Introduction

Groovy supports multiple ways to generate text dynamically including GStrings, printf if you are using Java 5, and MarkupBuilder just to name a few. In addition to these, there is a dedicated template framework which is well-suited to applications where the text to be generated follows the form of a static template.

Template framework

The template framework in Groovy consists of a TemplateEngine abstract base class that engines must implement and a Template interface that the resulting templates they generate must implement.

Included with Groovy are several template engines:

  • SimpleTemplateEngine - for basic templates

  • GStringTemplateEngine - stores the template as writable closures (useful for streaming scenarios)

  • XmlTemplateEngine - works well when the template and output are valid XML

  • MarkupTemplateEngine - a very complete, optimized, template engine

SimpleTemplateEngine

Shown here is the SimpleTemplateEngine that allows you to use JSP-like scriptlets (see example below), script, and EL expressions in your template in order to generate parameterized text. Here is an example of using the system:

def text = 'Dear "$firstname $lastname",\nSo nice to meet you in <% print city %>.\nSee you in ${month},\n${signed}'

def binding = ["firstname":"Sam", "lastname":"Pullara", "city":"San Francisco", "month":"December", "signed":"Groovy-Dev"]

def engine = new groovy.text.SimpleTemplateEngine()
def template = engine.createTemplate(text).make(binding)

def result = 'Dear "Sam Pullara",\nSo nice to meet you in San Francisco.\nSee you in December,\nGroovy-Dev'

assert result == template.toString()

While it is generally not deemed good practice to mix processing logic in your template (or view), sometimes very simple logic can be useful. E.g. in the example above, we could change this:

$firstname

to this (assuming we have set up a static import for capitalize inside the template):

${firstname.capitalize()}

or this:

<% print city %>

to this:

<% print city == "New York" ? "The Big Apple" : city %>

Advanced Usage Note

If you happen to be embedding your template directly in your script (as we did above) you have to be careful about backslash escaping. Because the template string itself will be parsed by Groovy before it is passed to the the templating framework, you have to escape any backslashes inside GString expressions or scriptlet code that are entered as part of a Groovy program. E.g. if we wanted quotes around The Big Apple above, we would use:

<% print city == "New York" ? "\\"The Big Apple\\"" : city %>

Similarly, if we wanted a newline, we would use:

\\n

in any GString expression or scriptlet 'code' that appears inside a Groovy script. A normal "\n" is fine within the static template text itself or if the entire template itself is in an external template file. Similarly, to represent an actual backslash in your text you would need

\\\\

in an external file or

\\\\

in any GString expression or scriptlet 'code'. (Note: the necessity to have this extra slash may go away in a future version of Groovy if we can find an easy way to support such a change.)

GStringTemplateEngine

As an example of using the GStringTemplateEngine, here is the example above done again (with a few changes to show some other options). First we will store the template in a file this time:

test.template
Dear "$firstname $lastname",
So nice to meet you in <% out << (city == "New York" ? "\\"The Big Apple\\"" : city) %>.
See you in ${month},
${signed}

Note that we used out instead of print to support the streaming nature of GStringTemplateEngine. Because we have the template in a separate file, there is no need to escape the backslashes. Here is how we call it:

def f = new File('test.template')
def engine = new groovy.text.GStringTemplateEngine()
def template = engine.createTemplate(f).make(binding)
println template.toString()

and here is the output:

Dear "Sam Pullara",
So nice to meet you in "The Big Apple".
See you in December,
Groovy-Dev

XmlTemplateEngine

XmlTemplateEngine for use in templating scenarios where both the template source and the expected output are intended to be XML. Templates may use the normal ${expression} and $variable notations to insert an arbitrary expression into the template. In addition, support is also provided for special tags: <gsp:scriptlet> (for inserting code fragments) and <gsp:expression> (for code fragments which produce output).

Comments and processing instructions will be removed as part of processing and special XML characters such as <, >, " and ' will be escaped using the respective XML notation. The output will also be indented using standard XML pretty printing.

The xmlns namespace definition for gsp: tags will be removed but other namespace definitions will be preserved (but may change to an equivalent position within the XML tree).

Normally, the template source will be in a file but here is a simple example providing the XML template as a string:

def binding = [firstname: 'Jochen', lastname: 'Theodorou', nickname: 'blackdrag', salutation: 'Dear']
def engine = new groovy.text.XmlTemplateEngine()
def text = '''\
    <document xmlns:gsp='http://groovy.codehaus.org/2005/gsp' xmlns:foo='baz' type='letter'>
        <gsp:scriptlet>def greeting = "${salutation}est"</gsp:scriptlet>
        <gsp:expression>greeting</gsp:expression>
        <foo:to>$firstname "$nickname" $lastname</foo:to>
        How are you today?
    </document>
'''
def template = engine.createTemplate(text).make(binding)
println template.toString()

This example will produce this output:

<document type='letter'>
  Dearest
  <foo:to xmlns:foo='baz'>
    Jochen &quot;blackdrag&quot; Theodorou
  </foo:to>
  How are you today?
</document>

The MarkupTemplateEngine

This template engine is a template engine primarily aimed at generating XML-like markup (XML, XHTML, HTML5, …). Unlike traditional template engines, this one relies on a DSL that uses the builder syntax. Here is a sample template:

xmlDeclaration()
cars {
   cars.each {
       car(make: it.make, model: it.model)
   }
}

If you feed it with the following model:

model = [cars: [new Car(make: 'Peugeot', model: '508'), new Car(make: 'Toyota', model: 'Prius')]]

It would be rendered as:

<?xml version='1.0'?>
<cars><car make='Peugeot' model='508'/><car make='Toyota' model='Prius'/></cars>

The key features of this template engine are:

  • a markup builder like syntax

  • templates are compiled into bytecode

  • fast rendering

  • optional type checking of the model

  • includes

  • internationalization support

The template format
Basics

Templates consist of Groovy code. Let’s explore the first example more throughfully:

xmlDeclaration()                                (1)
cars {                                          (2)
   cars.each {                                  (3)
       car(make: it.make, model: it.model)      (4)
   }                                            (5)
}
1 renders the XML declaration string.
2 opens a cars tag
3 cars is a variable found in the template model, which is a list of Car instances
4 for each item, we create a car tag with the attributes from the Car instance
5 closes the cars tag

As you can see, regular Groovy code can be used in the template. Here, we are calling each on a list (retrieved from the model), allowing us to render one car tag per entry.

In a similar fashion, rendering HTML code is as simple as this:

yieldUnescaped '<!DOCTYPE html>'                                                    (1)
html(lang:'en') {                                                                   (2)
    head {                                                                          (3)
        meta('http-equiv':'"Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8"')      (4)
        title('My page')                                                            (5)
    }                                                                               (6)
    body {                                                                          (7)
        p('This is an example of HTML contents')                                    (8)
    }                                                                               (9)
}                                                                                   (10)
1 renders the HTML doctype special tag
2 opens the html tag with an attribute
3 opens the head tag
4 renders a meta tag with one http-equiv attribute
5 renders the title tag
6 closes the head tag
7 opens the body tag
8 renders a p tag
9 closes the body tag
10 closes the html tag

The output is straightforward:

<!DOCTYPE html><html lang='en'><head><meta http-equiv='"Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8"'/><title>My page</title></head><body><p>This is an example of HTML contents</p></body></html>
With some configuration, you can have the output pretty printed, with newlines and indent automatically added.
Support methods

In the previous example, the doctype declaration was rendered using the yieldUnescaped method. We have also seen the xmlDeclaration method. The template engine provides several support methods that will help you render contents appropriately:

Method Description Example

yield

Renders contents, but escapes it before rendering

Template:

yield 'Some text with <angle brackets>'

Output:

Some text with &lt;angle brackets&gt;

yieldUnescaped

Renders raw contents. The argument is rendered as is, without escaping.

Template:

yieldUnescaped 'Some text with <angle brackets>'

Output:

Some text with <angle brackets>

xmlDeclaration

Renders an XML declaration String. If the encoding is specified in the configuration, it is written in the declaration.

Template:

xmlDeclaration()

Output:

<?xml version='1.0'?>

If TemplateConfiguration#getDeclarationEncoding is not null:

Output:

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?>

comment

Renders raw contents inside an XML comment

Template:

comment 'This is <a href="foo.html">commented out</a>'

Output:

<!--This is <a href="foo.html">commented out</a>-->

newLine

Renders a new line. See also TemplateConfiguration#setAutoNewLine and TemplateConfiguration#setNewLineString.

Template:

p('text')
newLine()
p('text on new line')

Output:

<p>text</p>
<p>text on new line</p>

pi

Renders an XML processing instruction.

Template:

pi("xml-stylesheet":[href:"mystyle.css", type:"text/css"])

Output:

<?xml-stylesheet href='mystyle.css' type='text/css'?>

tryEscape

Returns an escaped string for an object, if it is a String (or any type derived from CharSequence). Otherwise returns the object itself.

Template:

yieldUnescaped tryEscape('Some text with <angle brackets>')

Output:

Some text with &lt;angle brackets&gt;
Includes

The MarkupTemplateEngine supports inclusion of contents from another file. Included contents may be:

  • another template

  • raw contents

  • contents to be escaped

Including another template can be done using:

include template: 'other_template.tpl'

Including a file as raw contents, without escaping it, can be done like this:

include unescaped: 'raw.txt'

Eventually, inclusion of text that should be escaped before rendering can be done using:

include escaped: 'to_be_escaped.txt'

Alternatively, you can use the following helper methods instead:

  • includeGroovy(<name>) to include another template

  • includeEscaped(<name>) to include another file with escaping

  • includeUnescaped(<name>) to include another file without escaping

Calling those methods instead of the include xxx: syntax can be useful if the name of the file to be included is dynamic (stored in a variable for example). Files to be included (independently of their type, template or text) are found on classpath. This is one of the reasons why the MarkupTemplateEngine takes an optional ClassLoader as constructor argument (the other reason being that you can include code referencing other classes in a template).

If you don’t want your templates to be on classpath, the MarkupTemplateEngine accepts a convenient constructor that lets you define the directory where templates are to be found.

Rendering contents
Creation of a template engine

On the server side, rendering templates require an instance of groovy.text.markup.MarkupTemplateEngine and a groovy.text.markup.TemplateConfiguration:

TemplateConfiguration config = new TemplateConfiguration();         (1)
MarkupTemplateEngine engine = new MarkupTemplateEngine(config);     (2)
Template template = engine.createTemplate("p('test template')");    (3)
Map<String, Object> model = new HashMap<>();                        (4)
Writable output = template.make(model);                             (5)
output.writeTo(writer);                                             (6)
1 creates a template configuration
2 creates a template engine with this configuration
3 creates a template instance from a String
4 creates a model to be used in the template
5 bind the model to the template instance
6 render output

There are several possible options to parse templates:

  • from a String, using createTemplate(String)

  • from a Reader, using createTemplate(Reader)

  • from a URL, using createTemplate(URL)

  • given a template name, using createTemplateByPath(String)

The last version should in general be preferred:

Template template = engine.createTemplateByPath("main.tpl");
Writable output = template.make(model);
output.writeTo(writer);
Configuration options

The behavior of the engine can be tweaked with several configuration options accessible through the TemplateConfiguration class:

Option Default value Description Example

declarationEncoding

null

Determines the value of the encoding to be written when xmlDeclaration is called. It does not influence the writer you are using as output.

Template:

xmlDeclaration()

Output:

<?xml version='1.0'?>

If TemplateConfiguration#getDeclarationEncoding is not null:

Output:

<?xml version='1.0' encoding='UTF-8'?>

expandEmptyElements

false

If true, empty tags are rendered in their expanded form.

Template:

p()

Output:

<p/>

If expandEmptyElements is true:

Output:

<p></p>

useDoubleQuotes

false

If true, use double quotes for attributes instead of simple quotes

Template:

tag(attr:'value')

Output:

<tag attr='value'/>

If useDoubleQuotes is true:

Output:

<tag attr="value"/>

newLineString

System default (system property line.separator)

Allows to choose what string is used when a new line is rendered

Template:

p('foo')
newLine()
p('baz')

If newLineString='BAR':

Output:

<p>foo</p>BAR<p>baz</p>

autoEscape

false

If true, variables from models are automatically escaped before rendering.

autoIndent

false

If true, performs automatic indentation after new lines

autoIndentString

four (4) spaces

The string to be used as indent.

autoNewLine

false

If true, performs automatic insertion of new lines

baseTemplateClass

groovy.text.markup.BaseTemplate

Sets the super class of compiled templates. This can be used to provide application specific templates.

locale

Default locale

Sets the default locale for templates.

Once the template engine has been created, it is unsafe to change the configuration.
Automatic formatting

By default, the template engine will render output without any specific formatting. Some configuration options can improve the situation:

  • autoIndent is responsible for auto-indenting after a new line is inserted

  • autoNewLine is responsible for automatically inserting new lines based on the original formatting of the template source

In general, it is recommanded to set both autoIndent and autoNewLine to true if you want human-readable, pretty printed, output:

config.setAutoNewLine(true);
config.setAutoIndent(true);

Using the following template:

html {
    head {
        title('Title')
    }
}

The output will now be:

<html>
    <head>
        <title>Title</title>
    </head>
</html>

We can slightly change the template so that the title intruction is found on the same line as the head one:

html {
    head { title('Title')
    }
}

And the output will reflect that:

<html>
    <head><title>Title</title>
    </head>
</html>

New lines are only inserted where curly braces for tags are found, and the insertion corresponds to where the nested content is found. This means that tags in the body of another tag will not trigger new lines unless they use curly braces themselves:

html {
    head {
        meta(attr:'value')          (1)
        title('Title')              (2)
        newLine()                   (3)
        meta(attr:'value2')         (4)
    }
}
1 a new line is inserted because meta is not on the same line as head
2 no new line is inserted, because we’re on the same depth as the previous tag
3 we can force rendering of a new line by explicitly calling newLine
4 and this tag will be rendered on a separate line

This time, the output will be:

<html>
    <head>
        <meta attr='value'/><title>Title</title>
        <meta attr='value2'/>
    </head>
</html>

By default, the renderer uses four(4) spaces as indent, but you can change it by setting the TemplateConfiguration#autoIndentString property.

Automatic escaping

By default, contents which is read from the model is rendered as is. If this contents comes from user input, it can be sensible, and you might want to escape it by default, for example to avoid XSS injection. For that, the template configuration provides an option which will automatically escape objects from the model, as long as they inherit from CharSequence (typically, `String`s).

Let’s imagine the following setup:

config.setAutoEscape(false);
model = new HashMap<String,Object>();
model.put("unsafeContents", "I am an <html> hacker.");

and the following template:

html {
    body {
        div(unsafeContents)
    }
}

Then you wouldn’t want the HTML from unsafeContents to be rendered as is, because of potential security issues:

<html><body><div>I am an <html> hacker.</div></body></html>

Automatic escaping will fix this:

config.setAutoEscape(true);

And now the output is properly escaped:

<html><body><div>I am an &lt;html&gt; hacker.</div></body></html>

Note that using automatic escaping doesn’t prevent you from including unescaped contents from the model. To do this, your template should then explicitly mention that a model variable should not be escaped by prefixing it with unescaped., like in this example:

Explicit bypass of automatic escaping
html {
    body {
        div(unescaped.unsafeContents)
    }
}
Internationalization

The template engine has native support for internationalization. For that, when you create the TemplateConfiguration, you can provide a Locale which is the default locale to be used for templates. Each template may have different versions, one for each locale. The name of the template makes the difference:

  • file.tpl: default template file

  • file_fr_FR.tpl: french version of the template

  • file_en_US.tpl: american english version of the template

When a template is rendered or included, then:

  • if the template name or include name explicitly sets a locale, the specific version is included, or the default version if not found

  • if the template name doesn’t include a locale, the version for the TemplateConfiguration locale is used, or the default version if not found

For example, imagine the default locale is set to Locale.ENGLISH and that the main template includes:

Use an explicit locale in include
include template: 'locale_include_fr_FR.tpl'

then the template is rendered using the specific template:

Bypass the template configuration
Texte en fran├žais

Using an include without specifying a locale will make the template engine look for a template with the configured locale, and if not, fallback to the default, like here:

Don’t use a locale in include
include template: 'locale_include.tpl'
Fallback to the default template
Default text

However, changing the default locale of the template engine to Locale.FRANCE will change the output, because the template engine will now look for a file with the fr_FR locale:

Don’t fallback to the default template because a locale specific template was found
Texte en fran├žais

This strategy lets you translate your templates one by one, by relying on default templates, for which no locale is set in the file name.

Custom template classes

By default, templates created inherit the groovy.text.markup.BaseTemplate class. It may be interesting for an application to provide a different template class, for example to provide additional helper methods which are aware of the application, or customized rendering primitives (for HTML, for example).

The template engine provides this ability by setting an alternative baseTemplateClass in the TemplateConfiguration:

config.setBaseTemplateClass(MyTemplate.class);

The custom base class has to extend BaseClass like in this example:

public abstract class MyTemplate extends BaseTemplate {
    private List<Module> modules
    public MyTemplate(
            final MarkupTemplateEngine templateEngine,
            final Map model,
            final Map<String, String> modelTypes,
            final TemplateConfiguration configuration) {
        super(templateEngine, model, modelTypes, configuration)
    }

    List<Module> getModules() {
        return modules
    }

    void setModules(final List<Module> modules) {
        this.modules = modules
    }

    boolean hasModule(String name) {
        modules?.any { it.name == name }
    }
}

This example shows a class which provides an additional method named hasModule, which can then be used directly in the template:

if (hasModule('foo')) {
    p 'Found module [foo]'
} else {
    p 'Module [foo] not found'
}
Type checked templates
Optional type checking

Even if templates are not type checked, they are statically compiled. This means that once the templates are compiled, performance should be very good. For some applications, it might be good to make sure that templates are valid before they are actually rendered. This means failing template compilation, for example, if a method on a model variable doesn’t exist.

The MarkupTemplateEngine provides such a facility. Templates can be optionally type checked. For that, the developer must provide additional information at template creation time, which is the types of the variables found in the model. Imagine a model exposing a list of pages, where a page is defined as:

Page.groovy
public class Page {

    Long id
    String title
    String body
}

Then a list of pages can be exposed in the model, like this:

Page p = new Page();
p.setTitle("Sample page");
p.setBody("Page body");
List<Page> pages = new LinkedList<>();
pages.add(p);
model = new HashMap<String,Object>();
model.put("pages", pages);

A template can use it easily:

pages.each { page ->                    (1)
    p("Page title: $page.title")        (2)
    p(page.text)                        (3)
}
1 iterate on pages from the model
2 page.title is valid
3 page.text is not (should be page.body)

Without type checking, the compilation of the template succeeds, because the template engine doesn’t know about the model until a page is actually rendered. This means that the problem would only surface at runtime, once the page is rendered:

Runtime error
No such property: text

In some situations, this can be complicated to sort out or even notice. By declaring the type of the pages to the template engine, we’re now capable of failing at compile time:

modelTypes = new HashMap<String,String>();                                          (1)
modelTypes.put("pages", "List<Page>");                                              (2)
Template template = engine.createTypeCheckedModelTemplate("main.tpl", modelTypes)   (3)
1 create a map which will hold the model types
2 declare the type of the pages variables (note the use of a string for the type)
3 use createTypeCheckedModelTemplate instead of createTemplate

This time, when the template is compiled at the last line, an error occurs:

Template compilation time error
[Static type checking] - No such property: text for class: Page

This means that you don’t need to wait for the page to be rendered to see an error. The use of createTypeCheckedModelTemplate is mandatory.

Alternative declaration of types

Alternatively, if the developer is also the one who writes the templates, it is possible to declare the types of the expected variables directly in the template. In this case, even if you call createTemplate, it will be type checked:

Inline declaration of types
modelTypes = {                          (1)
    List<Page> pages                    (2)
}

pages.each { page ->
    p("Page title: $page.title")
    p(page.text)
}
1 types need to be declared in the modelTypes header
2 declare one variable per object in the model
Performance of type checked templates

An additional interest of using type checked models is that performance should improve. By telling the type checker what are the expected types, you also let the compiler generate optimized code for that, so if you are looking for the best performance, consider using type checked templates.

Other solutions

Also, there are other templating solutions that can be used along with Groovy, such as FreeMarker, Velocity, StringTemplate and others.