Understanding EJB types

If you’re like most developers, you always have a tight deadline to meet. Most of us try to beg, borrow, or steal reusable code to make our lives easier. Gone are those days when developers had the luxury to create their own infrastructure when building a commercial application. While several commercial and open source frameworks are available that can simplify application development, EJB is a compelling framework that has a lot to offer.

We expect that by now you’re getting excited about EJB and you’re eager to learn more. So let’s jump right in and see how you can use EJB as a framework to build your business logic and persistence tier of your applications, starting with the beans.

In EJB-speak, a component is a "bean." If your manager doesn’t find the Java-"coffee bean" play on words cute either, blame Sun’s marketing department. Hey, at least we get to hear people in suits use the words "enterprise" and "bean" in close sequence as if it were perfectly normal.

As we mentioned, EJB classifies beans into three types, based on what they are used for:

■ Session beans

■ Message-driven beans

■ Entities

Each bean type serves a purpose and can use a specific subset of EJB services. The real purpose of bean types is to safeguard against overloading them with services that cross wires. This is akin to making sure the accountant in the horn-rimmed glasses doesn’t get too curious about what happens when you touch both ends of a car battery terminal at the same time. Bean classification also helps you understand and organize an application in a sensible way; for example, bean types help you develop applications based on a layered architecture.

As we’ve briefly mentioned, session beans and message-driven beans (MDBs) are used to build business logic, and they live in the container, which manages these beans and provides services to them. Entities are used to model the persistence part of an application. Like the container, it is the persistence provider that manages entities. A persistence provider is pluggable within the container and is abstracted behind the Java Persistence API (JPA). This organization of the EJB 3 API is shown in figure 1.6.

We’ll discuss the container and the persistence provider in section 1.3. For the time being, all you need to know is that these are separate parts of an EJB implementation, each of which provide support for different EJB component types.

Let’s start digging a little deeper into the various EJB component types, starting with session beans.

Overall organization of the EJB 3 API. The Java persistence API is completely separable from the EJB 3 container. The business logic processing is carried out by through two component types: session beans and message-driven beans. Both components are managed by the container. Persistence objects are called entities, which are managed by the persistent provider through the Entity Manager interface.


Figure 1.6 Overall organization of the EJB 3 API. The Java persistence API is completely separable from the EJB 3 container. The business logic processing is carried out by through two component types: session beans and message-driven beans. Both components are managed by the container. Persistence objects are called entities, which are managed by the persistent provider through the Entity Manager interface.

Session beans

A session bean is invoked by a client for the purpose of performing a specific business operation, such as checking the credit history for a customer. The name session implies that a bean instance is available for the duration of a "unit of work" and does not survive a server crash or shutdown. A session bean can model any application logic functionality. There are two types of session beans: stateful and stateless.

A stateful session bean automatically saves bean state between client invocations without your having to write any additional code. A typical example of a state-aware process is the shopping cart for a web merchant like Amazon. In contrast, stateless session beans do not maintain any state and model application services that can be completed in a single client invocation. You could build stateless session beans for implementing business processes such as charging a credit card or checking customer credit history.

A session bean can be invoked either locally or remotely using Java RMI. A stateless session bean can be exposed as a web service.

Message-driven beans

Like session beans, MDBs process business logic. However, MDBs are different in one important way: clients never invoke MDB methods directly. Instead, MDBs are triggered by messages sent to a messaging server, which enables sending asynchronous messages between system components. Some typical examples of messaging servers are IBM WebSphere MQ, SonicMQ, Oracle Advanced Queueing, and TIBCO. MDBs are typically used for robust system integration or asynchronous processing. An example of messaging is sending an inventory-restocking request from an automated retail system to a supply-chain management system. Don’t worry too much about messaging right now; we’ll get to the details later in this t.

Next we’ll explain the concept of persistence and describe how object-relational frameworks help enable automated persistence.

Entities and the Java Persistence API

One of the exciting new features of EJB 3 is the way it handles persistence. We briefly mentioned persistence providers and the JPA earlier, but now let’s delve into the details.

Persistence is the ability to have data contained in Java objects automatically stored into a relational database like Oracle, SQL Server, and DB2. Persistence in EJB 3 is managed by the JPA. It automatically persists the Java objects using a technique called object-relational mapping (ORM). ORM is essentially the process of mapping data held in Java objects to database tables using configuration. It relieves you of the task of writing low-level, boring, and complex JDBC code to persist objects into a database.

The frameworks that provide ORM capability to perform automated persistence are known as ORM frameworks. As the name implies, an ORM framework performs transparent persistence by making use of object-relational mapping metadata that defines how objects are mapped to database tables. ORM is not a new concept and has been around for a while. Oracle TopLink is probably the oldest ORM framework in the market; open source framework JBoss Hibernate popularized ORM concepts among the mainstream developer community.

In EJB 3 terms, a persistence provider is essentially an ORM framework that supports the EJB 3 Java Persistence API (JPA). The JPA defines a standard for

■ The creation of ORM configuration metadata for mapping entities to relational tables

■ The EntityManager API—a standard API for performing CRUD (create, read, update, and delete)/persistence operations for entities

■ The Java Persistence Query Language (JPQL), for searching and retrieving persisted application data

Since JPA standardizes ORM frameworks for the Java platform, you can plug in ORM products like JBoss Hibernate, Oracle TopLink, or BEA Kodo as the underlying JPA "persistence provider" for your application.

It may occur to you that automated persistence is something you’ll find useful for all kinds of applications, not just server-side applications such as those built with EJB. After all, JDBC, the grandfather of JPA, is used in everything from large-scale real-time systems to desktop-based hacked-up prototypes. This is exactly why JPA is completely separate from the rest of EJB 3 and usable in plain Java SE environments.

Entities are the session bean and MDB equivalent in the JPA world. Let’s take a quick glance at them next, as well as the EntityManager API and the Java Persistence Query Language (JPQL).


If you’re using JPA to build persistence logic of your applications, then you have to use entities. Entities are the Java objects that are persisted into the database. Just as session beans model processes, entities model lower-level application concepts that high-level business processes manipulate. While session beans are the "verbs" of a system, entities are the "nouns." Examples include an Employee entity, a User entity, an Item entity, and so on. Here’s another perfectly valid (and often simpler-to-understand) way of looking at entities: they are the OO representations of the application data stored in the database. In this sense, entities survive container crashes and shutdown. You must be wondering how the persistence provider knows where the entity will be stored. The real magic lies in the ORM metadata; an entity contains the data that specifies how it is mapped to the database. You’ll see an example of this in the next topic. JPA entities support a full range of relational and OO capabilities, including relationships between entities, inheritance, and polymorphism.

The EntityManager

The JPA EntityManager interface manages entities in terms of actually providing persistence services. While entities tell a JPA provider how they map to the database, they do not persist themselves. The EntityManager interface reads the ORM metadata for an entity and performs persistence operations. The Entity-Manager knows how to add entities to the database, update stored entities, and delete and retrieve entities from the database. In addition, the JPA provides the ability to handle lifecycle management, performance tuning, caching, and transaction management.

The Java Persistence Query Language

JPA provides a specialized SQL-like query language called the Java Persistence Query Language (JPQL) to search for entities saved into the database. With a robust and flexible API such as JPQL, you won’t lose anything by choosing automated persistence instead of handwritten JDBC. In addition, JPA supports native, database-specific SQL, in the rare cases where it is worth using.

At this point, you should have a decent high-level view of the various parts of EJB. You also know that you need an EJB container to execute session beans and MDBs as well as a persistence provider to run your entities, so that these components can access the services EJB 3 provides. The container, the persistence provider, and the services are the central concepts in EJB 3, and we’ll address them next.

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