Apache Commons OGNL - Object Graph Navigation Library

OGNL stands for Object-Graph Navigation Language; it is an expression language for getting and setting properties of Java objects, plus other extras such as list projection and selection and lambda expressions. You use the same expression for both getting and setting the value of a property.

The Ognl class contains convenience methods for evaluating OGNL expressions. You can do this in two stages, parsing an expression into an internal form and then using that internal form to either set or get the value of a property; or you can do it in a single stage, and get or set a property using the String form of the expression directly.

OGNL started out as a way to set up associations between UI components and controllers using property names. As the desire for more complicated associations grew, Drew Davidson created what he called KVCL, for Key-Value Coding Language, egged on by Luke Blanshard. Luke then reimplemented the language using ANTLR, came up with the new name, and, egged on by Drew, filled it out to its current state. Later on Luke again reimplemented the language using JavaCC. Further maintenance on all the code is done by Drew (with spiritual guidance from Luke).

We pronounce OGNL as a word, like the last syllables of a drunken pronunciation of "orthogonal".


Many people have asked exactly what OGNL is good for. Several of the uses to which OGNL has been applied are:

  • A binding language between GUI elements (textfield, combobox, etc.) to model objects. Transformations are made easier by OGNL's TypeConverter mechanism to convert values from one type to another (String to numeric types, for example);
  • A data source language to map between table columns and a Swing TableModel;
  • A binding language between web components and the underlying model objects;
  • A more expressive replacement for the property-getting language used by the Apache Commons BeanUtils package or JSTL's EL (which only allow simple property navigation and rudimentary indexed properties).

Most of what you can do in Java is possible in OGNL, plus other extras such as list projection, selection and lambda expressions.