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19.5. Understanding Collection performance

We've already spent quite some time talking about collections. In this section we will highlight a couple more issues about how collections behave at runtime.

19.5.1. Taxonomy

Hibernate defines three basic kinds of collections:
  • collections of values
  • one to many associations
  • many to many associations
This classification distinguishes the various table and foreign key relationships but does not tell us quite everything we need to know about the relational model. To fully understand the relational structure and performance characteristics, we must also consider the structure of the primary key that is used by Hibernate to update or delete collection rows. This suggests the following classification:
  • indexed collections
  • sets
  • bags
All indexed collections (maps, lists, arrays) have a primary key consisting of the <key> and <index> columns. In this case collection updates are usually extremely efficient - the primary key may be efficiently indexed and a particular row may be efficiently located when Hibernate tries to update or delete it.
Sets have a primary key consisting of <key> and element columns. This may be less efficient for some types of collection element, particularly composite elements or large text or binary fields; the database may not be able to index a complex primary key as efficently. On the other hand, for one to many or many to many associations, particularly in the case of synthetic identifiers, it is likely to be just as efficient. (Side-note: if you want SchemaExport to actually create the primary key of a <set> for you, you must declare all columns as not-null="true".)
<idbag> mappings define a surrogate key, so they are always very efficient to update. In fact, they are the best case.
Bags are the worst case. Since a bag permits duplicate element values and has no index column, no primary key may be defined. Hibernate has no way of distinguishing between duplicate rows. Hibernate resolves this problem by completely removing (in a single DELETE) and recreating the collection whenever it changes. This might be very inefficient.
Note that for a one-to-many association, the "primary key" may not be the physical primary key of the database table - but even in this case, the above classification is still useful. (It still reflects how Hibernate "locates" individual rows of the collection.)