Saturday, May 30, 2009

Implementing Equals And HashCode In Hibernate POCOs/POJOs

Nearly everybody who uses (N)Hibernate stumbles over this question sooner or later: How to implement Equals() And (Get)HashCode() in Hibernate POCOs/POJOs?

What's the problem? At first sight a natural approach seems to apply the object's primary key in Equals And HashCode implementations - simply delegate the calls to Equals and HashCode to the primary key type. But many primary keys are AutoIncrement / Identity columns which the database will set when inserting rows. So the primary key's value becomes available only after that - which is too late in most cases. E.g. if there is more than one newly created object (Hibernate state "transient") at one point in time, all these objects would appear to be "equal". Additionally when the newly created object has been added to a child collection of type Map or Set, it will be replaced by the next newly created object that comes along. Undoubtedly this is unwanted behavior.

Moreover this breaks the Equals/HashCode contract, because the HashCode value changes once the primary key has been set by the database. This may lead to all kinds of weird things, e.g. Maps / IDictionaries whose implementations depend on HashCode will not be able to find their objects any more.

So what to do about it? Articles on and the holy book of Hibernate "Java Persistence With Hibernate" recommend applying business keys instead of surrogate keys in Equals / HashCode. Business key values are unique too, plus they are available BEFORE the data has been inserted into the database.

I used to follow that advice in former projects, but at times found it difficult to determine which would be my business keys. Sometimes they just don't exist in the application domain.

Plenty of postings point out similar problems. Some people came up with quite sophisticated solutions, e.g. a combined surrogate / business key approach. In case an object is newly created and has not been assigned its database surrogate key yet, it will apply a business key. The business key values and hashcodes will be cached and re-used for the lifetime of the object, even after inserting it into the database table. Hence the Equals / HashCode contract is not broken.

This should work, but seems unnecessarily complicated for me. Reading's famous 109-article once again, I figured that my current project falls into the first of the following three categories:

We don't have composite keys, and there is no need to compare objects from different Hibernate sessions. We do have multiple new instances in Sets, and collections must stay intact after saving. Which means I can omit any custom Equals / HashCode implementations altogether, and can go along with the default reference-based implementations (instead of value-based). And it works like a charm!

More Hibernate postings: