Spring Roo: A Bird's Eye View!

Naomi Harrington
University of Victoria
Angela Rook
University of Victoria
Celina Berg
University of Victoria
Nieraj Singh
Yvonne Coady
University of Victoria

Spring Roo provides a powerful means of improving efficiency and productivity for experienced software engineers. Though there have been several experience reports and testimonials along these lines, this report highlights an unexpected role we have uncovered for the tool suite: a best practices guide for newbies.

In this experience report we describe how Spring Roo can be leveraged as a means of bridging the gap for novice programmers. We focus our case study on course materials from a first year class on the World Wide Web and Mobile Applications. This course assumes no prior programming experience, and exposes students to basic concepts of HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Given the highly motivated disposition and diverse backgrounds of these students, it becomes clear that this app-savvy generation are indeed ready to dive-in and leverage tool suites in ways that previously would have been considered far too advanced for their level of experience. Guided by a simple set of first principles that structures their efforts according to a Model, View, Controller design strategy, they have successfully deployed simple mobile applications through services such as Phone Gap Build.

This report identifies the path we are attempting to carve for newbie-developers consisting of four stages: (1) simple tools leveraging MVC to structure HTML, CSS and JavaScript, such as jsFiddle, (2) more advanced tools such as the Spring Tool Suite (STS) and templates such as SpringMVC, (3) powerful yet concise ways of generating new functionality with Spring Roo, and (4) backend cloud deployments using CloudFoundry within STS. We identify the ways in which we believe this is a natural progression appropriate for a new generation of students. From our observations, we conclude that STS and Spring Roo allow newbies to experiment with previously unencountered features of databases, web tiers, testing, application servers and cloud deployments in an unencumbered way.

Stage 1: MVC and jsFiddle

In this first stage of the journey, students experiment with existing code and derive their own in a collaborative online environment designed to separate concerns addressed by HTML, CSS and JavaScript into a Model, View, Controller strategy. The environment, jsFiddle, fosters this separation by dividing the screen into four quadrants---one for each of these components, plus the final one for the live result of their combination. An example assignment included a monster game in jsFiddle, where users can increase their score each time they click on a moving monster, whose speed increases every level of the game.

Stage 2: Spring Tool Suite and the SpringMVC Template

Though moving from jsFiddle to a more sophisticated environment is challenging, this part of the journey merely involves navigating a given project within STS. The downloaded package, SpringMVC , consists of a simple webpage that they can understand, home.jsp, along with more extensive Java code than they have previously seen Running the application and viewing the page on a local machine can be accomplished by dragging and dropping the package onto the server also made available through STS.

Stage 3: Spring Roo

Several tutorials from Spring Roo are strangely powerful from a newbie’s perspective. Though our students do not understand what many of the incantations are doing at the roo command line, they do know that within minutes they can launch multilingual webpages with backend databases. Unfortunately, our students also lack the experience to debug the system if they do have problems. However, by using the command line available in STS, they can monitor changes derive best-practice patterns from the scripts provided. For example, a sample first-impressions pass of the clinic.roo script as interpreted by a enthusiastic student without any extensive Java programming experience is included here.

Stage 4: STS and CloudFoundry

As with deploying on the localhost, once students have a CloudFoundry account the can drag and drop to server. From the SpringMVC template, they can add their previous monster assignment from jsFiddle and run it their game in the cloud. Also within STS, they can explore cloud configuration and a remote system view. It is important to note that, once comfortable in this environment, STS becomes a powerful dashboard, incorporating both Roo and CloudFoundry.

Where Do These Stages Take Us?

Most of the students in our course have never built a web application, interfaced a Java program with a database, or even written extensive test suites. They do, however, have a very clear idea of what they want from their web applications. That is, at a high-level, they have a basic idea of system components and their interaction, though they have no hands-on experience putting them all together.

This staged approach through tools, MVC, databases, and cloud deployment---all at a very high level---gives students the ability to build and investigate real applications. Using sample Spring Roo scripts, students can quickly appreciate the components of a given system, and learn how to build industrial strength web applications with relatively little Java experience.

Though certainly, several parts of the script and codebase require much more experience to interpret, this top-down approach is powerful. It gives students a critical starting point to build from. Based on an accumulation of first impressions such as these, many more applications can be pieced together by a newbie on the order of days as opposed to months. This goes way beyond the proof-of-concept approach we typically use.

Additionally, a resulting prototype generated through these means has much more potential to be understood by other students reasoning through the codebase than the classic code produced from ad hoc attempts to get newly encountered system components to work. Systematic addition of the email and security packages in Spring Roo further enhance a student's understanding of the extensibility of the resulting system.

Findings and Challenges

These results not only have traction in terms of raising stakeholders awareness for prototype applications developed by newbies, but also in terms of gratifying students who are early on the learning curve for this kind of software engineering task. We believe these stages can be incrementally refined easily within the STS environment. Unlike the experts however, the novices appreciate what the functionality does, but don’t immediately recognize how it does it. They can, however, begin to inspect the generated code, and appreciate what some of these commands do. In that regard, we see STS plus Spring Roo as facilitating the same kind of incremental adaptation encouraged by the jsFiddle environment.

One practical challenge we face in academic settings is getting new software installed lab machines, as this has to go through layers of administration and is typically only done once a year. For that reason, online tools are incredibly valuable in our setting.


The World Wide Web is becoming a playing field for everyone, not just software professionals. HTML, CSS and JavaScript parceled out as mobile applications have put new power in the hands of enthusiasts who envision functionality that previously could only be delivered by experienced programmers. We have examples of students from a wide array of disciplines designing mobile apps that require substantial backend server support. Our challenge is no longer to teach them what an "app" is, but instead to give them the power to make their visions real.

We have seen how the new generation of web developers require comprehensive high-level tools such as Spring Roo---not for productivity but for learning best practices and scaffolding. Our experience so far indicates that it may in fact be possible to continue with our methodology on a larger scale, developing scripts and tools to support best practices in Spring Roo. We also believe experience with industry tools nicely compliments other academic first year courses in Computer Science.