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Is Hibernate the best choice?

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Is Hibernate the best choice? Or is the technical marketing of other ORM vendors lacking?

Recently Jonathan Lehr posed a question on his blog: "Is Hibernate the best choice?", and this lead me to ask the same question.

Although, I tend to use Hibernate as my first choice, it would be nice to see some head to head comparisons of Hibernate vs. TopLink (pros and cons), Hibernate vs. OpenJPA, Hibernate vs. Cayenne, etc. Searching around finds that many of the comparison are pretty old and not very detailed or compelling.

Having used other ORM frameworks, I found that when something goes wrong with Hibernate, you can usually google and find an answer, and there are many books on Hibernate. In my experience, the other frameworks seemed to be a less well-worn path and it is harder to find answers to even common problems. This is not to say that Hibernate is better, but that it is a lot more popular. In the end, I use Hibernate because my clients use it, if my clients switched to TopLink or OpenJPA, then I would use them as well.

So this begs the question, if Hibernate works for you, you just might have something else to do, like implementing a client solution that makes your client money, than to try several other ORM frameworks. How much time should someone spend learning a new ORM framework (new to them anyway)?

Don't get this wrong, trying out new ORM frameworks is fine. If there is a large IT/developer organization, and you have a certain selection criteria like integrating with legacy databases, conformance to JPA specification, ability to hire new developers, easy of use, etc. then by all means having someone create a few prototypes and/or proofs of concepts and try out a few ORM frameworks is great. There is often good ROI in this type of testing. Perhaps share your findings with the rest of us.

However, it seems if you are a vendor of a JPA solution, you could start by pointing out how your product differs from Hibernate. Like it or not, Hibernate dominates the mind-share of developers. If you can't prove your ORM frameworks has compelling reasons for switching, why should developers spend their time evaluating your product?

Now let me boil things down to brass tacks, it seems vendors of the ORMs should write white-papers, articles, blogs, and such to highlight the advantages of their ORM framework versus Hibernate. Logic dictates that if you have a product and there is a competing product that dominates the market that you might want to highlight what differentiates your product from the dominate one.

As a test, let's go to different vendor sites and see if they have comparisons of their ORM framework vs. the 800 pound gorilla, Hibernate.

So first let's go to Oracle TopLink website, you would expect since Hibernate has such a huge adoption rate in the industry that Oracle would want to point out why TopLink is better like a nice white-paper perhaps featured prominently on their TopLink site (see graph).

TopLink versus Hibernate

After hunting around a bit this entry appeared in the TopLink Essentials FAQ, Why should TopLink Essentials be used instead of JBoss(TM) Hibernate?

The two main points that seemed intriguing were as follows:

"Customers with any degree of complexity in the domain model or relational schemas, most notably where changing the schema is not an option, will benefit from the flexibility and proven nature of TopLink."

NOTE: At times mapping Hibernate to legacy systems can be challenging. How is TopLink better at this? Are there articles or white-papers, etc. that attempt to prove that TopLink is better at legacy integration? (I find that many developers are not aware of all of the features that Hibernate provides for legacy mapping.)

"As the reference implementation of JPA TopLink offers the first certified implementation of this new standard. as well as providing some useful value-add functionality. Going forward this open source project will continue to innovate based on contributions from Oracle, Sun, and others."

NOTE: This is compelling to me since I now use the JPA interface to Hibernate whenever I can.

Now I did not find the arguments in the FAQ particularly compelling or at all detailed. Sadly, you can find more compelling arguments in some of the TopLink public forums and random blogs. However, none so compelling that I feel the sudden need to switch.

Now on to the BEA site to look at dear KODO. I have always heard good things about KODO. Sadly, I found the BEA KODO site to be very out of date. It mentions a 2005 award for KODO as the lead news item. It also mentions that OpenJPA is in incubation, it has been out for a while. Even the FAQ, which did mention Hibernate, merely mentions that Hibernate is not EJB3 (seems it should say Hibernate is not JPA). This site really seems out of date and like the TopLink site mosty ignores the elephant in the room (see graph).

KODO vs. Hibernate

Well, let's look at the Apache OpenJPA site, as KODO's DNA may live at Apache long after Oracle decides on a single JPA solutions and likely leaves KODO to rot on the vine. Searching through the main site, FAQ, OpenJPA documentation, etc., I find no mention of Hibernate. Now this is an open source project so one would likely expect to see no marketing angle per se. But, you might expect that a project recognize that many would not be able to use this project without first justifying their pick against picking Hibernate (OpenJPA barely appears at all on job graphs). How many IT/development managers will feel comfortable with this choice without some explanation?

Now on to the next ORM framework site, Cayenne. No mention of Hibernate vs. Cayenne (but I know I have read articles on this). Seems like there might be some compelling ease-of-use arguments for Cayenne vs. Hibernate but they choose not to compare them. (Cayenne barely appears at all on job graphs)

Now back to Jonathan Lehr blog, Jonathan states that he feels TopLink and Cayenne are better choices than Hibernate and cites his reasons for these choices. There is a long discussion on the pros and cons of each in the comment section. I'd love to see more discussion, and I'd love to see some viable alternatives to Hibernate, but feel that no vendor or open source project does a real good job of pointing out the differences and possible limitations of Hibernate. If the vendors and project owners choose not to make their case, it makes it very difficult for the rank and file developers to make their case.

Perhaps one reason Hibernate is so dominate is because competing projects are so bad at technical marketing. Not one project I looked at mentions Hibernate on their front page. I could not find a decent comparison of features (to Hibernate's) on any of the ORM sites.

Has anyone done a comparison of Hibernate and OpenJPA, TopLink Essentials, Cayenne that compares ease-of-use, caching, tool support, legacy integration, etc.? Perhaps such an internal report was used to decide which ORM tool to pick. If so, what were the results?

If you use TopLink, OpenJPA, Cayenne instead of Hibernate, why?

Were you hoping that JPA would level the playing field and there would be more competition?

About the author

Rick Hightower is CTO of Mammatus and is an expert on Java and Cloud Computing. Rick is invovled in Java CDI advocacy and Java EE. CDI Implementations - Resin Candi - Seam Weld - Apache OpenWebBeans

Create flexible schemas using dynamic columns for semi-structured data. Learn how.

java ,sql ,jpa ,hibernate ,java ee ,toplink ,openjpa ,kodo

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