Transaction handling in EJBs and JavaEE7 @Transactional

Handling transactions in EJBs is easy, right? Well, in theory it should be. But how does the theory translate into reality once you leave the ivory tower?

I’ll show you a small example. Let’s assume we have 2 infrastructure service EJBs:

@Stateless
public class StorageServiceImpl implements StorageService {
  private @EJB CustomerService customerService;
  private @PersistenceContext EntityManager em;

  public void chargeStorage(int forYear) throws CustomerNotFoundException {
    storeNiceLetterInDb(em);
    Customer c = customerService.getCurrentCustomer(); 
    doSomethingElseInDB(); 
  }
} 

And now for the CustomerService which is an EJB as well:

@Stateless
public class CustomerServiceImpl implements CustomerService {
  public Customer getCurrentCustomer() throws CustomerNotFoundException {
    // do something if there is a current customer
    // otherwise throw a CustomerNotFoundException
  }
}

The Sunshine Case

Let’s first look at what happens if no problems occur at runtime.

In the normal operation mode some e.g. JSF backing bean will call storageService.chargeService(2015);. The implicit transaction interceptor will use a TransactionManager (all done in the interceptor which you do not see in your code) to check whether a Transaction is already open. If not it will open a new transaction and remember this fact. The same check will happen in the implicit transaction interceptor for the CustomerService.

When leaving CustomerService#getCurrentCustomer the interceptor will recognize that it didn’t open the transaction and thus will simply return. Otoh when leaving StorageService#chargeStorage it’s interceptor will commit the transaction and close the EntityManager.

Broken?: Handling checked Exceptions

Once we leave the sunny side of the street and hit some problems the whole handling start to become messy. Let’s look what happens if there is a checked CustomerNotFoundException thrown in CustomerService#getCurrentCustomer. Most people will now find their first surprise: The database changes done in storeNiceLetterInDb() will get committed into the database.

So we got an Exception but the transaction still got committed? WT*piep*!
Too bad that this is not a bug but the behaviour is exactly as specified in “9.2.1 Application Exceptions” of the EJB specification:

An application exception does not automatically result in marking the transaction for rollback unless the ApplicationException annotation is applied to the exception class and is specified with the rollback element value true…

So this means we could annotate the CustomerNotFoundException with @javax.ejb.ApplicationException(rollback=true) to force a rollback.
And of course we need to do this for ALL checked exceptions if we like to get a rollback.

Broken?: Handling unchecked Exceptions

The good news upfront: unchecked Exceptions (RuntimeExceptions) will usually cause a rollack of your transaction (unless annotated as @AppliationException(rollback=false) of course).

Let’s assume there is some other entity lookup in the code and we get a javax.persistence.EntityNotFoundException if the address of the customer couldn’t be found. This will rollback your transaction.

But what can we do if this is kind of expected and you just like to use a default address in that case? The natural solution would be to simply catch this Exception in the calling method. In our case that would be a try/catch block in StorageServiceImpl#chargeStorage.

That’s a great idea – but it doesn’t work in many containers!

Some containers interpret the spec pretty strictly and do the Exception check on _every_ layer (EJB spec 9.3.6) . And if the interceptor in the CustomerService detects an Exception then the implicit EJB interceptor will simply roll back the whole transaction and mark it as “rollbackOnly”. Catching this Exception in an outer level doesn’t help a bit. You will not get your changes into the database. And if you try to do even more on the database then you will blow up again with something like “The connection was already marked for rollback”.

And how is that with @javax.transaction.Transactional?

Basically the same like with EJBs. In my opinion this was a missed chance to clean up this behaviour.
You can read this up in chapter 3.6 of the JTA-1.2 specification.

The main difference is how to demarcate rollback vs commit exceptions. You can use the rollbackOn and dontRollbackOn attributes of @Transactional:

@Transactional(rollbackOn={SQLException.class}, dontRollbackOn={SQLWarning.class})

Now what about DeltaSpike @Transactional?

In Apache DeltaSpike @Transactional and it’s predecessor Apache MyFaces CODI @Transactional we have a much cleaner handling:

Exceptions only get handled on the layer where the transaction got opened. If you catch an Exception along the way than we do not care about it.

Any Exception on the outermost layer will cause a rollback of your transaction. It doesn’t matter if it is a RuntimeException or a checked Exception.

If there was no Exception in the outermost interceptor then we will commit the transaction.

PS: please note that I explicitly used interfaces in my samples. Otherwise you will get NIV (No Interface View) objects which again might behave slightly different as they use a totally different proxying technique and default behaviour. But that might be enough material for yet another own blog post.
PPS: I also spared you EJBs with TransactionManagementType.BEAN. That one is also pretty much non-portable by design as you effectively cannot nest them as it forces you to either commit or rollback the tx on every layer. Some containers work fine while others really force this.

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About struberg
I'm an Apache Software Foundation member blogging about Java, µC, TheASF, OpenWebBeans, Maven, MyFaces, CODI, GIT, OpenJPA, TomEE, DeltaSpike, ...

One Response to Transaction handling in EJBs and JavaEE7 @Transactional

  1. Pingback: Java Weekly 18/15: Transactions, JPA productivity, JSON-P and more

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