Vincent Partington has more than 10 years of enterprise Java experience. He has written and presented on topics as diverse as performance, security, RIA, and persistence technologies. Vincent Partington is the Chief Technical Officer of XebiaLabs where he is responsible for their flagship deployment automation product Deployit. Vincent is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 25 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

JPA Implementation Patterns: Retrieving Entities

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Last time I talked about how to save an entity. And once we've saved an entity we'd also like to retrieve it. Compared to saving entities, retrieving entities is actually rather simple. So simple I doubted whether there would be much point in writing this blog ;-) . However we did use a few nice patterns when writing code for this. And I'm interested to hear what patterns you use to retrieve entities. 

Basically, there are two ways to retrieve an entity with JPA:

A Query object can also be created by referring to a named query (using EntityManager.createNamedQuery), or by passing in an SQL query (using one of the three three flavours of EntityManager.createNativeQuery). And while the name implies otherwise, a Query can also be used to execute an update or delete statement.

A named query may seem like a nice way to keep the query with the entities it queries, I've found that not to work out very well. Most queries need parameters to be set with one of the variants of Query.setParameter. Keeping the query and the code that sets these parameters together makes them both easier to understand. That is why I keep them together in the DAO and shy away from using named queries.

A convention I've found to be useful is to differentiate between finding an entity and getting an entity. In the first case null is returned when an entity cannot be found, while in the latter case an exception is thrown. Using the latter method when your code expects an entity to be present prevents NullPointerExceptions from popping up later.

Finding and getting a single entity by id

An implementation of this pattern for the JpaDao base class we discussed a few blogs ago can look like this (I've included the find method for contrast):

public E findById(K id) {
	return entityManager.find(entityClass, id);
public E getById(K id) throws EntityNotFoundException {
	E entity = entityManager.find(entityClass, id);
	if (entity == null) {
		throw new EntityNotFoundException(
			"Entity " + entityClass.getName() + " with id " + id + " not found");
	return entity;

Of course you'd also need to add this new method to the Dao interface:

E getById(K id);

Finding and getting a single entity with a query

A similar distinction can be made when we use a query to look for a single entity. The findOrderSubmittedAt method below will return null when the entity cannot be found by the query. The getOrderSubmittedAt method throws a NoResultException. Both methods will throw a NonUniqueResultException if more than one result is returned. To keep the getOrderSubmittedAt method consistent with the findById method we could map the NoResultException to an EntityNotFoundException. But since there are both unchecked exceptions, there is no real need.

Since these methods apply only to the Order object, there are a part of the JpaOrderDao:

public Order findOrderSubmittedAt(Date date) throws NonUniqueResultException {
	Query q = entityManager.createQuery(
		"SELECT e FROM " + entityClass.getName() + " e WHERE date = :date_at");
	q.setParameter("date_at", date);
	try {
		return (Order) q.getSingleResult();
	} catch (NoResultException exc) {
		return null;
public Order getOrderSubmittedAt(Date date) throws NoResultException, NonUniqueResultException {
	Query q = entityManager.createQuery(
		"SELECT e FROM " + entityClass.getName() + " e WHERE date = :date_at");
	q.setParameter("date_at", date);
	return (Order) q.getSingleResult();

Adding the correct methods to the OrderDao interface is left as an exercise for the reader. ;-)

Finding multiple entities with a query

Of course we also want to be able to find more than one entity. In that case I've found there to be no useful distinction between getting and finding. The findOrdersSubmittedSince method just return a list of entities found. That list can contain zero, one or more entities. See the following code:

public List<Order> findOrdersSubmittedSince(Date date) {
	Query q = entityManager.createQuery(
			"SELECT e FROM " + entityClass.getName() + " e WHERE date >= :date_since");
	q.setParameter("date_since", date);
	return (List<Order>) q.getResultList();

Observant readers will note that this method was already present in the first version of the JpaOrderDao.

So while retrieving entities is pretty simple, there are a few patterns you can stick to when implementing finders and getters. Of course I'd be interested to know how you handle this in your code.

P.S. JPA 1.0 does not support it yet, but JPA 2.0 will include a Criteria API. The Criteria API will allow you to dynamically build JPA queries. Criteria queries are more flexible than string queries so you can build them depending on input in a search form. And because you define them using domain objects, they are easier to maintain as references to domain objects get refactored automatically. Unfortunately the Criteria API requires you to refer to your entity's properties by name, so your IDE will not help you when you rename those.


Published at DZone with permission of Vincent Partington, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Stevi Deter replied on Tue, 2009/08/18 - 5:25pm

Nice overview, but I have to disagree with you on NamedQueries.

I find NamedQueries a heck of a lot easier to read than the concatenated strings one ends up creating in the style shown above. 

Even better, since I'm usually uisng Spring/Hibernate, I get validation of my NamedQueries at startup, which saves me a lot of pain (even though for me this means I'm finding out when my unit tests run right after I write the query). Fail fast is always a Good Thing. 

We have a base class for our DAOs that lets us pass in the parameter names and values as a vararg, making things even easier.

As always, YMMV, but I find this coding style makes my code far easier to read and maintain.

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