Saturday, July 28, 2007

Why is validation so hard?

Here I am, trying to validate my persistent business objects before committing a transaction...  since I am using Hibernate... that means they are POJOs...
Hibernate has its validation framework, that allows for validation using Java 5 @Annotations... it is a nice idea... but I don't feel that comfortable validating that way... Annotation based validation is fine for simple validation (not null, min/max size,etc) but is not that good for more complex stuff (validations formulas, stuff like "you can't buy that unless you have money in you account" or "a car has to have 4 wheels or it can not change is status to 'ready to run'").
The problem IMHO with the Hibernate Validator, is that it is triggered on "PreInsert" or "PreUpdate"... and those events are triggered each time a "Flush" is called (automatically or manually) but Flush is called with 2 different purposes, if is called explicitly, it often means "put this in to the database", and, when called automatically often means "put changes in to the database so that I can make queries without risk of inconsistencies" but it doesn't mean "the transaction is committed" (although a lot of people use it with that intention)... now... what if I want to validate only "just before when the transaction is committed", not "on flush"... (that can happen if I want to do complex validation that requires querying the database about its state, taking in consideration the modifications that my uncommitted POJOs will produce when flushed in to the database).

I believe that the main problem of the POJO nature of Hibernate persistence, is that POJOs do not know they are persistent, and therefore do not know that they need to be leave the database in a valid state after being flushed into it... I think Hibernate is missing a mechanism that can be called that does a kind of "fake commit" that applies all the changes to the database, then call a validation api that can check that all the applied changes are valid, and, only after that is verified, allow for the transaction to really commit (and if validation fails, that it should never commit, it should rollback).

In other words, it should be possible to validate stuff "before commit" not "before flushing", and it should be possible to flush 1 or more times before commit without having the validation triggered, since we might need to perform operations with the data flushed in to the database, and only if those operation give a valid result, commit...

The problem... I think, is that Hibernate event system doesn't cover "OnBeforeCommit" and even worse... it lacks a mechanism to inform this OnBeforeCommit of which objects were inserted, updated or deleted. (In fact, Hibernate knows that internally, but it doesn't expose an API to retrieve that information... and therefore transactions are blind to the changes that were flushed before the commit (and that makes it really hard to just call the validation algorithms of those entities that modified inside that particular transaction)

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