Glassfish mysteries #2: distributed transactions

Here are all posts of this serie on Glassfish.

This second post about Glassfish mysteries will be about transaction management. There is indeed some strange behaviour when usage scenarios differ from traditional Web-EJB-JPA examples.

Transaction is not rolled back

Depending on the way you package your enterprise application, the annotation @ApplicationException(rollback=true) will not be considered. This can be a very serious bug. A detailed explanation about the packaging scenario that fails can be found in the reference at the end of this post. As a workaround, the transaction can be declared in the ejb-jar.xml in which case it will be processed correctly. Lesson learned: always double check the xml generated by Glassfish during deployment (in domains/domain/generated) to verify if is matches the intended behaviour.

UserTransaction must be a singleton

Glassfish supports client-side transaction demarcation. This is part of the “gray” zone of the J2EE specification in the sense that it is not mandatory but most containers support it. The object that is used by the client to control the transaction boundaries is the UserTransaction. The UserTransaction exposes the method begin(), commit() and rollback(). A transaction is implicitly bound to the current thread. The client can not perform multi-threaded transactions, neither suspend/resume the current one.
The JTA specifications are not particularly clear regarding the thread-safety of the UserTransaction object: can the same UserTransaction be used by several threads, or should each to possess its own UserTransaction? In the case of Glassfish, the answer is even more radical: there should be one and only one UserTransaction object used per client JVM. In other words, the UserTransaction must be managed like a singleton. If you have several instances of UserTransaction then you application will apparently work, but the ACID properties of the transactions are not enforced. This means (1) concurrent clients may read uncommitted read (2) rollback will not work properly. You find at the end of this post a reference to this bug I reported on There is test case attached to the post.

TopLink hangs with client-side transactions demarcations

As I wrote in the previous section, client-side distributed transactions are part of the “gray” zone of the J2EE specification. Glassfish’s transaction manager does support client-side transaction demarcation, but unfortunately TopLink doesn’t. As a consequence, when the client attempts to commit the transaction, the system hangs. This can probably be explained by the fact that TopLink has been developed by Oracle, and the OC4J doesn’t support client-side transaction demarcation at all.  Switching to Hibernate 3 (which is very easy) solves the problem.

Allow non-component callers

We had a very complex scenario in our system and the distributed transaction contained several XA participants including database, JMS, and custom JCA connector. The transaction was started from the client-side. We were experiencing lots of stability issue, with some transaction failing randomly with low-level error messages such as “can not delist participant”, “got -1 from a read call”, etc. We noticed then that enabling the option “allow non-component callers” in the datasource configuration has a significant positive impact. Given that the definition of this option is extremely obscure (see reference at the end), I don’t know when this options should be enabled or not. Maybe it is related to the usage of Hibernate 3 also. However, it seems like that in complex transaction scenario, it definitively helps.


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