Persistence Context

An explanation of Ebean's Persistence Context and the various scopes that is supports.


Although Ebean doesn't have a JPA Entity Manager it does have a Persistence context. In fact, you could go as far to say that any ORM worth using needs a persistence context in order to build consistent object graphs.

JPA v1.0 specification - section 5.1

"A persistence context is a set of managed entity instances in which for any persistent entity identity there is a unique entity instance. Within the persistence context, the entity instances and their lifecycle are managed by the entity manager."

Ebean has a Persistence Context to ensure unique entity instances but Ebean has a different approach to lifecycle management compared to JPA.

That is, Ebean has a persistence context to ensure unique entity instance. but has a different approach to the lifecycle management compared with JPA. Ebean has no entity manager and no persist/merge/flush lifecycle methods and the persistence context is not involved in persisting.

Unique Entity Instances

Ebean uses the Persistence context for queries and lazy loading (when it is building object graphs). The purpose of this is to ensure that consistent object graphs are constructed (1 unique instance per identity).

Ensuring unique instances equates to building a consistent object graph

For example, in fetching a list of orders and their customers … the persistence context ensures that you only get 1 customer instance for it's given id (e.g. you are NOT allowed to have 2 or more instances of "customer id=7".

You could even say that any ORM worth using needs a persistence context when it builds object graphs from relational result sets due to the nature of relational result sets.

For example, if you didn't have a persistence context and did allow 2 or more instances of "customer 7" … and modified one instance but not the other … things get very ugly. The "persistence context" ensures the user/application code works with unique entity instances.


Ebean has a different approach to lifecycle management. The core difference is that with Ebean each bean itself has it's own dirty checking (detects when it has been modified and holds it's old/original values for optimistic concurrency checking).

This means that for Ebean is does not need or use the persistence context when persisting beans.

Ebean's persistence context is not involved in persisting.

With JPA implementations generally the dirty checking is performed by the entity manager. The entity manager generally holds the old/original values for optimistic concurrency checking and the beans need to be 'attached' to an entity manager to be 'flushed' (as an insert/update/delete). [Note: JDO based JPA implementations do this a bit differently].

Pro's for Ebean's approach:

  • No need to manage Entity Manager's
  • save/delete simpler that attached/detached beans with persist/merge/flush etc

Con's for Ebean's approach:

  • Ebean makes an assumption that scalar types are immutable. Most scalar types (String, Integer, Double, Float, BigDecimal etc) are immutable, however, some such as java.util.Date are not. What this means is that with Ebean if you mutate a java.util.Date Ebean will NOT detect the change – instead you have to set a different java.util.Date instance.


Ebean has 3 scopes for the the persistence context - Transaction scope, Query scope and Per Object Graph scope.

Transaction scope

With Ebean the persistence context is by default transaction scoped. This means that when you begin a new transaction (implicitly or explicitly) Ebean will start a new persistence context.

The persistence context lives beyond the end of a transaction. This enables any lazy loading occurring after the transaction ends to use the same persistence context that the instance was created with.

This means, a persistence context

  • Starts when a transaction starts
  • Is used during the transactions scope to build all object graphs (queries)
  • Lives beyond the end of a transaction so that all lazy loading occurring on that object graph also uses the same persistence context

Transaction scoped persistence context as a "first level cache"

The persistence context is sometimes described as the "first level cache" or L1 cache. I have also seen it described as the "transactional cache" in that it is most frequently scoped to a transaction.

// a new persistence context started with the transaction
try {
  // find "order 72" results in that instance being put
  // into the persistence context
  Order order = Ebean.find(Order.class, 72);

  // finds an existing "order 72" in the persistence context
  // ... so just returns that instance
  Order o2 = Ebean.find(Order.class, 72);
  Order o3 = Ebean.getReference(Order.class, 72);

  // all the same instance
  Assert.assertTrue(order == o2);
  Assert.assertTrue(order == o3);
} finally {

The code above shows that there is only 1 instance of "Order 72". As we try to fetch it again (during the scope of a single persistence context) we end up getting back the same instance.

However, typically you don't write code that fetches the same Order multiple times in a single transaction. The code above is not something you would typically write.

A more realistic example would be when the persistence context is used:

// a new persistence context started with the transaction

try {
  // find "customer 1" results in this instance being
  // put into the persistence context
  Customer customer = Ebean.find(Customer.class, 1);

  // for this example … "customer 1" placed "order 72"
  // when "order 72" is fetched/built it has a foreign
  // key value customer_id = 1...
  // As customer 1 is already in the persistence context
  // this same instance of customer 1 is used
  Order order = Ebean.find(Order.class, 72);
  Customer customerB = order.getCustomer();

  // they are the same instance
  Assert.assertTrue(customer == customerB);
} finally {

From these examples you should hopefully see that the persistence context acts as a cache to some degree. It can sometimes reduce the number of database queries required when you get object graphs and navigate them.

However, the primary function of the persistence context is to ensure ... unique instances for a given identity (so that the object graphs are constructed in a consistent manor). The fact that it sometimes looks/acts like a cache is more of a side effect.

Query Scope

The purpose of the query scope is to effectively bypass a transaction scoped persistence context (l1 cache) in order to read fresh data from the database.

The general scenario is that you are in the middle of a transaction and you want to make sure that a particular query hits the database to get fresh data. In doing so we want to avoid using the current transaction scoped persistence context.

// transaction with a persistence context
Transaction transaction = ...

// Fetch customer 42 hitting the database
// ... ignoring the transaction persistence context
Customer customer = Ebean.find(Customer.class)
      // ignore transaction persistence context

Object graph scope - large queries

When you use a findEach(), findStream() or findIterate() streaming type query then Ebean uses a special scope for the persistence context. These queries are expected to iterate through arbitrarily large query requests and as such we don't want to hold all the object graphs in memory.

For these streaming queries Ebean creates a new PersistenceContext when iteration occurs and effectively the scope becomes per object graph.