EJB Persistence and O/R patterns

A Quick and Easy Guide

Please observe: Once EJB 3.0 will be out these pages will be obsolete - if I should forget to take them of the web in time then again - please observe that the following pages on EJB persistence only apply to EJB 2.x and lower.

These pages are intended to demonstrate that our persistence patterns can also be found  in a newer wake of object oriented business systems: Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) Entity Beans. If you're not familiar with the concept of EJBs please visit one of the sites that give you an overview of EJBs, because we will not replicate all this material here. 

It must be noted that EJBs (these pages relate to EJB 2.x) are seen somewhat critical today. Before you use them you might want to read a discussion on EJBs versus POJOs (plain old Java objects). For a deeper discussion see also Floyd Marinescu's book on EJB Design Patterns (you can download the book there), which also covers EJB persistence (besides other things).

This page deals in short form with:

EJB Persistence Modes as valid for EJB 2.x

an Example of Bean-Managed Persistence

a discussion on why this looks so simplistic compared to sophisticated E/R mappers

and a construction site on Container-Managed Persistence

EJB Persistence Modes

EJBs distinguish between two modes of persistence

For an account of EJB persistence see also the SUN technical pages on Entity Beans. 

An Example of Bean-Managed Persistence

For the following we will have a deeper look at bean managed persistence in EJB1.1. Sun has a nice example for this. This example uses a few  o/r patterns.

An entity bean needs to implement the Entity Bean interface, which is in fact an application of a CRUD pattern. If you look at a commented bank account example, you will see how the CRUD operations are implemented using elementary relational database operations.

So there's not too much surprising stuff in EJBs concerning persistence and the o/r patterns will still contain valuable information about the deeper mechanics.

q.e.e. (quod errat expectandum :-)

For another similar example follow this link, which follows the same straightforward line. If you have links to a more sophisticated implementation, drop me a mail

Why this looks so simplistic compared to sophisticated E/R mappers

If you had a closer look at the examples and if you did already browse through our o/r patterns you might have noticed that a few things are missing here. The EJB specification does not say anything about

Implementation Inheritance: Therefore you do not need patterns for mapping inheritance here. Nevertheless you will find ways to mimick implementation inheritance in EJB 2.0 and higher. Best Google your way to it. Fact is that EJB still does not offer inheritance in Nov. 2003. 

Aggregation: another area of interest for mapping patterns. Higher EJB versions offer a mechanism of dependent objects - which can be used as aggregation.

Relations between EJBs: In EJB 1.1 there's no Smart Pointer mechanism in the EJB spec that allows you to navigate from one EJB to another by something that feels like just dereferencing a pointer - you have to do this by using object IDs and by asking the container to give you the respective object. In EJB 2.0 and higher, relations are support (OODB style and CMP) but please don't ask me, how they do it in BMP.

Therefore you might not need most of the concepts that a sophisticated o/r mapper has to provide and you end up implementing objects that can be mapped to a single table. Or you hide a few tricks below the bean's interface like aggregating a few simple data types or treating an order with it's order lines as a single bean interface.  BTW: For most business applications this is a perfect match - People who build lots and lots of inheritance in their Business Object Layer at the user perceived business object level will end up having a lot of trouble anyway.

Some would also treat a cluster of Java objects as one EJB - see the article on the Aggregate Entity Pattern (by Craig Larman)  - in this case there might be the necessity for a full o/r mapping.

There are some proprietary EJB containers, like IBM's Websphere Application Server (formerly Component Broker) suite that have more complex features like inheritance and relationships at the bean level but these features are non-standard. If you see the description you will find nice known uses for our mapping patterns.

Container-Managed Persistence

The cute thing about container managed persistence is, that it relieves you of writing all the database code you have seen in the bean-managed persistence example. A similar example for container managed persistence reads like this. If you see the CRUD methods here, you will find no database code.

How is this miracle performed ... The miracle happens because

first of all you have to declare all the instance variables that you want to be persistent public. This allows your container to "fill them by magic" and also to "write them by magic"

you have to declare at bean deployment time which of these public instance variables is to be mapped to which column in your database. Most vendors for EJB containers that support container-managed persistence offer a mapping tool for this. 

If you want a compact discussion on what is good about CMP versus e.g. JDO have a look at the this article on CMP or JDO?

A Few Selected EJB Resources

EJB Patterns by Floyd Marinescu

TheServerSide.com, a site operated by Floyd Marinescu offers a free dowload of his book on EJB Design Patterns - which also covers EJB persistence.

Compact EJB Introductions:

for anything on EJB and the like have a look at TheServerSide.com. This is also a prime palce for discussions on whether to use EJBs at all or use other approaches like lighter frameworks, less deployment descriptors and the like.

O'Reillys EJB Book 

Open Source EJB Containers: Good to study source code and examples

jBoss - a very prominent open source EJB container. 

Enhydra Open Source EJB Container Project. Has nice architecture sketches and far more examples than just the EJB container but also a complete reference application architecture

Open EJB