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DSL for Guice

The Guice DSL is a little language that lets you define Guice modules in a readable and declarative way.


Guice is a great dependency injection container, which uses Java types and annotations to declare and refer to injection points. You could for instance have the following field:

@Named("properties") Map<String,String> properties;

A module is used to tell the framework what instance to inject into such injection points. For that, Guice comes with a fluent interface API written in Java and a couple of tricks (e.g. TypeLiteral) to make the configuration as readable and maintainable as possible.

You could for instance declare the following module:

public class MyModule implements Module {
  public void configure(Binder binder) {
    Map<String,String> properties = Maps.newHashMap();
    properties.put("debugLevel", "info");
    binder.bind(new TypeLiteral<Map<String,String>>(){})

The big advantage of using Java over an external text or XML file is that you can leverage the IDE and the type checking. We want to have that. The downside is that you have to trick (i.e. TypeLiteral) a lot in order to have an agreeable syntax. Also since the configuration is ‘hidden’ in a method implementation and not really declarative you cannot validate a Guice module at compile time.

The Guice DSL described in this section lets you describe the module above like this:

  MyModule {
    @Named("properties") Map<String,String> 
      to-instance newHashMap('debugLevel' -> 'info')

This not only uses the exact same syntax one uses in any injection points, but also opens up all kinds of possibilities for static analysis. Usually the instantiation of a Guice injector at runtime takes quite some time, because then all the very helpful validation is done. A language like the one described in this section could do all theses analysis at compile time, that way speeding up start up of the whole application significantly.

Running the Example

In the example located in the project org.xtext.guicemodules.examples two modules are declared, one for a possible runtime scenario and one for a test scenario (yes, you sometimes want a module for tests).

import com.acme.*
import com.acme.impl.*

com.acme.RuntimeModule {
  bind DataProvider to FileDataProvider
  bind @DataFile String to-instance 'my-data.txt'

com.acme.TestModule mixin RuntimeModule {
  bind DataProvider to-instance ['dummy-data' ]
  bind LoggingService to BufferedLoggingService

You can see the two modules in action by running com.acme.Main from the context menu as a Java application or as a JUnit test.


The grammar is less than 30 lines long. It allows declaring any number of imports using the import mechanism already described for the scripting language. A module can ‘mixin’ any number of other modules, which allows to reuse existing modules but override keys with different bindings. The mixin feature is described as a cross reference to another ModuleAST. Cross references are covered in detail in the respective documentation section.

The language allows binding keys to other keys and to instances. Other concepts like binding to providers is something you could do, but would not help in getting the idea across. Everybody is encouraged to fork this first prototype and build something really useful ;-)

Instead of extending org.eclipse.xtext.xbase.Xbase, the grammar org.eclipse.xtext.xbase.annotations.XbaseWithAnnotations is extended, which adds full support for annotations. You just have to refer to the rule XAnnotation as it is done in the rule KeyAST. Btw. it is sometimes a good idea to suffix (or prefix) the AST node types to avoid confusion when working with a library where concepts are named similarly.

grammar org.xtext.guicemodules.GuiceModules 
   with org.eclipse.xtext.xbase.annotations.XbaseWithAnnotations
import "http://www.eclipse.org/xtext/common/JavaVMTypes" as types
generate guiceModules "http://www.xtext.org/guicemodules/GuiceModules"
ModulesAST :

ModuleAST :
	name=QualifiedName ('mixin' mixins+=[ModuleAST|QualifiedName] 
	  (',' mixins+=[ModuleAST|QualifiedName])*)? 

	'bind' from=KeyAST 
	('to' to=KeyAST | 'to-instance' toInstance=XExpression)?;

	annotation=XAnnotation? type=JvmTypeReference;

Translation to Java

A module is mapped to a single java class. The ‘mixin’ modules are not translated to Java inheritance but to a delegation approach. Here is how a simple module declaration with a single mixed-in module is translated.

  • DSL:

    MyModule mixin OtherModule { 
  • Java:

    public class MyModule implements Module {
      private OtherModule otherModule = new OtherModule();
      public void configure(final Binder binder) {
        configure(binder, new HashSet<com.google.inject.Key<?>>());
      public void configure(final Binder bind, 
          final Set<Key<? extends Object>> usedKeys) {
        try {
          testModule.configure(bind, usedKeys);
        } catch (Exception e) {
          throw new RuntimeException(e);

As you can see, the language simply leverages the nice equals/hashCode implementation of Guice’s Key to implement the override semantics of mixed-in modules.

The corresponding parts in GuiceModulesJvmModelInferrer are:

  // declare a field for each mixed-in module
  for (mixin : module.mixins) {
    if (!mixin.eIsProxy)
      members += mixin.toField( mixin.simpleName, 
        typeRef(mixin.fullyQualifiedName.toString)) [
        initializer = '''new «mixin.name»()'''
  // and later when declaring the configure method
  members+= module.toMethod("configure", typeRef(void)) [
    documentation = 'Registers bindings for keys not present in ...'
    parameters += module.toParameter("bind", typeRef(Binder))
    parameters += module.toParameter("usedKeys", typeRef(Set, typeRef(Key, wildcard)))
    body = '''
      try {
        ...some other code
        «FOR mix : module.mixins»
          «mix.simpleName».configure(bind, usedKeys);
      } catch (Exception e) {
        throw new RuntimeException(e);

Expressions are used in to-instance bindings and as always they need a proper scope to live in. The simplest way is to declare a private method for each expression.

for (binding : module.bindings) {
  // if it's a toInstance binding, create a synthetic
  // method to give the expression a proper scope
  if (binding.toInstance != null) {
    members += binding.toMethod(binding.syntheticToInstanceName, 
        binding.from.type) [
      visibility = JvmVisibility.PRIVATE
      body = binding.toInstance

In order to obtain instances of annotations as required by Guice’s Binder, we declare dummy fields for annotated types and use reflection to get corresponding instances.

  • DSL:

    com.acme.RuntimeModule {
      bind @DataFile String to-instance 'my-data.txt'
  • Java:

    // declaration of dummy field with annotation
    private String _from0;
    // and later the following code is used to get the key
      Key<java.lang.String> key = 
          Key.get(new TypeLiteral<String>(){}, 

The two sections in the model inferrer responsible for this are:

for (binding : module.bindings) {
  // if a key has an annotation, declare a field so we can use that 
  // annotation via reflection later.
  if (binding.to?.annotation != null) {
    members += binding.toField(binding.to.syntheticName, binding.to.type) [
      visibility = JvmVisibility.PRIVATE
  if (binding.from.annotation != null) {
    members += binding.toField(binding.from.syntheticName, 
        binding.from.type) [
      visibility = JvmVisibility.PRIVATE

// and the following method
def guiceKey(KeyAST it) '''
  Key.get(new TypeLiteral<«type>(){}«
  IF annotation != null
  », getClass().getDeclaredField("«syntheticName»").getAnnotations()[0]«

That is basically it. The rest should hopefully be self-explanatory.


One of the sweet spots for a Guice modules DSL is the ability to do a lot of the validation usually done at runtime during compile time. Since this is just an example it just scratches the surface. There is just a single compiler check validating whether any used annotation is itself annotated with BindingAnnotation.

This is the relevant code from GuiceModulesValidator:

  @Check def checkAnnotationIsBindingAnnotation(XAnnotation it) {
    switch type : annotationType {
		  error("The annotation is not annotated with @BindingAnnotation", 

It would be really cool to leverage the full information, which is available and analyze the dependencies transitively so you get feedback while you type for any unfulfilled dependencies. Also using all the information to compile a ready to use Injector instead of a module seems interesting.

Next Chapter: Http Routing Language