev Journal</name>



In this post, we will cover Spring HttpMessageConverters.We discussed how content negotiation works and how to create and register your custom converter in Spring.