A beginner’s guide to JPA persistence.xml file

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In this article, I’m going to explain what is the purpose of the JPA persistence.xml configuration file, and how you can set up a Java Persistence application using the available XML tags or attributes.

While Spring applications can bootstrap without needing an XML JPA configuration file, it’s still important to understand the meaning of each configuration option since Spring also offers an alternative way when building a Java Persistence LocalContainerEntityManagerFactoryBean or the Hibernate-specific LocalSessionFactoryBean.

Persistence Unit

The persistence.xml configuration file is used to configure a given JPA Persistence Unit. The Persistence Unit defines all the metadata required to bootstrap an EntityManagerFactory, like entity mappings, data source, and transaction settings, as well as JPA provider configuration properties.

The goal of the EntityManagerFactory is used to create EntityManager objects we can for entity state transitions.

So, the persistence.xml configuration file defines all the metadata we need in order to bootstrap a JPA EntityManagerFactory.

JPA persistence XML file location

Traditionally, the persistence.xml is located in a META-INF folder that needs to reside in the root of the Java classpath. If you’re using Maven, you can store it in the resources folder, like this:


JPA persistence XML file structure

The persistence.xml configuration file is structured as follows:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<persistence version="2.2"


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The persistence tag is the root XML element, and it defines the JPA version and the XML schema used to validate the persistence.xml configuration file.


The persistence-unit element defines the name of the associated JPA Persistence Unit, which you can later use to reference it when using the @PersistenceUnit JPA annotation to inject the associated EntityManagerFactory instance:

@PersistenceUnit(name = "HypersistenceOptimizer")
private EntityManagerFactory entityManagerFactory;

The transaction-type attribute defines the JPA transaction strategy, and it can take one of the following two values:

  • JTA

Traditionally, Java EE applications used JTA by default, which requires having a JTA transaction manager that uses the 2PC (Two-Phase Commit) protocol to apply changes atomically to multiple sources of data (e.g., database systems, JMS queues, Caches).

If you want to propagate changes to a single data source, then you don’t need JTA, so the RESOURCE_LOCAL transaction type is a much more efficient alternative. For instance, by default, Spring applications use RESOURCE_LOCAL transactions, and to use JTA, you need to explicitly choose the JtaTransactionManager Spring bean.


The description element allows you to provide more details about the goals of the current Persistence Unit.


The provider XML element defines the fully-qualified class name implementing the JPA PersistenceProvider interface.

If you are using Hibernate 4.3 or newer versions, then you need to use the org.hibernate.jpa.HibernatePersistenceProvider class name.

If you are using Hibernate 4.2 or older versions, then you need to use the org.hibernate.ejb.HibernatePersistence class name instead.

jta-data-source and non-jta-data-source

It’s very unusual that the JPA spec defines two different XML tags to provide the JNDI DataSource name. There should have been a single data-source attribute for that since the transaction-type already specifies whether JTA is used or not.

No, if you’re using JTA, you can use the jta-data-source to specify the JNDI name for the associated JTA DataSource, while for RESOURCE_LOCAL, you need to use the non-jta-data-source.

If you’re using Hibernate, you can also use the hibernate.connection.datasource configuration property to specify the JDBC DataSource to be used.


The properties element allows you to define JPA or JPA provider-specific properties to configure:

Entity mapping settings

By default, Hibernate is capable of finding the JPA entity classes based on the presence of the @Entity annotation, so you don’t need to declare the entity classes.


However, if you want to explicitly set the entity classes to be be used, and exclude any other entity classes found on the current Java classpath, then you need to set the exclude-unlisted-classes element to the value of true:



After setting the exclude-unlisted-classes XML element above, you need to specify the list of entity classes registered by the current Persistence Unit via the class XML element:


The vast majority of JPA and Hibernate applications use annotations to build the object-relational mapping metadata. However, even if you are using annotations, you can still use XML mappings to override the static annotation metadata with the one provided via an orm.xml configuration file.

For instance, you can use the SEQUENCE identifier generator by default using the @SequenceGenerator annotation and substitute that with IDENTITY for MySQL, which does not support database sequences.

For more details about this topic, check out this article.


By default, the orm.xml configuration file is located in the META-INF folder. If you want to use a different file location, you can use the mapping-file XML element in the persistence.xml file, like this:


For more details about using external orm.xml files to provide JPA mappings in XML format, check out this article.


Bu default, the JPA provider is going to scan the current Java classpath to load entity classes or XML mappings. If you want to provide one or more JAR files to be scanned, you can use the jar-file element, like this:



The shared-cache-mode element allows you to define the SharedCacheMode strategy for storing entities in the second-level cache, and it can take one of the following values:

  • ALL – stores all entities in the second-level cache,
  • NONE – entities are not stored in the second-level cache,
  • ENABLE_SELECTIVE – no entity is cached by default, except for the ones marked with the @Cacheable(true) annotation, which are going to be cached
  • DISABLE_SELECTIVE – all entities are cached by default, except for the ones marked with the @Cacheable(false) annotation
  • UNSPECIFIED – uses the JPA provider default caching strategy. This is also the default value that’s used when the shared-cache-mode element is not set.

You can also override the shared-cache-mode strategy programmatically using the javax.persistence.cache.storeMode property, like this:

EntityManagerFactory entityManagerFactory = Persistence


The validation-mode XML element specifies the ValidationMode strategy, which instructs the JPA provider whether it should check the entities Bean Validation at runtime.

The validation-mode element can take the following values:

  • AUTO – If a Bean Validation provider is found in the current Java classpath, it will be registered automatically, and all entities are going to be validated. If no Bean Validation provider is found, entities are not validated. This is the default value.
  • CALLBACK – Entities must always be validated by a Bean Validation provider. If the JPA provider does no found a Bean Validation implementation on the classpath, the bootstrap process will fail.
  • NONE – Entities are not validated even if a Bean Validation provider is found on the classpath.

You can also override the validation-mode strategy programmatically using the javax.persistence.validation.mode property, like this:

EntityManagerFactory entityManagerFactory = Persistence

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The Java Persistence XML configuration file allows you to define a Persistence Unit configuration that you can later bootstrap using Java EE or Spring.

Knowing all the persistence.xml file configuration options is very important as it allows you to address a great variety of mapping requirements.

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