An Introduction to Hibernate and Spring: Part 1

4 min read

This article by Ahmad Seddighi, introduces Spring and Hibernate, explaining what persistence is, why it is important, and how it is implemented in Java applications. It provides a theoretical discussion of Hibernate and how Hibernate solves problems related to persistence. Finally, we take a look at Spring and the role of Spring in persistence.

Hibernate and Spring are open-source Java frameworks that simplify developing Java/JEE applications from simple, stand-alone applications running on a single JVM, to complex enterprise applications running on full-blown application servers. Hibernate and Spring allow developers to produce scalable, reliable, and effective code. Both frameworks support declarative configuration and work with a POJO (Plain Old Java Object) programming model (discussed later in this article), minimizing the dependence of application code on the frameworks, and making development more productive and portable.

Although the aim of these frameworks partially overlap, for the most part, each is used for a different purpose. The Hibernate framework aims to solve the problems of managing data in Java: those problems which are not fully solved by the Java persistence API, JDBC (Java Database Connectivity), persistence providers, DBMS (Database Management Systems), and their mediator language, SQL (Structured Query Language).

In contrast, Spring is a multitier framework that is not dedicated to a particular area of application architecture. However, Spring does not provide its own solution for issues such as persistence, for which there are already good solutions. Rather, Spring unifies preexisting solutions under its consistent API and makes them easier to use. As mentioned, one of these areas is persistence. Spring can be integrated with a persistence solution, such as Hibernate, to provide an abstraction layer over the persistence technology, and produce more portable, manageable, and effective code.

Furthermore, Spring provides other services spread over the application architecture, such as inversion of control and aspect-oriented programming (explained later in this article), decoupling the application’s components, and modularizing common behaviors.

This article looks at the motivation and goals for Hibernate and Spring. The article begins with an explanation of why Hibernate is needed, where it can be used, and what it can do. We’ll take a quick look at Hibernates alternatives, exploring their advantages and disadvantages. I’ll outline the valuable features that Hibernate offers and explain how it can solve the problems of the traditional approach to Java persistence. The discussion continues with Spring. I’ll explain what Spring is, what services it offers, and how it can help to develop a high-quality data-access layer with Hibernate.

Persistence management in Java

Persistence has long been a challenge in the enterprise community. Many persistence solutions from primitive, file-based approaches, to modern, object-oriented databases have been presented. For any of these approaches, the goal is to provide reliable, efficient, flexible, and scalable persistence.

Among these competing solutions, relational databases (because of certain advantages) have been most widely accepted in the IT world. Today, almost all enterprise applications use relational databases. A relational database is an application that provides the persistence service. It provides many persistence features, such as indexing data to provide speedy searches; solves the relevant problems, such as protecting data from unauthorized access; and handles many complications, such as preserving relationships among data. Creating, modifying, and accessing relational databases is fairly simple. All such databases present data in two-dimensional tables and support SQL, which is relatively easy to learn and understand. Moreover, they provide other services, such as transactions and replication. These advantages are enough to ensure the popularity of relational databases.

To provide support for relational databases in Java, the JDBC API was developed. JDBC allows Java applications to connect to relational databases, express their persistence purpose as SQL expressions, and transmit data to and from databases. The following screenshot shows how this works:

Spring Persistence with Hibernate

Using this API, SQL statements can be passed to the database, and the results can be returned to the application, all through a driver.

The mismatch problem

JDBC handles many persistence issues and problems in communicating with relational databases. It also provides the needed functionality for this purpose. However, there remains an unsolved problem in Java applications: Java applications are essentially object-oriented programs, whereas relational databases store data in a relational form. While applications use object-oriented forms of data, databases represent data in two-dimensional table forms. This situation leads to the so-called object-relational paradigm mismatch, which (as we will see later) causes many problems in communication between object-oriented and relational environments.

For many reasons, including ease of understanding, simplicity of use, efficiency, robustness, and even popularity, we may not discard relational databases. However, the mismatch cannot be eliminated in an effortless and straightforward manner.


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