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Unit of Work

Joist's EntityManager acts as a Unit of Work, which allows it to provide several features:

  1. Per-request entity caching
  2. Per-request data consistency
  3. Automatically batching updates
  4. Automatically using transactions
  5. Enforcing hooks and reactive values

Per-Request Entity Caching

Typically with Joist, one EntityManager is created per request, e.g. handling POST /book/new creates one EntityManager to (say) load em.load the new book's Author (from the post data), create a new Book instance, and then save it to the database by calling em.flush().

Once created for a request, the EntityManager instance will cache each row it loads from the database, and not reload it, even if multiple SELECT * FROM books WHERE ... queries bring back "the same row" twice.

const a = await em.find(Author, { id: "a:1" });
const b = await em.find(Author, { id: "a:1" });
const c = await em.load(Author, "a:1"); // no SQL call issued
const d = await; // no SQL call issued
// All print true
console.log(a === b);
console.log(a === c);
console.log(a === d);

This caching avoids reloading the Author from the database if other code loads it (for example validation rules within Book or Author calling will avoid a SELECT call if the author for that id is already in the EntityManager).

This caching also works for references & collections: for example if two places both call a1.books.load(), because Joist has ensured there is only "one a1 instance" for this request, we don't need to issue two SELECT * FROM books WHERE author_id = 1 queries.

Granted, in simple endpoints with no abstractions or complicated business logic, this caching is likely not a big deal; but once a codebase grows and access patterns get complicated (i.e. in GraphQL resolvers or validation rules/business logics), not constantly refetching the same Author id=1 row in the database is a nice win.

Per-Request Data Consistency

An additional upshot of entity caching (which focuses on avoiding reloads) is data consistency.

Specifically, because there is "only one instance" of an entity/row, any changes we've made to the entity are defacto seen by the rest of the endpoint's code.

Without this Unit-of-Work/EntityManager pattern, it's possible for code to have "out of date" versions of an entity.

function updateAuthor(a) {
a.firstName = "bob";

function outputAuthor(id) {
// if this was like Rails ActiveRecord, we get a different view of author
const a = Author.find_by_id(id)
// Now we've output inconsistent/stale data

const a = Author.find_by_id(id)

With Joist, the Author.find_by_id(id) would be em.load(Author, id), which means we'd get back the existing a instance, and so can fundamentally no longer accidentally see old/stale data.

This pattern generally makes reasoning about "what have I changed so far?", "what is the latest version of the entity?" much easier, because when handling a given POST / API update, you don't have to worry about various parts of your code having stale/different versions of the Author.

Automatically Batching Updates

With Joist, each endpoint will generally make a single call to EntityManager.flush to save its changes.

This em.flush call can seem like extra work, but it means Joist can:

  • Apply all validation rules to changed entities at once/in-parallel
  • Issue batch INSERT/UPDATE commands for all changed entities

Automatically Using Transactions

With EntityManager.flush, all INSERTs, UPDATEs, and DELETEs for a single request are automatically applied with a single transaction.

Without this flush pattern, endpoints need to explicitly opt-in to transactions by manually demarking when the transaction starts/stops, i.e. in Rails ActiveRecord:

Account.transaction do!!

And because it is opt-in, most endpoints forget/do not bother doing this.

However, transactions are so fundamental to the pleasantness of Postgres and relational databases, that Joist's assertion is that transactions should always be used by default, and not just opt-in.

Enforcing Hooks and Derived Values

Joist's goal is not to be "just a query builder", but to facilitate building a rich domain model.

Part of a rich domain model is having lifecycle hooks (beforeFlush, afterCreate) and reactive derived values, both of which allow enforcing invariants/business rules on entities other than the primary entity being changed.

For example, adding a Book might recalc the Author.numberOfBooks derived value.

Or adding a Book might schedule a job to index its content in a background job/lambda.

For these use cases, the behavior that happens during em.flush is not "just", or book2.update, but more holistically evaluating the entities that have changed and deciding what, if any, reactive/derived behavior should also update to maintain the system's business invariants.

Note: Not a Shared/Distributed Cache

Note that, because it's intended to be used per-request, the EntityManager is not a shared/second-level cache, i.e. a cache that would be shared across multiple requests to your webapp/API to reduce calls to the relational database.

An EntityManager should only be used by a single request, and so the cache is request scoped.

Granted, shared/second-level caches can be a good idea, but it means you have to worry about cache invalidation and staleness strategies, so for now Joist avoids that complexity.