What Is a Session Bean?
A session bean represents a single client inside the Application Server. To access an application that is deployed on the server, the client invokes the session bean’s methods. The session bean performs work for its client, shielding the client from complexity by executing business tasks inside the server.
As its name suggests, a session bean is similar to an interactive session. A session bean is not shared; it can have only one client, in the same way that an interactive session can have only one user. Like an interactive session, a session bean is not persistent. (That is, its data is not saved to a database.) When the client terminates, its session bean appears to terminate and is no longer associated with the client.
For code samples, see Chapter 22, Session Bean Examples.
State Management Modes
There are two types of session beans: stateful and stateless.
Stateful Session Beans
The state of an object consists of the values of its instance variables. In a stateful session bean, the instance variables represent the state of a unique client-bean session. Because the client interacts (“talks”) with its bean, this state is often called the conversational state.
The state is retained for the duration of the client-bean session. If the client removes the bean or terminates, the session ends and the state disappears. This transient nature of the state is not a problem, however, because when the conversation between the client and the bean ends there is no need to retain the state.
Stateless Session Beans
A stateless session bean does not maintain a conversational state with the client. When a client invokes the methods of a stateless bean, the bean’s instance variables may contain a state specific to that client, but only for the duration of the invocation. When the method is finished, the client-specific state should not be retained. Clients may, however, change the state of instance variables in pooled stateless beans, and this state is held over to the next invocation of the pooled stateless bean. Except during method invocation, all instances of a stateless bean are equivalent, allowing the EJB container to assign an instance to any client. That is, the state of a stateless session bean should apply accross all clients.
Because stateless session beans can support multiple clients, they can offer better scalability for applications that require large numbers of clients. Typically, an application requires fewer stateless session beans than stateful session beans to support the same number of clients.
A stateless session bean can implement a web service, but other types of enterprise beans cannot.
When to Use Session Beans
In general, you should use a session bean if the following circumstances hold:
At any given time, only one client has access to the bean instance.
The state of the bean is not persistent, existing only for a short period (perhaps a few hours).
The bean implements a web service.
The bean’s state represents the interaction between the bean and a specific client.
The bean needs to hold information about the client across method invocations.
The bean mediates between the client and the other components of the application, presenting a simplified view to the client.
Behind the scenes, the bean manages the work flow of several enterprise beans. For an example, see the AccountControllerBean session bean in Chapter 37, The Duke's Bank Application.
The bean’s state has no data for a specific client.
In a single method invocation, the bean performs a generic task for all clients. For example, you might use a stateless session bean to send an email that confirms an online order.