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Domain Driven Design: Entities, Value Objects, Aggregates and Roots with JPA

This sample app is written up as a series of blog posts.

Running Or Modifying The Code

You can run the tests on the commandline with mvn test. The code is written using IntelliJ community edition. Create a new project "from source" selecting "maven" as the type. You can then run the test class which round-trips all the objects to an in-memory database.

The diagrams are authored with the excellent and free UMLet.

The Problem Space

The following image shows the toy modelling problem:

root objects

  1. A contract has many lineitems
  2. A contract has many deliveries
  3. A delivery to a location contains some lineitems
  4. A lineitem is a quantity of a given product within a contract
  5. A lineitem can only be in zero or one deliveries
  6. Altering the lineitems within a contract updates the total cost of a contract

A lineitem can be in zero deliveries so that a customer can decide upon the products and even pay for a contract independently of arranging for one or more deliveries.

Note that Money is a value object type. It has no identity so its not an entity. I wont be discussing value objects further as they are not a complex concept.

Note that in the diagram the lines with the black diamonds on the end denote UML "composition". To quote wikipedia (ephasis mine and with very minor edits):

Composition is a kind of association where the composite object has sole responsibility for the disposition of the component parts. The relationship between the composite and the component is a strong “has a” relationship, as the composite object takes ownership of the component. This means the composite is responsible for the creation and destruction of the component parts. A [contained] object may only be part of one composite. If the composite object is destroyed, all the [contained objects] must be destroyed

Simply put we are saying that the contract owns and controls both the deliveries and lineitems that it contains. If the contract gets cancelled or deleted then all the lineitems are cancelled and deleted. Also in this example updating the quantity of a product in the contract or adding and removing deliveries to the contract implies we are updating the contract. Is this valid? Only if the users of the system agree with this way of describing the problem domain. We should prototype with this model and get feedback from the users to validate the design.

The product and contract classes are labelled as root entities. To quote the blog page at the link above:

Aggregates draw a boundary around one or more Entities. An Aggregate enforces invariants for all its Entities for any operation it supports. Each Aggregate has a Root Entity, which is the only member of the Aggregate that any object outside the Aggregate is allowed to hold a reference to.

This says that to get at the quantity of a product in a contract or the deliveries in a contract (or whatever) in the object world we load the contract and go via it. This implies that to load things from a database into memory we will query and load one or more contracts to work with rather than query and load deliveries or line items directly. Is that the right things to do? Test it out with your users if they are always talking about working with a contract to manage its line items and deliveries then yes. If they are asking you to build screens that work primarily with deliveries and you discover that you can move a delivery between contracts then you may need to make delivery a root entity.

Consider the business rule that altering the lineitems within a contract updates the total cost of a contract. Expressed another way it says that it is a rule (aka an invariant) that the total cost field of the contract is sum of the cost of the individual line items within the contract. Which class should take care of that? The contract. Why? Objects should encapsulate state and related behaviour. Implication? You ask the contract to alter the quantity of a line item, else add or remove a line item. It can then ensure that the totalCost is updated.

Consider the business rule that a lineitem can only be within one delivery. Which class should take care of that? The contract. Why? If we don't it is a corruption of the state of a contract. So we should keep the logic that stops it from getting corrupted within it. That logic will be tested when we test that class and will be easier to keep working as we evolve the logic of that class. We can find all contract related business logic in one place tested by one set of
unit tests. This is a far better default strategy than spreading related logic throughout fine grained classes.

The book Domain Driven Design by Eric Evans has the theory of how to do design this way and the book Pojos In Action by Chris Richardson is an old but excellent book on how to do DDD in Java with Spring.

The Implementation

Lets have a look at the relational table model that goes the UML model above:

root objects2

The major difference is that we have one more database table than we have UML entities. The alien in the room is delivery_lineitem which is a join table between delivery and lineitem which records that a line item has been put into a delivery. Note that in the relational world we don't really need contract_id on the join table; it only needs two columns which can be the primary key. The reason that the table has the contract_id is so that JPA can "see" the join table entities as part of the contract root object to load them when ever we load the contract.

Another compromise is that if you run the unit tests they create the join table with a fourth column which is a generated primary key. Why? Because JPA put up a fight when I tried to create any type of compound primary key out of two fields and if you fight JPA you mostly loose (your mind). Do I care that has two more columns than a database designer would use? A little but I probably have better things to be doing with my time than optimising a few bytes away when database servers now have terabytes of disk and hundreds of gigs of memory. From a code perspective every collection is mapped the same way so optimising the join table with distinct JPA code makes the solution more complex to maintain. Lazy or pragmatic? Whatever.

Why is the join entity an alien? Because in our example it wasn't in the UML model as it wasn't discovered in the elaboration of the domain model with the users. If it was a "real thing" the users would have given it a name and talked about it having tangible attributes and we would have added it to the UML model. So it's only an technical artifact of the relational model. We should hide it and not make it part of the public API. Why? Because it is not part of our problem domain and with DDDD we model the problem not the solution.

How do we handle this? We make the contract the responsible class and put both the business logic, and the logic to keep the object and relational book work in sync, into this "all things contract related" class:

  1. We add a Java class entity for the join table but don't make it a public class.
  2. We don't let code directly manipulate the list of lineitems within a delivery. We ask the contract to do the work. The contract can create or remove a join entity and also update the list of lineitems within the delivery.
  3. We add a @PostLoad to the contract that is run immediately after JPA has loaded a contract, its deliveries, its lineitems, and its join table entities from the db. In that method we can scan the list of join table entities to know now to recover the state of the list of lineitems in each delivery.

So that is three things the contact root entity is doing:

  1. Ensuring that the total cost is kept up to date.
  2. Ensuring that a lineitem can only be in one delivery.
  3. Ensuring that the alien join entity isn't exposed to the outside world.

All of the above nicely illustrates the power of the aggregate and root entity concepts. We can create a java package per root entity with a service or system class that lets you load the root object only. Force code outside of the package to use methods on the root object. Then the root object can enforce that everything is maintained in a proper state so that we don't get corruptions of the state across the aggregated entities.

How do we stop code outside of the contract package from corrupting the relationships by adding or removing lineitems from deliveries without going via methods on contract which ensure the join table is kept in sync? The following code show how the list of lineitems in a delivery is declared:

List<LineItem> lineItems = new ArrayList<>();

public List<LineItem> getLineItems() {
    return Collections.unmodifiableList(lineItems);

That syntax says we have a non-public list (invisible outside of the Java package) that is transient (JPA wont try to save it into the database) as it is maintained entirely by Java logic. The getter that returns the list wraps it in an unmodifiable list. That is a proxy object that lets you get at items in the list but throws an exception if you try to modify the list. Ninja.

By applying the same approach everywhere we arrange it so that you can "see" both contract, lineitem and delivery objects outside of the package that they are defined in; but you have to call methods on the contract objects to modify anything. To load and save contract objects you use a public ContractServce class that has methods to query the database to load contracts.

In the code we have both a public ContractService and a package private ContractRepository that is not visible outside of the contract package. Why? The service class may grow to have larger persistence relating concerns, such as custom logic to honour or override pessimistic locks, or to work with an auditing trail. By making sure that the repository is not public we prevent people coding around it. Also the object to relational mismatch makes it hard to to get JPA do to exactly what you want to with only annotations in the code. The service class gives you an location to put workaround code that spans aggregated entities and their repositories.

Should such a class be called a service class if it just does JPA logic? Perhaps not. It could be renamed to be a "RootStore" to indicate that it is about persistence of a root entity. Then the name "Service" can be reserved for the business logic code higher up in the application.

Pro-Tips For Industrial Strength Financial Code

Aggregate roots and the OO approach outlined in this sample app make it very easy to add industrial strength features:

Audit Everything. Root entities make it easier to keep and access a full audit train. Just add:

  • int version (make this part of a compound primary key of the entity)
  • Date modifiedAt
  • String modifiedBy
  • Date deletedAt
  • String deletedBy

Just like assigned PKs that can make JPA easier to work with you don't need to make such persistence detail fields public. The demo puts everything to do with an aggregate of entities into a single package named after the root entity. This includes entities, the repository class, and a mini-service class that lets you only find, load and save entities. You can have the mini-service class read the package private fields to answer questions about the audit history so that they don't leak into your domain model as they are not visible outside of the package.

Have the root entity at every mutation or deletion simply create a copy of the entity that updates these fields. In all the normal getters filter to show only the highest version of each entity. You can also add methods that see the historic versions. Why? So that you can write admin screens to show the full audit trail of who did what to all entities in the system.

A good audit trail is a killer feature for any system that handles serious amounts of money. You can also add a "restore to date" feature so that a user can reverse out changes to the system easily and in an auditable way. Such killer features that are easy to add when using the techniques documented here but are very expensive to code into a system that isn't using these techniques.

Such audit logic sits nicely into the service classes that can update the version fields of the root entities when saving them, can then query for a list of versions with modification dates, and can then load a specific version of a root entity. The root entities themselves have the logic to version the entities of the objects they control. They can also have getter methods that take a date to be able to filter entities within the aggregate to a specific historic point in time.

Use A Locking Pattern. Add either optimistic, or both optimistic and pessimistic locking capabilities, into every root entity. This is remarkably easy as all modifications go via the root entity. So only root entities need locking fields.

JPA has locking features. I have used the built-in JPA optimistic locking. With pessimistic locking we had custom logic to tell the users things were locked, and let them break locks. This was implemented as normal fields Date lockedAt and String lockedBy fields on all the root entities and simple queries and logic in the service classes to either honour or break a lock. The service class could easily audit that the user had asked to break a lock. If you do let people override pessimistic locks then you should think about also use optimistic locking to stop users overwriting each others changes without being aware of it.

See Also

See also Advancing Enterprise DDD and this stackexchange answer about the "exposed domain model pattern".


Entities, Value Objects, Aggregates and Roots with JPA




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