Speed Up Your Hibernate Applications with Second-Level Caching

igh-volume database traffic is a frequent cause of performance problems in Web applications. Hibernate is a high-performance, object/relational persistence and query service, but it won’t solve all your performance issues without a little help. In many cases, second-level caching can be just what Hibernate needs to realize its full performance-handling potential. This article examines Hibernate’s caching functionalities and shows how you can use them to significantly boost application performance.

An Introduction to Caching

Caching is widely used for optimizing database applications. A cache is designed to reduce traffic between your application and the database by conserving data already loaded from the database. Database access is necessary only when retrieving data that is not currently available in the cache. The application may need to empty (invalidate) the cache from time to time if the database is updated or modified in some way, because it has no way of knowing whether the cache is up to date.

Hibernate Caching

Hibernate uses two different caches for objects: first-level cache and second-level cache. First-level cache is associated with the Session object, while second-level cache is associated with the Session Factory object. By default, Hibernate uses first-level cache on a per-transaction basis. Hibernate uses this cache mainly to reduce the number of SQL queries it needs to generate within a given transaction. For example, if an object is modified several times within the same transaction, Hibernate will generate only one SQL UPDATE statement at the end of the transaction, containing all the modifications.This article focuses on second-level cache. To reduce database traffic, second-level cache keeps loaded objects at the Session Factory level between transactions. These objects are available to the whole application, not just to the user running the query. This way, each time a query returns an object that is already loaded in the cache, one or more database transactions potentially are avoided.

In addition, you can use a query-level cache if you need to cache actual query results, rather than just persistent objects.

Cache Implementations

Caches are complicated pieces of software, and the market offers quite a number of choices, both open source and commercial. Hibernate supports the following open-source cache implementations out-of-the-box:

  • EHCache (org.hibernate.cache.EhCacheProvider)
  • OSCache (org.hibernate.cache.OSCacheProvider)
  • SwarmCache (org.hibernate.cache.SwarmCacheProvider)
  • JBoss TreeCache (org.hibernate.cache.TreeCacheProvider)

Each cache provides different capacities in terms of performance, memory use, and configuration possibilities:

  • EHCache is a fast, lightweight, and easy-to-use in-process cache. It supports read-only and read/write caching, and memory- and disk-based caching. However, it does not support clustering.
  • OSCache is another open-source caching solution. It is part of a larger package, which also provides caching functionalities for JSP pages or arbitrary objects. It is a powerful and flexible package, which, like EHCache, supports read-only and read/write caching, and memory- and disk-based caching. It also provides basic support for clustering via either JavaGroups or JMS.
  • SwarmCache is a simple cluster-based caching solution based on JavaGroups. It supports read-only or nonstrict read/write caching (the next section explains this term). This type of cache is appropriate for applications that typically have many more read operations than write operations.
  • JBoss TreeCache is a powerful replicated (synchronous or asynchronous) and transactional cache. Use this solution if you really need a true transaction-capable caching architecture.

Another cache implementation worth mentioning is the commercial Tangosol Coherence cache.

Caching Strategies

Once you have chosen your cache implementation, you need to specify your access strategies. The following four caching strategies are available:

  • Read-only: This strategy is useful for data that is read frequently but never updated. This is by far the simplest and best-performing cache strategy.
  • Read/write: Read/write caches may be appropriate if your data needs to be updated. They carry more overhead than read-only caches. In non-JTA environments, each transaction should be completed when Session.close() or Session.disconnect() is called.
  • Nonstrict read/write: This strategy does not guarantee that two transactions won’t simultaneously modify the same data. Therefore, it may be most appropriate for data that is read often but only occasionally modified.
  • Transactional: This is a fully transactional cache that may be used only in a JTA environment.

Support for these strategies is not identical for every cache implementation. Table 1 shows the options available for the different cache implementations.

Cache Read-only Nonstrict Read/write Read/write Transactional
EHCache Yes Yes Yes No
OSCache Yes Yes Yes No
SwarmCache Yes Yes No No
JBoss TreeCache Yes No No Yes
Table 1. Supported Caching Strategies for Hibernate Out-of-the-Box Cache Implementations

The remainder of the article demonstrates single-JVM caching using EHCache.

Cache Configuration

To activate second-level caching, you need to define the hibernate.cache.provider_class property in the hibernate.cfg.xml file as follows:

			...					org.hibernate.cache.EHCacheProvider				...	

For testing purposes in Hibernate 3, you may also want to use the hibernate.cache.use_second_level_cache property, which allows you to activate (and deactivate) the second-level cache. By default, the second-level cache is activated and uses the EHCache provider.

A Practical Application
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Figure 1. The Employee UML Class Diagram

The sample demo application for this article contains four simple tables: a list of countries, a list of airports, a list of employees, and a list of spoken languages. Each employee is assigned a country, and can speak many languages. Each country can have any number of airports. Figure 1 shows the UML class diagram for the application, and Figure 2 shows the database schema. The sample application source code contains the following SQL scripts, which you need in order to create and instantiate the corresponding database:

  • src/sql/create.sql: The SQL script used to create the database.
  • src/sql/init.sql: Test data

Note on Installing Maven 2
At the time of writing, the Maven 2 repository seemed to be missing some jars. To get around this problem, find the missing jars in the root directory of the application source code. To install them in the Maven 2 repository, go to the app directory and execute the following instructions:

$ mvn install:install-file -DgroupId=javax.security -DartifactId=jacc -Dversion=1.0 
-Dpackaging=jar -Dfile=jacc-1.0.jar$ mvn install:install-file -DgroupId=javax.transaction -DartifactId=jta -Dversion=1.0.1B
-Dpackaging=jar -Dfile=jta-1.0.1B.jar
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Figure 2. The Database Schema

Setting Up a Read-Only Cache

To begin with something simple, here’s the Hibernate mapping for the Country class:

    		true     		                                        	   	   	  	   	   	      

Suppose you need to display a list of all countries. You could implement this with a simple method in the CountryDAO class as follows:

public class CountryDAO {	...		public List getCountries() {		return SessionManager.currentSession()					   .createQuery(					      "from Country as c order by c.name")					   .list();	}}

Because this method is likely to be called often, you need to see how it behaves under pressure. So write a simple unit test that simulates five successive calls:

	public void testGetCountries() {		CountryDAO dao = new CountryDAO();		for(int i = 1; i <= 5; i++) {  		    Transaction tx = SessionManager.getSession().beginTransaction();		    TestTimer timer = new TestTimer("testGetCountries");		    List countries = dao.getCountries();		    tx.commit();		    SessionManager.closeSession();		    timer.done();		    assertNotNull(countries);		    assertEquals(countries.size(),229);		}	}

You can run this test from either your preferred IDE or the command line using Maven 2 (the demo application provides the Maven 2 project files). The demo application was tested using a local MySQL database. When you run this test, you should get something like the following:

$mvn test -Dtest=CountryDAOTest...testGetCountries: 521 ms.testGetCountries: 357 ms.testGetCountries: 249 ms.testGetCountries: 257 ms.testGetCountries: 355 ms.[surefire] Running com.wakaleo.articles.caching.dao.CountryDAOTest[surefire] Tests run: 1, Failures: 0, Errors: 0, Time elapsed: 3,504 sec

So each call takes roughly a quarter of a second, which is a bit sluggish by most standards. The list of countries probably doesn't change very often, so this class would be a good candidate for a read-only cache. So add one.

You can activate second-level caching classes in one of the two following ways:

  1. You activate it on a class-by-class basis in the *.hbm.xml file, using the cache attribute:

             		true		            ...			                    

  2. You can store all cache information in the hibernate.cfg.xml file, using the class-cache attribute:

    			...					org.hibernate.cache.EHCacheProvider				...			

Next, you need to configure the cache rules for this class. These rules determine the nitty-gritty details of how the cache will behave. The examples in this demo use EHCache, but remember that each cache implementation is different.

EHCache needs a configuration file (generally called ehcache.xml) at the classpath root. The EHCache configuration file is well documented on the project Web site. Basically, you define rules for each class you want to store, as well as a defaultCache entry for use when you don't explicitly give any rules for a class.

For the first example, you can use the following simple EHCache configuration file:

                    

This file basically sets up a memory-based cache for Countries with at most 300 elements (the country list contains 229 countries). Note that the cache never expires (the 'eternal=true' property).

Now, rerun the tests to see how the cache performs:

$mvn test -Dtest=CompanyDAOTest...testGetCountries: 412 ms.testGetCountries: 98 ms.testGetCountries: 92 ms.testGetCountries: 82 ms.testGetCountries: 93 ms.[surefire] Running com.wakaleo.articles.caching.dao.CountryDAOTest[surefire] Tests run: 1, Failures: 0, Errors: 0, Time elapsed: 2,823 sec

As you would expect, the first query is unchanged since the first time around you have to actually load the data. However, all subsequent queries are several times faster.

Behind the Scenes

Before moving on, it is useful to look at what's going on behind the scenes. One thing you should know is that the Hibernate cache does not store object instances. Instead, it stores objects in their "dehydrated" form (to use Hibernate terminology), that is, as a set of property values. The following is a sample of the contents of the Country cache:

{   30  => [bw,Botswana,30],   214 => [uy,Uruguay,214],   158 => [pa,Panama,158],  31  => [by,Belarus,31]  95  => [in,India,95]  ...}

Notice how each ID is mapped to an array of property values. You may also have noticed that only the primitive properties are stored; there is no sign of the airports property. This is because the airports property is actually an association: a set of references to other persistent objects.

By default, Hibernate does not cache associations. It's up to you to decide which associations should be cached, and which associations should be reloaded whenever the cached object is retrieved from the second-level cache.

Association caching is a very powerful functionality. The next section takes a more detailed look at it.

Working with Cached Associations

Suppose you need to display the list of employees (with employee names, languages spoken, etc.) for a given country. The following is the Hibernate mapping of the Employee class:

    		true                                          	 	 	   	 			    	     	     	       	    		 				            

Suppose you really need to load the languages spoken by an employee every time you use the Employee object. To force Hibernate to automatically load the languages set, you set the lazy attribute to false. (This is just for the sake of this example. In general, deactivating lazy loading is not a good idea. Do it only when absolutely necessary.)You will also need a DAO class to fetch the employees. The following one would do the trick:

public class EmployeeDAO {	public List getEmployeesByCountry(Country country) {		return SessionManager.currentSession()		 .createQuery(		      "from Employee as e where e.country = :country "                + " order by e.surname, e.firstname")		 .setParameter("country",country)		 .list();	}}

Next, write some simple unit tests to see how it performs. As in the previous example, you should see how it performs when called repeatedly:

public class EmployeeDAOTest extends TestCase {	CountryDAO countryDao = new CountryDAO();	EmployeeDAO employeeDao = new EmployeeDAO();	/**	 * Ensure that the Hibernate session is available	 * to avoid the Hibernate initialisation interfering with	 * the benchmarks	 */	protected void setUp() throws Exception {				super.setUp();		SessionManager.getSession();	}	public void testGetNZEmployees() {		TestTimer timer = new TestTimer("testGetNZEmployees");		Transaction tx = SessionManager.getSession().beginTransaction();		Country nz = countryDao.findCountryByCode("nz");		List kiwis = employeeDao.getEmployeesByCountry(nz);		tx.commit();		SessionManager.closeSession();		timer.done();	}	public void testGetAUEmployees() {		TestTimer timer = new TestTimer("testGetAUEmployees");		Transaction tx = SessionManager.getSession().beginTransaction();		Country au = countryDao.findCountryByCode("au");		List aussis = employeeDao.getEmployeesByCountry(au);			tx.commit();		SessionManager.closeSession();		timer.done();	}	public void testRepeatedGetEmployees() {		testGetNZEmployees();		testGetAUEmployees();		testGetNZEmployees();		testGetAUEmployees();	}}

If you run a test using the above configuration, you should get something like the following:

$mvn test -Dtest=EmployeeDAOTest...testGetNZEmployees: 1227 ms.testGetAUEmployees: 883 ms.testGetNZEmployees: 907 ms.testGetAUEmployees: 873 ms.testGetNZEmployees: 987 ms.testGetAUEmployees: 916 ms.[surefire] Running com.wakaleo.articles.caching.dao.EmployeeDAOTest[surefire] Tests run: 3, Failures: 0, Errors: 0, Time elapsed: 3,684 sec

So loading the 50 or so employees assigned to each country takes about a second each time. That's way too slow. This is typical of the N+1 query problem. If you activate the SQL logs, you will see one query on the EMPLOYEE table, followed by literally hundreds of queries on the LANGUAGE table: whenever Hibernate retrieves an employee object from the cache, it reloads all the associated languages.So how can you improve on this? The first thing to do is activate read/write caching on the Employee class as follows:

	        		true		            ...			                    

You should also activate caching on the Language class. Read-only caching should do here:

    		true    		            ...			                    

Then, you will need to configure the cache rules by adding the following entries to the ehcache.xml file:

        

This is fine, but it doesn't solve the N+1 query problem: 50 or so extra queries will still be executed whenever you load an Employee. This is a case where you need to activate caching on the language association in the Employee.hbm.xml mapping file, as follows:

    		true                                        			   				    	          	       	        	    	    					            

In this configuration, you should get near-optimal performance:

$mvn test -Dtest=EmployeeDAOTest...testGetNZEmployees: 1477 ms.testGetAUEmployees: 940 ms.testGetNZEmployees: 65 ms.testGetAUEmployees: 65 ms.testGetNZEmployees: 76 ms.testGetAUEmployees: 52 ms.[surefire] Running com.wakaleo.articles.caching.dao.EmployeeDAOTest[surefire] Tests run: 3, Failures: 0, Errors: 0, Time elapsed: 0,228 sec

Using Query Caches

In certain cases, it is useful to cache the exact results of a query, not just certain objects. For example, the getCountries() method probably should return exactly the same country list each time it is called. So, in addition to caching the Country class, you could also cache the query results themselves.

To do this, you need to set the hibernate.cache.use_query_cache property in the hibernate.cfg.xml file to true, as follows:

    true

Then, you use the setCacheable() method as follows on any query you wish to cache:

public class CountryDAO {    public List getCountries() {        return SessionManager.currentSession()                             .createQuery("from Country as c order by c.name")				     .setCacheable(true)                             .list();    }}

To guarantee the non-staleness of cache results, Hibernate expires the query cache results whenever cached data is modified in the application. However, it cannot anticipate any changes made by other applications directly in the database. So you should not use any second-level caching (or configure a short expiration timeout for class- and collection-cache regions) if your data has to be up-to-date all the time.

Proper Hibernate Caching

Caching is a powerful technique, and Hibernate provides a powerful, flexible, and unobtrusive way of implementing it. Even the default configuration can provide substantial performance improvements in many simple cases. However, like any powerful tool, Hibernate needs some thought and fine-tuning to obtain optimal results, and caching?like any other optimization technique?should be implemented using an incremental, test-driven approach. When done correctly, a small amount of well executed caching can boost your applications to their maximum capacities.

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