Various programming stuff

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Configuring Spring Boot


The Spring Boot project is great way of building Java applications using Spring. Instead of trying to integrate everything by hand (and usually end up with a configuration hell) you use spring-boot to help you to bootstrap your application: Just include its dependencies in your pom.xml and Spring Boot will try its best to auto-configure all these components!

Of course, no matter how hard Spring Boot tries to auto-configure everything, you’ll still need to pass some configuration to configure your databases, caches, email sending, security etc. Thankfully, Spring Boot can be configured without any xml (actually, its a bad practice to use xml-based configuration with it), using plain Java .properties files or (if you prefer the more compact syntax) YAML .yml files!

In this guide, along with a simple introduction to the way Spring Boot configuration works, we’ll talk about a specific way of stucturing your settings configuration files in order to have:

  • A global configuration file that will contain all your settings
  • Different settings for each of your environments (development, UAT, staging, production and test)
  • A way to configure your passwords and other sensitive data (that you don’t want to put to your VCS)
  • Being able to override any setting in any environment
  • Deploying your Spring Boot app in Linux using init.d

To quickly test the proposed settings configuration I’ve created a simple Spring Boot project @ https://github.com/spapas/spring-boot-config. Just clone it, optionally change the packaged settings (more on this later), package it (mvn package), optionally change the config settings (more on this also later) and run it (using something like java -jar spring-boot-config-0.0.1-SNAPSHOT.jar) optionally passing it command line settings (more on this also later). You’ll then be able to visit and check the current settings!

properties vs yml files

You can use two kinds of files to configure your settings: Normal Java .properties files or YAML .yml files. The .properties files have the form:


while the .yml files are like:

        a: 1
        b: 2
        c: 3

You may use whatever you wish - in the examples I’ll use normal Java .properties files because they are more compact (you don’t need to use multiple lines to represent a single setting like in YAML).

Structuring your configuration files

Spring Boot reads its configuration from various places, however in this article we’ll talk about four of them which should be enough for most cases. Starting from the most global to the most specific ones (i.e the latter ones will override the previous ones) these are:

  • Main (global) application settings
  • Profile settings
  • Local (/config) settings
  • Command line arguments

The first two are setting files that will be contained inside the artifact (jar or war) that will be created and should be commited to your version control system. I’ll call them jar-packaged settings. The other two won’t be commited to the version control but will be created directly on the server to-deploy. Let’s see a little more about them:

Main application settings

These are kept in a file named application.properties (or yml — from now on I’ll just use .properties` but keep in mind that you may use .yml): This file should reside inside the src\main\resources folder of your project and ideally contain all the settings your spring-boot application users. Some of these settings will be overriden by settings kept in the next source so they may have a default value or even be empty if they will be always overriden (or contain sensitive data like passwords), however I still prefer to list them all in this file even as placeholders to have a central source of all the settings that your Spring Boot application uses.


A profile is a set of settings that can be configured to override settings from application.properties. Each profile is contained in a file named application-profilename.properties where profilename is the name of the profile. Now, a profile could configure anything you want, however for most projects I propose to have the following profiles:

  • dev for your local development settings
  • uat for your UAT server settings
  • staging for your staging server settings
  • prod for your production settings
  • test for running your tests

(depending of course on what are your requirements, some projects may not need uat or staging but all projects should have a dev, a prod and a test profile). The configuration for these environemnts needs to be different for obvious reasons. For example when developing you may want to use a local database, when running tests an ephemeral in memory database and your production database when deploying to production. These profile configuration files will be stored inside your src\main\resources folder, right next to the application.properties, i.e you’ll have application-dev.properties, application-prod.properties, application-test.properties etc - and all these files will be kept in your VCS (and will also be jar-packaged since they will be contained in the resulting artifact).

How do you select which profile is active each time (i.e pick it when running the Spring Boot application under its corresponding environment)?

For tests, since they can be run by a different Main than the normal application, you should use the @ActiveProfiles annotation (for example @ActiveProfiles("test")) to make sure that the tests will run with the correct settings. So if the contents of your application-test.properties are config.value=Hello test! running this test should produce no errors:

@SpringApplicationConfiguration(classes = SpringBootConfigApplication.class)
public class SpringBootConfigApplicationTests {

    private String value;

    private String profile;

    public void contextLoads() {
        assertThat(value, is("Hello test!"));
        assertThat(profile, is("test"));

To activate a different profile when running your Spring Boot applications you’ll need to use the spring.profiles.active setting, so if you set spring.profiles.active=prod in your application.properties and create the packaged jar (or war) then you’ll have the production settings when you run your application (i.e the contents of application-prod.properties will be used to override your application.properties). Of course, to deploy it to UAT, you’ll need to change spring.profiles.active to uat and re-create the packaged artifact — see some repetition and penal labour here? Definitely you don’t want to do re-create your artifacts for each of the environments you may want to deploy — we’ll see in the next sections how to improve this flow by overriding jar-packaged settings!

Some more advanced profile usage

You may have noticed in the previous section that the name of the annotation is @ActiveProfiles and the name of the setting spring.profiles.active - both in plural. This of course is on purpose: You may have more than one active profiles!

This, along with the fact that you can make @Components or @Configuration available only on certail profiles is a really powerful tool!

Here are some examples:

  • Configure two spring-security @Configuration s: Use in memory security for your dev environment, while using LDAP for your production.
  • If you want to support more than one database you can configure multiple profiles — and use them along with the dev/uat/prod I mentioned before.
  • Create verbose and non-verbose logging profiles and quickly change between them

Overriding settings

All the above settings we’ve defined should be safely kept inside your VCS - however we wouldn’t like storing passwords or other sensitive data to a VCS! Sensitive settings should be empty (or have a default value) when saved to VCS and overriden by “local” settings.

Also, all the previous are jar-packaged and we definitely need a way to override them without messing with the artifacts (for example, we need to select the correct profile for running the application by overriding spring.profiles.active).

There two methods of overriding settings, and these are the last two methods of the four we discussed above:

Using a config/application.properties

You can put files in a directory named config that is at the same level as the location from which you try to run your jar. These file should be named either application.properties or application-profilename.properties and will be used to override your jar-packaged settings.

What happens is that Spring will at first try to load a file named config/application.properties that will override your jar-packaged application.properties (so here you can set your current profile). Then, it will also try to load a file named config/application-profilename.properties that will override your jar-packaged application-profilename.properties (so here you may override any profile related properties).

The priority of the files from lowest to highest:

  • jar-packaged application.properties
  • local config/application.properties
  • jar-packaged application-profilename.properties
  • local config/application-profilename.properties

So (repeating for emphasis) the settings in your jar-packaged application-profilename.properties will only be overriden by config/application-profilename.properties (and not by the config/application.properties which will only override settings on the jar-packaged application.properties).

Also, to make everything clear about where the config directory should be kept:

If the current directory from which you’ll run your jar is /home/serafeim and you want to execute /opt/spring/my-spring-app.jar (so you’ll run something like /home/serafeim$ java -jar /opt/spring/my-spring-app.jar) then the config directory should be at /home/serafeim/config (i.e at the same directory from where you execute jar). Normally however and to avoid confusion, the best approach would be to just put it at /opt/spring/config and cd /opt/spring before running your jar (so config will be right next to your jar and run the jar from the directory).

Finally, my recommendation is to keep these config/*properties files off version control (after all they should be different for each of your environments - common settings should go to the jar-packaged files) and to put only the profile selection setting and sensitive settings there. That means that the config/application.properties file should only contain a spring.profiles.active=profilename setting to set the correct profile for this instance of your app and the config/application-profilename.properties will contain all sensitive information that you’ll need to run that profile.

For example in your UAT server you’ll have spring.profiles.active=uat in your application.properties and your uat server passwords in your application-uat.properties

Passing command line arguments

The most specific way of overriding parameters (including the active profile of course) is by directly passing these parameters as arguments when running your jar. For example, if you run java -Dconfig.value=foo -jar my-spring-app.jar then the config.value will always have a value of foo no matter what you have in your other config files.

That’s a different way to set your active profile (by passing -Dspring.profiles.active=profilename) or to quickly set sensitive settings however I prefer to keep the settings in properties files (and not to put them in scripts where they will definitely be missed and will be more difficult to be managed) so I’ll recommend the previous way of using a non-commited to version control local config/application.properties. Use command line arguments only for quick tests (run something with a specific setting to test how it works).

Deploying Spring Boot applications

If you check the deployment documentation of Spring Boot you’ll see that it has various hints on on deploying Spring Boot applications. I won’t go into much detail about these however I’ll represent my recommendation on deploying Spring Boot apps on Linux as an init.d script:

What is really interesting about Spring boot is that it allows you to make your jar-packaged jars executable as an init.d script so that you will be able to manage it using something like service springbootapp start/stop/restart etc. To do that, you’ll just need to add the <executable>true</executable> configuration for your pom’s spring-boot-maven-plugin. This will add some things in the start of your resulting jar file that will make it behave as a unix init.d script. If you take a look at your package artifact you’ll see something like this:

#    .   ____          _            __ _ _
#   /\\ / ___'_ __ _ _(_)_ __  __ _ \ \ \ \
#  ( ( )\___ | '_ | '_| | '_ \/ _` | \ \ \ \
#   \\/  ___)| |_)| | | | | || (_| |  ) ) ) )
#    '  |____| .__|_| |_|_| |_\__, | / / / /
#   =========|_|==============|___/=/_/_/_/
#   :: Spring Boot Startup Script ::

# Provides:          spring-boot-config
# Required-Start:    $remote_fs $syslog $network
# Required-Stop:     $remote_fs $syslog $network
# Default-Start:     2 3 4 5
# Default-Stop:      0 1 6
# Short-Description: spring-boot-config
# Description:       Demo project for Spring Boot configuration
# chkconfig:         2345 99 01

[[ -n "$DEBUG" ]] && set -x

# Initialize variables that cannot be provided by a .conf file
# shellcheck disable=SC2153
[[ -n "$JARFILE" ]] && jarfile="$JARFILE"
[[ -n "$APP_NAME" ]] && identity="$APP_NAME"


One thing that may seem puzzling at first is that if make this jar executable and try to run it you’ll see that, instead of offering you the well known options of the init scripts (Usage … start/stop/restart etc) it will immediatelly run the application! This is because the embedded script is smart enough to check that it will be executed as an init script only when it is executed as a link from /etc/init.d - else it will immediately run the application.

If you want to quickly test that behavior, you may override the MODE parameter which forces the mode of operation of the jar. If you want to run it as a script (without using a links from /etc/ini.d) then just set MODE=service. So, try runnin:

> MODE=service ./springapplication.jar
Usage: ./hsk9eea.jar {start|stop|restart|force-reload|status|run}

Success! Of course, this is just for testing purposes, to actually deploy your application then please create a link to it from /etc/init.d as proposed by the Spring Boot docs.

If you want to customize the init.d script you can use a file named sprinbootapp.conf in the same directory as your springbootapp.jar (i.e it should have the same name as your jar with an extension of .conf). The options from it will be sourced before running your application — for example you could set the active profile using RUN_ARGS, however as I already recommended, explicitly setting it to a file named config/applications.properties is preferrable.


Using the described file structure you should be able to fully configure Spring Boot and have all the goodies you’d expect from a modern framework: global settings, profiles, non-version control settings! Also, using the advanced profiles techniques (multiple profiles, profile enabled @Components and @Configurations) you’ll be able to implement some really complex configurations! Finally, you’ll be able to really quickly deploy the resulting jar as an init.d system service!