JPA : Secondary Tables

Applicable to RDBMS

The standard JPA persistence strategy is to persist an object of a class into its own table. In some situations you may wish to map the class to a primary table as well as one or more secondary tables. For example when you have a Java class that could have been split up into 2 separate classes yet, for whatever reason, has been written as a single class, however you have a legacy datastore and you need to map objects of this class into 2 tables. JPA allows persistence of fields of a class into secondary tables.

The process for managing this situation is best demonstrated with an example. Let's suppose we have a class that represents a Printer. The Printer class contains within it various attributes of the toner cartridge. So we have

package com.mydomain.samples.secondarytable;

public class Printer
    long id;
    String make;
    String model;

    String tonerModel;
    int tonerLifetime;

     * Constructor.
     * @param make Make of printer (e.g Hewlett-Packard)
     * @param model Model of Printer (e.g LaserJet 1200L)
     * @param tonerModel Model of toner cartridge
     * @param tonerLifetime lifetime of toner (number of prints)
    public Printer(String make, String model, String tonerModel, int tonerLifetime)
        this.make = make;
        this.model = model;
        this.tonerModel = tonerModel;
        this.tonerLifetime = tonerLifetime;


Now we have a database schema that has 2 tables (PRINTER and PRINTER_TONER) in which to store objects of this class. So we need to tell DataNucleus to perform this mapping. So we define the MetaData for the Printer class like this

<entity class="Printer">
    <table name="PRINTER"/>
    <secondary-table name="PRINTER_TONER">
        <primary-key-join-column name="PRINTER_REFID"/>

        <id name="id">
            <column name="PRINTER_ID"/>
        <basic name="make">
            <column name="MAKE" length="40"/>
        <basic name="model">
            <column name="MODEL" length="100"/>
        <basic name="tonerModel">
            <column name="MODEL" table="PRINTER_TONER"/>
        <basic name="tonerLifetime">
            <column name="LIFETIME" table="PRINTER_TONER"/>

So here we have defined that objects of the Printer class will be stored in the primary table PRINTER. In addition we have defined that some fields are stored in the table PRINTER_TONER.

  • We declare the "secondary-table"(s) that we will be using at the start of the definition.
  • We define tonerModel and tonerLifetime to use columns in the table PRINTER_TONER. This uses the "table" attribute of <column>
  • Whilst defining the secondary table(s) we will be using, we also define the join column to be called "PRINTER_REFID".

This results in the following database tables :-

So we now have our primary and secondary database tables. The primary key of the PRINTER_TONER table serves as a foreign key to the primary class. Whenever we persist a Printer object a row will be inserted into both of these tables.

See also :-