Chapter 7. Component Mapping

The notion of a component is re-used in several different contexts, for different purposes, throughout NHibernate.

7.1. Dependent objects

A component is a contained object that is persisted as a value type, not an entity. The term "component" refers to the object-oriented notion of composition (not to architecture-level components). For example, you might model a person like this:

public class Person
{
    public string Key { get; set; }

    public DateTime Birthday { get; set; }

    public Name Name { get; set; }

    ......
    ......
}
public class Name
{
    public string First { get; set; }

    public string Last { get; set; }

    public char Initial { get; set; }
}

Now Name may be persisted as a component of Person. Notice that Name defines getter and setter methods for its persistent properties, but doesn't need to declare any interfaces or identifier properties.

Our NHibernate mapping would look like:

<class name="Eg.Person, Eg" table="person">
    <id name="Key" column="pid" type="string">
        <generator class="uuid.hex"/>
    </id>
    <property name="Birthday" type="date"/>
    <component name="Name" class="Eg.Name, Eg"> <!-- class attribute optional -->
        <property name="Initial"/>
        <property name="First"/>
        <property name="Last"/>
    </component>
</class>

The person table would have the columns pid, Birthday, Initial, First and Last.

Like all value types, components do not support shared references. The null value semantics of a component are ad hoc. When reloading the containing object, NHibernate will assume that if all component columns are null, then the entire component is null. This should be okay for most purposes.

The properties of a component may be of any NHibernate type (collections, many-to-one associations, other components, etc). Nested components should not be considered an exotic usage. NHibernate is intended to support a very fine-grained object model.

The <component> element allows a <parent> sub-element that maps a property of the component class as a reference back to the containing entity.

<class name="Eg.Person, Eg" table="person">
    <id name="Key" column="pid" type="string">
        <generator class="uuid.hex"/>
    </id>
    <property name="Birthday" type="date"/>
    <component name="Name" class="Eg.Name, Eg">
        <parent name="NamedPerson"/> <!-- reference back to the Person -->
        <property name="Initial"/>
        <property name="First"/>
        <property name="Last"/>
    </component>
</class>

7.2. Collections of dependent objects

Collections of components are supported (eg. an array of type Name). Declare your component collection by replacing the <element> tag with a <composite-element> tag.

<set name="SomeNames" table="some_names" lazy="true">
    <key column="id"/>
    <composite-element class="Eg.Name, Eg"> <!-- class attribute required -->
        <property name="Initial"/>
        <property name="First"/>
        <property name="Last"/>
    </composite-element>
</set>

Note: if you define an ISet of composite elements, it is very important to implement Equals() and GetHashCode() correctly.

Composite elements may contain components but not collections. If your composite element itself contains components, use the <nested-composite-element> tag. This is a pretty exotic case - a collection of components which themselves have components. By this stage you should be asking yourself if a one-to-many association is more appropriate. Try remodelling the composite element as an entity - but note that even though the object model is the same, the relational model and persistence semantics are still slightly different.

Please note that a composite element mapping doesn't support null-able properties if you're using a <set>. NHibernate has to use each columns value to identify a record when deleting objects (there is no separate primary key column in the composite element table), which is not possible with null values. You have to either use only not-null properties in a composite-element or choose a <list>, <map>, <bag> or <idbag>.

A special case of a composite element is a composite element with a nested <many-to-one> element. A mapping like this allows you to map extra columns of a many-to-many association table to the composite element class. The following is a many-to-many association from Order to Item where PurchaseDate, Price and Quantity are properties of the association:

<class name="Order" .... >
    ....
    <set name="PurchasedItems" table="purchase_items" lazy="true">
        <key column="order_id">
        <composite-element class="Purchase">
            <property name="PurchaseDate"/>
            <property name="Price"/>
            <property name="Quantity"/>
            <many-to-one name="Item" class="Item"/> <!-- class attribute is optional -->
        </composite-element>
    </set>
</class>

Even ternary (or quaternary, etc) associations are possible:

<class name="Order" .... >
    ....
    <set name="PurchasedItems" table="purchase_items" lazy="true">
        <key column="order_id">
        <composite-element class="OrderLine">
            <many-to-one name="PurchaseDetails class="Purchase"/>
            <many-to-one name="Item" class="Item"/>
        </composite-element>
    </set>
</class>

Composite elements may appear in queries using the same syntax as associations to other entities.

7.3. Components as IDictionary indices

The <composite-index> element lets you map a component class as the key of an IDictionary. Make sure you override GetHashCode() and Equals() correctly on the component class.

7.4. Components as composite identifiers

You may use a component as an identifier of an entity class. Your component class must satisfy certain requirements:

  • It must be marked with the Serializable attribute.

  • It must re-implement Equals() and GetHashCode(), consistently with the database's notion of composite key equality.

You can't use an IIdentifierGenerator to generate composite keys. Instead the application must assign its own identifiers.

Since a composite identifier must be assigned to the object before saving it, we can't use unsaved-value of the identifier to distinguish between newly instantiated instances and instances saved in a previous session.

You may instead implement IInterceptor.IsTransient() if you wish to use SaveOrUpdate() or cascading save / update. As an alternative, you may also set the unsaved-value attribute on a <version> (or <timestamp>) element to specify a value that indicates a new transient instance. In this case, the version of the entity is used instead of the (assigned) identifier and you don't have to implement IInterceptor.IsTransient() yourself.

Use the <composite-id> tag (same attributes and elements as <component>) in place of <id> for the declaration of a composite identifier class:

<class name="Foo" table="FOOS">
    <composite-id name="CompId" class="FooCompositeID">
        <key-property name="String"/>
        <key-property name="Short"/>
        <key-property name="Date" column="date_" type="Date"/>
    </composite-id>
    <property name="Name"/>
    ....
</class>

Now, any foreign keys into the table FOOS are also composite. You must declare this in your mappings for other classes. An association to Foo would be declared like this:

<many-to-one name="Foo" class="Foo">
<!-- the "class" attribute is optional, as usual -->
    <column name="foo_string"/>
    <column name="foo_short"/>
    <column name="foo_date"/>
</many-to-one>

This new <column> tag is also used by multi-column custom types. Actually it is an alternative to the column attribute everywhere. A collection with elements of type Foo would use:

<set name="Foos">
    <key column="owner_id"/>
    <many-to-many class="Foo">
        <column name="foo_string"/>
        <column name="foo_short"/>
        <column name="foo_date"/>
    </many-to-many>
</set>

On the other hand, <one-to-many>, as usual, declares no columns.

If Foo itself contains collections, they will also need a composite foreign key.

<class name="Foo">
    ....
    ....
    <set name="Dates" lazy="true">
        <key>   <!-- a collection inherits the composite key type -->
            <column name="foo_string"/>
            <column name="foo_short"/>
            <column name="foo_date"/>
        </key>
        <element column="foo_date" type="Date"/>
    </set>
</class>

7.5. Dynamic components

You may even map a property of type IDictionary:

<dynamic-component name="UserAttributes">
    <property name="Foo" column="FOO"/>
    <property name="Bar" column="BAR"/>
    <many-to-one name="Baz" class="Baz" column="BAZ"/>
</dynamic-component>

The semantics of a <dynamic-component> mapping are identical to <component>. The advantage of this kind of mapping is the ability to determine the actual properties of the component at deployment time, just by editing the mapping document. (Runtime manipulation of the mapping document is also possible, using a DOM parser.)