transparent persistence


Transparent persistence has emerged into the mainstream over the past few years with the popularity of JDO and JPA for enterprise application development. This approach offers the following advantages.

  1. Domain modeling is expressed naturally as plain old Java objects (POJOs) without having to program any of the SQL or JDBC calls that are traditionally coded by hand.
  2. Navigation through relationships – objects are naturally related through references, and navigating a relationship will automatically load the related object on demand.
  3. Modified objects are stored automatically when the transaction is committed.
  4. Persistence by reachability – related objects are automatically stored, if they are reachable from another persistent object.

The programming model is improved by eliminating the tedium that is traditionally associated with object persistence. Loading, storing, and querying are all expressed in terms of the Java class and field names, as opposed to the physical schema names. The programmer is largely insulated from the impedance mismatch between Java objects and the relational database. The software can be expressed purely in terms of the domain model, as represented by Java objects.


When developing domain objects, persistence is only one aspect. The business logic that applies to the graph of related objects is the most important concern. Transparent persistence introduces challenges to executing business logic to enforce constraints and complex business rules when creating, updating, and deleting persistent objects through reachability.

For example, an equipment rental application may need to enforce the following constraints:

  • When creating equipment, it must be related to a location.
  • When creating a rental, it must be related to a customer, and ensure that the equipment is available for the duration of the rental.
  • When updating a rental, it must ensure that equipment is available for the duration of the rental.

JPA 2.0 does not provide sufficient mechanisms for enforcing these constraints, when creating or updating these entities through reachability. The responsibility is placed on a service object to manage these graphs of entities. The constraint checking must be enforced by the service object per transaction. Java EE 5 does not provide any assistance to ensure that the constraint checks (implemented in Java) are deferred until commit, so that they are not repeated, when performing a sequence of operations in the same transaction.

Adding a preCommit event to a persistent object would provide a good place for expressing constraints. Allowing this event to be deferred until transaction commit would provide the proper optimization for good performance. Of course, preCommit would need to prevent any further modifications to the persistent objects enlisted in the transaction. This would factor out many of the invariants so that they are expressed per entity, removing the responsibility from every operation on service objects, which is prone to programmer error. The domain model would be greatly improved.

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