Detached objects and JSF

JSF and JPA have proven to be more problematic than expected. The upside of the JSF framework is that the datamodel objects can be presented more or less right up to the page view layer without recourse to Data Transer Objects (DTOs). The downside, is that what’s presented isn’t always clear, leading to the dreaded OptimisticLockingException.

Officially, you get an Optimistic Locking Exception when your in-memory model is out of sync with the database (the database is more up-to-date than the model). In actuality, all that really needs to happen is for the ORM manager to think the model is out of sync with the database.

This perception seems to be distressingly easy cause. I’d blame it on a bug in OpenJPA, but I had similar issues with the detach/attach model of JDO. I’ve not seem any good writeups on how to prevent the problem, but I’ve come up with a means of handling it (right or wrong).

In Struts, the issue was more obvious. It may be the same mechanism in JSF, just more obscure.

Here’s what happens:

1. You fetch in a record, display it, get the user’s input back.

2. You merge the update with the database. OB so far.

By default, JSF will redisplay the same form. If you then do more changes and attempt to merge them, you get an OptimisticLockingException.

In theory, this shouldn’t be happening, but in the current and development releases of OpenJPA (up to 1.2.0), I can do only one merge.

As it turns out, the simple solution is to do the update, then fetch a brand-new copy of the object if further edits are required/anticipated. That makes it almost a return to the old-time concept of EJB where a handle could be used to re-activate a copy of the EJB. Only instead of a handle, use the object’s primary key. This should be low-overhead assuming the object’s still in cache, but it is irritating.

As to what’s actually causing the problem, it seems that the “dirty” flags for the object don’t get cleared when the merge is done and the EntityManager merge() method returns the object. So on the next merge, the database is updated, but the original pre-merge criteria were applied.

OpenJPA, Tomcat6, Spring and Hibernate

Getting all of the above to play together can be tricky. I knocked myself offline for nearly 2 days after the latest upgrade.

Broken Tomcat/Eclipse

The sysdeo Tomcat plugin no longer works when my testapp is installed – the log says the WebAppClassLoader (todo: check name) cannot be found. Something’s messed up the core Tomcat classpath. Fortunately the stand-alone remote debug option still works.

Annotations and Weaving

The test app is using Java 5 annotations on the persistent classes. Persistent classes are “magic”. Before they can actually be used, they have to be re-written to add the additional properties that aid the persistency manager. In the Old Days, that would have meant using some sort of utility that added additional source text to the persistent classes before they were compiled. In our new, more transparent era, this means that after the java source is compiled into classes, the extra embellishments are added to the binary class definition.

There’s 2 ways to do that:

  1. Permanently modify the class binary file
  2. Piggyback the embellishments onto the class as it’s being loaded into the JVM.

When I used JDO – and in early OpenJPA, option 1 was used courtesy of a utility known as the enhancer.

Since about October 2007 (give or take), OpenJPA has had the ability to do on-the-fly enhancement, which is option 2 or some facsimile thereof. But there’s a catch.

In order to