[jpa-spec users] [jsr338-experts] support for multitenancy

From: Linda DeMichiel <>
Date: Mon, 26 Mar 2012 16:54:33 -0700

One of the main items on the agenda for the JPA 2.1 release is support
for multitenancy in Java EE 7 cloud environments.

In Java EE 7, an application can be submitted into a cloud environment
for use by multiple tenants in what can be viewed as a basic form of
software as a service (SaaS). The application is customized and
deployed on a per-tenant basis. At runtime, there is a separate
application instance (or set of instances, e.g., in a clustered
environment) per tenant. The instances used by different tenants are
isolated from one another. The resources used by a tenant's
application may also be isolated from one another, or may be shared.
In general, however, it is assumed that a tenant's data is isolated
from that other tenants.

There are three well-known approaches to support for multitenancy at
the database level:

   (1) separate database approach
   (2) shared database / separate schema approach
   (3) shared schema / shared table approach

To get the discussion started, this is a high-level strawman sketch of
how the 3 approaches might be used with JPA in keeping with the Java
EE 7 approach. At the same time, however, we also want to be sure
that what we specify in JPA 2.1 can be extended to encompass a more
general approach to SaaS in the future in which a single application
instance serves multiple tenants and in which multitenancy is managed
by the Java EE environment.

For further information on how Java EE 7 is approaching PaaS/SaaS, you
might find the documents on the project useful,
and the latest draft of the Java EE 7 Platform spec,

Note that the identifier for the tenant will be made available to the
application in JNDI as java:comp/tenantId. The tenantId will be a
string, whose max length should allow it to be portably stored in a
single database column.


(1) Separate database approach

In this approach, each tenant's persistence unit is mapped to a
separate database. This approach provides the greatest isolation
between tenants and does not impose any additional constraints over
the object/relational mapping of the persistence unit or over the
operations that can be performed. In particular, the use of
multiple database schemas or catalogs are supported as are native

In some cloud environments, use of this approach might not be
available, as a tenant might be allocated storage within a database
rather than a separate database.

(2) Shared database / separate schema approach

In this approach, each tenant's data is stored in database tables
that are isolated from those of any other tenant. In databases that
support schemas, this will typically be achieved by allocating a
separate schema per tenant. The database's permissions facility is
used to confine a tenant's access to the designated schema, thus
providing isolation between tenants at the schema level.

Support for this approach is straightforward if the persistence unit
uses only the default schema or catalog (i.e., if it does not specify
schema names or catalogs in the object/relational mapping metadata).
A native query that attempts to access data in a schema other than
that assigned to the tenant by the platform provider will be trapped
by the database authorization mechanisms and will result in an

[While the case where the persistence unit metadata explicitly
specifies one or more schemas could potentially be handled by the
persistence provider by remapping schema names and native queries that
embed schema names, I would not propose that we specify or require
support for this case, although a more sophisticated persistence
provider might choose to support it.]

(3) Shared table approach

In this approach, database tables are shared ("striped") across tenants.

It is the reponsibility of the persistence provider to provide
per-tenant isolation in accessing data. This will typically be done
by mapping and maintaining a tenant ID column in the respective
tables, and augmenting data retrieval and query operations, updates,
and inserts with tenant IDs. The use of native queries would need to
be trapped by the persistence provider and not allowed unless the
persistence provider were able to modify them to provide isolation of
tenant data.

Ideally, the management of the tenant id should be transparent to the
application, although we should revisit this in Java EE 8 as we move
further into support for SaaS.

I believe that the main use case for the shared table approach is in
SaaS environments in which a single application instance is servicing
multiple tenants. This is outside the scope of Java EE 7, so I don't
think that we need to standardize on support for this approach now,
although we should not lose sight of it as we standardize on other


We see two general approaches to determining the multitenancy storage
mapping strategy that should be used for a persistence unit. In some
cases, these approaches might be combined.

Again, note that a cloud platform provider might use a single strategy
for all tenants in allocating database storage. For example, each
tenant might be allocated a separate database, or each tenant might
only be allocated a schema within a database.

(A) The Application Specifies Its Requirements

In this approach, the application specifies its functional
requirements (in terms of need for named, multiple schemas and/or use
of native queries) in the persistence.xml descriptor, and the deployer
and/or cloud platform provider determine the storage strategy that is
used for the tenant. This metadata serves as input to the deployer
for the tenant or as input into the automated provisioning of the
application by the cloud platform provider (if automated provisioning
is supported by the platform instance).

For example, an application might specify that it requires support for
multiple schemas and native queries. In general, such requirements
would mean that a separate database would need to be provisioned for
the tenant. If this is not possible, then unless the platform
provider supported a persistence provider that could perform schema
remapping and/or modification of native queries, the application might
fail to deploy or fail to initialize. On the other hand, if an
application specifies that it uses only the default schema and native
queries, then either the separate database or separate schema approach
could be used.

(B) The Application Specifies the Multitenancy Storage Mapping Strategy

An alternative approach is that the application specifies the required
(or preferred) multitenancy storage mapping strategy in the

For example, a multitenant application that is designed with the
intention that separate databases be used might indicate this in the
persistence.xml as multitenancy = SEPARATE_DATABASE.

An application that is designed with the intention that databases may
be shared by partitioning at the database schema level might indicate
this in the persistence.xml as multitenancy = SHARED_DATABASE. [A
portable application that specifies this strategy should not specify
schema or catalog names, as it might otherwise fail to deploy or fail
to initialize.]

An application that is designed with the intention that tables be
shared might indicate this in the persistence.xml as multitenancy =
SHARED_SCHEMA. An app that uses explicit multitenant mapping metadata
would be expected to specify this.

[Open Issue: Is it useful to specify requirements along the lines of
those used in approach (A) with this approach? If so, is the platform
provider allowed to choose a different mapping strategy as long as
that approach is more isolated? If no functional requirements are
specified as in approach (A) and if a mapping strategy is specified in
the persistence.xml that is provided by the application submitter,
then if this information is not observed, the risk is that the app
will fail. For example, observation of the specified mapping strategy
might be required for the case where explicit multitenant mapping
metadata is supplied for the striped mapping approach.]

With both the approaches (A) and (B), different storage mapping
strategies may be used for different tenants of the same application
if the cloud platform provider supports a range of storage mapping


Applications that are intended to be portable in cloud environments
should not specify schema or catalog names.


When an application instance is deployed for a tenant, the container
needs to make the tenant identifier and tenant-related configuration
information available to the persistence provider. The container
needs to pass to the persistence provider a data source that is
configured with appropriate credentials for the tenant, and which will
provide isolation between that tenant and other tenants of the
application. We should probably also define an interface to capture
the tenant identifier and tenant-related metadata and configuration
information that the container needs to pass to the persistence
provider, e.g., a TenantContext.


1. Additional metadata to support schema generation.

2. Do we need metadata to indicate whether an application supports
    multitenant use -- i.e., whether it is "multitenant enabled"?
    Do we need this information specifically for JPA?

3. Specification of resources that are shared across tenants--e.g.,
    a persistence unit for reference data that can be accessed by
    multiple tenants.