What is the difference between request attributes, session attributes, and ServletContext attributes?

Wellington Silva

A ServletContext attribute is an object bound into a context through ServletContext.setAttribute() method and which is available to ALL servlets (thus JSP) in that context, or to other contexts via the getContext() method. By definition a context attribute exists locally in the VM where they were defined. So, they're unavailable on distributed applications.

Session attributes are bound to a session, as a mean to provide state to a set of related HTTP requests. Session attributes are available ONLY to those servlets which join the session. They're also unavailable to different JVMs in distributed scenarios. Objects can be notified when they're bound/unbound to the session implementing the HttpSessionBindingListener interface.

Request attributes are bound to a specific request object, and they last as far as the request is resolved or while it keep dispatched from servlet to servlet. They're used more as comunication channel between Servlets via the RequestDispatcher Interface (since you can't add Parameters...) and by the container. Request attributes are very useful in web apps when you must provide setup information between information providers and the information presentation layer (a JSP) that is bound to a specific request and need not be available any longer, which usually happens with sessions without a rigorous control strategy.

Thus we can say that context attributes are meant for infra-structure such as shared connection pools, session attributes to contextual information such as user identification, and request attributes are meant to specific request info such as query results.