5.2. Hibernate types

5.2.1. Entities and values

In relation to the persistence service, Java language-level objects are classified 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. Saves and deletions, however, can be cascaded from a parent entity to its children. This is different from the ODMG model of object persistence by reachability and corresponds more closely to how application objects are usually used in large systems. Entities support circular and shared references. They can 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 is 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 cannot be independently versioned. Values have no independent identity, so they cannot be shared by two entities or collections.
Until now, we have been using the term "persistent class" to refer to entities. We will continue to do that. Not all user-defined classes with a persistent state, however, 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, all types (classes) provided by the JDK have value type semantics in Java, while user-defined types can be mapped with entity or value type semantics. This decision is up to the application developer. An entity class in a domain model will normally have shared references to a single instance of that class, while composition or aggregation usually translates to a value type.
We will revisit both concepts throughout this reference guide.
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, <class>, <subclass> and so on are used. For value types we use <property>, <component>etc., that usually have a type attribute. The value of this attribute is the name of a Hibernate mapping type. Hibernate provides a range of mappings for standard JDK value types out of the box. You can write your own mapping types and implement your own custom conversion strategies.
With the exception of collections, all built-in Hibernate types support null semantics.