Monday, March 16, 2009

EntityManager.persist: ¿What does/should it mean?

Lets say you are presented with the following JPA @Entity:

public class Customer {

private Long id;
private String name;

public Long getId() {
return id;

public void setId(Long id) { = id;

public String getName() {
return name;

public void setName(String name) { = name;

And then the following test

public void persistCustomerInTransaction() throws Exception {
factory = Persistence.createEntityManagerFactory(PERSISTENCE_UNIT_NAME);

EntityManager em = factory.createEntityManager();


Customer customer = new Customer();




And the following question: Where does it crash?:

  1. At the line em.persist(customer); because the name is configured as nullable=false, and we are trying to persist the Customer instance with a null value in the name property

  2. em.getTransaction().commit(); because the name is configured as nullable=false, and we are trying to commit the transaction with a null value in the name property

Turns out… that the answer depends on the JPA provider you are using!!!! If using Hibernate, it crashes at em.persist, but if using EclipseLink, it crashes at em.getTransaction().commit.

Now, this might seem irrelevant, but it is in fact very important, because EclipseLink behavior means that constraint validations are deferred until the point where the transaction is committed, and that means that the developer has a lot more freedom to manipulate its persistent objects: they can be in any (possibly invalid) state while they are being manipulated by the business logic of the application, and they only have to be “right” the moment one needs to commit them to the database (not before), this is specially useful, for example, when building a wizard like UI (or a plain simple CRUD UI with support for full object graphs) with EclipseLink, I can persist my objects as soon as I want, and if want to, for example, run some validation logic at the end, all I have to do is ask the EclipseLink to give a list of all the objects that are going to be written in to the database, with Hibernate, the entityManager does not help me manage new object instances, I have to manage them myself.

What I find really surprising is that AFAIK there should be some kind of test to ensure that all JPA are compatible (something called the TCK?), and I think that this kind of discrepancy should be detected by those tests... shouldn't it?

I think this support for deferred validation, and an API to get will be inserted, will be updated or will be deleted, will be very important to really integrate JPA with something like JSR 330, so that validation can really integrate with the lifecycle of a persistent POJO.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

JPA/Hibernate (subjective?) weaknesses

I have had to work with JPA/Hibernate for a few years now... and I feel it has some weaknesses I really do not like (when compared with the first ORM I ever used, NextStep EOF), I am thinking about "switching to something else" but first i would like to be sure that the ORM I switch to does not have this weaknesses too.
List of (subjective? perhaps I only perceive them because I was exposed to EOF first?) weaknesses in JPA/Hibernate:

  • No way to manage an object that "will be persisted", in JPA/Hibernate if you call entityManager.persist(object) and the database does not support sequences (like MS-Sql) an insert will be triggered, and if any of the non nullable fields of the objects is null, it will crash. If your object has a compound primary key, things get worse, because the entityManager can not deal with it until the compound primary key is set, and if your compound primary key is formed by foreign keys pointing to objects that are new too, that means you will not be able to save stuff with with a simple single call to entityManager.persist to one of the objects, cascading will not help you (I really miss something "magic" like the single shot EditingContext.saveAllChanges() in EOF)
  • No easy way to know if "an object is dirty" (if it has changed/deleted since it was read from the database, there is just no API for that), and since you can not know what objects will be persisted, and what object have changed, and what objects will be deleted from database, that means you can not easily create an unified API for centralized polymorphic validation (that is no easy way to create validateForSave, or validateForDelete methods in your persistent entity classes)
  • No real equivalent for validateForXXX, JPA lifecycle callbacks are not match for validateForXXX because you can not query the database during the lifecycle callbacks, and if you throw an exception inside a lifecycle callback, the JPA/Hibernate entityManager enters an invalid state, and after that you can not continue to use your POJOs, you have to start over with a fresh entityManager... and without you modifications to the POJOs. Note that Hibernate new validation framework does not offer a real solution for this problem... and AFAIK JSR-000303 will not help with this either.
  • No support for some kind of temporary id: In JPA/Hibernate, the id for an object is "null" until you flush it to the database, so if you need to reference a particular object instance from the user interface... there is plain no way to do it, you have to "save it first" to get a primary key.
  • No support for Nested Contexts... ( I think they would be a perfect fit for conversational frameworks like Seam or Shale). One of the goals of the ObjectContext is to provide an isolated area where local object changes can be performed without affecting other similar areas or the underlying storage. Nested Context changes can be saved to the parent Context without saving them to the database. Such child context is often called "nested". Nested contexts are useful in many situations, such as nested UI dialogs, complicated workflows, etc.

Those are my main disagreements with the way I have to work with JPA/Hibernate... will switching to JPA/EclipseLink, JPA/OpenJPA or the still not fully JPA compliant Apache Cayenne help me with those? I will be writing about my findings on this in my following posts