Exploring the Key Differences Between @Controller and @RestController in Java

Have you ever gotten confused between @Controller and @RestController in Spring MVC? You're not alone! Both annotations are essential for building web applications, but they have subtle differences that can confuse even experienced developers.

Imagine this: You're building an exciting new API, and you need to define endpoints that return data in a format like JSON. Should you use @Controller or @RestController? This post will clarify the differences and help you master Spring MVC!

What is a Controller?

When I initially began working with Spring Boot, one of the fundamental questions I encountered was: What exactly is a controller, and why is it necessary in the framework? Understanding the role and functionality of a controller is crucial before we delve deeper into the specifics of how each type of controller operates within the framework.

A controller, in the context of Spring Boot and web development, serves as a critical component that manages the flow of data between the server and the client. It acts as a bridge, interpreting user inputs transmitted via HTTP requests and deciding what responses to send back based on the application's business logic. Controllers are essential for handling incoming requests, processing them according to the application's rules, and then returning the appropriate responses to the user.

Exploring the Role of Controllers and RestControllers

Spring MVC provides two main controller annotations: @Controller and @RestController. Both manage incoming HTTP requests, but they differ in the type of responses they generate.


The @Controller annotation is the foundation for building web applications with user interfaces in Spring MVC. Here's a breakdown of its functionality:

  • Response Type: Primarily returns view names for rendering UI templates (HTML pages). These templates are then populated with data and displayed to the user.

  • Additional Annotations: Often used with annotations like @RequestMapping to map URLs to controller methods and @ModelAttribute to prepare data for the view layer.


The @RestController annotation, introduced in Spring 4, is a powerful tool for simplifying the creation of RESTful APIs. Here's what sets it apart:

  • Response Type: Primarily returns data objects directly in formats like JSON or XML, making them easily consumable by other applications. Spring MVC automatically converts these objects to the chosen format.

  • Additional Annotations: Often used with annotations like @GetMapping, @PostMapping, and others to define specific HTTP methods (GET, POST, etc.) for each endpoint.

Choosing the Right Controller

The table below summarizes the key differences between @Controller and @RestController

Response TypePrimarily view names for rendering UIPrimarily data objects (JSON, XML)
Additional AnnotationsOften used with @RequestMapping, @ModelAttributeOften used with @GetMapping, @PostMapping, etc.
Use CaseBuilding web applications with user interfacesBuilding RESTful APIs that return data


Understanding the distinctions between @Controller and @RestController in Spring MVC is crucial for effectively building and managing web applications. While both annotations are designed to handle HTTP requests, @Controller is best suited for applications that require a view component, and @RestController is ideal for creating APIs that communicate data in formats like JSON or XML. By choosing the appropriate annotation based on your project's needs, you can streamline development and ensure your application efficiently handles user interactions and data processing.

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