Spring 3 transaction management

In this article I will show you how to handle transaction management with Spring.

Benefits of Spring Transaction Management

  • Very easy to use, does not require any underlying transaction API knowledge
  • Your transaction management code will be independent of the transaction technology
  • Both annotation- and XML-based configuration
  • It does not require to run on a server - no server needed

Great! Let's begin with some basic information you may want to skip if you already know about transactions.


Transactions ensure that the data in your application (in the data source) stays consistent. You should also be familiar with the ACID concept.

Now, in Java you can handle transactions with plain SQL, with plain JDBC (a bit higher level), using Hibernate (or any other ORM library), or on an even higher level - with EJB or, finally, Spring!

EJBs require an application server, but our application presented here - doesn't.

Programmatic vs. Declarative

Spring offers two ways of handling transactions: programmatic and declarative. If you are familiar with EJB transaction handling, this corresponds to bean-managed and container-managed transaction management.

Programmatic means you have transaction management code surrounding your business code. That gives you extreme flexibility, but is difficult to maintain and, well, boilerplate.

Declarative means you separate transaction management from the business code. You only use annotations or XML based configuration.

We say that:
  • programmatic management is more flexible during development time but less flexible during application life
  • declarative management is less flexible during development time but more flexible during application life

In this article...

We will focus on declarative management.

OK, a small description of what we want to achieve and how.

The goals:
  • A desktop application (i.e. it doesn't need a server)
  • Declarative transaction management with minimum XML

The means:
  • A Maven project created in Eclipse and making use of SpringIDE
  • Spring transaction management
  • Java with annotations enabled (I'm going to use Java 6)
  • JPA 2.0

We are going to build on the project I used in my previous post on Spring & JPA 2.0.

Transaction Manager

We must first specify that we want to use annotation driven transaction management.

<tx:annotation-driven transaction-manager="myTransactionManager" />

And, of course, the transaction manager itself:
    <bean id="myTransactionManager" class="org.springframework.orm.jpa.JpaTransactionManager">
        <property name="entityManagerFactory" ref="entityManagerFactory" />

What we are using here is the JpaTransactionManager. There are more managers available:

It references a bean called entityManagerFactory. Here it is:

    <bean id="entityManagerFactory"
        <property name="persistenceUnitName" value="Dogs" />

Annotation based

@Transactional is the annotation you can use on any method of any bean and on the bean itself.

import org.springframework.transaction.annotation.Transactional;
// ...
public void doSomething(...
// ...

If you apply the annotation on the bean (i.e. on the class level), every public method will be transactional.

Note: Remember that it affects only Spring managed data sources (in our example whatever comes from the entity manager factory). If you get your data source outside of Spring, the @Transactional annotation will have no effect.

Where to put @Transactional

You should put this annotation on your business logic methods (service methods), not on DAO methods (unless you know what you're doing) - that's a rule of thumb. Normally a business method will call many DAO methods and those calls make only sense when made together, every single one or none (atomicity).

Transaction Propagation

Whenever a transactional method is called, a decision is made - what to do with the transaction. Create a new one? Use an existing one if it exists, otherwise create a new one? Use an existing one only if it exists, otherwise fail?

To make it possible for you to specify this, propagation behaviors exist.

import org.springframework.transaction.annotation.Propagation;
import org.springframework.transaction.annotation.Transactional;
// ...
@Transactional(propagation = Propagation.REQUIRED)
public void doSomething(...
// ...

See the behaviors:
  • REQUIRED - uses the existing transaction. If it doesn't exist, creates a new one
  • REQUIRES_NEW - must start a new transaction. If there's an existing one, it should be suspended
  • SUPPORTS - if there is a transaction, runs in it. If there isn't, it just runs outside transaction context
  • NOT_SUPPORTED - must not run in a transaction. If there's an existing one, it should be suspended
  • MANDATORY - must run in a transaction. If there isn't one, it throws an exception
  • NEVER - must not run in a transaction. If there's an existing one, an exception will be thrown
  • NESTED - if there is a transaction, it runs withing the nested transaction of it. Otherwise it runs in its own

It is up to you to decide which behavior is best for each method. REQUIRED is the default one.

Note: If you are using the XML setup for transactions, you can also configure these behaviors there instead of Java code.

Transaction Isolation

Concurrent transactions cause problems that might be difficult to investigate.
  • Lost update - two transactions both update a row, the second transaction aborts, both changes are lost
  • Dirty read - reading changes that are not yet committed
  • Unrepeatable read - a transactions read twice the same row, getting different data each time
  • Phantom read - similar to the previous one, except that the number of rows changed

Now, the perfect solution to these problems is maximum isolation, but in reality this would cost too much resources and could lead to deadlocks. So, instead, you will set one of five isolation levels (where the fifth one is actually the maximum isolation level):

  • DEFAULT - uses the default database isolation level
  • READ_UNCOMMITTED - dirty read, unrepeatable read, phantom read problems may occur, but not lost update
  • READ_COMMITTED - unrepeatable read, phantom read problems my occur
  • REPEATABLE_READ - phantom read problems my occur
  • SERIALIZABLE - all problems avoided! But performance is low

The default choice is DEFAULT.


... and roll...back! Transaction Rollback

With Spring transaction management the default behavior for automatic rollback is this: Only unchecked exceptions cause a rollback. Unchecked exceptions are RuntimeExceptions and Errors.

import org.springframework.transaction.annotation.Transactional;
// ...
public void doSomething(...
// ...
Think about it for a second! Are you sure you understand what it does?
  • If the doSomething method terminates its execution naturally, with no exceptions, the transaction is committed
  • If the doSomething method or any other method it calls throws any kind of exception that is caught within doSomething or this other method and not rethrown, the transaction is committed
  • If the doSomething method or any other method it calls throws any kind of checked exception that is not caught or is caught and rethrown, the transaction is committed (so everything up to the moment of the exception being thrown is persisted)
  • If the doSomething method or any other method it calls throws any kind of unchecked exception that is not caught, the transaction is rolled back (so nothing saved in this transaction is persisted)

That's the default behavior. However, you may want to change it for certain cases:
@Transactional(rollbackFor = IOException.class, noRollbackFor = RuntimeException.class)
public void doSomething(...
Here I asked the transaction manager to rollback for IOExceptions and not to rollback for RuntimeExceptions.

Note: If you are using the XML setup for transactions, you can also configure these rules there instead of Java code.

Our sample application

Spring beans file

You've seen it before.
<beans xmlns="http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans"


<tx:annotation-driven transaction-manager="myTransactionManager" />

<bean id="myTransactionManager" class="org.springframework.orm.jpa.JpaTransactionManager">
    <property name="entityManagerFactory" ref="entityManagerFactory" />

<bean id="entityManagerFactory"
    <property name="persistenceUnitName" value="Dogs" />


Using transactions

import org.springframework.transaction.annotation.Transactional;
// ...
public void doSomething(...
// ...

That's all!

What if you...

What if you are using Spring 1.x?

You have to use the classic AOP approach. org.springframework.transaction.interceptor.TransactionProxyFactoryBean might be your starting point.

What if you want to declare transactions in XML and not in the code?

You may want to go for something like this:

    <tx:advice id="dogsTxAdvice" transaction-manager="myTransactionManager">
            <tx:method name="persistDog" />
        <aop:pointcut id="dogsOperation"
            expression="execution(* me.m1key.springtx.beans.DogsBean.*(..))" />
        <aop:advisor advice-ref="dogsTxAdvice" pointcut-ref="dogsOperation" />


That's it! Although the transactions themselves are by no means a trivial topic, Spring makes at least handling them easy.

I got my knowledge mostly from this book:
Spring Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach
It helps me run this website if you buy this book through this link, thanks!

A brief intro to HSQLDB and how to use it in this app (Note that the project in that article is NOT a Maven project, but an Eclipse JPA one, so the project creating part doesn't matter)?

Read on: Remove JpaTemplate in favor of @PersistenceContext.

Download the source code for this article


  1. Just quickly went through it but seems very nice. Conceptual and point-to-point explanations are useful. Thanks for the write-up!

  2. Thanks Tuukka! Hope to see you here more often. :)

  3. Thanks Michal. I found the blog very useful.

  4. Hi one small doubt, in the XML based configuration the point cut says

    execution(* me.m1key.springtx.beans.DogsBean.*(..))

    But this will make all the methods in DogsBean transactional, but what if i want only a particular method transactional like the method "doSomething(..)" what should be the configuration

  5. Naveen, see more examples here:

    You can narrow down the criteria by name.

  6. When using org.springframework.orm.jpa.JpaTransactionManager, in spring 3.0 or earlier, anything other than Isolation.DEFAULT level will not work. It seems this is more JPA 1 & 2 spec problem. See related issues in Spring JIRA ( https://jira.springframework.org/browse/SPR-3812 and https://jira.springframework.org/browse/SPR-5012 )

  7. Found this post very useful.
    Simple and systematically explained.
    Thank You Michal

  8. great post. i wanna share also a spoon-feed tutorial on Spring MVC


    and add step-by-step Hibernate JPA capabilities tutorial to it:


    hope it will help people!

  9. Just what I needs , Spring annotaions rollback exceptions summary , thanks. More! :)

    If I use hibernate , is there a way to catch ALL exceptions , which cause rollback on any error/exception?

    How is this trick:

    public void doSomething() {
    try {
    catch (Exception ) {
    Throw RuntimeExceptions OR Errors

  10. Or.. I saw it here


    @Transactional(rollbackFor = Exception.class)


  11. Hello,thanks for the explanation. I have a question though, how can I enable debugging in the JPA/EntityManager so that I can understand my transaction boundaries. I am using hibernate 3 with spring 3.5 and seeing some strange behaviour inside my service methods.

  12. Hi naga, I think you have to add the correct version of the sources for the implementation of these classes (so the Hibernate ones in your case) and set breakpoints there. Good luck. :)

  13. Great Post. In short but self explained. nice one..