Transaction Management

Transactions aim to improve integrity and consistency of your data, grouping data access operations into logical units of work which are atomic and properly isolated from each other within concurrent (multi-user) environments. Transactions promote data consistency through its atomicity, ensuring that only valid data will be written to the database. These concepts essentially follow the ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) principle of database transactions.

External resources


As you might already know, implementing a DAO layer using DAO Fusion requires you to handle transactions as well. This is based on the fact that Object-relational mapping (ORM) frameworks such as Hibernate require a transaction in order to trigger the synchronization between the object cache (session) and the database. Furthermore, the lack of appropriate transaction strategy will have a negative impact on various aspects of your DAO layer, including data integrity, performance, concurrency and locking issues.

Transaction models

There are basically two transaction models which are applicable to DAO Fusion as well as projects using ORM frameworks in general:

  • Programmatic transaction model (bean managed transactions)

    The user is responsible for the overall transaction management. This typically includes the following steps:

    • obtaining a transaction from the transaction manager
    • starting the transaction
    • committing or rolling back the transaction
  • Declarative transaction model (container managed transactions)

    The container takes care of obtaining, starting, committing and rolling back the transaction. The user is responsible for specifying transaction behavior via annotations (@Transactional for Spring, @TransactionAttribute for JPA / EJB 3.0).

Transaction strategies

Transaction models are materialized into transaction strategies depending on specific business requirements of your project in terms of concurrency, performance and data integrity.

One of the most common transaction strategies is the API Layer strategy aimed at coarse-grained service methods that act as entry points to the back-end business functionality. In this scenario, the client performs a single method call per each request without any transaction logic. In other words, the client is restricted to a single request for a given transactional unit of work. Server-side service method implementation must therefore manage transactions on its own, acting as a "logical unit of work" from the client's point of view.

Hints regarding declarative transaction model

This section summarizes hints that apply to the declarative transaction model support within ORM frameworks such as Hibernate.

My DAOs fail to do database updates without any exceptions being thrown

You have to set up and use transactions within the context of DAO method calls so that Hibernate knows when to trigger the synchronization between its object cache and the database. No transactions, no fun.

My methods that use DAO operations fail to roll back transactions properly on exceptions

By default, a transaction will be rolled back automatically only when a runtime (unchecked) exception is caught. You must provide transaction rollback support for checked exceptions manually. This is one of the most common pitfalls when using transactions altogether. If you don't specify such rollback support for checked exceptions that might occur within a transaction, your data integrity and consistency is put at a high risk - by default, upon a checked exception, the transaction committs any work that has not yet been committed. This essentially breaks the atomicity and consistency of the ACID and leads to corrupt and inconsistent data.

Exception classes for which you want to roll back the transaction are specified differently for different transaction annotations. In case of the @Transactional annotation, the rollbackFor parameter specifies an array of exception classes upon which to force transaction rollback. There is also a noRollbackFor parameter that specifies an array of exception classes upon which to suppress transaction rollback. The @TransactionAttribute annotation doesn't include directives to specify the rollback behavior directly - the user must use SessionContext's setRollbackOnly method within the catch block for the given checked exception to mark the transaction for rollback (note that this cannot be undone and the transaction will be ultimately rolled back upon completion of the method that started the transaction).

Read-only operations using @Transactional annotation (readOnly flag set to true)

It might happen that Hibernate will bypass the readOnly flag silently and allow database updates in the process. This is due to the fact that the readOnly flag works differently in ORM frameworks as opposed to the classic JDBC approach where a read-only connection exception would be thrown. The bottom line is that you shouldn't rely on the readOnly flag within a transaction scope.

For read-only operations resulting in a single SELECT statement (e.g. PersistentEntityDao's get or query methods), you should avoid using transactions either by omitting the @Transactional annotation completely or by setting the transaction propagation mode to SUPPORTS so that no transaction is started for the given operation. Depending on the situation, wrapping primitive read-only operations in transactions can lead to issues such as unnecessary shared locks or even deadlocks within the database. Furthermore, executing such operations within transactions consumes processing time and resources.

Why should one (always) prefer the SUPPORTS transaction propagation mode against NOT_SUPPORTED regarding read-only operations? The answer is simple - invoking such read-only operation in the context of an existing transaction will cause the query to read data from the database transaction log, whereas running without a transaction scope (NOT_SUPPORTED) will cause the query to read unchanged data.

Using REQUIRES_NEW and NOT_SUPPORTED transaction propagation modes

The REQUIRES_NEW transaction propagation mode essentially violates ACID's atomicity - all database updates are no longer contained within a single logical unit of work. Use this propagation mode for database operations that are independent of the underlying transactional context (e.g. sending emails as part of a business operation for which an email send error should not cause the "entire" transaction to be rolled back).

On the other hand, the NOT_SUPPORTED transaction propagation mode is useful for situations which forbid the use of transactions within a transaction context (for example, situations where you want to avoid nested transactions such as stored procedures using transactions on their own). However, the overall impact is similar to the REQUIRES_NEW propagation mode - atomicity of the underlying transaction is violated.