The Java Persistence Series

Java persistence with JPA and Hibernate, Part 2: Many-to-many relationships

Many-to-many relationships and cascade type strategies in JPA and Hibernate

The Java Persistence Series

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  • The save() method persists a Movie to the database. All operations that change the database need to be executed in a transaction, so the save() method wraps the persist() call in between two transaction method calls: begin() and commit(). We persist the Movie to the database using the EntityManager::persist method, which makes the movie "managed" by the EntityManager and saves it to the database.
  • The alternative to persist would be merge(), which saves the entity in an "unmanaged" state--meaning that it would save a copy of the entity to the database. When the transaction is committed, the id is automatically generated, so using the persist() method ensures that we will see that new, automatically generated key. Because the cascade type for SuperHero is set to PERSIST, saving a Movie also automatically saves its SuperHeroes.
  • The findById() method executes the EntityManager::find method, which retrieves an entity of the specified class by its primary key. In this case, we query for the Movie.class with the specified id. If the movie is found, then it returns it; otherwise it returns null. Rather than dealing with potential null values, the findById() method wraps the movie in an Optional, or returns Optional.empty() if the EntityManager has returned null.
  • The findAll() method executes the JPQL query "from Movie," which is shorthand for the more explicit query: SELECT m FROM Movie m. This query returns a list containing all Movies in the database.
  • The final method, deleteById(), is critical to successfully managing many-to-many relationships. It's worth a closer look below.

How to correctly delete entities in a many-to-many relationship

The steps to delete a Movie entity are as follows:

  1. Retrieve the Movie with the specified id from the EntityManager.
  2. Begin a transaction.
  3. Remove all references to Movie from each of its SuperHeroes.
  4. Remove the Movie.
  5. Commit the transaction.

The first thing to note is that we can only remove an entity that is managed by the EntityManager. If we have an unmanaged entity (such as a Movie instance that we created with the correct id) then the EntityManager::remove method will fail. This is important to understand because you might be tempted to pass in a Movie instance that has been detached from the EntityManager--such as the result of a findById() method call--but unless it is managed by the EntityManager, the remove() will not work.

Assuming we're looking for an entity that is managed by the EntityManager, our first step is to retrieve the Movie using its specified id. Next, we need to remove all references to the Movie in all of the SuperHero entities. If we forget this step then the join table will not be properly cleaned up. In fact, those relationships will stop the Movie from being deleted.

Finally, once we have a managed Movie that does not have any references to it, we can safely call the EntityManager::remove method.

The SuperHero repository

The SuperHeroRepository class is the same as the MovieRepository, only it manages SuperHeroes.

Listing 4. SuperHeroRepository.java


package com.geekcap.javaworld.jpa.repository;

import com.geekcap.javaworld.jpa.model.SuperHero;

import javax.persistence.EntityManager;
import java.util.List;
import java.util.Optional;

public class SuperHeroRepository {
    private EntityManager entityManager;

    public SuperHeroRepository(EntityManager entityManager) {
        this.entityManager = entityManager;
    }

    public Optional<SuperHero> save(SuperHero superHero) {
        try {
            entityManager.getTransaction().begin();
            entityManager.persist(superHero);
            entityManager.getTransaction().commit();
            return Optional.of(superHero);
        } catch (Exception e) {
            e.printStackTrace();
        }
        return Optional.empty();
    }

    public Optional<SuperHero> findById(Integer id) {
        SuperHero superHero = entityManager.find(SuperHero.class, id);
        return superHero != null ? Optional.of(superHero) : Optional.empty();
    }

    public List<SuperHero> findAll() {
        return entityManager.createQuery("from SuperHero").getResultList();
    }

    public void deleteById(Integer id) {
        // Retrieve the movie with this ID
        SuperHero superHero = entityManager.find(SuperHero.class, id);
        if (superHero != null) {
            try {
                // Start a transaction because we're going to change the database
                entityManager.getTransaction().begin();

                // Remove all references to this superhero in its movies
                superHero.getMovies().forEach(movie -> {
                    movie.getSuperHeroes().remove(superHero);
                });

                // Now remove the superhero
                entityManager.remove(superHero);

                // Commit the transaction
                entityManager.getTransaction().commit();
            } catch (Exception e) {
                e.printStackTrace();
            }
        }
    }
}

The SuperHeroRepository provides the same functionality, in the same way, as the MovieRepository. The deleteById() method follows the same steps, but in this case its actions are to remove SuperHeroes from all of its associated Movies.

Cascade type strategies: The case for PERSIST

Cascade type strategies tell the JPA provider (such as Hibernate) how to handle entities on the other side of a relationship. In essence, the cascade type strategy propagates database operations to related entities in a relationship, as defined by the relationship itself. In a many-to-many, bidirectional relationship, an operation on one entity would cascade to all other entities in the relationship. Choosing the correct cascade type strategy (or cascade operation) for your domain model is important.

I introduced the available cascade type strategies in Part 1; here they are again:

  • DETACH: When an entity is detached from the EntityManager, detach the entities on the other side of the operation as well.
  • MERGE: When an entity is merged into the EntityManager, merge the entities on the other side of the operation as well.
  • PERSIST: When an entity is persisted to the EntityManager, persist the entities on the other side of the operation as well.
  • REFRESH: When an entity is refreshed from the EntityManager, also refresh the entities on the other side of the operation.
  • FLUSH: when an entity is flushed to the EntityManager, flush its corresponding entities.
  • REMOVE: When an entity is removed from the EntityManager, remove the entities on the other side of the operation as well.
  • ALL: Includes all of the aforementioned operation types.

Reading through these strategies, you might think CascadeType.REMOVE looks like a good option. After all, if we remove a Movie then we might want to remove its SuperHeroes too, and vice versa. The problem is that the REMOVE action could have unintended effects. To understand these unintended effects, consider the relationships in our current domain model. As shown in Figure 2, we have two movies, "The Avengers" and "Avengers: Infinity War," and both of these movies contain our two superheroes, Ironman and Thor.

osjp jpa2 fig02 Steven Haines

Figure 2. Understanding cascading operations in a many-to-many relationship

Now, there are plenty of examples on the Internet of many-to-many relationships that use CascadeType.ALL as a shortcut operation for relationship persistence. So, let's say we set the cascade type strategy to CascadeType.ALL for both of these entities. Then, let's say we decided to delete "Avengers: Infinity War." What do you think would happen?

The answer is shown in Figure 3.

osjp jpa2 fig03 Steven Haines

Figure 3. Deleting 'Avengers: Infinity War' with CascadeType.ALL

In this configuration, deleting "Avengers: Infinity War" would cascade the delete operation to both Ironman and Thor. Worse, because they both have cascading constraints to "The Avengers," that movie would also be deleted. Deleting one movie would end up deleting the entire database!

That's why I recommend setting the cascade type to PERSIST. In this case, saving a Movie will save its SuperHeroes, but deleting a Movie will not delete its SuperHeroes.

The downside of PERSIST is that we'll need to perform a few additional steps if we ever do decide to delete an entity in our domain model. The upside is that if we delete a Movie entity (such as "Avengers: Infinity War") we won't also end up deleting Thor and Ironman.

The warning, therefore, is to closely examine your cascade configurations and choose the one that best meets your business objectives. If you're ever unsure what to do, opt for the more conservative option.

Example JPA application: Movies & Superheroes

We've written our entities and repositories, so all that's left to do is pull them together in a working application. Listing 5's JpaExample2 class creates movies and superheroes and exercises our repositories.

Listing 5. JpaExample2.java


package com.geekcap.javaworld.jpa;

import com.geekcap.javaworld.jpa.model.Movie;
import com.geekcap.javaworld.jpa.model.SuperHero;
import com.geekcap.javaworld.jpa.repository.MovieRepository;
import com.geekcap.javaworld.jpa.repository.SuperHeroRepository;
import org.hibernate.Session;

import javax.persistence.EntityManager;
import javax.persistence.EntityManagerFactory;
import javax.persistence.Persistence;
import java.util.Optional;

public class JpaExample2 {

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        // Create our entity manager
        EntityManagerFactory entityManagerFactory = Persistence.createEntityManagerFactory("SuperHeroes");
        EntityManager entityManager = entityManagerFactory.createEntityManager();

        MovieRepository movieRepository = new MovieRepository(entityManager);
        SuperHeroRepository superHeroRepository = new SuperHeroRepository(entityManager);

        // Create some superheroes
        SuperHero ironman = new SuperHero("Iron Man");
        SuperHero thor = new SuperHero("Thor");

        // Create some movies
        Movie avengers = new Movie("The Avengers");
        avengers.addSuperHero(ironman);
        avengers.addSuperHero(thor);

        Movie infinityWar = new Movie("Avengers: Infinity War");
        infinityWar.addSuperHero(ironman);
        infinityWar.addSuperHero(thor);

        // Save the movies
        movieRepository.save(avengers);
        movieRepository.save(infinityWar);

        // Find all movies
        System.out.println("MOVIES:");
        movieRepository.findAll().forEach(movie -> {
            System.out.println("Movie: [" + movie.getId() + "] - " + movie.getTitle());
            movie.getSuperHeroes().forEach(System.out::println);
        });

        // Find all superheroes
        System.out.println("\nsuperheroes:");
        superHeroRepository.findAll().forEach(superHero -> {
            System.out.println(superHero);
            superHero.getMovies().forEach(System.out::println);
        });

        // Delete a movie and verify that its superheroes are not deleted
        movieRepository.deleteById(1);
        System.out.println("\nMOVIES (AFTER DELETE):");
        movieRepository.findAll().forEach(movie -> {
            System.out.println("Movie: [" + movie.getId() + "] - " + movie.getTitle());
            movie.getSuperHeroes().forEach(System.out::println);
        });
        System.out.println("\nsuperheroes (AFTER DELETE):");
        superHeroRepository.findAll().forEach(superHero -> {
            System.out.println(superHero);
            superHero.getMovies().forEach(System.out::println);
        });


        // DEBUG, dump our tables
        entityManager.unwrap(Session.class).doWork(connection ->
                JdbcUtils.dumpTables(connection, "MOVIE", "SUPER_HERO", "SUPERHERO_MOVIES"));

        // Close the entity manager and associated factory
        entityManager.close();
        entityManagerFactory.close();
    }
}

The example application begins by creating an EntityManagerFactory that points to the "SuperHeroes" persistence unit, and then constructing an EntityManager from that. The "SuperHeroes" persistence unit is defined in the persistence.xml file, which is shown in Listing 6. It creates a database connection to an in-memory H2 instance, configures Hibernate as the entity provider, and loads the Movie and SuperHero classes as entities.

The application then constructs the two repositories, passing them the EntityManager. With the setup complete, it creates two superheroes, Ironman and Thor, and two movies, "The Avengers" and "Avengers: Infinity War." It adds both superheroes to both movies, then saves the movies using the MovieRepository. It then queries for all movies and all superheroes, printing them to the system output. At this point, the output shows the following:


MOVIES:
Movie: [1] - The Avengers
SuperHero{id=2, name='Thor', movies='[Avengers: Infinity War, The Avengers]'}
SuperHero{id=4, name='Iron Man', movies='[Avengers: Infinity War, The Avengers]'}
Movie: [3] - Avengers: Infinity War
SuperHero{id=2, name='Thor', movies='[Avengers: Infinity War, The Avengers]'}
SuperHero{id=4, name='Iron Man', movies='[Avengers: Infinity War, The Avengers]'}

superheroes:
SuperHero{id=2, name='Thor', movies='[Avengers: Infinity War, The Avengers]'}
Movie{id=3, title='Avengers: Infinity War'}
Movie{id=1, title='The Avengers'}
SuperHero{id=4, name='Iron Man', movies='[Avengers: Infinity War, The Avengers]'}
Movie{id=3, title='Avengers: Infinity War'}
Movie{id=1, title='The Avengers'}

Next, we delete the movie with id 1, which is "The Avengers." We verify that our list of movies still contains "Avengers: Infinity War," and that our list of superheroes still contains Ironman and Thor. Here's the output of these statements:


MOVIES (AFTER DELETE):
Movie: [3] - Avengers: Infinity War
SuperHero{id=2, name='Thor', movies='[Avengers: Infinity War]'}
SuperHero{id=4, name='Iron Man', movies='[Avengers: Infinity War]'}

superheroes (AFTER DELETE):
SuperHero{id=2, name='Thor', movies='[Avengers: Infinity War]'}
Movie{id=3, title='Avengers: Infinity War'}
SuperHero{id=4, name='Iron Man', movies='[Avengers: Infinity War]'}
Movie{id=3, title='Avengers: Infinity War'}

Our cascading configuration is correct and our deleteById() method worked properly: "The Avengers" was successfully deleted, but the other entities were left unchanged.

Finally, because we're running an in-memory H2 database that shuts down when the program completes, I included a simple class, called JdbcUtils that dumps the contents of the specified tables: JdbcUtils::dumpTables. It accepts a Connection and a list of table names to dump, and it prints the contents of those tables to the system output:

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