5.2. Hibernate Types

5.2.1. Entities and values

To understand the behaviour of various Java language-level objects with respect to the persistence service, we need to classify them into two groups:
An entity exists independently of any other objects holding references to the entity. Contrast this with the usual Java model where an unreferenced object is garbage collected. Entities must be explicitly saved and deleted (except that saves and deletions may be cascaded from a parent entity to its children). This is different from the ODMG model of object persistence by reachablity - and corresponds more closely to how application objects are usually used in large systems. Entities support circular and shared references. They may also be versioned.
An entity's persistent state consists of references to other entities and instances of value types. Values are primitives, collections (not what's inside a collection), components and certain immutable objects. Unlike entities, values (in particular collections and components) are persisted and deleted by reachability. Since value objects (and primitives) are persisted and deleted along with their containing entity they may not be independently versioned. Values have no independent identity, so they cannot be shared by two entities or collections.
Up until now, we've been using the term "persistent class" to refer to entities. We will continue to do that. Strictly speaking, however, not all user-defined classes with persistent state are entities. A component is a user defined class with value semantics. A Java property of type java.lang.String also has value semantics. Given this definition, we can say that all types (classes) provided by the JDK have value type semantics in Java, while user-defined types may be mapped with entity or value type semantics. This decision is up to the application developer. A good hint for an entity class in a domain model are shared references to a single instance of that class, while composition or aggregation usually translates to a value type.
We'll revisit both concepts throughout the documentation.
The challenge is to map the Java type system (and the developers' definition of entities and value types) to the SQL/database type system. The bridge between both systems is provided by Hibernate: for entities we use <class>, <subclass> and so on. For value types we use <property>, <component>, etc, usually with a type attribute. The value of this attribute is the name of a Hibernate mapping type. Hibernate provides many mappings (for standard JDK value types) out of the box. You can write your own mapping types and implement your custom conversion strategies as well, as you'll see later.
All built-in Hibernate types except collections support null semantics.