Session Life Cycle

When I say life cycle, I can hear you murmur “Oh no not again, how many life cycles I have to deal with”! In real world everything has life cycle, then why not in programming, after all, software is all about mimicking real life.  In a previous article I discussed about methods used for session tracking.

Frog Life Cycle

Frog Life Cycle

It has fundamental information about what a session is and how to manage it. At the end of that article I have given a preview about “5. Session tracking API”.

Now we are going to dive deep into it.
Just to recap, session is a conversion between a server and a client. An elite way to manage the session in servlets is to use API. Any web server supporting servlets will eventually have to implement the servlet API. It may or may not provide with more features of luxury but the minimum is guaranteed. Servlet specification ensures that, the minimum features provided make the session management job easier. Servlet API will use one of the underlying traditional mechanisms like cookies, URL rewriting, but that will happen behind the scenes and you need not worry about it!

How to access HttpSession object?

Every request is associated with an HttpSession object. It can be retrieved using getSession(boolean create) available in HttpServletRequest. It returns the current HttpSession associated with this request or, if there is no current session and create is true, and then returns a new session. A session can be uniquely identified using a unique identifier assigned to this session, which is called session id. getId() gives you the session id as String.

isNew() will be handy in quite a lot of situations. It returns true if the client does not know about the session or if the client chooses not to join the session. getCreationTime() returns the time when this session was created. getLastAccessedTime() returns the last time the client sent a request associated with this session.

How to store data in session?

Once you have got access to a session object, it can be used as a HashTable to store and retrieve values. It can be used to transport data between requests for the same user and session. setAttribute(String name, Object value) adds an object to the session, using the name specified. Primitive data types cannot be bound to the session.

An important note to you, session is not a bullock cart. It should be used sparingly for light weight objects. If you are in a situation where you have to store heavy weight objects in session, then you are in for a toss. Now it’s time to consult a software doctor. Your software design is having a big hole in it. HttpSession should be used for session management and not as a database.

Follow a proper naming convention to store data in session. Because it will overwrite the existing object if the name is same. One more thing to note is your object needs to implement Serializable interface if you are going to store it in session and carry it over across different web servers.

How to retrieve data from session?

getAttribute(String name) returns the object bound with the specified name in this session. Be careful while using this, most programmers fell into a deeply dug pit NullPointerException. Because it returns null if no object is bound under the name. Always ensure to handle null. Then, removeAttribute(String name) removes the object bound with the specified name from the session. Note a point; be cautious not to expose the session id to the user explicitly. It can be used to breach into another client’s session unethically.

How to invalidate a session object?

By default every web server will have a configuration set for expiry of session objects. Generally it will be some X seconds of inactivity. That is when the user has not sent any request to the server for the past X seconds then the session will expire. What do I mean by expire here. Will the browser blowup into colorful pieces? When a session expires, the HttpSession object and all the data it contains will be removed from the system. When the user sends a request after the session has expired, server will treat it as a new user and create a new session.

Apart from that automatic expiry, it can also be invalidated by the user explicitly. HttpSession provides a method invalidate() this unbinds the object that is bound to it. Mostly this is used at logout. Or the application can have an absurd logic like after the user logins he can use the application for only 30 minutes. Then he will be forced out. In such scenario you can use getCreationTime().

Generally session object is not immortal because of the default configuration by the web server. Mostly these features are left to the imagination of web server implementers. If you take Apache Tomcat 5.5, there is an attribute maxInactiveInterval. A negative value for this will result in sessions never timing out and will be handy in many situations.

Long live the sessions!

An example servlet program to demonstrate the session API

import java.util.Date;
import java.util.Enumeration;

import javax.servlet.ServletException;
import javax.servlet.http.HttpServlet;
import javax.servlet.http.HttpServletRequest;
import javax.servlet.http.HttpServletResponse;
import javax.servlet.http.HttpSession;

public class SessionExample extends HttpServlet {

public void doGet(HttpServletRequest request, HttpServletResponse response)
throws ServletException, IOException {
PrintWriter out = response.getWriter();

// getting current HttpSession associated with this request or, if there
// is no current session and create is true, returns a new session.
HttpSession session = request.getSession(true);

// Calculating Hit Count
Integer count = (Integer) session
if (count == null)
count = new Integer(1);
count = new Integer(count.intValue() + 1);
session.setAttribute("SessionExample.HitCount", count);

out.println("<BODY><H1>Example session servlet to "
+ "demostrate session tracking and life cycle</H1>");

// Displaying the hit count
out.println("Hit count for your current session is " + count);

out.println("<H2>Some basic session information:</H2>");
out.println("Session ID: " + session.getId() + "</BR>");
out.println("Is it a new session: " + session.isNew() + "</BR>");
out.println("Session Creation time: " + session.getCreationTime());
out.println("(" + new Date(session.getCreationTime()) + ")</BR>");
out.println("Last accessed time: " + session.getLastAccessedTime());
out.println("(" + new Date(session.getLastAccessedTime()) + ")</BR>");
out.println("Max in active time interval: "
+ session.getMaxInactiveInterval() + "</BR>");
// Checks whether the requested session ID came in as a cookie
out.println("Session ID came in as a cookie: "
+ request.isRequestedSessionIdFromCookie() + "</BR>");

out.println("<H2>Iteratively printing all the values "
+ "associated with the session:</H2>");
Enumeration names = session.getAttributeNames();
while (names.hasMoreElements()) {
String name = (String) names.nextElement();
String value = session.getAttribute(name).toString();
out.println(name + " = " + value + "</BR>");

Output of the example session servlet

Output of the example session servlet

This Servlet tutorial was added on 24/09/2009.

Comments on "Session Life Cycle" Tutorial:

  1. Tamil Vendhan says:

    I am a beginner to java & servlets. I went through your article fully. Its good. It is very helpful to me to understand the concepts. But i have a doubt.
    Integer count=(Integer)session.getAttribute(“SessionExample.HitCount”);

    In this above line, what is “SessionExample.HitCount”? For you this question maybe simple. But i cant able to get the exact point of using that. Is it a field ID in a HTML plage?
    Enumeration names = session.getAttributeNames();

    will return the session names. But you gave a string in .getAttribute() method. So, whenever a new person logged in the same name will be set huh?
    while (names.hasMoreElements()) {
    String name = (String) names.nextElement();
    String value = session.getAttribute(name).toString();
    out.println(name + ” = ” + value + “”);

    Will the name variable get “SessionExample.HitCount” for every time this loop?

    If i need to put new value means, do i need to set that value dynamically?

    Again, i tell you i am a noob in servlets. I seeking clear implementation about sessions. But no need to explain me. Just clear my quries. I ll make myself clear after that.

  2. Yash Sharma says:

    @ Vendhan,
    SessionExample.HitCount is just another name of attribute (you may say variable) in session. Just be familiar with the signatures of these methods:
    session.setAttribute(“NameHere”, valueHere);
    And you wud not be bothered of what the name looks like.
    Enumeration names = session.getAttributeNames(); returns all the session attributes as a enum, and for the getAttribute String you are talking is just a name and it will print its corresponding value for every new user.
    the third question was not clear to me,
    Comment if i answered your question fairly.

  3. Nagaraju says:

    It is good for who learnig basic servlets and jsp

  4. Abhijeet says:

    Nice Explanation

  5. rohit says:

    this is very wonderfull to study thanks for your article this is the is very original…

  6. Ragupathi says:

    This is really good article to understand the basics.

  7. murali says:

    Good ..but some places it is better to explain with small code of lines. like setting the values in session, and getting.

  8. Divahar says:


  9. abinash says:


  10. qifan says:

    now , I like reading the English site , but my English is very poor,I am chinese , learning !

  11. Aslam Basha says:

    I am a beginner in servlets i want to know the differences between ServletContext and ServletConfig and where it is used exactly.

  12. Anonymous says:

    this is good and useful work. thank you

  13. juliana says:

    this is really great to understand…thank you…god bless ur work

  14. Geethu Krishna says:

    really useful..thank you so much..

  15. ranjjith says:

    can you post some documentations on struts….

  16. Anonymous says:

    you have explained everything so nicely.
    It is so much helpful for me.Thank you

  17. Anonymous says:

    nice example,bt one thing i was not clear is , when i run session example in IE , every time a new session is getting created,and tracks the data only of that particular session.once the session is closed, the data also getting lost.instead when i run that in firefox,everytime it was giving same session id, and showing previous session values also.
    is it bcz of disable state of cookies in IE?

  18. Dr. Vinod Desai says:

    Really nice and helpful Blog.

  19. sathish.M says:

    Nice article on session

  20. madhan says:

    im beginner in j2ee concepts could you help to be a master in that

  21. raj says:

    hi sir as we know that servlet context and config are interfaces… why do we create their objects…please help me out.

  22. rajesh says:

    Its pleasure to tell you that this site really helpful to learn java concepts. you are rocking. thanks

  23. Rohit says:

    realy its very usefull for fresher .

  24. lipi says:

    Specify parallel technologies to the servlet?

  25. santosh says:

    ok its is goood …please post in detail description…

  26. vipin says:

    nice job..

  27. dhirendra says:

    yes it had been very useful for me but sir i m programming on session and i have a doubt sir we can transfer the data from one page to another by using setAttribute and getAttribute methods but sir how can we bind an object into session and solve the problem of null pointer exception.sir could you please impact light on this.
    thankyou so much…

  28. Anonymous says:

    hi sir
    ur blog is awesome .. i understood many concepts. can u give a complete explanation of servlets. like about http request and response and many other things… only few topics are here. i like to completly understand servlets and jee cocepts..

  29. manu says:

    if u think this is not possible can u reffer me book which can help me to understand servlets and jee topics clearly..

  30. Anonymous says:

    cookies based hit counter is really usefull

  31. Sakthiswaran says:

    Hi i have one doubt
    I am using the java struts1.2 web application server is jboss5 ,
    I am getting the error while the user login and using the application suddenly new session get created so I loss all session data application throw an error didnt get the log for destroy of old session, but new onle get created.. how solve this

    Thanks in advance

  32. Anonymous says:

    sir one request… its too technical. kindly describe in simple words. Thank u so much.

  33. Naresh says:

    nice article joe, and I am having one doubt y do servlets don’t have constructor. Or if they r having where it vl be useful.??? Can u explain clearly???

  34. mark says:

    Really good

  35. prasadreddy says:

    sir please give the differences between
    sendRedirect and forward?

  36. Shakeel Ahmad says:

    Nice explanation about session

  37. haasini says:

    i have a scenario in my application where in which I want to explicitly invalidate the session of a user after 12 minutes,if the user has logged in but is not using the application

    my doubt is:
    1.Is it fine if i will set the session’s max interval time as 12 minutes.But for active user also session is invalidated after 12 minutes and i want only session of inactive user to be invalidated
    2.Shall i get the last accessed time and see if exceeds 12 mins and then invalidate
    3.if i should follow above point-2,then my doubt is the session.getLastAccesed() returns ‘long’…and is that in ‘minutes’ or ‘seconds’

    Please,post a code snippet showing to explicitly invalidate a session by seeting its lifespan also explicitly.

  38. abhi says:

    thanks a lot, sir

  39. Rhushikesh says:

    Thanks for detailing.
    But I am unable to execute servlet file. Pleas help me. It says
    File Not Found

  40. aswinsayeeraman says:

    Hi the thing you mentioned is the session attribute which has been set in a http session.

  41. amol aswar says:

    very good article.

  42. waruna thilanka says:

    Thank u very much.

  43. Dinesh says:

    i want to write the code for disable the back button.
    when , i log out in my application, if i click back button i don’t want to go back page.
    So, how i have to write the code.
    Can, any one help me. ? ? ?

  44. Azar says:

    Nice explanation

  45. Raj says:

    This article is really helpful.
    I’m using ninja kit for cross domain request.Somehow, my session object is not getting persisted in firefox browser. For every request there is new httpsession getting created. Same issue with safari 6. But this works fine with chrome.
    Any idea ?

  46. Ashoka Dev says:

    Great Work… Please keep them coming.

  47. siva says:

    pls add struts2 and hibernate……….

  48. Java Jobs says:

    Very Useful information for Java Web Application Beginners

  49. rakesh says:

    please tell the difference between printwriter and System.out

  50. ashok says:

    it’s make things go easy ..nice article ..
    mainly about the null pointer exception warning

  51. vajjapelli raju says:



    Error In Login



    am creating one login application with login and logout date and time but dis will no exist a have a error from that like:
    java.sql.SQLException: ORA-01006: bind variable does not exist,,,, at server side but the value means datetime will stored.

  52. karthik says:


    Read all your threads..was excellent ..even about session details..Actually i am doin a web application where i have show the username (session variable)..but the issue is when one user login the details in the session is correct but when concurrent user logs in it displays the new user instead of the old one (Existing user ) to display the session value correctly…

    thank you

  53. gautam says:

    what does basically string which is parameter in it session.setAttribute does?

  54. Raj says:

    what is the default time span, tat the session will remain open. if the user kept idle for X time.
    What is the value of X time?
    not setting it by programming of web.xml etc…

  55. Dharmendra Kumar says:

    Very Nice Blog.

    Thanks alot.

Comments are closed for this "Session Life Cycle" tutorial.