Mike Keith

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Mike Keith's blog on Java and Persistence
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The one constant

Wed, 2007-10-03 10:44

I like the common adage that “The only constant is change”. Those of us in the software industry are not only familiar with this concept, we live and breathe it.

The software business has got to be one of the most dynamic of careers, and I say that with the utmost of pride and contempt.

It is unquestionably a fun ride when the technology is constantly changing and there is a continuous stream of new approaches and options for solving problems. Even the problem set, itself, is not fixed. The ideas and innovation that arises in our world is one of the factors that keep some of us doing it. Few days are the same as any other, and new opportunities of exploration continually present themselves.

But sometimes it is just plain detestable. You successfully ace a technology that you really enjoy and completely understand, and the next thing you know it is not cool anymore and the industry has moved on (Smalltalkers are cringing right now.) Huge applications consisting of thousands and sometimes even millions of lines of code are sometimes rewritten simply because they need to be in a more contemporary programming language in order to be maintained and extended. The cost of changing software trends is astronomical, and sometimes the reasons are more about change for change’s sake rather than any real need to do so. It’s almost like the industry feeds off of it, nourishing itself at the often huge expense of governments and large corporations.

Software designers and developers have a rather daunting task keeping up with all of the technologies that they are supposed to be using. In fact, when people learn that I am in the software industry, and the commitment that entails in terms of the extra-curricular time investment for learning and staying current, they look at me with that “funny-looking-animal-in-the-zoo” kind of curiosity. I just know they are wondering what would possess someone to want to be a part of something so demanding and consuming, and frankly, sometimes I wonder the same thing myself. Then I remember that I seem to be better at starting kitchen fires than putting them out, I could never be trusted to keep the peace if I can’t keep my own kids from squabbling, and would not even be very good at garbage pickup since I can’t remember to do it on a weekly basis at my home. I guess software was my last resort.

The problem is that our very jobs that demand we learn new things can actually be a hindrance to us doing it. The day-to-day crises that must be dealt with “ASAP” are always more important than learning something that is not immediately relevant. So one of the challenges is actually setting aside the time to investigate and try new technologies, and still be able to attend (or play) an occasional hockey game or participate in whatever other non-technical interest you may have. Sometimes I feel like this business has cheated me out of having hobbies.

I have found that one of the best ways to solve this problem and keep current with technology is to attend conferences. It puts you in a milieu that removes the distractions that are often a barrier to learning something new. It offers you a chance to do something that software people must do, but are often prevented from doing. Just as importantly, they give you the chance to learn these things from people that already really know them well, so you don’t have to waste time wading through resources trying to find the worthwhile ones. Add to this the fact that the experience is interactive and the value of going to conferences becomes pretty obvious.

Of course, not all conferences are created equal. I speak at a lot of them, and when I talk to attendees I find that they tend to favor the ones that are more technical and have a culture of speakers mixing in and socializing with the attendees. In fact, for those that are looking to attend a conference in the near future I would recommend the Colorado Software Summit, which is always held in late October. It is a week-long retreat in the mountains of Colorado, where you can learn about many of the new technologies and then throughout the week talk to the experts directly, or ask questions that you may have about the things that you have learned. I have spoken at this conference for the last 3 or 4 years and highly recommend it.

As far as change goes… I really love it. And I hate it. Enough said.

An FAQ for 'Pro EJB 3: Java Persistence API'

Fri, 2006-10-20 21:12

I use this blog for two things. The first is as an outlet to vent about things that I feel passionate about and that I want to yell out to the world (or at least to the two or three people that are unlucky enough to accidentally stumble across this blog and can?t find the back button). The second is out of laziness. When I have to repeat something numerous times to numerous people it eventually occurs to me that I could just write it down in a public place and point people to it. This entry falls into the latter group.

A lot of people ask Merrick and I about what our book Pro EJB 3: Java Persistence API covers, and whether it would help them in their particular situation. This is kind of a FAQ about the book and answers the most common questions that we get asked.

I have never used EJB. Is this book okay for beginners?

One of our goals was to make this book suitable for people that had no EJB experience at all. We start from the beginning and bring the reader all the way to the intermediate and advanced concepts that they may encounter when developing JPA applications.

What if I don't know EJB 2.0? Will I be able to understand the book?

In general we think people are probably better off starting with no knowledge of previous versions than if they are holding preconceptions based on EJB 2.x. We intentionally left out EJB 2.x from the book because we thought that including it would actually just add confusion to an API that we think is elegantly simple. We did add a few sidebars that differentiate between the old and the new versions, though, just to help those who are accustomed to the old model.

How much of the book is devoted to EJB 3.0 stuff that is not persistence-related?

It is first and foremost a book about the Java Persistence API, and that is what most of the content is about. We did think it worthwhile, though, to cover some of the Java EE 5 enterprise components that access persistence, since that is most likely where JPA will be used. A healthy chapter on session beans, message-driven beans describes some of the basics of the component API. It does not include any of the advanced topics like interceptors, though.

Where do I get the sample code and what do I need to run the examples?

The examples can be downloaded from the Apress web site. To run them the Glassfish application server (the Java EE 5 Reference Implementation), which includes Toplink Essentials (the JPA Reference Implementation) can be downloaded. The Derby database is also included in the Glassfish distribution.

You work for Oracle. Why did you use Glassfish for the application server and not OC4J?

The Java Persistence API is a new standard that provides an abstraction across all persistence vendors. While it is true that we both work for Oracle, we wrote the book to apply to all vendors of the specification. The best way to show this was to use the reference implementations of the standard, i.e. the Glassfish container with the TopLink Essentials persistence provider. In addition, they were also the only fully spec-compliant implementations available at the time, and were very available and the most accessible. Having said that we still believe that OC4J is the best EJB 3.0 container on the market, and fully encourage people to download and use OC4J (which also ships with TopLink Essentials) to try out the examples as well. In fact, the examples were actually initially developed using OC4J because it was available to us internally. If you would like to use OC4J to run the examples it can be downloaded from OTN.

How come you didn't cover topic X or topic Y in the book?

When we were planning the book out we were really trying to come in between 300 and 350 pages. We wanted it to be small enough to be comfortably carried around, fit nicely and easily in a carry-on for reading on a plane, or a bus, and not appear to be a daunting read. As it turned out, despite our best efforts, we ended up going a little over 400 pages (plus some extra appendix stuff). If we didn't cover topic X it wasn't because we were ignoring it or didn't think of it (although I can't disprove the possibility that we didn't think of it) we really just couldn't cram it in.

Why didn't you put more TopLink examples in the book?

The book is about the JPA standard, so we didn't want to include all of the weird and wonderful things that you could do with the TopLink implementation as it might just confuse people with proprietary APIs. We did include a couple of proprietary sections, but it was either covering the topic of spec extensions, or discussing features that we got asked a lot about and the specification did not cover. We also clearly point out where the spec ends and when something we discuss is non-compliant.

EJB 3 and JPA, a done deal

Wed, 2006-06-28 07:12

It's been awhile since I have posted anything here, although to be fair I never intended this blog to be a daily or weekly update. The thought of shackling myself to a self-imposed blogging schedule feels onerous and unwelcome. It was supposed to be a place to record and express views that I got tired of expressing verbally, or that could be conveniently summed up in one place. While it was that, it is true that I simply did not have the time to write about or explore some of the issues that I would have liked to write about.

We have finally released the EJB 3.0 specification, along with the Java Persistence API that is currently a part of the specification. Each of the three different documents can be downloaded separately here. These documents represent a huge amount of time and effort on the parts of the entire JSR 220 expert group.

The Core Contracts and Requirements document is the complete component specification document that describes the traditional EJB 2.1-style contracts for session, message-driven and entity beans with the local/remote home and component requirements. It also describes the new style of session and message-driven beans that use POJO business interfaces but no home interfaces. The simplified component view is further highlighted in the Simplified API document. It is a tremendous step forward for session bean providers and developers and offers unparalleled ease of development and client use. Supported by some of the JVM features in Java SE 5 the amount of effort required to create a simple EJB is minimal and finally approaches the original goal that hoped to make EJB development suitable for the masses.

The third document is the Java Persistence API that describes the lightweight POJO persistence programming model, including such things as a standardized object-relational mapping metadata model and sophisticated Java Persistence Query Language. Now we freely admit that it is not complete and utter perfection in API form, but we do believe that it is a very good start to what we in the persistence business have been seeking for a long time -- a standard that represents what we all believe in and have been implementing for a number of years. It may be one of the most comprehensive 1.0 specifications to have been produced in a long while.

The intent was to solve 80-90 % of the problems that people regularly face, and we have done that. The plan is to add still more of the additional features that the persistence products on the market have added over the years so that the more specialized requirements of the minority of applications can enjoy the same amount of portability that the others will.

So this is the part where all of you people in the blogosphere (that's you) come in. If there are features that you think are missing from the JPA 1.0, and that in your opinion should make the list for the next version I would be interested in hearing about them.

Comparing SDO and EJB 3

Tue, 2005-12-20 23:35

There was a recent announcement made by a consortium of companies about SCA and SDO that can be found here. I have since been getting a few questions about what this means to EJB 3.0 and what the differences between SDO and EJB 3.0 are. There are also some misunderstandings and misinterpretings about what this implies with respect to continued support of the Java EE platform by these companies.

First off, to ensure the message is crystal clear, this does not mean that any of these companies are abandoning or reducing their support for the Java platform. SCA and SDO are complimentary technologies to Java EE, not competitors to them. They are geared towards SOA architectures in general as opposed to Java-specific web services, so in many ways they are generalizations of the model but with concrete API's. EJB components fit well into the SCA component model, and EJB persistence would do well to sit underneath the binding layer of SDO at the Data Access Service (DAS) layer. The companies that are involved in these specifications have all shown their strong support for Java EE and to the best of my knowledge (I can't speak for all of the companies, of course) have no plans to change that level of support.

Here are a few of the notable differences between the specs:

· SDO is the basis for an overall architecture while the EJB 3 Persistence API is simply what its name implies -- a persistence technology. SDO is the basis for an architecture because it does not cover all of the components that would be required for a complete platform. It seems to have been designed more for the upper application architecture layers, like SOA, but leaves all of the specific underlying technologies (except for XML!) unspecified. Services such as Data Access Services are mentioned, but are abstract. Other things such as transactions are not even mentioned. EJB 3, although not at the lowest level as something like JDBC, is definitely lower down on the technology stack.

· SDO is driven by a meta-model and has a very reflection-oriented look and feel. Its API's on DataObjects and DataGraphs offer reflective access of type and property metadata as well as concrete instance data. EJB has no meta-level API's. Entities are concrete and used by applications as simple unadorned Java objects, offering whatever they natively support as part of their domain level API.

· A great deal of effort, and most of the specification, deals with mapping between XML and the data objects. This is in keeping with its SOA focus and its attempts to be interoperable. Mappings to and from the XML may be generated in both directions. EJB does not have make any special considerations for interoperability, except as defined by underlying protocols such as IIOP and CORBA protocols that may be used by the application for communicating the objects.

· Objects in SDO are self-managing because they are always wrapping the actual domain data, even when they are detached. A DataObject or DataGraph is the surface object so wherever the object or object graph goes the operations are getting invoked on those wrapper objects. EJB entities are managed only when they are attached to an EntityManager. Only when operating on managed entities are the objects potentially wrapped. When objects become reattached is when the processing comes back into play to calculate changes and so forth. The difference is that SDO retains the heavier but more controlled objects throughout their entire life cycles, whereas EJB 3 entities are POJO's of the simplest kind if they become unmanaged.

· Object traversal in SDO is done using Xpath queries. This provides the abstraction to navigate through the various wrappers without having to issue all of the unwrapping calls at each level. EJB 3 objects are POJO's and are thus directly traversed using the domain API. The SDO model actually feels a little like the OODB's of old. There is no querying of objects except by traversal, as part of an XPath query or directly from one object to the next. It is unclear what the specified way of causing objects to be loaded on demand during traversal is (whether the DataGraph is supposed to go back to the DAS to get DataObjects that are not loaded).

Application metadata and annotations from beside the bandwagon

Tue, 2005-06-07 18:52

For those who know me I'm sure the title was enough. You already know what I am going to run on about in this blog entry and are probably just reading on to find out exactly how vigorously I am going to spew.

The simplest definition of metadata that I can think of is data that describes other data. Like regular data it must be persisted somewhere in order for it to endure beyond the program that created it. It can appear in many forms; in some cases it can be found stored in the database, in others it may be in the file system. Back in the Smalltalk days metadata about classes was stored as metaclasses and persisted as part of the runtime image itself. To summarize, it is the function, not the form, of the data that makes it metadata.

Okay, let's move on to annotations and how JSR 175 is supposed to change the way that we program in Java.

So what is the problem that annotations solve? Well, since Java code is really just another type of data it turns out that we often need data to describe it as well. Traditionally we have used various formats for storing and associating the metadata with the Java code, and obviously the one most commonly used within the last few years has been XML files. In XML the metadata is typically structured inside of multiple levels of XML elements that include the names of the Java artifacts, and this is all in order to link the two together. The problem is that the metadata and the Java code that it describes are separated from each other. This introduces all sorts of problems, from persistent storage of the metadata to retrieving it and associating it at processing time, or runtime, or whatever time the two need to be linked. Annotations introduced a way to couple them within the language format so that they are stored in the same place, loaded at the same time and accessible whenever the Java program is. We no longer need to go out into an entirely different language, grammar and syntax and embed the metadata within a myriad of XML elements that exist solely to tell us which Java artifacts the metadata applies to.

So if annotations are so great then why am I discontented? Because I can't use them. In particular, I can't use them for anything other than their simplest and most obvious usage. I want to use them for metadata that applies to a group of classes. I want the same ease of use at the application level that I get at the class level.

It really scrapes my elbows that there was such a lame attempt at supporting annotation metadata at the level that applies to multiple classes. The so-called package-info.java mechanism is too crippled and clumsy to be usable, and the result is that it has left such a bad taste in everybody's mouth that they want to spit whenever they get reminded of anything related to annotations above the level of classes. It doesn't help that Java does not have any notion of a module, or enclosing configuration-friendly wrapper around bunches of Java code. Combine these together and it becomes hard to dispute that Java is doing a pretty lousy job accommodating application-level metadata.

The fact that Java has failed to provide a decent mechanism to support application-level annotations by no means implies that application-level annotations are a bad idea. Remember that annotations are just a way of specifying metadata. In fact, they are a preferred format than XML if the metadata is already coupled to Java code, and does not need to be portable to other platforms outside of Java, which is almost all of the time. There are lots of other reasons why people might want to use annotations instead of XML, ranging from development processes that are not geared for configuration management and version controlling of XML files to having different editing environments that are required for managing XML and Java. Some people have had such bad XML experiences that they shun it whenever possible. Regardless of the reasons, annotations are a much neater, more consistent way of adding metadata to Java programs that integrates perfectly with programming in Java. The code completion of annotations inside the Java editor, the brevity of their format and the compile-time checking that comes for free already combine to make it a superior environment for metadata programming than XML.

There are two main complaints that I have heard from critics of application-level annotation metadata. The first is that annotations should not be used for a group of application-level classes because there is no reasonable Java artifact on which to tack the annotations. This is true, of course, but quite beside the point. While the metadata ideally should be on a Java module no such module exists right now (although I believe it is being kicked off as a JSR even now). There is absolutely nothing stopping us from using whatever artifact we choose to store the metadata on as long as we have designated it as such. A class of our choosing will do the job for now... a no worse suggestion than using one for a global Persistence bootstrap point. It's no more or less a correct use for a class. The idealist may scoff at this saying that it is not the *correct* use of annotations, but my response is that just because the perfect target for the annotations does not exist does not mean that we can't adapt to the shortfall that exists in Java. The same idealist probably also criticizes the use of an interface to group a number of shared constants together, but that does not mean that it is not useful as a constant pool. When we don't see exactly what we need in Java most people won't say, "Since Java does not have what I need then I should probably not do it at all." We have a need or a design in mind and we use whatever tools are at our disposal to accomplish it. In this case we want to be able to use annotations to specify application-level metadata. We can make it work quite easily, so why shouldn't we?

The second argument that I have heard is that application metadata is not coupled to the code and therefore should not be specified as annotations on code. This is then always followed by the comment that you would have to recompile the annotated class in order to change the metadata. In the first case it is incorrect, while in the second it is both erroneous and inconsistent.

Application metadata can be divided up into two types of metadata, that which is tightly coupled to the code, and that which is loosely coupled to the code. As an example of tightly coupled metadata consider the EJB Persistence API where currently the @Entity annotation must have the access member set to FIELD if mappings are to be defined on the member fields instead of on properties. Setting this for all of the classes in the application will ease development considerably for the many people that like to use direct field access instead of the getter/setter property accessors, but changing the application level default definitely affects each and every class that did not explicitly specify the access mode. Ditto for the named queries which are defined for the entire application and referenced within classes that call em.createNamedQuery("MyFavoriteQueryName").

There can also be metadata that is only loosely coupled to the code. An example of this kind of metadata would be something like the run-as security role for a method. This could potentially change without changing the code, meaning it is not tightly coupled to the code, although some code in the method might well access resources that assume a particular user and would fail if the wrong user tried to execute it.

If you have not spotted the inconsistency yet it is that this same loosely-coupled metadata that is not supposed to be in an application-level annotation because it will require recompilation happens to already be present as a @RunAs annotation on the bean class, even though it will require a recompile of the class. The reason? First, because it is almost always the same person that does the metadata as the one that does the development, and putting it on the bean class is just easier than having to go into a separate XML file to do it. Second, (this is the erroneous part for those following along at home) in practice it makes no difference that we have to recompile the annotated class before redeploying the application. The reality of it is that there is no practical difference between clicking an IDE button to recompile and insert a class into an archive, and clicking a button to insert an XML file into an archive. Both require updating the application archive and redeploying the application. There is no justification for saying that this is okay for class metadata, but not for application metadata, though. They are equivalent in both senses.

Now if you took away from this the fact that I think Java annotations are the greatest thing since the Turing machine then I have obviously failed to get my point across. Java annotations still have problems -- lots of 'em. While they do provide a basic level of support for specifying metadata they do not support many of the things that they really ought to have. That s not the object of this rant, however, and I have already griped about those things here.

It's not chic these days to say that application-level annotations are good, and I may be added to a blacklist somewhere now that I have made my opinions public, but to me annotations are a means of specifying metadata by storing the metadata on Java artifacts. Essentially they are post-it notes for Java. Why do people insist that every post-it note I put on the fridge has to be about the freakin' fridge?

The EJB 3.0 Hibernate Fallacy

Wed, 2005-04-20 13:35

I am Canadian. I have only been to Britain once, but I still know enough about Britain to pronounce Worcestershire correctly. The real question is what do I do when I hear others saying it incorrectly? Do I just ignore them and go on, inwardly laughing at them and their blunder, or do I correct them?

Well, I confess that I am a corrector. I do tell people how to pronounce Worcestershire correctly, not because I want to appear international or love to correct people, but because if I were them I would want to be told. Basic golden rule type of stuff. And, yes, I also tell people about the long pink thread stuck on their shoulder, the black mark that they rubbed on their cheek after changing the toner, and even on occasion the skirt that is caught in the pantyhose (that one is definitely a little trickier to do properly, though).

Every now and then a statement gets made somewhere that EJB 3.0 is just a copy of Hibernate, or even worse, that EJB 3.0 is Hibernate. Claims like these are typically made in innocence by uninformed people whose vision is obscured by the narrow scope of their own experience. It seems that few people actually know enough to even correct the propagation of this fallacy, and those that do know are not doing it. Rather than hanging my head and feeling guilty about this apparent inconsistency in my character I have determined to right my wrong, or at least do what is within my power to spread the truth. This blog entry is the first step in my repentance process.

The root of the fallacy is that Hibernate was the first free O/R mapping software that came even close to providing enough functionality and features to solve some of the problems that real world applications were facing. Lots of developers caught on to this and began to use Hibernate successfully for prototypes and small projects. For the majority of these developers this was their first and only experience using O/R mapping software to solve the O/R impedance mismatch problem.

Some of these people have never gone on to using the full-blown over-the-counter mapping products and do not even realize that these products exist or that they provide all of the features of Hibernate, and in some cases more. Their understanding of the O/R mapping and persistence concepts relate only to Hibernate and the Hibernate API's.

Cue the mandate to make EJB a useful and relevant specification. Linda DeMichiel, to her credit, realized that as the EJB spec lead she needed to fashion EJB 3.0 after existing and successful products instead of adopting the usual ivory tower approach to specification development. To do this she invited members from Oracle TopLink and JBoss Hibernate, the two most successful O/R mapping products ever, people from the top selling application servers, users/consultants from different backgrounds and eventually SolarMetric, the only JDO vendor with a real customer base as far as I know, to participate in the spec. All of the members are combining to produce a spec that will not only make session beans and MDBs easier to develop and use, but also proffer a persistence standard that will please the user community that had previously rejected the EJB standard in favour of the proprietary POJO persistence vendors.

As we progressed and began specifying the persistence layer it was obvious that we had similar features at the 80-90% functionality level that EJB is trying to achieve. These features include:

EntityManager - A transaction-level artifact that references, maintains identity and manages the objects in a given transaction. JDO calls this a PersistenceManager, Hibernate calls this a Session. TopLink calls this a UnitOfWork. These are all very close in scope, purpose and API.

Named queries - Queries must be able to be pre-defined and bound to a name for later retrieval and execution. These are called named queries in all of TopLink, Hibernate and JDO.

Native queries - Native SQL queries that allow the application to specify the query criteria in SQL. These are called SQL queries in all of TopLink, Hibernate and JDO.

Callback Listeners - The ability to define a class or method that will get invoked when a given event occurs. TopLink calls these event listeners, Hibernate and JDO call them life cycle callbacks.

Detaching/Reattaching objects - Objects can leave the scope of the EntityManager that controls them. They can also be reattached to the same or a different EntityManager through the use of the merge API call on the EntityManager. TopLink offers a series of merge calls, the most basic one being mergeClone. Hibernate has saveOrUpdateCopy and JDO has a couple of flavours of attachCopy call on the PersistenceManager.

O/R Mapping Types - All of the direct and relationship mapping types that are fundamental to mapping object state to relational database tables. These are all supported by Hibernate, TopLink and JDO. I won't go through all of the names (one-to-one, etc.. they are all pretty standard), but although some of the names differ a little bit from one to the other the functionality is pretty much the same and what you would expect.

Embedded Objects - Objects that have no persistent identity of their own but depend upon their parent object for identity. JDO calls them embedded objects, TopLink calls them aggregates and Hibernate calls them components.

The list could go on, but hopefully people get the idea. The important features in EJB 3.0 are stock persistence features that anybody that has used multiple persistence products should recognize. The best part is that by standardizing these features the design patterns (actually they are more like "feature patterns", but nobody has written a book about feature patterns, yet :-) will be able to be used and referenced in ways that span products.

Note that I am not comparing the different features offered by these products. That is not what this is about. The point is that there are similarities and that those similarities are getting enshrined in a specification. This is the biggest win for vendors and developers.

Having said this some of the Hibernate/JBoss customers will recognize that there are some similarities as well in some of the API names. This is not a problem for most of us since they represent the feature as well as any other name would, and Gavin happened to have been the first one to write it up and propose it. (Unless there is something actually wrong with a proposed name there is no reason to turn it down.) It doesn't mean that the feature was modelled after Hibernate, just that the guy from Hibernate happened to be the one to propose the name for the feature that everyone already had.

Hibernate 3 users may recognize more similarities than ever because Hibernate has decided to add these to the base Hibernate product and expose them within the core API. From a migration standpoint this may be problematic for them but that is certainly their perogative and I applaud any product that makes their own proprietary API's look more like the standard. So as Hibernate evolves it turns out that it is actually modelling itself after EJB 3.0, not the other way around.

Finally, and maybe this is just pride speaking here, but I also have to confess feeling just a tinge of personal insult given that I have expended a substantial portion of my own time and effort toiling over the specification issues. Saying that we simply copied Hibernate would be trivializing that time and work, especially when I know full well that the conclusions that we arrived at are in most cases either the best solution, or the best possible solution given the circumstances. The spec should look a lot like Hibernate, TopLink and JDO. If it didn't then we would not have done a very good job since the whole point of this was to make use of our experience and standardize it.

So next time somebody says or writes that EJB 3.0 is modelled after Hibernate don't just inwardly laugh at them, or roll your eyes and feel sorry for them for their naivete. Please correct them. It's embarrassing for them and they would want to you to tell them. I know I would.

Eclipsing Persistence

Thu, 2005-04-14 10:58

Tools are essential for a technology to mature. Without them it stays in the realm of being accessible only to the experts and usable only by those in the upper experience echelons. I had regular arguments with a friend who repeatedly claimed that O/R mapping tools were not required. In the end he at least conceded that if a product wants to be mainstream it has to have graphical tools to enable the sorts of development that can already be done using API's and XML configuration. This is critical to being able to support the types of developers that don't like to wallow in XML, or managers don't trust their developers to do so :-).

EJB 3.0 has now reached this stage. With Oracle's recent announcement that it is leading the Eclipse project to provide the EJB 3.0 O/R mapping tools as part of the Web Tools Project a standard persistence tools platform is being formed. This will provide the infrastructure for meeting the EJB 3.0 goal of making this a technology that entry-level developers can understand and feel comfortable using. The learning curve to use EJB just got a lot shorter.

Hard to believe, but some people are still really missing the point. The EJB Persistence API is now set to be the standard for persistence. *All* of the major O/R vendors are on board and participating in the expert group and acknowledging it as the standard. TopLink and Hibernate, the two leading O/R mapping products already have support for EJB 3.0 and Kodo, the only JDO vendor that has any real market share in JDO-land, is working on it as well. The age of proprietary mapping descriptors is over, at least for the vast majority of applications.

Of course there will always be some proprietary mapping features that go beyond the spec, and the proposal discusses that these will be able to be plugged in by different vendors as they feel so inclined. There will probably always be a need for proprietary features, the trick is just to ensure that they are done in a conscious way and are harnessed in a well-defined application space. Then if the requirement to move to another vendor comes along the difficulty level will be easy to diagnose.

Any way you look at it, the Eclipse proposal is going to be good for EJB 3.0 and for developers. Having a persistence development platform for the most commonly used IDE is going to provide the support that most people want.

Of course at Oracle we are still providing the support within JDeveloper. It will be well-integrated with TopLink and expose all of the deluxe features that make TopLink the coolest and most powerful O/R mapping framework on the planet. :-)

Migration is the key

Thu, 2005-03-17 12:11

After speaking at TSS on migration I have gotten a few requests from people asking me to write up the presentation in a paper format for people to be able to read and get more details on the subject. I definitely have to do that at some point, but for now Oracle is hosting a couple of webinars on EJB 3 that will help people to start picturing how this can be achieved. The first one is a basic intro to EJB 3 and the second one will be focusing specifically on migration. See the Java Online Seminar site for more details.

I really believe that migration is the key to getting to EJB 3.0. I know this sounds trite, but I mean migration in the implementation sense, not the general sense.

Most consultants/developers/practitioners have to work on and maintain existing systems, but will still want to find ways to incorporate EJB 3 practices and features. By offering a stepwise migration path from existing products towards EJB 3 then those features will be able to be integrated into legacy systems and slowly be able to become more and more EJB 3 compliant.

If EJB 3 represents freedom from vendor lock-in then if I were an IT manager (and I'm not, and neither have any aspirations to be one so that might actually disqualify my moccasin switching) and I wanted to extend the lifetime of my application then I would obviously want my application to be compliant with the standard. No self-repecting IT professional would ever take on the job of taking an application, ripping it to pieces and rewriting it entirely to a new specification. The chances of succeeding are minimal at best and the chances of regression are probably nigh on 100%. As with any successful migration, moving existing systems to EJB 3 should be done in an incremental fashion.

The granularity of the steps might be arguable, and that is the sort of stuff that I discuss in migration talks (which incidently has been accepted for presentation at JavaOne this year).

Testing EJB's outside the Container -- finally

Fri, 2005-03-04 16:21

Today was kind of a long-awaited day, not because I have to speak at TheServerSide Java Symposium today, but because I along with a number of other Oracle developers have been anxious to be able to share the progress that we have made on EJB 3.0. While this work has been fun, it has been somewhat frustrating because it could not be released until the timing was right. Today the timing was right, and Oracle announced our new EJB 3.0 technology preview.

This preview is really a landmark release for a rew reasons:

1. It is the first commercial application server release that showcases the next generation of standardized persistence.

2. It enables actual unit testability of CMP entities using JUnit or any other test framework outside the server.

3. It provides support for migrating from EJB 2.x to EJB 3.0.

The preview can be downloaded for free here.

EJB 3.0 - It's new, it's hip... and it has interceptors

Tue, 2005-02-08 21:46

It seems that some people have been complaining that they are in the dark about where EJB 3.0 is at and what is done/still unfinished. If you are amongst this somewhat anxious and concerned gaggle of squawkers then squawk no more. The second EJB 3.0 checkpoint has been reached and Early Access 2 Draft is available for all to read and comment on. Go to the Sun download site to get it while the bits are still hot.

The first thing that the keen observer will notice is that the spec has been split into two documents. The first is the Simplified EJB API for session and message-driven beans that exist uniquely within the J2EE container. The second is the persistence API that will be able to reside both within J2EE and in standalone J2SE mode. While the exact API for accessing stuff like the EntityManager outside of J2EE is not yet included in the spec the packages have been split off into javax.ejb and javax.persistence to accommodate the additional non-managed execution environment. We are working now on filling in the API calls for the J2SE persistence side of entities and would be really happy to get feedback, regardless of your current favorite persistence flavor.

A bunch more stuff has also been added in since the last draft including interceptors, event callbacks and native SQL queries. The O/R mappings have had some ironing as well so not only have some more mappings like LOBs been added but more default values have been added for simpler mapping.

There are lots of other things that we would like to get feedback on, though, as well, so don't keep your thoughts to yourself or your friends. Please comment either here, or to the new feedback alias that is mentioned on the spec (ejb3-edr2-feedback_at_sun.com). Note that the feedback alias has changed from the EA1 alias in an attempt to outrun the spammers. (I'm sure they will find us again, though. They are kind of like the scum in your bathroom drain. It doesn't seem to matter how clean you can get it at any given time, you know it will come back.) Some of the things that we are interested in hearing about are:

- whether the EJB system should be generating a business interface for a session bean or whether the developer should just provide it (or an IDE can generate it)

- if the approach to migration of 2.x session beans to the 3.0 API is appropriate as an adapter pattern

- whether new EJB QL enhancements and/or OR mapping annotations should be made available on 2.x entities as well

So we are looking forward to any and all feedback. Again, it doesn't matter what persistence stripe you are as long as you have a real and evidenced view.

Open source injustice - a new gripe

Wed, 2005-01-12 22:06

I hate the fact that I am writing yet another in a seemingly interminable list of fashionable commentaries on open source. I suppose the fact that I am continuing to write means that I feel more passion for my gripe than I feel embarrassed for my lack of originality. If I can salvage even a shred of pride in the face of doing this it may come from the fact that at least I have not seen anybody else complain about it. Of course I am probably wrong about that, but if so, good. Maybe lots of people will complain and things will change.

So what gets my knickers in a knot is when I go to conferences and speak I am almost always not permitted to include product descriptions or say anything that pumps up a product from my company in any way, while any open source project presenter has carte blanche to shill to their hearts desire. This may have made sense in yester-year, when open source really was something that was almost exclusively altruistically-motivated and generously donated by volunteers across the globe. Those days are...umm, well some things have changed a little.

With the maturation of "professional open source" and the evolution of companies that support open source software now playing in the same sales sandboxes, open source products are taking the stage at all the major conferences and shows. Many open source developers are following this lead all the way to the bank. Its the latest thing, and it seems to be working pretty well for them. Now don't get me wrong and think that this is my gripe, cuz it isn't at all. In fact I think it is a good thing both for the developers and companies to be able to make money off of the work that they invested in a project. I congratulate them and I'm very happy for them. They deserve it.

No, what seems unjust to me is when they get to do it in forums that are off limits to the rest of the competition, and this just because their business model is structured slightly differently than the traditional software product sales model. A presenter of an open source product can praise his stuff until he is hoarse and nobody will bat an eye, but the moment a product makes its revenue from product sales, instead of solely on support and services, slides get edited or presentations get rejected. Professional open source seems to have stealthily crept its way onto the marketing stage in places where marketing was previously not allowed to be.

Note that I am not blaming the open source folks for this, because they are only doing what they are allowed to do. I would do the same if I were in their situation. The fault lies with the conference organizers that do not yet seem to have a clue, or just don't care.

Similarly, I am not saying that the original open source'er is extinct. Of course they aren't and I am sure that there are myriads of such people that continue to do what they have always done, in perhaps even larger numbers than ever before. This is still good, but is quite beside the point. These people have been virtually pushed out of the conferences by the popular open source products, many if not most of which are revenue-generating in some way. So what, I guess. Most probably do not even care, anyway. As long as their CVS system stays up and their hosting is free they are probably happy enough.

Me, all I have left is to just keep talking about functionality... in a technology that I know of... that provides all of the deluxe features of a persistence engine... that rhymes with HopLink...

Javapolis all grown up

Mon, 2004-12-20 11:48

I just got back from Javapolis in Antwerp and was quite surprised to see how popular it is getting. I confess it was my first time going, but from everything that I have heard it has been a fairly smallish conference that typically hosts in the order of hundreds of people from the dutch locale. Upon attending I found that there were 1500 people registered and although there is still a large local majority attending, more people are coming from other parts of Europe and even some from North America (such as myself). Admittedly the majority of North American attendees were giving talks, but there were also a few that weren't. In any case I guess Stephan and the rest of the people that worked with him deserve some credit for really making this conference what it has become.

Although I did take my camera it appears that its sole purpose was to keep my socks flat in my suitcase since I never actually used it. I did see some people taking pictures there, so if someone were to look hard enough I am sure a few snaps could be seen.

There were a few talks on persistence there, so I thought I would highlight some of those at least.

The first talk was by our fearless leader and JSR 220 spec lead, Linda DeMichiel. She went over many of the improvements that we have been adding to EJB 3.0 in the expert group. She kept it to a fairly high level, which I think people were able to use to help them swap the whole thing in properly. An hour is not a lot of time to describe much detail about what has taken us a year to put together. It was received as favourably as it has been at other conferences and people are really excited about using it. Right now there is one EJB 3.0 preview with another couple that are just around the release corner. It is cool that we are getting bunches of questions from folks that are actually trying this stuff out. This already gives us a huge advantage over previous versions of EJB.

The least impressive was a talk given by someone from InterSystems talking about how the Cache (pronounced ca-shay') database solved the impedance mismatch problem. This was really just an excuse to talk about how Cache tries to do as many possible things as it can cram into a shippable system without actually doing any of them well. It is an OODB... no, wait, it is an RDB... well it could be just a JDBC front end on an OODB for all I can tell. So then if you decide to do O/R mapping you actually define the class in some kind of zany propietary grammar which looks like it has to extend some Cache Persistent class. Then the mapping information ends up getting stored in the database itself (which of course many listeners that were not rocket scientists recognized doesn't bide well for portability). Re-doing everything their own way seemed to be their theme. The last company that I remember that bypassed standards and went their own way was Persistence PowerTier and they did so at their peril (are they still around?).

The icing on the cake was when they talked about a tool that they wrote to help migrate people away from their database to another database. This just seemed like a funny thing to offer. It's like saying, "No, we won't use standards as a means to overcome portability concerns, we will just write yet another custom utility that we can offer that will migrate you away from our product." *Bizarre* is the only word that I can think of that describes this.

Parick Linskey did a JDO 2.0 talk. He is actually on both the JDO 2.0 and EJB 3.0 expert groups and is a competitor of ours as well as a good friend. I didn't actually go to his talk but I know his presentation and am sure that he did it justice. He is a good guy to work with and despite the fact that we work on different products we actually see eye-to-eye philosophically on many of the persistence issues that we encounter in JSR 220.

One of the best talks was given by some colleagues and new friends of mine, Hugo Brand and Marc Meewis. They took the stage and I got to watch as they were the ones doing an advanced persistence talk. They discussed some of the O/R persistence issues that people either don't understand, or don't know enough to even ask about and then went on to the discuss how the next impedance mismatch to be solved is in mapping objects to XML (O/X). I was really impressed by both their understanding of the issues and the way that they were able to discuss and properly scope the features of a persistence engine. They did an excellent job of illustrating all of the flexibilty of TopLink and the various ways that it goes about solving all of the issues.

I guess it is hard to showcase all of the advanced features that TopLink has developed over the past decade, so they didn't go too far in that direction, which was probably a good thing I suppose. In the end many of the deluxe features are not used that frequently anyway. People like to have them in their back pocket so that if they ever encounter one then they know they can solve it.

What they did instead was differentiate it from other persistence solutions by the completeness of the solution in the entire data integration space. So not only can it read and write objects to RDB, but it can read and write the same objects to XML and other types of data storage, all of which is done using existing and developing standards. They actually showed a demo that mapped the same objects to an RDM and then to XML, showing that TopLink can round trip an object instance from the RDB through to XML and back again.

I was at a conference recently and there was a talk by Bruce Eckel that was entitled something like "Stuff that I find interesting and think that you will too". I kind of think that Gavin King's Hibernate talk turned into that. It was supposed to be sort of a Features in Hibernate3 talk, but I think that Gavin, whose mind is much like his body and can't sit still for long, gets a little tired and bored of talking about the same old things. He inevitably ends up talking about stuff that he has been thinking about recently and uses the talk as a way of vetting those ideas. Of course this is great for us in the EJB group because he happens to have been spending most of his time over the last number of months thinking about EJB stuff. That has meant that the ideas end up getting aired to lots of people at a time, and we can solicit more comments from more people. This time Gavin ended up talking about how JSF and EJB 3.0 can combine, and how the same objects can fit into both worlds. We are trying and hoping for this, but it takes more effort then one might expect to get multiple expert groups to go in the same direction and end up with harmonious specifications.

So that is "Persistence at Javapolis in a nutshell". Of course lots more stuff happened, but I will leave that to other people to blog. I actually spent most of my time hanging around Linda, Gavin, Christian, Patrick, and Cedric when he was available. We gots lots of spec work done and had a great time. Had some fantastic food and good dinners with Linda and Gavin and another with Patrick and Howard Lewis Ship. I never really knew Howard that well before so I was glad to have the chance to get to know him better. Also met Bela Ban for the frst time, which was good because I have always been interested in similar things as him. Unfortunately we didn't spend too much time talking about about distributed communications protocols but I have a feeling that we will get another chance at some point in the future. :-)

Enhancing my answer

Fri, 2004-11-26 23:11

In the recent interview on TSS I was asked a question that went something like this:

8. TopLink has historically been implemented using reflection type approaches. Is that still the case? Or are you doing more with bytecode now?

For a long time I urged that JDO 1.x was doing the wrong thing by pushing people into using byte code enhancement. Note that I personally have nothing against using enhancing technology. It has its good and its bad. However, there are a number of shops that have strong objections to it. They each have their own reasons ranging from version control and configuration management issues to strict QA processes and product delivery. Denying this is akin to denying that certain development and corporate processes exist, and a technology that does so shuts out an entire customer segment strictly because of its implementation/dev process.

When I was on JSR-243 (the JDO 2.0 expert group) I did my darnedest to convince the group that binary compatability was really not a feature that was worth keeping. In practice, nobody ever really wants to change vendors without having to recompile their application. In fact, if after changing vendors all they had to do was recompile their code once, then most people I know would shed tears of joy or simply faint in disbelief. Changing persistence vendors is not only a very infrequent occurrence, but is something that people take very seriously. If even a measure of source code compatability could be guaranteed then most folks would be more than satisfied. The benefits of binary compatability are simply not worth the costs and are virtually never realized in practice.

The group did finally allow binary compatability to be an optional thing in JDO 2.0, and although some of the folks kicked and screamed a bit the decision was made to allow both types of implementations. In my opinion the entire enhancement and PersistenceCapable sections of the spec should have been ditched since the premise of binary compatability was not rooted in reality. The JDO spec could have been hugely simpified if it had removed all of the implementation chapters and focused on the interfaces... but I digress.

So why do I bring all of this up? Well, because some people contacted me and thought that my answer to the interview question above was meant to imply that JDO 2.0 required byte code enhancement. This was not my intention. What I was doing was expressing the same opinion that I have expressed in the past, to the JDO group as well as to others. I don't believe that a specification should require byte code enhancement as an implementation strategy. It may allow it, just not mandate it. I still believe this, and restated it in my answer to the question to show that it has not changed. While TopLink is considering using some enhancement techniques we will always ensure that they not be required. Features that make use of such techniques will be optional.

So, as I mentioned I was not referring to JDO 2.0 when I said this but was specifically referring to my own position statements that I had made earlier (and were directed at JDO 1.x and the ongoing JDO 2.0 discussion at the time). As I mentioned, I think that JDO 2.0 could and should have gone further than it did in that area but that is another subject which is really apart from the subject of this blog. I did not intend for my comments to be taken as FUDing JDO. I understand how they could have been, though, and am sorry if they were taken that way. Hopefully this clarifies it.

One decade and counting

Sun, 2004-11-21 17:43

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the birth of TopLink. For those that don't know the history behind TopLink Don wrote an excellent historical perspective in his usual entertaining style here.

While I have not been associated with TopLink for the full decade I have been around for about half of it (although it seems hard to believe) and it has been quite a ride. Loads of fun and lots of great people, which is actually one of the main reasons why I joined in the first place.

There is a newsletter on OTN that celebrates a decade of TopLink technology. It is unfortunate that stuff is so hard to find on OTN, but the link above should help you navigate to some of the articles there. The one on Preparing for EJB 3.0, written by yours truly, was an attempt to show how EJB 3.0 is moving in the direction of TopLink, and there are also a couple of others that talk about TopLink's caching and XML facilities.

Doug Clark and I also did an e-interview with TheServerSide that commemorated the 10-year mark.

Trailing CSS comments

Sat, 2004-11-20 14:43

CSS came and went and I realized that I never actually came back to tell people how good it was. Complaining about the keynote is fair to do, but is not representative of the conference at large.

I had a few colleagues ask me about CSS, and the way that I describe it is a small, fairly tight-knit group of smart people that get to meet and talk individually in a spectacular mountain setting.

The conference is actually sponsored and organized by Wayne Kovsky and his family, who are a stellar group of folks. The interesting thing (and I have to confess that I was somewhat surprised by this) was that despite the fact that it was organized by a small group of people it was actually one of the best-organized conferences that I have ever been to. They really do put their heart and soul into the conference, and it shows.

My talks went really well and were pretty well-received. A colleague of mine, Donald Smith was also speaking and mentioned that he had a full house on his O-X talks as well. I think that people are pretty much done talking about Tiger because there was not as much interest in many of the J2SE 5 talks in general.

Some people that I met for the first time and enjoyed talking to were Bill Dudney and Bruce Eckel. There were some un-named others that I found less enlightening and not as friendly, but to each his/her own.

Anyway, as I mentioned to people that asked me about it, this conference is well worth the trip, and I am already looking forward to next year.

The straw

Sat, 2004-11-20 13:43

Okay. I admit defeat. I can no longer remain silent.

After a year of resisting the impulse to create a blog something happened to me that I simply could not hold back. It wasn't that I didn't want to blog, only that I was afraid of the time commitment and the responsibility that I was worried I would take upon myself.

But alas, the camel's back got broken today as I attended a keynote by Tim Bray at the Colorado Software Summit. Despite complaining to him afterwards I could not satisfy my frustration about some of the things that he said, and I felt that if I did not let it out then I would be in danger of combusting. This seemed to be the only venue available.

Tim's presentation was a good one, but he is obviously somebody that speaks a lot and has a bunch of polished pieces of material that he bangs together. Being a technical guy, and very accomplished I might add, he likes to bring things to a very technical level.

Where he really burned me was when he started talking about how O-R mapping was broken. Don't get me wrong, I was not angry at that. Everybody knows it is a broken idea, and something that we would rather not have to do. What got my britches bunched was that he proceeded to say how people shouldn't do it. This is not an acceptable solution, being that the only reason why people are doing it is because at this stage they have to. He, himself, said that some things were too late to change, and I really think that this is just one of those things. Too much data in relational databases and people that want to program in Java. They have to do something, and when I stood up during Q&A and told him so his idea that we all use JDBC was just too naive to be taken seriously. He obviously has never really programmed a real-live application lately and the triteness with which he dealt with the problem was indicative of this.

I have to admit, though, that he really did have a very useful and interesting idea for presenting that consisted of a long list of links that he visited in sequence and talked about. With the wireless in the room most people were able to follow the links and bookmark them individually, or the whole page from his website that he was working off of. Really useful as it leaves you with some concrete pointers of the interesting places to go to follow up on the things that he talked about. Turns out that he is a fellow Canadian, too, which I didn't know when I went up to him. Shame.

And so it begins...