Saturday 2 August 2008

Tips on JPA Domain Modelling

1. Put Annotation on Methods, not Attributes
If using annotations on attributes, JPA engine will set directly in the attributes using reflection, hereby by-passing any code in setters and getters. This makes it hard to do extra work in setters and getters, if the need arises.

In addition, if you add a getter for some calculated value which has no corresponding attribute, you can mark it @Transient on the method. Had you been putting it on the attributes, you would have no attribute to put the annotation on.

Whatever you do: Try not to mix, using with annotations both on fields and methods. Some JPA providers cannot handle this!

2. Implement Serializable
The specification says you have to, but some JPA providers does not enforce this. Hibernate as JPA provider does not enforce this, but it can fail somewhere deep in its stomach with ClassCastException, if Serializable has not been implemented.

3. Use The Fine Grained Domain Modelling and Mapping Possibilities in JPA
If coming from EJBs (before EJB3), you are not used to be able to do fine grained modelling. EJB2.x was very entity centric. In JPA, you have @Embeddable and @Embedded. Doing more fine grained domain modelling can help make your domain model more expressive.

An @Embeddable is a value object, and as such, it shall be immutable. You do this by only putting getters and no (public) setters on its class. The identity of a value object is based on its state rather than its object id. This means, that the @Embeddable will have no @Id annotation.

As an example, given the domain class Person:

public class Person implements Serializable {
private String address;

public String getAddress() { return address; }
public void setAddress(String address) { this.address = address; }

We could express Address better, by giving it a class of its own. Not because it should be mapped to some other table, but because it makes sense in this particular model. Like this:

public class Address implements Serializable {
private String houseNumber;
private String street;

public String getHouseNumber() { return houseNumber; }

public String getStreet() { return street; }

public String getAddress() { return street + " " + houseNumber; }

// setter needed by JPA, but protected as value object is immutable to domain
protected void setAddress(String address) {
// do all the parsing and rule enforcement here

public class Person implements Serializable {
private Address address;

public Address getAddress() { return address; }
public void setAddress(Address address) { this.address = address; }

The better expressiveness comes from: a) Putting a named class on a concept in the model and, b) having a place (the value object class) where to put domain logic and enforce domain rules.

4. Implement Equality using Real Domain Attribute Values
Classes marked @Entity will always have an id attribute. Often, this is a long sequence. It can be tempting to use this value when implementing equals and hashCode (which is also a requirement), but I recommend against it. I can find two good reasons: One based on modelling rules and one based on technical terms.

* Modelling rule: A class modelled as an entity should be uniquely distinguishable from other instances, solely based on a combination of some of its domain attributes. A long sequence, used solely to obtain relational identification, does not constitute a domain attribute. If you are unable to find a unique combination, it might very well be a sign of a problem with the model.
* Technical term: If equality is based on a database generated and assigned value, you will not be able to use equals and hashCode before an instance has been persisted. That includes putting the instance into container classes, as they rely on equals and hashCode.

5. Protect the Default Constructor
The JPA specification mandates a default constructor on mapped classes, but a default constructor seldom makes sense in modelling terms. With it, you would be able to construct an entity instance with no state. A constructor should always leave the instance created in a sane state. The requirement for the default constructor is only to make dynamic instantiation of instances of the class possible by the JPA provider.

Luckily, you can, and are allowed to, mark the default constructor as protected. Hibernate will even accept it as private, but that is not by the spec.

6. Protect Setter Method on Id Attribute
Basically the same story as above. In this case, it is just because it makes no sense for the application to assign an id.

NOTE: This is only for when the id attribute is marked as assignable by the provider.

7. Avoid Primitives when Mapping Id Attribute
Simply use Long and not long. This makes it possible to detect a not yet set value by testing for null. If using Java5 or above, auto-boxing should take away the pain.

8. Use the Basic Annotation to Override Defaults
By all means, use @Basic to override the default true value of optional to false, for those fields that are not actually optional (I often find that to be most of my attributes).

9. Go Ahead and Use the Column Annotation
Even if you are not interested in generating a schema or DDL from it, you should not hold back on using the @Column annotation. It tells the reader of the code about important information related to the attribute. This is stuff like nullability, length, scale and precision.

10. Do Not Use java.sql.Date/java.sql.Timestamp in Domain Model
Instead, use java.util.Date or java.util.Calendar. Using the types from the java.sql package is a leakage of concerns into the domain model, that we do not want, nor need.

Just remember to put @Temporal on date and calendar attributes.

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