Using Java Servlets with Database Connectivity

The persistent nature of Java servlets makes them ideal for database/web technology. Mr. McDonald takes a look at using servlets with PostgreSQL and JDBC.
The Guest Book Application

My first guest-book application was a Perl CGI script that kept all the guest entries in a formatted text file that was displayed or added to as the parameters dictated—simple and effective. Unfortunately, I wanted to do more with that information, including linking back to the Apache log files and maybe even handing out cookies to monitor usage. The script, which started small and lean, began to choke on the file processing necessary. It was also a little distressing, since I had a very functional RDBMS installed and ready to use. I studied the alternatives (mod_perl) and decided to go with Servlets. The first step was to design the tables. The most important table holds each guest-book entry on a row.

CREATE TABLE guest_book (
        entryid         INT NOT NULL,
        response        CHAR(8),
        name            VARCHAR(32),
        addr            VARCHAR(48),
        email           VARCHAR(24),
        time            DATETIME,
        comment         TEXT,
        PRIMARY KEY (entryid)

Each row in the guest-book table is uniquely identified by the entryid column which has an implicit index. Additionally, the handling of these keys is handled by a key table, a convenience in a small application but almost essential in larger applications.

CREATE TABLE key_table (
        id                      INT NOT NULL,
        val             INT DEFAULT 0,
        PRIMARY KEY (id)
The key table is able to keep track of any number of keys within the range of the int type, which in my case is [-231,231-1]. In order to get a new key, the current key must be retrieved and then incremented. This must be atomic, i.e., the operation must take place in a transaction. This is illustrated in the getKey method. Ideally, a stored procedure would handle all these details (the key-table concept should not be visible to application developers in an ideal world), but this level of detail with PostgreSQL involves C shared libraries and Database APIs—something with which I did not want to get involved.

An additional problem that needed solving was how to provide servlets with property files in a consistent fashion. Property files provide a convenient way of placing data that would otherwise be hard-coded into the application. This is done by providing a property on the command line to JServ called base.dir which points to a world-writable directory (but is chmod +t so that user's may not stomp on other users files). This is specified in the httpd.conf file in the ServletBinaryArgument tag. In this directory you can store property files which may be loaded by servlets. I am sure this can be done in a smarter fashion.

The main processing entry point is the service method. From here, either the list of entries is displayed (listEntries), a form is displayed (showForm) or a new entry is made (addEntry). The code for the Guest Book application is not shown due to space considerations, but is included in the archive file at

Listing 4.

Listing 4 is the property file used to set up the various parts of the servlet. I moved a number of the HTML header and footer strings into this file along with the JDBC configuration parameters.


The servlet/JDBC/PostgreSQL proved to be a powerful and fast technology. Most of the problems I encountered were configuration problems that required me to carefully read the associated documentation. Unfortunately, technical documentation on Servlets is scarce and I would urge further experimentation. The next step I took with this application was to install Sybase ASE for Linux, a RDBMS with which I am comfortable. I then coded a number of stored procedures that allowed the Servlet to delegate most of its data manipulation to the database, where it rightly belongs. If you are going to replace PostgreSQL with Sybase, it is necessary to get the jConnect JDBC classes from the Sybase web site. Of course, this can be done with PostgreSQL, but learning the details of an RDBMS C API was tangential to the exercise.

All listings referred to in this article are available by anonymous download in the file

Bruce McDonald (