I just announced the new Spring 5 modules in REST With Spring:


1. Introduction

The RestTemplate class is the central tool for performing client-side HTTP operations in Spring. It provides several utility methods for building HTTP requests and handling responses.

And, since RestTemplate integrates well with Jackson, it can serialize/deserialize most objects to and from JSON without much effort. However, working with collections of objects is not so straightforward.

In this tutorial, we’ll see how to use RestTemplate to both GET and POST a list of objects.

2. Example Service

We will be using an employee API that has two HTTP endpoints – get all and create:

  • GET /employees
  • POST /employees

For communication between client and server, we’ll use a simple DTO to encapsulate basic employee data:

public class Employee {
    public long id;
    public String title;

    // standard constructor and setters/getters

We’re now ready to write code that uses RestTemplate to get and create lists of Employee objects.

3. Get a List of Objects with RestTemplate

Normally when calling GET, you can use one of the simplified methods in RestTemplate, such as:

getForObject(URI url, Class<T> responseType)

This sends a request to the specified URI using the GET verb and converts the response body into the requested Java type. This works great for most classes, but it has a limitation: we cannot send lists of objects.

The problem is due to type erasure with Java generics. When the application is running, it has no knowledge of what type of object is in the list. This means the data in the list cannot be deserialized into the appropriate type.

Luckily we have two options to get around this.

3.1. Using ParameterizedTypeReference

Using a combination of ResponseEntity and ParameterizedTypeReference, we can easily get a list of objects using RestTemplate:

RestTemplate restTemplate = new RestTemplate();
ResponseEntity<List<Employee>> response = restTemplate.exchange(
  new ParameterizedTypeReference<List<Employee>>(){});
List<Employee> employees = response.getBody();

There are a couple of things happening in the code above. First, we use ResponseEntity as our return type, using it to wrap the list of objects we really want. Second, we are calling RestTemplate.exchange() instead of getForObject().

This is the most generic way to use RestTemplate. It requires us to specify the HTTP method, optional request body, and a response type. In this case, we use an anonymous subclass of ParameterizedTypeReference for the response type.

This last part is what allows us to convert the JSON response into a list of objects that are the appropriate type. When we create an anonymous subclass of ParameterizedTypeReference, it uses reflection to capture information about the class type we want to convert our response to.

It holds on to this information using Java’s Type object, and we no longer have to worry about type erasure.

The upside of this approach is that we can use all of our existing code. Our Employee object works as-is, as does our application endpoint. The downside is that the code is a little more verbose.

3.2. Using a Wrapper Class

Some APIs will return a top-level object that contains the list of employees instead of returning the list directly. To handle this situation, we can use a wrapper class that contains the list of employees.

public class EmployeeList {
    private List<Employee> employees;

    public EmployeeList() {
        employees = new ArrayList<>();

    // standard constructor and getter/setter

Now we can use the simpler getForObject() method to get the list of employees:

EmployeeList response = restTemplate.getForObject(
List<Employee> employees = response.getEmployees();

This code is much simpler but requires an additional wrapper object.

4. Post a List of Objects with RestTemplate

Now let’s look at how to send a list of objects from our client to the server. Just like above, RestTemplate provides a simplified method for calling POST:

postForObject(URI url, Object request, Class<T> responseType)

This sends an HTTP POST to the given URI, with the optional request body, and converts the response into the specified type. Unlike the GET scenario above, we don’t have to worry about type erasure.

This is because now we’re going from Java objects to JSON. The list of objects and their type are known by the JVM, and therefore properly be serialized:

List<Employee> newEmployees = new ArrayList<>();
newEmployees.add(new Employee(3, "Intern"));
newEmployees.add(new Employee(4, "CEO"));


4.1. Using a Wrapper Class

If we need to use a wrapper class to be consistent with GET scenario above, that’s simple too. We can send a new list using RestTemplate:

List<Employee> newEmployees = new ArrayList<>();
newEmployees.add(new Employee(3, "Intern"));
newEmployees.add(new Employee(4, "CEO"));

  new EmployeeList(newEmployees),

5. Conclusion

Using RestTemplate is a simple way of building HTTP clients to communicate with your services.

It provides a number of methods for working with every HTTP method and simple objects. With a little bit of extra code, we can easily use it to work with lists of objects.

As usual, the complete code is available in the Github project.

I just announced the new Spring 5 modules in REST With Spring:


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