A Java servlet processes or stores a Java class in Java EE that conforms to the Java Servlet API, a standard for implementing Java classes that respond to requests. Servlets could in principle communicate over any client–server protocol, but they are most often used with the HTTP. Thus "servlet" is often used as shorthand for "HTTP servlet". Thus, a software developer may use a servlet to add dynamic content to a web server using the Java platform. The generated content is commonly HTML, but may be other data such as XML and more commonly, JSON. Servlets can maintain state in session variables across many server transactions by using HTTP cookies, or URL mapping.
The Java servlet API has, to some extent, been superseded by two standard Java technologies for web services:
the Java API for RESTful Web Services (JAX-RS 2.0) useful for AJAX, JSON and REST services, and
the Java API for XML Web Services (JAX-WS) useful for SOAP Web Services.
To deploy and run a servlet, a web container must be used. A web container (also known as a servlet container) is essentially the component of a web server that interacts with the servlets. The web container is responsible for managing the lifecycle of servlets, mapping a URL to a particular servlet and ensuring that the URL requester has the correct access rights.
The Servlet API, contained in the Java package hierarchy javax.servlet, defines the expected interactions of the web container and a servlet.
A Servlet is an object that receives a request and generates a response based on that request. The basic Servlet package defines Java objects to represent servlet requests and responses, as well as objects to reflect the servlet's configuration parameters and execution environment. The package javax.servlet.http defines HTTP-specific subclasses of the generic servlet elements, including session management objects that track multiple requests and responses between the web server and a client. Servlets may be packaged in a WAR file as a web application.
Servlets can be generated automatically from JavaServer Pages (JSP) by the JavaServer Pages compiler. The difference between servlets and JSP is that servlets typically embed HTML inside Java code, while JSPs embed Java code in HTML. While the direct usage of servlets to generate HTML (as shown in the example below) has become rare, the higher level MVC web framework in Java EE (JSF) still explicitly uses the servlet technology for the low level request/response handling via the FacesServlet. A somewhat older usage is to use servlets in conjunction with JSPs in a pattern called "Model 2", which is a flavor of the model–view–controller.
The current version of Servlet is 4.0.