Spring Framework vs Spring Boot: Complete Guide

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November 23, 2023

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Developers who want to build high-performing, scalable, and maintainable Java applications must have a thorough understanding of the tools at their disposal.

The Spring Framework was first released in 2003, introducing a new way for Java developers to build applications with a focus on dependency injection and aspect-oriented programming.

Spring Boot made its debut in 2014, building upon the foundation of the Spring Framework. It was designed to simplify the development of new Spring applications through convention over configuration, providing rapid application development features and an easier way to create stand-alone, production-grade Spring based Applications.

This thorough article offers a comprehensive Spring Boot guide and an overview of the most important differences in Spring Framework vs Spring Boot. Our aim? To help you make an informed decision when choosing the most suitable Java framework for your projects.  Let's jump into the details!

Key Takeaways

The main difference between Spring Framework and Spring Boot is in their approach to project setup and configuration.

Spring Framework provides a flexible, yet manually intensive setup for Java applications, requiring a deep understanding of its components. Spring Boot, however, simplifies this process by automating configuration and setup, aiming to reduce manual coding and allow for quicker project starts.

Spring Framework vs Spring Boot - Bluebird blog
Spring Framework vs Spring Boot - Bluebird blog

Spring Framework vs Spring Boot: Key Differences

The difference between Spring Framework and Spring Boot essentially boils down to the level of automation and configuration required to get a project up and running. Spring Framework offers a powerful foundation for building Java applications, providing developers with the flexibility to configure every aspect of their application but requiring more manual setup and in-depth understanding of its components.

On the other hand, Spring Boot builds on the Spring Framework, offering a rapid development experience by automating configuration and setup tasks. It aims to minimize the amount of manual coding and configuration required, enabling developers to start new projects quickly and with less effort.

Aspect

Spring Framework

Spring Boot

Framework vs. Convention

Comprehensive framework offering extensive support for customization.

Built on Spring, providing conventions and defaults to streamline development.

Configuration

Requires manual configuration, including XML or annotations for defining beans and dependencies.

Simplifies with auto-configuration, automatically setting up based on project dependencies.

Project Setup

Involves manual setup work to integrate components and configurations.

Offers Spring Initializr for quick generation of project structure with desired dependencies.

Embedded Servers

Requires deploying the application to an external web server.

Includes embedded servers like Tomcat or Jetty, allowing standalone applications without an external web server.

Microservices Support

Supports building microservices, but may require more configuration.

Specifically designed to simplify building microservices with features like embedded servers.

Dependency Management

Manages dependencies individually, requiring specification of versions for common libraries.

Uses starter dependencies to manage libraries and frameworks, reducing the need to specify versions.

Framework vs. Convention

Spring Framework is a comprehensive solution that offers a high degree of customization. It’s ideal for developers who need full control over the application's behavior and configuration.

Spring Boot, in contrast, embraces a convention-over-configuration philosophy. It builds on the Spring Framework but pre-packages many of the best practices and configurations, making it easier for developers to start projects without worrying about the minutiae of initial setup.

Configuration

With Spring Framework, developers manually configure their applications, which provides flexibility but requires a deeper understanding of the framework’s inner workings.

Spring Boot automates much of this process through auto-configuration, detecting the libraries in the project and setting up configurations automatically. This significantly reduces the time spent on setup and configuration.

Project Setup

Setting up a new project with the Spring Framework involves manually integrating various components and configurations, which can be time-consuming.

Spring Boot simplifies project initialization with the Spring Initializr, a tool that generates project structures with specified dependencies, allowing developers to get up and running quickly.

Embedded Servers

Traditionally, deploying a Spring Framework application requires an external web server, adding an extra step in the deployment process.

Spring Boot includes embedded server options (like Tomcat or Jetty), which allows for running applications as standalone units without needing a separate web server, streamlining development and deployment.

Microservices Support

While the Spring Framework supports the development of microservices, setting up such an architecture may involve more manual configuration.

Spring Boot is designed with microservices in mind, offering features like embedded servers and simplified configuration to make developing, deploying, and running microservices easier and more efficient.

Dependency Management

In the Spring Framework, managing dependencies typically involves manually specifying versions for each library, which can be meticulous and time-consuming.

Spring Boot uses a starter dependency approach, grouping common dependencies together. This not only reduces the effort required to manage versions but also ensures compatibility across different components of the Spring ecosystem.

Choosing between the two comes down to what you're building and how you like to work. If you enjoy having control over every detail and are working on a project with complex integration needs, you might lean towards the Spring Framework.

However, if you're focused on getting a new service or application off the ground quickly and with minimal fuss, Spring Boot could be your go-to, simplifying many of the steps that would otherwise slow you down.


Spring Framework vs Spring Boot: Advantages

Spring Framework Advantages

Flexibility and Control: Offers unparalleled flexibility in configuring and customizing every aspect of your application, ideal for complex projects with specific requirements.

Modularity: You can pick and choose the components you need, avoiding unnecessary overhead and keeping the application lightweight.

Deep Integration: Provides outstanding support for integrating a wide array of third-party libraries and frameworks, facilitating the development of highly customized solutions.

Mature Ecosystem: Benefits from a long history of use in enterprise environments, with extensive documentation, a large community, and a proven track record.

Spring Boot Advantages

Rapid Development: Simplifies project setup and configuration with conventions and auto-configurations, significantly reducing development time and effort.

Microservices Friendly: Includes features like embedded servers and health checks out of the box, making it ideal for developing microservices and cloud-native applications.

Opinionated Defaults: Offers sensible defaults for quick project starts, while still allowing overrides for customization, streamlining the decision-making process.

Enhanced Productivity: With its focus on convention over configuration, developers can concentrate more on business logic rather than boilerplate code, which boosts productivity.


Spring Framework Vs Spring Boot: Which One Should You Choose?

In essence, the choice between Spring Framework and Spring Boot depends on the specific demands of your project and your priorities in terms of development speed, application complexity, and customization requirements.

Choose Spring Framework If:

If your project involves complex business logic, requires deep integration with legacy systems, or you need granular control over the application setup, the Spring Framework is the way to go. Its flexibility in configuration and modular nature allows for tailoring the application precisely to your needs.

It excels in environments that demand detailed, bespoke setups, supporting intricate business logic and extensive integration with legacy systems. Its design, which allows for precise tailoring of applications, supports seamless integration with an array of third-party libraries and systems. This renders it optimal for large-scale enterprise applications that require meticulous configuration and integration across heterogeneous environments.

Choose Spring Boot If:

If the goal is to quickly develop and deploy services, especially in a microservices architecture, Spring Boot stands out. Its rapid development capabilities, embedded server support, and pre-configured settings allow teams to accelerate the development cycle and focus on delivering value.

This approach diminishes the need for boilerplate code and intricate configuration, enabling development teams to focus on the development of essential business logic and the expedient delivery of value. Additionally, Spring Boot's architecture, which is designed with cloud-native applications in mind, make it suitable for projects that prioritize swift market entry and scalability.

Key Takeaways

If you’re developing a large enterprise application that integrates with multiple systems and has unique configuration needs, the Spring Framework’s flexibility would be beneficial.

Conversely, if you’re tasked with creating a new microservice or a cloud-native application with a need for quick iterations and deployment, Spring Boot’s streamlined approach would likely serve you better.


Spring Framework vs Spring Boot: Which One Is more Popular In 2024?

In 2024, there is a clear trend towards preferring Spring Boot over the Spring Framework for most new projects. This is primarily due to its ease of use, rapid development capabilities, and the simplification it offers for project setup and configuration. Spring Boot's design, which provides sensible defaults and auto-configuration, makes it particularly attractive for developers looking to quickly start projects without sacrificing the power and flexibility Spring is known for.

This preference does not negate the relevance or utility of the Spring Framework itself, of course: Spring Boot is built on top of Spring and leverages its core features. Instead, it highlights the shift in development practices towards more streamlined and efficient approaches, especially for microservices architectures, cloud-native applications, and projects where time to market is critical.

Bluebird Insights: The Importance of Spring & Spring Boot

Considering current trends, it’s worth elaborating more on the importance of the Spring framework and Spring Boot today. Of course, this would require discussing Enterprise Java (Java EE), which still plays an indispensable role in a significant part of business applications today.

In brief, Enterprise Java is a Java application platform that has been equipped with a robust framework and toolset that have enabled the development of stable, reliable, and flexible business applications in Java since the early 2000s.

The only issue was that it was oversized, expensive, and time-consuming for small to medium business models.

Enter Spring, a Java-based framework that is more flexible, faster, and easier to configure than Enterprise Java, focusing primarily on the development of web applications.

As Spring evolved, with the appearance of its successive modules, developers still felt they spent too much time writing boilerplate code and configurations. Spring Boot, a Spring module, addressed this issue.

Beyond the mentioned needs (Autoconfiguration, Starter dependencies), Spring Boot provided the ability to create compact, executable applications with its embedded server technology and the so-called actuator endpoints, which allow monitoring of the running applications.

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Tamas Benno | LinkedIn

Senior Java Developer Team Lead

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Introducing the Spring Framework

The Spring Framework has become a powerful and essential tool for Enterprise Java developers. It is a comprehensive solution for building Java applications with a vast spectrum of features from foundational to sophisticated (such as dependency injection and aspect-oriented programming).

One of its main benefits: it helps you create loosely coupled components, which enhances testability and maintenance. However, it's worth noting that the initial learning curve and the complexity of configuration management might require a bit of patience, particularly for those new to the framework.

The Core Concepts of Spring Framework

Two of the main concepts that contribute to the power of the Spring Framework are Inversion of Control (IoC) and Aspect-Oriented Programming (AOP).

Inversion of Control (IoC)

IoC is a design principle that provides better modularity and testability by reversing the control of object creation and management.

This allows the framework to handle dependencies between objects, ensuring that the correct instances are available without manual intervention from developers.

Aspect-Oriented Programming (AOP)

AOP is a programming paradigm that allows developers to modularize cross-cutting concerns, such as logging, security, and transaction management.

By encapsulating these concerns in aspects, AOP ensures that they can be applied and managed separately from core business logic.

These concepts form the foundation of the Spring Framework's flexibility and robustness: they enable efficient development and management of complex applications.

The Architecture of Spring Framework

In this section, we will explore the layered architecture of the Spring Framework and detail its various modules, such as the Core Container, Data Access, Web and Security. These modules function together to support comprehensive development and seamless integration of enterprise applications.

Layers in Spring Architecture

The Spring layered architecture encourages a modular approach to application development, allowing developers to focus on specific areas of their project without worrying about the impact on unrelated components. This architecture comprises several principal modules, as outlined below:

  • Core Container

  • Data Access/Integration

  • Web (Web/Remoting, Web/Sockets)

  • Security

These modules, coupled with other components such as Application Context, AOP, and Messaging, create a comprehensive framework for developing and integrating enterprise applications.

We will now provide an overview of each of these key modules:

Core Container

The Core Container module contains essential components of the Spring Framework, such as the Inversion of Control (IoC) container and the Dependency Injection (DI) system. The container manages the creation, configuration, and lifecycle of application objects, also known as beans.

Data Access/Integration

This module aims to provide a consistent and simple data access mechanism. With support for JDBC, ORM, and transaction management, it simplifies the integration between data access frameworks, such as Hibernate, JPA, JDO, and various other technologies.

Web (Web/Remoting, Web/Sockets)

The Web module facilitates the development of web applications using different technologies like Servlets, Reactive Web, and Web Sockets. It provides simple yet powerful abstractions to handle incoming HTTP requests and create appropriate responses, making it easier to build and maintain modern web applications.

Security

Security is a critical aspect of any application, and Spring Framework offers a robust security framework. The Security module integrates easily with the other modules to provide security features like authentication, authorization, and protection against common web vulnerabilities.

Module

Components

Function

Core Container

IoC Container, Dependency Injection

Manages beans, enforces modularity, and promotes loose coupling between components

Data Access/Integration

JDBC, ORM, Transaction management

Provides a consistent and simple data access mechanism

Web

Servlets, Reactive Web, Web Sockets

Facilitates the development of web applications with various technologies

Security

Authentication, Authorization, CSRF Protection

Integrates with other modules to provide comprehensive security features


Spring Framework's Ecosystem & Integration Capabilities

The Spring Framework boasts a vast ecosystem that covers various aspects of modern application development. This comprehensive ecosystem, along with the Spring integration capabilities, enhances the overall functionality and utility of the Spring Framework. In this section, we will delve into three essential aspects of the Spring ecosystem: complementary projects, integration options, and support through extensions and plugins.

Complementary projects

Spring projects offer a variety of additional functionalities that go beyond the core framework, catering to specific application development needs. Here are a few notable Spring projects:

  • Spring Data: Simplifies data access across multiple databases and data stores.

  • Spring Security: Provides a powerful, customizable security solution for modern application development.

  • Spring Batch: Facilitates the execution of batch processing scenarios.

  • Spring Cloud: Supports building cloud-native, distributed systems with various cloud platforms.

  • Spring Integration: Offers an implementation of the Enterprise Integration Patterns for seamless communication between services.

Integration options

Spring Framework is known for its versatility in integrating with other technologies and software components. This flexibility streamlines the application development process and helps developers to create end-to-end solutions seamlessly. Some popular integration options within the Spring ecosystem include:

  • JPA, Hibernate, and MyBatis for data access.

  • Thymeleaf, Velocity, and FreeMarker for template engines.

  • OAuth2, SAML, and JWT for authentication protocols.

  • RabbitMQ, Apache Kafka, and ActiveMQ for message brokers.

  • Elasticsearch, Solr, and Lucene for search engines.

Spring: Extensions and plugins

Thanks to its widespread popularity, the Spring Framework community offers an ample number of extensions and plugins to further enhance and customize the framework for specific use cases. Developers can extend the out-of-the-box features of the Spring Framework by leveraging these additional tools:

Extension/Plugin

Description

Spring Boot Devtools

A Spring Boot module that provides fast application restarts, live reloading, and general development tools.

Spring Cloud Sleuth

Enables distributed tracing across cloud-based applications and microservices architecture.

Spring Retry

Provides retry logic for failed operations, with configurable parameters and exception handling.

Spring Social

Offers integration with popular social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, for authentication and data access.

Spring Boot Actuator

Delivers production-grade features with monitoring, management, and diagnostic capabilities for running Spring Boot applications.

The extensive ecosystem and integration capabilities of the Spring Framework play a massive role in its widespread adoption and success.


Introducing Spring Boot

Spring Boot is a highly efficient framework designed to simplify the process of developing Spring applications. Let's see how it improves application development, with a special focus on its auto-configuration feature, embedded server options, and suitability for microservices architecture.

How Spring Boot Simplifies Spring Application Development

One of the most significant advantages of Spring Boot is its ability to minimize configuration overhead. Some key factors responsible for Spring Boot's simplification and ease of use:

  1. 1
    Auto-Configuration: Spring Boot automatically configures suitable components based on the libraries specified in the application dependencies. This auto-configuration reduces manual setup efforts.
  2. 2
    Embedded Servers: Spring Boot applications can be run as standalone Java applications with embedded server options, such as Tomcat, Jetty, or Undertow. This feature eliminates the need for deploying applications to external servers, speeding up project development.
  3. 3
    Spring Boot Starters: Starters are pre-configured templates offered by Spring Boot to accelerate the project setup by aggregating common dependencies.

Spring Boot is also an excellent choice for developing microservices with Spring Boot. The fact that it’s lightweight and that it easily integrates with various modern technologies make it ideal for building scalable, modular microservices-based applications.

Spring Boot's Auto-Configuration: Streamlining Development

Spring Boot's auto-configuration plays a crucial role in simplifying the development process, making it easy and efficient for developers to create Spring applications. This feature minimizes the need for manual setup and configuration of various components, saving both time and effort.

When using Spring Boot, developers can focus on writing their application code, while the framework takes care of setting up the necessary dependencies and configurations. This is made possible through the auto-configuration feature, which intelligently detects and configures the required components based on the project's dependencies.

Convention over configuration is a core principle of Spring Boot and enables developers to achieve rapid application development. As it sticks to a set of predefined conventions and sensible defaults, Spring Boot eliminates the need for tedious and error-prone manual configurations. This ultimately results in a more streamlined and efficient process.

So where does Spring Boot's auto-configuration shine? Let's take a look at how it contributes to rapid application development:

  1. 1
    Embedded Servers: Spring Boot's auto-configuration supports embedded servers such as Tomcat, Jetty, and Undertow. By default, it automatically configures the appropriate server based on the project dependencies, eliminating the need for manual server setup and configuration.
  2. 2
    Data Source Configuration: When integrating with databases, auto-configuration detects the presence of a JDBC data source, JPA, or Spring Data JPA and configures the necessary components, effortlessly connecting your application to a database.
  3. 3
    Messaging Systems: Spring Boot automatically configures messaging systems like JMS, Kafka, or RabbitMQ when respective dependencies are detected. This allows developers to focus on integrating messaging into their applications without worrying about the underlying configuration.

Spring Boot also offers a mechanism to override or fine-tune auto-configuration settings, providing developers with flexibility in customizing their application's behavior. This is achieved through external property files or directly within the code.

Impact of Auto-Configuration on Application Development Speed and Efficiency

Auto-configuration is a game-changer for developers working with Spring applications, as it positively impacts the development process in several ways. 

1. Increased productivity

As it eliminates the need for manual configuration, developers can focus more on writing application code and delivering features as quickly as possible.

2. Reduction in boilerplate code

The convention-over-configuration approach helps reduce boilerplate code, resulting in cleaner, easier-to-understand, and more maintainable applications.

3. Improved consistency

Adhering to a set of conventions and defaults, Spring Boot applications have a more consistent structure and configuration, making it easier for team members to understand and switch between projects.

Spring Boot's auto-configuration feature not only simplifies the development process but also enables rapid application development by minimizing manual configurations and adhering to a convention-over-configuration approach. This ultimately results in increased productivity, reduced boilerplate code, and improved consistency across the project's development lifecycle.


Spring Boot Starters: A Catalyst for Rapid Development

One of the key factors behind the increasing popularity of Spring Boot is the introduction of Spring Boot Starters. These starters serve as pre-configured templates that aggregate common dependencies, making it significantly easier and faster for developers to set up their Spring applications. In this section, we will discuss how Spring Boot Starters contribute to rapid project setup and explore the most commonly used starters in various types of development.

Commonly Used Spring Boot Starters

Spring Boot offers a comprehensive list of starters, catering to various aspects of application development. Each starter is essentially a set of dependency descriptors, designed to eliminate the need to manually import and manage distinct dependencies for each feature or functionality. By using starters, developers can effortlessly customize their projects, resulting in reduced development time and a smoother overall development experience.

The following table provides an overview of some of the most commonly used Spring Boot Starters, their descriptions, and the main dependencies they include:

Starter

Description

Main Dependencies

spring-boot-starter-web

Build web applications using Spring MVC and RESTful services

spring-boot-starter-data-jpa

Simplify data access with Spring Data JPA and Hibernate

spring-boot-starter-security

Integrate Spring Security features into your application

Spring Security, Spring Security Config, Spring Security Web

spring-boot-starter-test

Support testing of Spring Boot applications with essential libraries

spring-boot-starter-thymeleaf

Render dynamic HTML content with Thymeleaf templates

Thymeleaf, Thymeleaf Spring Integration, Thymeleaf Spring Security

spring-boot-starter-actuator

Monitor and manage your Spring Boot application's health and performance

Spring Boot Actuator, Micrometer

It's worth noting that creating custom starters is also an option for developers who wish to define their own templates and streamline their Spring Boot customization process even further.

Spring Boot Starters play a crucial role in boosting rapid project setup. When using these pre-configured templates, developers can easily begin working on their Spring applications with minimal configuration and enjoy a smoother development experience overall. Starters not only save time but also help maintain a consistent project structure, ensuring a more efficient and polished development process.


Other framework comparisons from Bluebird:


FAQ

What is the difference between Spring Framework vs Spring Boot?

Spring Framework is a comprehensive framework for developing Java applications, while Spring Boot is an extension of the Spring Framework that simplifies the development process through auto-configuration, embedded server options, and suitability for microservices architecture.

Spring Framework vs Spring Boot: What are the core concepts of each?

The Spring Framework is centered around providing a comprehensive programming and configuration model for modern Java-based enterprise applications, with core concepts including dependency injection, aspect-oriented programming, and modular components for diverse application requirements. 

In contrast, Spring Boot builds upon the Spring Framework by focusing on simplifying the development process through convention over configuration, offering auto-configuration, embedded server support, and a range of pre-built starters to quickly bootstrap new applications.

How does Spring Boot simplify the development of Spring applications?

Spring Boot streamlines the development process by providing auto-configuration, embedded server options, and tools that facilitate the creation of microservices. It follows a convention-over-configuration approach to minimize manual setup and enables rapid application development.

What are Spring Boot Starters, and how do they help in application development?

Spring Boot Starters are pre-configured templates that aggregate common dependencies to streamline project setup. They boost application development by simplifying dependency management and providing customization options for various development needs.

What are the main factors to consider when choosing between Spring Framework vs Spring Boot?

Key factors to consider when choosing between Spring Framework vs Spring Boot include initial setup, configuration requirements, dependency management, project complexity, performance, and deployment workflows. As always, the decision depends on the specific needs and priorities of each Java project.


Thank you for reading our comparative analysis. We hope that this article has helped you make an informed decision about choosing between Spring Framework and Spring Boot. 

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