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EclipseLink/Development/Dynamic/Design DynamicClassCreation

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Dynamic Persistence Design: Class Creation

This page describes the design for the creation of dynamic persistent entity classes without having source.

Background

EclipseLink requires a Java class with the following capabilities to be a persistent entity:

  • Ability to be uniquely identified by class: entity.getClass() must be unique (compared using ==) for a ClassDescriptor in a given Project/Session
  • Ability to create dynamic persistent entities using EclipseLink Instantiation policies - during reading, creating, cloning
  • Ability to retrieve values from and store values into dynamic persistent entities using a custom AttributeAccessor
  • Ability to do type conversions to align the value coming from the data store w.r.t the value stored in the entity. It uses the mapping's attribute classification info for this purpose.


EclipseLink requires only minor 'tweaks' to deal with the above requirements and in general treats dynamic persistent entity classes no differently than 'regular' classes.

Design

In order to create a Java class at runtime without Java source code, the use of a custom ClassLoader is required, along with a bytecode manipulation framework (such as ASM or some other library).

Java classloaders form an instance-hierarchy at run-time, with the system (Bootstrap, Extension and System) class loaders strictly controlled by the JVM. Once an application is launched (via an Application loader), a new loader MyCustomClassLoader can be added to the chain.


Custom classloader.gif
The basic implementation pattern is as follows - in the constructor, the new instance of MyCustomClassLoader is added to the runtime instance-hierarchy by calling super with the parent loader.

public class MyCustomClassLoader extends ClassLoader {
 
    public MyCustomClassLoader (ClassLoader parent) {
        super(parent);
    }
 
    @Override
    protected Class<?> findClass(String className) throws ClassNotFoundException {
        if (className_is_registered_for_dynamic_generation) {
            try {
                byte[] bytes = use_framework_to_generate_bytecode();
                return defineClass(className, bytes, 0, bytes.length);
            }
            catch (ClassFormatError cfe) {
                throw new ClassNotFoundException(className, cfe);
            }
        }
        return super.findClass(className);
    }
 
}

The findClass method is overridden so that if some condition is met - say for example the className has been previously registered for dynamice generation - the bytecode for the Class className is generated; otherwise, the call is delegated up the instance-hierarchy to search for the class. The implementation hierarchy is responsible for maintaining a cache of classes, as well as any resources that have been loaded (XML descriptor files, image files, etc). Thus, an instance of MyCustomClassLoader behaves as a 'proper' class loader in all cases, with the additional capability that non-existent classes can be built/found without their corresponding .class files being on the JVM's classpath.

NB: it is important to note that two separate instances of MyCustomClassLoader can generate two classes for className. Even though the bytecode is identical, the classes are distinct. When running under a Java EE™ container (or an OSGi environment), the class loader hierarchy may be much more complicated than the simple chain pictured above; however, the point remains - a custom classloader is required to build classes at runtime; the custom classloader is part of a chain of loaders and each dynamic class is distinct. It is thus incumbent upon the designer to ensure that the correct loader is used throughout the lifecycle of the application.