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EJB 2.0 Specification Release Review

05/10/2001

With little fanfare, Sun released the second public final draft of the EJB 2.0 specification last week. Even though the specification is in the final stages before acceptance, this update contains extensive changes. Application server vendors and developers who have been unhappy with a proposed implementation of dependent objects have pushed for changes. Some background information on these issues can be found in my earlier articles

Most of the significant changes in this latest revision involve the removal of dependent objects and the introduction of local interfaces. This article will discuss local interfaces, their proposed implementation, and issues that developers may expect to encounter when dealing with this technology.

What are Local Interfaces?

As everyone knows, session and entity beans have had home and remote interfaces, where business operations are defined. The latest EJB specification introduces the possibility of having local home and local interfaces in addition to the existing remote home and remote interfaces. Developers should be aware that remote interfaces have been renamed to "component" interfaces in the latest, public, final draft. The rest of this article will continue to use "remote" interfaces for simplicity.

The specification now separates clients that access an EJB into two types:

  • remote clients that reside in a different virtual machine than the EJB container and,
  • local clients that are collocated in the same virtual machine with the EJB container.

As a result of this distinction, it makes sense to expect local clients to have optimized access to an EJB's operations as opposed to remote clients that are required to use RMI semantics.

The EJB specification defines just that.

Local clients that access the local home or local interface of an EJB are granted optimized access by bypassing RMI semantics in favor of direct method invocation (using pass by reference). Local interfaces provide an appealing new aspect to developers. Methods invoked on a local home or local interface of an EJB will only be invoked using pass by reference semantics. Essentially, it's nothing more than a method invocation on a local Java object.

Writing local home and local interfaces is very similar to writing remote and remote home interfaces. Generally, they follow the same rules with a few exceptions:

  • The throws clause of all methods in the local home and local interfaces must not throw java.rmi.RemoteException.
  • A local home interface must extend EJBLocalHome instead of EJBHome.
  • A local interface must extend EJBLocalObject instead of EJBObject.

Why Local Interfaces?

In the first public final draft of the EJB 2.0 specification, dependent objects were the proposed mechanism for adding finer-grained access to entity EJBs. For example, a Person entity EJB describing all the personal information of a human being might be a coarse-grained object accessed directly by a presentation layer. The Person entity EJB may want to have a reference to a fine-grained Address persistent object. The bean developer will want to maintain a separation between the Person EJB and the Address persistent object that it references. In the previous public final draft specification, there were two ways to implement this using CMP.

First, create Person and Address as CMP entity EJBs that participate in a relationship. This would require Address to be a coarse-grained persistent object that is accessible to all objects in the system via RMI. The Person EJB would not have optimized access to the Address bean since it must use RMI semantics.

Second, create Person as a CMP entity EJB and create Address as a dependent object that participates in a relationship with Person. The Address dependent object would be accessible by local method invocations but has a different implementation technique than entity EJBs.

Entity EJBs have always been considered coarse-grained persistence objects due to a variety of factors. In the first place, the only portable technique that could be used to access an entity EJB was an RMI invocation. Second, every method invocation had request-level interception that added security, persistence, and transaction overhead that may or may not be necessary. And, third, the the 1.1 CMP model of entity EJBs that mapped attributes of the bean class to persistent fields made it extremely difficult to perform optimized data access techniques. These techniques include partial field loading, optimized writes of modified fields, and lazy loading of fields. Since it was impossible for a container to determine which fields were being accessed on any given method invocation, most containers had to treat the persistent fields of the bean as a holistic group as opposed to multiple groups of fields that can be managed separately.

It was well understood by the development community that a mechanism to provide fine-grained, local access to persistent objects was needed. The dependent object implementation ultimately fell into unfavorable status because of its awkward implementation style.

Enter local interfaces. The specification authors wanted to come up with a mechanism that allowed developers to create entity EJBs that are coarse-grained and fine-grained. By adding an additional interface to an entity EJB, developers would not have to change the techniques which they've already mastered. Local interfaces allow developers to take existing entity EJBs and quickly separate the way in which the bean is accessed by placing different operations into the remote or local interfaces. Local interfaces provide all sorts of benefits and headaches that are discussed below.

If the specification authors wanted to allow methods to be accessible remotely and locally, why didn't they just include a deployment descriptor tag that allows the bean developer or deployer to specify how any given method should be invoked? This was debated heatedly, and there are several reasons for creating separate remote and local interfaces, as opposed to allowing a container to optimize access to certain methods of a remote interface:

  1. By leaving all business operations as part of a remote interface, containers that provided local optimized access to a method would be breaking RMI semantics. Developers that code to a remote method invocation expect certain behavioral factors to occur such as input and return parameters being passed by value. Runtime optimizations of a remote method invocation into a local call that has parameters passed by reference would fundamentally break the semantics driven by the interface.
  2. Compilers can provide stronger type checking for clients that make use of local interfaces. Since local interfaces have different semantics than remote interfaces, compilers can provide some minimal type checking and constraint analysis around how a client is attempting to use a local interface.

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