The Design of JDBC (Java Database Connectivity)

From the start, the developers of the Java technology were aware of the po­tential that Java showed for working with databases. In 1995, they began work on extending the standard Java library to deal with SQL access to databases. What they first hoped to do was to extend Java so that a program could talk to any random database using only “pure” Java. It didn’t take them long to realize that this is an impossible task: There are simply too many databases out there, using too many protocols. Moreover, although database vendors were all in favor of Java providing a standard network protocol for database access, they were only in favor of it if Java used their network protocol.

What all the database vendors and tool vendors did agree on was that it would be useful for Java to provide a pure Java API for SQL access along with a driver manager to allow third-party drivers to connect to specific databases. Database vendors could provide their own drivers to plug into the driver manager. There would then be a simple mechanism for registering third-party drivers with the driver manager.

This organization follows the very successful model of Microsoft’s ODBC which provided a C programming language interface for database access. Both JDBC and ODBC are based on the same idea: Programs written according to the API talk to the driver manager, which, in turn, uses a driver to talk to the actual database.

This means the JDBC API is all that most programmers will ever have to deal with.

1. JDBC Driver Types

The JDBC specification classifies drivers into the following types:

  • A type 1 driver translates JDBC to ODBC and relies on an ODBC driver to communicate with the database. Early versions of Java included one such driver, the JDBC/ODBC bridge. However, the bridge requires deployment and proper configuration of an ODBC driver. When JDBC was first re­leased, the bridge was handy for testing, but it was never intended for production use. At this point, many better drivers are available, and the JDK no longer provides the JDBC/ODBC bridge.
  • A type 2 driver is written partly in Java and partly in native code; it com­municates with the client API of a database. To use such a driver, you must install some platform-specific code onto the client in addition to a Java library.
  • A type 3 driver is a pure Java client library that uses a database-independent protocol to communicate database requests to a server component, which then translates the requests into a database-specific protocol. This simplifies deployment because the platform-specific code is located only on the server.
  • A type 4 driver is a pure Java library that translates JDBC requests directly to a database-specific protocol.

Most database vendors supply either a type 3 or type 4 driver with their database. Furthermore, a number of third-party companies specialize in pro­ducing drivers with better standards conformance, support for more platforms, better performance, or, in some cases, simply better reliability than the drivers provided by the database vendors.

In summary, the ultimate goal of JDBC is to make possible the following:

  • Programmers can write applications in the Java programming language to access any database using standard SQL statements (or even specialized extensions of SQL) while still following Java language conventions.
  • Database vendors and database tool vendors can supply the low-level drivers. Thus, they can optimize their drivers for their specific products.

2. Typical Uses of JDBC

The traditional client/server model has a rich GUI on the client and a database on the server (see Figure 5.1). In this model, a JDBC driver is deployed on the client.

However, nowadays it is far more common to have a three-tier model where the client application does not make database calls. Instead, it calls on a middleware layer on the server that in turn makes the database queries. The three-tier model has a couple of advantages. It separates visual presentation (on the client) from the business logic (in the middle tier) and the raw data (in the database). Therefore, it becomes possible to access the same data and the same business rules from multiple clients, such as a Java desktop application, a web browser, or a mobile app.

Communication between the client and the middle tier typically occurs through HTTP. JDBC manages the communication between the middle tier and the back-end database. Figure 5.2 shows the basic architecture.

Source: Horstmann Cay S. (2019), Core Java. Volume II – Advanced Features, Pearson; 11th edition.

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