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HTTP routing

The router is the component in charge of translating incoming HTTP Requests into action calls (a static, public method of a Controller).

An HTTP request is seen as an event by the MVC framework. The event contains two major pieces of information:

About REST

Representational state transfer (REST) is a style of software architecture for distributed hypermedia systems such as the World Wide Web.

REST states a few key design principles:

If you’re using HTTP, these interfaces are defined by the set of available HTTP methods. The protocol used to access the resource state is:

If an application follows the main REST design principles, the application is RESTFul. The Play framework makes it easy to build RESTFul applications:

The routes file syntax

The conf/routes file is the configuration file used by the Router. This file lists all the routes needed by the application. Each route consists of an HTTP method + URI pattern associated with a Java call.

Let’s see what a route definition looks like:

GET    /clients/{id}              

Each route starts with the HTTP method, followed by the URI pattern. The last element of a route is the Java call definition.

You can add a comment to the route file, with the "#" character.

# Display a client
GET    /clients/{id}              

The HTTP method

The HTTP method can be any one of the any valid methods supported by HTTP:

If you specify * as method, this route will match the HTTP Request for any method.

*   /clients/{id}              

This route will accept independently:

GET /clients/1541
PUT /clients/1212

The URI Pattern

The URI pattern defines the request path needed by the route Some parts of the route can be dynamic. Any dynamic part must be specified within braces {…}.


exactly matches:




independently matches:


A URI pattern may have more than one dynamic part:


The default matching strategy for a dynamic part is defined by the regular expression /[^/]+/. You can define your own regular expression for a dynamic part.

This regex will only accept numerical values as id:


This one will ensure id is a word containing between 4 and 10 lower case characters only:


Any valid regular expression can be used here.


Dynamic parts are named. The Controller can later retrieve the dynamic parts from the HTTP params map.

By default Play considers the trailing URL slash as important. For example, this route:

GET     /clients         Clients.index

will match the /clients URL but not /clients/. You can tell Play that you want to match both URL adding a question mark after the trailing slash. For example:

GET     /clients/?       Clients.index

The URI pattern cannot have any optional part except for that trailing slash.

Java call definition

The last part of a route definition is the Java call. This part is defined by the fully-qualified name of an action method. The action method must be a static, public method of a Controller class. A Controller class must be defined in the controllers package and must be a subclass of play.mvc.Controller.

You can add a Java package before the Controller class name if it isn’t defined directly under the controllers package. The controllers package itself is implicit, so you don’t need to specify it.

GET    /admin             admin.Dashboard.index           

Assign static args

In some cases, you want to reuse an existing action but define a more specific route based on the values of some of the arguments.

Let’s see how in this example:

public static void page(String id) {
    Page page = Page.findById(id);

With the corresponding route:

GET    /pages/{id}

Now, I want to define a URL alias for the page with ID ‘home’. I can define another route with a static argument:

GET    /home    'home')
GET    /pages/{id}

The first route is equivalent to the second one when the page ID is ‘home’. However, since it has higher priority, this route will be used as the default for the call to with ID ‘home’.

Routes priority

Many routes can match the same request. If there is any conflict, the first route (following the declaration order) is used.

For example:

GET    /clients/all       Clients.listAll
GET    /clients/{id}

With these definitions, the URI:


will be intercepted by the first route and will call Clients.listAll. (even if the second route matched the request too).

Serving static resources

Use the special action staticDir, to point to each folder you wish to publish as a static resources container.

For example:

GET    /public/           staticDir:public

When supplied with a request for a /public/* path, Play will serve your files from the application /public folder.

Priorities are applied as for a standard route.

Reverse routing: generate some URL

The Router can be used to generate a URL from within a Java call. So you’re able to centralize in one only configuration file all your URI patterns, and then be more confident when refactoring your application.

For example, with this route definition:

GET    /clients/{id}

From your code, you can generate the URL able to invoke

map.put("id", 1541);
String url = Router.reverse("", map).url;  GET /clients/1541

The URL generation is integrated into many of the framework’s components. You never should use the Router.reverse operation directly.

If you add parameters that are not included in the URI pattern, these parameters will be added to the query string:

map.put("id", 1541);
map.put("display", "full");
String url = Router.reverse("", map).url; GET /clients/1541?display=full

The priority order is again used to find the most specific Route able to generate the URL.

Setting content types

Play selects a media type for the HTTP response according to the value of request.format. This value determines which view template file to use, by file extension, and also sets the response Content-type to the media type that Play’s file maps the format to.

The default format for a Play request is html. The default template for the index() controller method (and html format) is therefore the file index.html. If you specify a different format, in one of several ways, you can select an alternate template.

You can set the format programmatically before calling the render method. For example, to serve a Cascading Style Sheet with media type text/css, you can do:

request.format = "css";  

However, a cleaner approach is to use the URL to specify the format in the routes file. You can add formats as specific routes, by specifying the format for the controller method. For example, the following route will handle a request for /index.xml, setting the format to xml and rendering the index.xml template.

GET    /index.xml         Application.index(format:'xml')  


GET    /stylesheets/dynamic_css   css.SiteCSS(format:'css')

Play can also extract the format directly from the URL, with a route such as the following.

GET    /index.{format}    Application.index 

With this route, a request for /index.xml will set the format to xml and render the XML template, while /index.txt will render the plain text template.

Play can also set the format automatically using HTTP content negotiation.

HTTP content negotiation

One thing that Play has in common with other RESTful architectures is the direct use of HTTP functionality, instead of trying to hide HTTP or put an abstraction layer on top of it. Content negotiation is an HTTP feature that allows an HTTP server to serve different media types for the same URL, according to which media types are requested by the HTTP client. The client specifies acceptable content types using media types in the Accept header, such as requiring an XML response with:

Accept: application/xml

A client may specify more than one media type, and also specify that any media type is acceptable with a catch-all wild-card media type (*/*):

Accept: application/xml, image/png, */*

Conventional web browsers always include the wild-card value in the Accept header: they will accept any media type, and Play will serve HTML – the default ‘format’. Content negotiation is more likely to be used by custom clients, such as an Ajax request that requires a JSON response, or an e-book reader that requires a PDF or EPUB version of a document.

Setting the content type from HTTP headers

Play selects its default request format, html, if the Accept header contains text/html or application/xhtml, or as a result of the wildcard */* value. The default format is not selected if the wildcard value is not present.

Play has built-in support for a few formats: html, txt, json and xml. For example, define a controller method that renders some data:

public static void index() { 
   final String name = "Peter Hilton"; 
   final String organisation = "Lunatech Research"; 
   final String url = ""; 
   render(name, organisation, url); 

If you request a URL that is mapped to this method (http://localhost:9000/ in a new Play application) in a web browser, then play will render the index.html template, because web browsers send an Accept header that includes the value text/html.

Play responds to a request with the header Accept: text/xml by setting the request format to xml and rendering an index.xml template, such as:

<?xml version="1.0"?> 

The built in Accept header format mappings work as follows, for an index() controller method: the accept header contains a media type that Play maps to a format, which is in turn mapped to a template file.

Accept header Format Template file name Mapping
null null index.html Default template extension for null format
image/png null index.html Media type not mapped to a format
*/*, image/png html index.html Default media type mapped to html format
text/html html index.html Built-in format
application/xhtml html index.html Built-in format
text/xml xml index.xml Built-in format
application/xml xml index.xml Built-in format
text/plain txt index.txt Built-in format
text/javascript json index.json Built-in format
application/json, */* json index.json Built-in format, default media type ignored

Custom formats

You can add content negotiation for your own custom types by inspecting the request headers and setting the format accordingly, so that you only set that format when the HTTP request selects the corresponding media type. For example, to serve a vCard with media type text/x-vcard, in your controller, check for your custom format before all requests:

static void setFormat() { 
	if (request.headers.get("accept").value().equals("text/x-vcard")) { 
		request.format = "vcf"; 

Now, a request with an Accept: text/x-vcard header will render an index.vcf template, such as:


Continuing the discussion

When the Router has determined which Java call to invoke for the received HTTP Request, the Play framework then invokes that Java call. Let’s see how the Controller works.