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Don't Break the Optimistic Locking

During Jazoon 2009 I got a few minutes of private attention from Mike Keith to my last article about domain models. That small time was worthy the whole conference for me since Mike pointed the gaps in my text as well as some valuable hints on how to better translate domain models in JPA annotations. From that short conversation, a special sentence remains alive in my memory: don't break the optimistic locking. After a review on my original code I agreed with Mike that I was ignoring the optimistic locking in my service layer - a common mistake noticed over the Internet and also in conversation with other friends. The problem is not new and the solution is neither new, but I decided to blog it shortly to my personal reference and eventually for your help.

The problem: breaking the optimistic locking.

When exposing domain models through web-services you should serialize your entities between the client and the service, and every time you do that you have a detached JPA entity. In order to persist the detached objects in the database you need to re-attach them in to a new persistence context - and that's where the problem begins. Concurrent threads can access the same write method, reading a same entity, modifying it and then writing back the detached entity in the database. In my original code I was reading the latest version of the entity and then copying the field values from the external entity to the latest one. In this way I guaranteed the unbreakable writing code but I felt in the most basic mistake of JPA: I broken the consistency of the entities. From the Mike book: it is just an accident waiting to happen. Below you find the trap example from my original code:

    @Override
    public FpUser update(FpUser entity) throws Exception {
        FpUser attached =
            manager.find(FpUser.class, entity.getId());
        <font color="gray">// Here I am modifying the latest entity and not the detached one.</font> 
        attached.setEmail(entity.getEmail());
        attached.setName(entity.getName());
        return manager.merge(attached);
    }

From the code above, we can enumerate the steps required to bypass the optimistic locking:

  1. Client A reads entity.v1
  2. Client B reads entity.v1
  3. Client A modifies the entity.version1 and starts an update.transaction#1
  4. Client B modifies the entity.version1 and starts an update.transaction#2
  5. update.transaction#1 updates the fields received from Client A, merge the entity - that receives the version v2 - but get suspended before to finish.
  6. update.transaction#2 updates the fields and received from Client B, updates the version to v3 and finishes returning the entity.v3 to the Client B.
  7. update.transaction#1 finishes returning the entity.v2 to the Client A.

At the end of the above execution, we have the following scenario:

  • Client A has an instance of the entity version 2
  • Client B has an instance of the entity version 3 (it actually jumped directly from version 1 to 3, without even noticing the changes of the version 2)
  • The database has the data from version 3

The worse side effect of this trap is that Client A believes the current data persisted in the database is the ones from version 2, but actually it is wrong since the version 3 is currently stored in the database. The inconsistency could be easily detected by the optimistic locking of JPA, but since I am reading the latest version on every update operation the code won't throw the proper exception and the clients will become inconsistent with the server side.

Solution: keep it simple

The default mechanism specified in JPA to avoid inconsistencies is a Version field applicable to the entities through the @Version annotation. Once you included the version field in your entities, you can just invoke the merge operation to re-attach detached objects and the container will handle the versioning for you - simple and easy (and safe).

The above code can be rewritten in a sound manner:

    @Override
    public FpUser update(FpUser entity) throws Exception {
        return manager.merge(entity);
    }

And that's it, fewer lines of code with a more sound and more robust code. I will fix the code in the footprint repository, so the article readers will find a better code in the repository - and perhaps the java.net staff help me to include an addendum to my article warning the readers about that. At least we both know about that from now on :)

Other interesting blogs about similar problems:

Before to release your eyes to a next blogger, let me ask you the intrigant question:

What if I care only partially about my Entity locking?

It is subject for another blog entry, but during my talk with Mike he confessed the next JPA 2.0 includes this feature: the ability to lock partially an entity. In this way, I don't need to throw an exception in a transaction that will affect minor priority fields (the idea behind the common trap I demonstrated above). People that implement a code to avoid exceptions during updates are actually preventing the client to receive exceptions, resolving manually the locking problems. This suicidal trick seems to make sense where some fields support data overwriting - usually an optional or very low priority data.

As soon I got a good example I return to this point, now you are free to give me your feedback or to find something else to have fun on the web.


My vacations are over :) time to update my working environment and nothing better than a short blog to warm up my brain to the third quarter of Java in 2009. Next step: to conclude the second part of the article, reviewing the gaps and offering a good quality material of Java EE 5 - the last step before to start my complete migration to Java EE 6.

From http://weblogs.java.net/blog/felipegaucho

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