Monday, June 15, 2009

Retrying transactions in Java

When building a web-based system, the most often encountered persistence solution is the use of a relational DBMS. This provides many benefits, but probably the most important one is that its behavior and usage are widely understood after so many decades of use. The simplicity of the ACID transactional model, coupled with the nice fit of the HTTP request/response protocol, make for a killer combination.

The simplicity starts to break down however, when the load on the DBMS server increases, causing transactions to start failing. The DBMS can guarantee that no data corruption will occur, but handling such cases is not that simple. The scalable Optimistic Locking model requires transactions to be resubmitted when failure occurs. Since this is supposed to be rather rare (otherwise optimistic locking should probably not be used), developers often cheat by not dealing with such errors, letting them bubble up to the user, who is then responsible for resubmitting the transaction. This leads to simple, elegant codebases and unhappy users.

Adding ORM to the mix only makes things worse. In JavaEE, the JPA API hides much of the complexity of dealing with relational databases, but corner cases become harder. Add the container-managed transaction boundaries provided by session EJBs and one might be tempted to raise his hands up in despair.

However a solution is not as hard as it sounds. Provided that session EJB methods are sufficiently free from side effects, one can replay a transaction for a number of times from the call site (external to the session bean) with a small amount of code and a small added complexity to the call sites. Since I seem to come up against this requirement quite often, I thought I should describe one way to do it. The following tryExecute() helper method, retries any action supplied in a standard Callable interface for a number of times, in the face of optimistic locking violations:

public T tryExecute(Callable<T> command) throws Exception {
T returnValue = null;
for (int i = 0; i < TRANSACTION_RETRIES; i++) {
try {
returnValue =;
} catch(EJBTransactionRolledbackException trbe) {
throw trbe;
} catch (Exception e) {
throw e;
logger.debug("Transaction retry: " + (i+1));
return returnValue;

By abstracting away the session bean method code in a parameterized class we can reuse this method in every place that needs to retry transactions. Using a Callable as a parameter lets us return any values received from the session bean. For supplying bean methods that do not return values, we could create Runnable instances and wrap them to Callable using Executors.callable(). You can see the original code here.

If you use the above code in a JavaSE environment without EJB, you should probably need to catch OptimisticLockException for JPA, or even StaleObjectStateException, if you don't mind depending on a Hibernate API. I use the above helper method like this in my code:

file = new TransactionHelper<FileHeaderDTO>().tryExecute(new Callable<FileHeaderDTO>() {
public FileHeaderDTO call() throws Exception {
return sessionBean.createFile(user.getId(), folder.getId(), name, mimeType, uploadedFile);

Java's verbosity makes this not that easy to understand at first sight, but what happens is very simple indeed: I wrap a one-liner call to the session bean method createFile(), in a Callable and supply it to tryExecute(). The result from the bean method is received in a local variable as usual. One thing to keep in mind though is that since Java doesn't have closures, the above anonymous function can only receive final variables as parameters. In my example user, folder, name, mimeType and uploadedFile are all final. You might have to resort to using temporary local variables for storing final values on some occasions.


chstath said...

The EJBTransactionRolledbackException is thrown whenever "the transaction associated with processing of the request has been rolled back, or marked to roll back. Thus the requested operation either could not be performed or was not performed because further computation on behalf of the transaction would be fruitless" as the javadoc says. You might have to check the cause of the EJBTransactionRolledbackException before retrying because it is not certain that it will always be an optimistic lock exception.

past said...

Yeah, I checked for OptimisticLockException originally, but for reasons yet to be explained this didn't work reliably for my setup. I'll update the original code if/when I can further limit the transaction rollback causes in a reliable way.

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