16 Jan 2019

A quick look at Java 11's HttpClient

Java 11 was released in September 2018 and is the first Long-Term-Support version after Java 8. One of its features is HttpClient, a new way to make HTTP requests. This post will give a quick overview of HttpClient, and how it’s a much-needed replacement for URLConnection!

The task

I’ve created a page on my website http://anthonybruno.com.au/last-update that simply has a Unix timestamp of the last time the site was built.

The task is simple, create some code that requests this page and returns the timestamp!

Using URLConnection

Below is the code that uses URLConnection.

// 1. Create URL object
URL updateUrl = new URL("http://anthonybruno.com.au/last-update");

// 2. We use openConnection() on the url to get a HttpURLConnection, 
//    that we have to cast(?!). Also, this doesn't actually make a 
//    network request(?!?!?)
HttpURLConnection connection = (HttpURLConnection) updateUrl.openConnection();

// 3. We can then set things like set request methods, headers.

// 4. Then we actually connect! Note: connect doesn't return anything, it
//    mutates the connection object!
int statusCode = connection.getResponseCode();
if (statusCode != 200) {
    throw new RuntimeException("Got non 200 response code! " + statusCode);
// 5. Content is returned in an InputStream (Don't forget to close it!)
InputStream content = connection.getInputStream()

Instant timestamp = processIntoInstant(content)

// 6. Remember to disconnect! Note: HttpURLConnnection is not autoclosable!

After creating the URL object, things quickly go awry. It’s extremely counter-intuitive to use a method called openConnection(), that doesn’t actually open a connection! Having to cast the returned URLConnection object to HttpURLConnection to access methods like setRequestMethod and disconnect is plain silly. Finally, calling connect() (which actually makes a network request!) doesn’t return anything, instead, you have to get response information from the connection object itself.

Using HttpClient

Below is the code that uses HttpClient. You’ll see a big difference.

// 1. Create HttpClient object
HttpClient httpClient = HttpClient.newHttpClient();

// 2. Create URI object
URI uri = URI.create(updateUrl);

// 3. Build a request
HttpRequest request = HttpRequest.newBuilder(uri).GET().build();

// 4. Send the request and get a HttpResponse object back!
//    Note: HttpResponse.BodyHandlers.ofString() just parses the response body
//          as a String
HttpResponse<String> response = httpClient.send(request, HttpResponse.BodyHandlers.ofString());
int statusCode = response.statusCode();
if (statusCode != 200) {
    throw new RuntimeException("Got non 200 response code! " + statusCode);
Instant timestamp = processIntoInstant(response.body())

Now, isn’t that much nicer than the URlConnection code we saw before? We first set up a HttpClient object, which will send our requests. We then instantiate a HttpRequest object, which holds the request method, headers, etc. We send the HttpRequest, using the previously created HttpClient, giving us a nice HttpResponse object back.

The second parameter in httpClient.send is a BodyHandler, which is responsible for parsing the response body into the format you want. Java provides a bunch of default ones in BodyHandlers, that covers common use cases like parsing to String, File and InputStream. Of course, it’s possible to create your own, which deserves an article by itself.

The idea of creating a client, creating requests and receiving responses is quite a bit more intuitive than using URlConnection! HttpClient also supports asynchronous requests, HTTP/2 and websockets. It’s an enticing reason to migrate from 8 to 11!

Code used in this article can be found here