You are viewing the documentation for the 2.1.x release series. The latest stable release series is 2.8.x.

§Configuration file syntax and features

The configuration file used by Play is based on the Typesafe config library .

The default configuration file of a Play 2.0 application must be defined in conf/application.conf. It uses the HOCON format ( “Human-Optimized Config Object Notation”).

§Specifying an alternative configuration file

System properties can be used to force a different config source:

These system properties specify a replacement for application.conf, not an addition. In the replacement config file, you can use include “application” to include the original default config file; after the include statement you could go on to override certain settings.

§Using with Akka

Akka 2.0 will use the same configuration file as the one defined for your Play 2.0 application. Meaning that you can configure anything in Akka in the application.conf directory.

§HOCON Syntax

Much of this is defined with reference to JSON; you can find the JSON spec at of course.

§Unchanged from JSON


Anything between // or # and the next newline is considered a comment and ignored, unless the // or # is inside a quoted string.

§Omit root braces

JSON documents must have an array or object at the root. Empty files are invalid documents, as are files containing only a non-array non-object value such as a string.

In HOCON, if the file does not begin with a square bracket or curly brace, it is parsed as if it were enclosed with {} curly braces.

A HOCON file is invalid if it omits the opening { but still has a closing }; the curly braces must be balanced.

§Key-value separator

The = character can be used anywhere JSON allows :, i.e. to separate keys from values.

If a key is followed by {, the : or = may be omitted. So "foo" {} means "foo" : {}"


Values in arrays, and fields in objects, need not have a comma between them as long as they have at least one ASCII newline (\n, decimal value 10) between them.

The last element in an array or last field in an object may be followed by a single comma. This extra comma is ignored.

§Duplicate keys

The JSON spec does not clarify how duplicate keys in the same object should be handled. In HOCON, duplicate keys that appear later override those that appear earlier, unless both values are objects. If both values are objects, then the objects are merged.

Note: this would make HOCON a non-superset of JSON if you assume that JSON requires duplicate keys to have a behavior. The assumption here is that duplicate keys are invalid JSON.

To merge objects:

Object merge can be prevented by setting the key to another value first. This is because merging is always done two values at a time; if you set a key to an object, a non-object, then an object, first the non-object falls back to the object (non-object always wins), and then the object falls back to the non-object (no merging, object is the new value). So the two objects never see each other.

These two are equivalent:

    "foo" : { "a" : 42 },
    "foo" : { "b" : 43 }

    "foo" : { "a" : 42, "b" : 43 }

And these two are equivalent:

    "foo" : { "a" : 42 },
    "foo" : null,
    "foo" : { "b" : 43 }

    "foo" : { "b" : 43 }

The intermediate setting of "foo" to null prevents the object merge.

§Paths as keys

If a key is a path expression with multiple elements, it is expanded to create an object for each path element other than the last. The last path element, combined with the value, becomes a field in the most-nested object.

In other words: : 42

is equivalent to:

foo { bar : 42 }

and: : 42

is equivalent to:

foo { bar { baz : 42 } }

and so on. These values are merged in the usual way; which implies that:

a.x : 42, a.y : 43

is equivalent to:

a { x : 42, y : 43 }

Because path expressions work like value concatenations, you can have whitespace in keys:

a b c : 42

is equivalent to:

"a b c" : 42

Because path expressions are always converted to strings, even single values that would normally have another type become strings.

As a special rule, the unquoted string include may not begin a path expression in a key, because it has a special interpretation (see below).


Substitutions are a way of referring to other parts of the configuration tree.

The syntax is ${pathexpression} or ${?pathexpression} where the pathexpression is a path expression as described above. This path expression has the same syntax that you could use for an object key.

The ? in ${?pathexpression} must not have whitespace before it; the three characters ${? must be exactly like that, grouped together.

For substitutions which are not found in the configuration tree, implementations may try to resolve them by looking at system environment variables or other external sources of configuration. (More detail on environment variables in a later section.)

Substitutions are not parsed inside quoted strings. To get a string containing a substitution, you must use value concatenation with the substitution in the unquoted portion:

key : ${animal.favorite} is my favorite animal

Or you could quote the non-substitution portion:

key : ${animal.favorite}" is my favorite animal"

Substitutions are resolved by looking up the path in the configuration. The path begins with the root configuration object, i.e. it is “absolute” rather than “relative.”

Substitution processing is performed as the last parsing step, so a substitution can look forward in the configuration. If a configuration consists of multiple files, it may even end up retrieving a value from another file. If a key has been specified more than once, the substitution will always evaluate to its latest-assigned value (the merged object or the last non-object value that was set).

If a configuration sets a value to null then it should not be looked up in the external source. Unfortunately there is no way to “undo” this in a later configuration file; if you have { "HOME" : null } in a root object, then ${HOME} will never look at the environment variable. There is no equivalent to JavaScript’s delete operation in other words.

If a substitution does not match any value present in the configuration and is not resolved by an external source, then it is undefined. An undefined substitution with the ${foo} syntax is invalid and should generate an error.

If a substitution with the ${?foo} syntax is undefined:

Substitutions are only allowed in object field values and array elements (value concatenations), they are not allowed in keys or nested inside other substitutions (path expressions).

A substitution is replaced with any value type (number, object, string, array, true, false, null). If the substitution is the only part of a value, then the type is preserved. Otherwise, it is value-concatenated to form a string.

Circular substitutions are invalid and should generate an error.

Implementations must take care, however, to allow objects to refer to paths within themselves. For example, this must work:

bar : { foo : 42,
        baz : ${}

Here, if an implementation resolved all substitutions in bar as part of resolving the substitution ${}, there would be a cycle. The implementation must only resolve the foo field in bar, rather than recursing the entire bar object.


§Include syntax

An include statement consists of the unquoted string include and a single quoted string immediately following it. An include statement can appear in place of an object field.

If the unquoted string include appears at the start of a path expression where an object key would be expected, then it is not interpreted as a path expression or a key.

Instead, the next value must be a quoted string. The quoted string is interpreted as a filename or resource name to be included.

Together, the unquoted include and the quoted string substitute for an object field syntactically, and are separated from the following object fields or includes by the usual comma (and as usual the comma may be omitted if there’s a newline).

If an unquoted include at the start of a key is followed by anything other than a single quoted string, it is invalid and an error should be generated.

There can be any amount of whitespace, including newlines, between the unquoted include and the quoted string.

Value concatenation is NOT performed on the “argument” to include. The argument must be a single quoted string. No substitutions are allowed, and the argument may not be an unquoted string or any other kind of value.

Unquoted include has no special meaning if it is not the start of a key’s path expression.

It may appear later in the key:

# this is valid
{ foo include : 42 }
# equivalent to
{ "foo include" : 42 }

It may appear as an object or array value:

{ foo : include } # value is the string "include"
[ include ]       # array of one string "include"

You can quote "include" if you want a key that starts with the word "include", only unquoted include is special:

{ "include" : 42 }

§Include semantics: merging

An including file contains the include statement and an included file is the one specified in the include statement. (They need not be regular files on a filesystem, but assume they are for the moment.)

An included file must contain an object, not an array. This is significant because both JSON and HOCON allow arrays as root values in a document.

If an included file contains an array as the root value, it is invalid and an error should be generated.

The included file should be parsed, producing a root object. The keys from the root object are conceptually substituted for the include statement in the including file.

§Include semantics: substitution

Substitutions in included files are looked up at two different paths; first, relative to the root of the included file; second, relative to the root of the including configuration.

Recall that substitution happens as a final step, after parsing. It should be done for the entire app’s configuration, not for single files in isolation.

Therefore, if an included file contains substitutions, they must be “fixed up” to be relative to the app’s configuration root.

Say for example that the root configuration is this:

{ a : { include "foo.conf" } }

And “foo.conf” might look like this:

{ x : 10, y : ${x} }

If you parsed “foo.conf” in isolation, then ${x} would evaluate to 10, the value at the path x. If you include “foo.conf” in an object at key a, however, then it must be fixed up to be ${a.x} rather than ${x}.

Say that the root configuration redefines a.x, like this:

    a : { include "foo.conf" }
    a : { x : 42 }

Then the ${x} in “foo.conf”, which has been fixed up to ${a.x}, would evaluate to 42 rather than to 10. Substitution happens after parsing the whole configuration.

However, there are plenty of cases where the included file might intend to refer to the application’s root config. For example, to get a value from a system property or from the reference configuration. So it’s not enough to only look up the “fixed up” path, it’s necessary to look up the original path as well.

§Include semantics: missing files

If an included file does not exist, the include statement should be silently ignored (as if the included file contained only an empty object).

§Include semantics: locating resources

Conceptually speaking, the quoted string in an include statement identifies a file or other resource “adjacent to” the one being parsed and of the same type as the one being parsed. The meaning of “adjacent to”, and the string itself, has to be specified separately for each kind of resource.

Implementations may vary in the kinds of resources they support including.

On the Java Virtual Machine, if an include statement does not identify anything “adjacent to” the including resource, implementations may wish to fall back to a classpath resource. This allows configurations found in files or URLs to access classpath resources.

For resources located on the Java classpath:

For plain files on the filesystem:


§Duration format

The supported unit strings for duration are case sensitive and must be lowercase. Exactly these strings are supported:

§Size in bytes format

For single bytes, exactly these strings are supported:

For powers of ten, exactly these strings are supported:

For powers of two, exactly these strings are supported:

§Conventional override by system properties

For an application’s config, Java system properties override settings found in the configuration file. This supports specifying config options on the command line.

Found an error in this documentation? The source code for this page can be found here. After reading the documentation guidelines, please feel free to contribute a pull request. Have questions or advice to share? Go to our community forums to start a conversation with the community.