Aspect-oriented Programming with AspectJ

AspectJ is an open-source framework that allows you to write Java code following the aspect-oriented programming (AOP) paradigm. AOP provides an alternative way of programming in the following situation:

Let us assume you want to implement some functionality which is required at multiple locations in your application’s source code. If we follow the object-oriented programming (OOP) paradigm, we would proceed as follows. First, we declare a new class. Then, within this class, we declare a new method which implements the required functionality. If necessary, we add some associated fields. Afterwards, we place an invocation of the method (together with the class instantiation) at each of the required locations in our source code.

If we follow the AOP paradigm, we would proceed as follows. First, we declare a new aspect which is similar to a class. Then, within this aspect, we declare a new advice which corresponds to the method from above. If necessary, we add some associated fields to the aspect. So far, we have proceeded exactly as if we had followed the OOP paradigm – only with different terms. But now, we do not place an invocation of the advice at each of the required locations. Instead, we write down these locations in our aspect and pass it to an additional compiler – the AOP compiler. This AOP compiler reads in the aspect and automatically places an invocation of the advice at each of the designated locations. Thereby, it also handles the instantiation of the aspect. The set of our locations is called a pointcut and is associated with our advice. In this way, the AOP compiler knows which code it should place at which locations. However, most AOP compilers cannot insert advices at arbitrary locations, but only at well-defined locations. For example, the AspectJ compiler can insert advices at method calls and field accesses, but not at loops or if-statements. Such well-defined locations are called joinpoints. Thus, a pointcut is not a set of arbitrary locations, but a set of joinpoints.

Hence, an aspect is not instantiated and accessed directly from within your source code. Instead, it is automatically inserted into your source code by the AOP compiler. For this reason, we do not term it class, but aspect. In summary, the AOP paradigm allows to insert some functionality at multiple locations in your application without the effort of touching the source code at each individual location by hand. In this way, it provides a clean modularization of crosscutting concerns and thus serves as a complement to the OOP paradigm.

AOP terms in short:

  • A jointpoint is a location in code at which the AOP compiler is able to automatically insert new code either before, after, or around (i.e., before and after). Valid joinpoints in AspectJ are, for example, method declarations, method calls, and field read/write accesses. So far, AspectJ does not support inserting code at loops and if-statements. So, AspectJ does not consider these constructs as joinpoints.
  • A pointcut is a set of joinpoints at which we want to insert the same new code. This set of joinpoints is not described as an enumeration of each and every individual joinpoint, but instead as a single compact expression similar to a regular expression.
  • An advice contains the new code which we want to insert at multiple joinpoints in our application’s source code.
  • An aspect contains one or more advices and their associated pointcuts. By default, AspectJ creates and uses one instance per aspect. So, you can consider an aspect as singleton. However, you can change this behavior to a per-object or per-joinpoint base (see aspect instantiation for more details).

For more information, we refer to the official Getting Started and the mapping of join points and pointcuts.

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