Undertow Request Lifecycle

This document covers the lifecycle of a web request from the point of view of the Undertow server.

When a connection is established XNIO invokes the io.undertow.server.HttpOpenListener, this listener creates a new io.undertow.server.HttpServerConnection to hold state associated with this connection, and then invokes io.undertow.server.HttpReadListener.

The HTTP read listener is responsible for parsing the incoming request, and creating a new io.undertow.server.HttpServerExchange to store the request state. The exchange object contains both the request and response state.

At this point the request and response channel wrappers are setup, that are responsible for decoding and encoding the request and response data.

The root handler is then executed via io.undertow.server.Connectors#executeRootHandler. Handlers are chained together, and each handler can modify the exchange, send a response, or delegate to a different handler. At this point there are a few different things that can happen:

  • The exchange can be finished. This happens when both the request and response channels are closed. If a content length is set then the channel will automatically close once all the data has been written. This can also be forced by calling HttpServerExchange.endExchange(), and if no data has been written yet any default response listeners that have been registered with the exchange will be given the opportunity to generate a default response, such as an error page. Once the current exchange is finished the exchange completion listeners will be run. The last completion listener will generally start processing the next request on the connection, and will have been setup by the read listener.

  • The exchange can be dispatched by calling one of the HttpServerExchange.dispatch methods. This is similar to the servlet startAsync() method. Once the call stack returns then the dispatch task (if any) will be run in the provided executor (if no executor is provided it will be ran by the XNIO worker). The most common use of a dispatch is to move from executing in an IO thread (where blocking operations are not allowed), to a worker thread that can block. This pattern looks like:

public void handleRequest(final HttpServerExchange exchange) throws Exception {
    if (exchange.isInIoThread()) {
    //handler code
  • Reads/Writes can be resumed on a request or response channel. Internally this is treated like a dispatch, and once the call stack returns the relevant channel will be notified about IO events. The reason why the operation does not take effect until the call stack returns is to make sure that we never have multiple threads acting in the same exchange.

  • The call stack can return without the exchange being dispatched. If this happens HttpServerExchange.endExchange() will be called, and the request will be finished.

  • An exception can be thrown. If this propagates all the way up the call stack the exchange will be ended with a 500 response code.