Writing MVC Portlet Controller Code

In MVC, your controller is a traffic director: it provides data to the right front-end view for display to the user, and it takes data the user entered in the front-end and passes it to the right back-end service. For this reason, the controller must process requests from the front-end, and it must determine the right front-end view to pass data back to the user.

If you have a small application that’s not heavy on controller logic, you can put all your controller code in the -Portlet class. If you have more complex needs (lots of actions, complex render logic to implement, or maybe even some resource serving code), consider breaking the controller into MVC Render Command classes, MVC Action Command classes, and MVC Resource Command classes. Here you’ll implement controller logic for small applications, where all the controller code is in the -Portlet class. It involves these things:

  • Action methods
  • Render logic
  • Setting and retrieving request parameters and attributes

Start with creating action methods.

Action Methods

Your portlet class can act as your controller by itself and process requests using action methods. Here’s a sample action method:

public void addGuestbook(ActionRequest request, ActionResponse response)
        throws PortalException, SystemException {

    ServiceContext serviceContext = ServiceContextFactory.getInstance(
        Guestbook.class.getName(), request);

    String name = ParamUtil.getString(request, "name");

    try {
                name, serviceContext);

        SessionMessages.add(request, "guestbookAdded");

    } catch (Exception e) {
        SessionErrors.add(request, e.getClass().getName());



This action method has one job: call a service to add a guestbook. If the call succeeds, the message "guestbookAdded" is associated with the request and added to the SessionMessages object. If an exception is thrown, it’s caught, and the class name is associated with the request and added to the SessionErrors object, and the response is set to render edit_guestbook.jsp. Setting the mvcPath render parameter is a Liferay MVCPortlet framework convention that denotes the next view to render to the user.

While action methods respond to user actions, render logic determines the view to display to the user. Render logic is next.

Render Logic

Here’s how MVC Portlet determines which view to render. Note the init-param properties you set in your component:


The template-path property tells the MVC framework where your JSP files live. In the above example, / means that the JSP files are in your project’s root resources folder. That’s why it’s important to follow Liferay’s standard folder structure. The view-template property directs the default rendering to view.jsp.

Here’s the path of a hypothetical Web module’s resource folder:


Based on that resource folder, the view.jsp file is found at


and that’s the application’s default view. When the portlet’s init method (e.g., your portlet’s override of MVCPortlet.init()) is called, Liferay reads the initialization parameters you specify and directs rendering to the default JSP. Throughout the controller, you can render different views (JSP files) by setting the render parameter mvcPath like this:

actionResponse.setRenderParameter("mvcPath", "/error.jsp");

You can avoid render logic by using initialization parameters and render parameters, but most of the time you’ll override the portlet’s render method. Here’s an example:

public void render(RenderRequest renderRequest,
        RenderResponse renderResponse) throws PortletException, IOException {

    try {
        ServiceContext serviceContext = ServiceContextFactory.getInstance(
                Guestbook.class.getName(), renderRequest);

        long groupId = serviceContext.getScopeGroupId();

        long guestbookId = ParamUtil.getLong(renderRequest, "guestbookId");

        List<Guestbook> guestbooks = _guestbookService

        if (guestbooks.size() == 0) {
            Guestbook guestbook = _guestbookService.addGuestbook(
                    serviceContext.getUserId(), "Main", serviceContext);

            guestbookId = guestbook.getGuestbookId();


        if (!(guestbookId > 0)) {
            guestbookId = guestbooks.get(0).getGuestbookId();

        renderRequest.setAttribute("guestbookId", guestbookId);

    } catch (Exception e) {

        throw new PortletException(e);

    super.render(renderRequest, renderResponse);


This render logic provides the view layer with data to display to the user. The render method above sets the render request attribute guestbookId with the ID of a guestbook to display. If guestbooks exist, it chooses the first. Otherwise, it creates a guestbook and sets it to display. Lastly the method passes the render request and render response objects to the base class via its render method.

Before venturing into the view layer, the next section demonstrates ways to pass information between the controller and view layers.

Setting and Retrieving Request and Response Parameters and Attributes

A handy utility class called ParamUtil facilitates retrieving parameters from an ActionRequest or a RenderRequest.

For example, this JSP passes a parameter named guestbookId in an action URL.

<portlet:actionURL name="doSomething" var="doSomethingURL">
    <portlet:param name="guestbookId" 
            value="<%= String.valueOf(entry.getGuestbookId()) %>" />

The <portlet:actionURL> tag’s name attribute maps the action URL to a controller action method named doSomething. Triggering an action URL invokes the corresponding method in the controller.

The controller’s doSomething method referenced in this example gets the guestbookId parameter value from the ActionRequest.

long guestbookId = ParamUtil.getLong(actionRequest, "guestbookId");

To pass information back to the view layer, the controller code can set render parameters on response objects.

actionResponse.setRenderParameter("mvcPath", "/error.jsp");

The code above sets a parameter called mvcPath to JSP path /error.jsp. This causes the controller’s render method to redirect the user to that JSP.

Your controller class can also set attributes into response objects using the setAttribute method.

renderResponse.setAttribute("guestbookId", guestbookId);

JSPs can use Java code in scriptlets to interact with the request object.

    long guestbookId = Long.valueOf((Long) renderRequest

Passing information back and forth from your view and controller is important, but there’s more to the view layer than that. The view layer is up next.

Creating an MVC Portlet

Configuring the View Layer

MVC Action Command

MVC Render Command

MVC Resource Command

« Creating an MVC PortletConfiguring the View Layer »
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