The best way to use entity inheritance with JPA and Hibernate

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Recently, my friend Lukas Eder wrote the following message on Twitter:

Just like in any OOP (Object-Oriented Programming) language, entity inheritance is suitable for varying behavior rather than reusing data structures, for which we could composition. The Domain Model compromising both data (e.g. persisted entities) and behavior (business logic), we can still make use of inheritance for implementing a behavioral software design pattern.

In this article, I’m going to demonstrate how to use JPA inheritance as a means to implement the Strategy design pattern.

Domain Model

Considering we have a notification system that needs to send both email and SMS to customers, we can model the notification relationships as follows:

Notification class diagram

Both the SmsNotification and EmailNotification inherit the base class Notification properties. However, if we use a RDBMS (relational database system), there is no standard way of implementing table inheritance, so we need to emulate this relationship. Usually, there are only two choices:

For this example, we are going to use the JOINED table approach which has the following database entity relationship diagram:

notification table diagram

Bridging the gap

With JPA and Hibernate, mapping the OOP and the RDBMS models is straightforward.

The Notification base class is mapped as follows:

@Table(name = "notification")
    strategy = InheritanceType.JOINED
public class Notification {

    private Long id;

    @Column(name = "first_name")
    private String firstName;

    @Column(name = "last_name")
    private String lastName;

    @Temporal( TemporalType.TIMESTAMP )
    @Column(name = "created_on")
    private Date createdOn;

    //Getters and setters omitted for brevity

The SmsNotification and EmailNotification mappings looks like this:

@Table(name = "sms_notification")
public class SmsNotification 
    extends Notification {

        name = "phone_number", 
        nullable = false
    private String phoneNumber;

    //Getters and setters omitted for brevity
@Table(name = "email_notification")
public class EmailNotification 
    extends Notification {

        name = "email_address", 
        nullable = false
    private String emailAddress;

    //Getters and setters omitted for brevity

Business logic

So far, we only mapped the relationship between the OOP and the RDBMS data structures, but we haven’t covered the actual business logic which is required to send these notifications to our users.

For this purpose, we have the following NotificationSender Service components:

NotificationSender class diagram

The NotificationSender has two methods:

  • appliesTo gives the entity that’s supported by this NotificationSender
  • send encapsulates the actual sending logic

The EmailNotificationSender is implemented as follows:

public class EmailNotificationSender 
    implements NotificationSender<EmailNotification> {

    protected final Logger LOGGER = LoggerFactory.getLogger( 

    public Class<EmailNotification> appliesTo() {
        return EmailNotification.class;

    public void send(EmailNotification notification) { 
            "Send Email to {} {} via address: {}",

Of course, the actual sending logic was stripped away, but this is sufficient to understand how the Strategy pattern works.

However, the user does not have to interact with the NotificationSender directly. They only want to send a campaign, and the system should figure out the subscriber channels each client has opted for.

Therefore, we can use the Facade Pattern to expose a very simple API:

NotificationService class diagram

The NotificationSenderImpl is where all the magic happens:

public class NotificationServiceImpl 
    implements NotificationService {

    private NotificationDAO notificationDAO;

    private List<NotificationSender> notificationSenders;

    private Map<Class<? extends Notification>, NotificationSender> 
        notificationSenderMap = new HashMap<>();

    @SuppressWarnings( "unchecked" )
    public void init() {
        for ( NotificationSender notificationSender : notificationSenders ) {

    @SuppressWarnings( "unchecked" )
    public void sendCampaign(String name, String message) {
        List<Notification> notifications = notificationDAO.findAll();

        for ( Notification notification : notifications ) {
                .get( notification.getClass() )
                .send( notification );

There are several things to note in this implementation:

  • We make use of Spring List auto-wiring feature which I explained in my very first blog post. This way, we can inject any NotificationSender the user has configured in our system, therefore decoupling the NotificationService from the actual NotificationSender implementations our system us currently supporting.
  • The init method builds the notificationSenderMap which takes a Notification class type as the Map key and the associated NotificationSender as the Map value.
  • The sendCampaign method fetches a List of Notification entities from the DAO layer and pushes them to their associated NotificationSender instances.

Because JPA offers polymorphic queries, the findAll DAO method can be implemented as follows:

public List<T> findAll() {
    CriteriaBuilder builder = entityManager
    CriteriaQuery<T> criteria = builder
        .createQuery( entityClass );
    criteria.from( entityClass );

    return entityManager
        .createQuery( criteria )

Writing JPA Criteria API queries is not very easy. The Codota IDE plugin can guide you on how to write such queries, therefore increasing your productivity.

For more details about how you can use Codota to speed up the process of writing Criteria API queries, check out this article.

The system does not have to know which are the actual Notification implementation each client has chosen. The polymorphic query is figured out at runtime by JPA and Hibernate.

Testing time

If we created the following Notification entities in our system:

SmsNotification sms = new SmsNotification();
sms.setPhoneNumber( "012-345-67890" );
sms.setFirstName( "Vlad" );
sms.setLastName( "Mihalcea" );

entityManager.persist( sms );

EmailNotification email = new EmailNotification();
email.setEmailAddress( "" );
email.setFirstName( "Vlad" );
email.setLastName( "Mihalcea" );

entityManager.persist( email );

And now we want to send a campaign:

    "Black Friday", 
    "High-Performance Java Persistence is 40% OFF" 

Hibernate executes the following SQL query:

SELECT AS id1_1_,
    n.created_on AS created_2_1_,
    n.first_name AS first_na3_1_,
    n.last_name AS last_nam4_1_,
    n1_.email_address AS email_ad1_0_,
    n2_.phone_number AS phone_nu1_2_,
    END AS clazz_
    notification n
    email_notification n1_ ON =
    sms_notification n2_ ON =

And the following output is logged:

EmailNotificationSender - Send Email to Vlad Mihalcea via address:

SmsNotificationSender - Send SMS to Vlad Mihalcea via phone number: 012-345-67890

Cool, right?

If you enjoyed this article, I bet you are going to love my Book and Video Courses as well.


Entity Inheritance is a very useful technique, but only when you use it along with a behavioral software design pattern, such as Strategy or Visitor pattern.

If you only need to propagate certain properties from a base class to all subclasses, you don’t need JPA entity inheritance. All you need is the @MappedSuperclass annotation, but that’s not entity inheritance since the object hierarchy is only visible in the OOP domain, not in the relationship model.

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10 Comments on “The best way to use entity inheritance with JPA and Hibernate

  1. Thank you, I was thinking about bodging around with interfaces, your article and especially the autowired list example was very useful, I didn’t even know it just works like that.

  2. Thank you for the useful post!
    I have a question
    The Notification entity is in JPA library COMMON. Subclasses are in separate JPA libs.

    What if a third entity “External” in a third module which has only dependency on COMMON has a field of type “Notification”.
    The Entity “External” must attach a “Notification” entity before persisting otherwise we’ll get a transient entity error.
    But entityManager.getReference(Entity.class, id) does not work on the External module because it tries to find all subclasses of Entity.
    What can we do in situations like this?

    • I’ve never had this requirement, so I don’t know what limitations are for this use case.

  3. Is it possible to make the “Joined” inheritance strategy load the tables in a LAZY way ?, I mean:
    I want using this to only load notification type objects (the parent class) (unless I use Join Fetch with the child tables):
    entityManager.createQuery (“SELECT n FROM notification n”)
    If not possible, what could I do to get Hibernate to create a query where it only fetches the data from the parent table?

    • No, it’s not possible. You can either fetch subclasses or both parent and subclasses.

      • To avoid this problem, is it a good idea to join the classes using @OneToOne annotations instead of using @inheritance to be able to bring information in that way from a database with that type of structure?

      • If you don’t need polymorphic queries, then you could definitely try that.

  4. Hi Vlad, If I need to retrieve notifications by email address using JPA, do I need to create a criteria query?

    Assuming JPA repository

    public interface NotificationDAO extends CrudRepository, JpaSpecificationExecutor  {}
    • Only if you need to build the entity query dynamically, then you should use Criteria API. Otherwise, you could use JPQL or native SQL, which is much more readable.

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