Using multiple EOEditingContexts

The job of an EOEditingContext (EC) in WebObjects is to manage an object graph of EOEnterpriseObjects (EOs). Think of it as a sandbox that your EOs live in. Any changes made to those EOs – attributes changed, relationships created or destroyed, EOs added or deleted – are tracked by the EC and committed to the database by calling its saveChanges() method.

When you create a new WebObjects application you get one EC associated with each Session object. This Session Default Editing Context (SDEC) is obtained by calling defaultEditingContext() on the Session.

The SDEC has one major benefit over the ECs you create yourself: It is automatically locked and unlocked by the frameworks freeing you from this confusing and unwieldily task. For this reason most WebObjects examples/demos/tutorials rely on the SDEC exclusively leaving each user with one global EC for all of their EOs.

Unfortunately, following this example and using only the SDEC in a production application can prove to be highly dangerous.

No one likes a dirty sandbox

I have kids, and a cat, and we live in a cat filled neighbourhood. Cats and kids both really like sandboxes, but for different reasons. I’m sure you can see where this is going. No one likes to play in a dirty sandbox.

The problem with only using the SDEC for your application is this: It is really easy to dirty the sandbox. Because an EC tracks all of the changes made anywhere in its object graph, the potential for unwanted changes getting committed to the database grows with the complexity of your application.

When bad things happen to good object graphs

Let’s say a user lands on an edit page that has a bunch of fields including a WOPopup with an onclick binding that calls some JS to submit the form. They make a change via that popup and then choose to abandon their edit and navigate somewhere else on the site.

Unbeknownst to them, when the form was submitted the EO bound to that WOPopup had it’s values altered and the SDEC faithfully tracked that change. Even though the user didn’t save those changes by calling saveChanges() the SDEC still knows about them and is patiently waiting to commit them when told to.

If the user later chooses to edit another EO, or performs any action that calls saveChanges() on the SDEC that abandoned edit will get committed.

Or, perhaps you have a new object action that creates a new EO and binds it to an edit form. Again, for some reason, the user abandons the form. You now have an empty EO sitting in the SDEC just waiting to get committed at some point in the future. When it occurs, that commit will probably fail, throwing validation errors that will make absolutely no sense to the user, or worse yet it will succeed resulting in unwanted data in your database.


One possible solution to this problem is to tightly manage the contents of your SDEC. This can be done by routinely calling revert() on the SDEC to eliminate unwanted changes. This requires either making your application highly modal or working very hard to trap every possible way the user can abandon any part of the site that could result in EO changes.

Believe me, this can become tired very quickly.

Hrm, any other way?

I thought you’d never ask.

In my opinion, the cleanest way to handle these issues in your application is by using multiple ECs. By creating temporary ECs to wrap any EOs that are being edited, we can eliminate many of the problems mentioned above. If the user chooses to abandon an edit mid stream, the EC (and all of it’s changes) will just disappear when it is garbage collected.

“But you said I’d have to handle icky locking issues.”

You are right, I did. But there is an easy solution. If you use Project Wonder and follow the instructions in this post, then pretty much all of the common cases of EC locking are handled automatically for you.

So it’s as easy as that?

Unfortunately no. There are a few additional things you need to think about.

  • There are peer and nested ECs
  • You cannot relate EOs in different ECs
  • You cannot move uncommitted (new) EOs between ECs

Peer and nested ECs

Usually peer ECs are the same as the SDEC, differing only in the fact that you created them. Because we are using Project Wonder for all of these examples, creating a peer EC is done like this:

EOEditingContext peerEc = ERXEC.newEditingContext();

When saveChanges() is called on peerEc any changes in it’s EOs will be committed to the database.

As their name implies, nested ECs are nested in another EC. They are created like this:

EOEditingContext peerEc = ERXEC.newEditingContext();
EOEditingContext nestedEc = ERXEC.newEditingContext(peerEc);

Unlike the peerEc, calling saveChanges() on the nestedEc does not committed the changes directly to the database. Instead it saves the changes up into it’s parent (peerEC).

Nested ECs are useful if you have a edit step that is dependent on another one. i.e. Creating a new Person EO, and from within that edit form provide the ability to open a new Address form – You wouldn’t want the new Address to be committed to the database until the Person was saved.

You cannot relate EOs in different ECs

As the heading states: YOU CANNOT RELATE EOs IN DIFFERENT ECs. This is going to be the biggest issue you face when working with multiple editing contexts. For instance this code will not work:

EOEditingContext sdec = Session().defaultEditingContext();
EOEditingContext myEc = ERXEC.newEditingContext();
EOQualifier qual = Person.EMAIL.eq("moc.bobnull@bob");
Person myPerson = Person.fetchPerson(sdec, qual);

Address newAddress = Address.newAddress(myEc);
newAddress.editingContext().saveChanges(); //gonna go boom!

To make this work, you are going to need to change the code to something like this:

EOEditingContext sdec = Session().defaultEditingContext();
EOQualifier qual = Person.EMAIL.eq("moc.bobnull@bob");
Person myPerson = Person.fetchPerson(sdec, qual);

EOEditingContext myEc = ERXEC.newEditingContext();
Address newAddress = Address.newAddress(myEc);//* see note
Person localPerson = myPerson.localInstanceIn(myEc);

The myPerson.localInstanceIn(myEc) method is a convenience method in the WOLips Velocity eogeneration templates. It essentially wraps a call to:

EOUtilities.localInstanceOfObject(myEc, myPerson);

You cannot move uncommitted (new) EOs between ECs

The observant of you out there may have noticed that I called localInstance on the Person EO. The EO that we fetched from the DB. Not the new Address EO that we created. The reason I did that is because you cannot move uncommitted EOs between ECs. If you do this:

EOEditingContext ec1 = ERXEC.newEditingContext();
EOEditingContext ec2 = ERXEC.newEditingContext();
Person person = Person.newPerson(ec1);
Person localPerson =
    EOUtilities.localInstanceOfObject(ec, person);

localPerson will be null. And if you replace that EOUtilities call with:

Person localPerson = Person.localInstanceIn(ec2);

The call to localInstanceIn() will throw an Exception.

So, be sure to think about what objects are new and what are pre-existing. Either create your new EOs in the EC that you use to fetch your existing ones, or move your existing ones into the EC you use to create your new ones.

What about nested ECs?

Given a parent EC with a child EC: Saving the parent EC will commit its changes but will not save the changes in its children unless they’ve been saved first. So this code:

EOEditingContext parentEc = ERXEC.newEditingContext();
EOEditingContext childEc = ERXEC.newEditingContext(parentEc);
Person person = Person.newPerson(childEc);

Will not result in a new Person object being saved to the DB. For that to occur, the child EC needs to be saved first:

EOEditingContext parentEc = ERXEC.newEditingContext();
EOEditingContext childEc = ERXEC.newEditingContext(parentEc);
Person person = Person.newPerson(childEc);
childEc.saveChanges(); // move changes into my parent

The same rules that govern EOs in different ECs apply to nested ECs. However with nested ECs, once you’ve saved the child the EO will exist in the parent. You just need to retrieve it:

EOEditingContext parentEc = ERXEC.newEditingContext();
Person person = Person.newPerson(parentEc);

EOEditingContext childEc = ERXEC.newEditingContext(parentEc);
Address address = Address.newAddress(childEc);
childEc.saveChanges(); // move changes into my parent

// Get the address instance in the parent EC.
EOGlobalID gid = childEc.globalIDForObject(address);
address = (Address)parentEc.objectForGlobalID(gid);


The End

If you have stuck with me this long, I thank you. This is a fairly long (and perhaps rambling post) but working with multiple EOEditingContexts in WebObjects is an essential skill.

Project Wonder takes a great deal of pain out of working with multiple ECs (by eliminating most of the locking issues) but for the uninitiated, there are still some head scratchers that can crop up and I hope this post helps to illuminate them.

* Hey were does that newAddress() method come from? Well, I usually have a factory method generated by my eogeneration template that looks something like this:

public static Address newAddress(EOEditingContext ec) {
	return (Address)EOUtilities.createAndInsertInstance(ec,