Hibernate: Implicit & Explicit Polymorphism

As I was going through the various inheritance strategies in Hibernate, I came across the ‘class’ element’s attribute, polymorphism=”implicit|explicit”.

From the Hibernate’s reference manual, this is what I found as definitions for implicit and explicit polymorphism.

Implicit Polymorphism:

Implicit polymorphism means that instances of the class will be returned by a query that names any superclass or implemented interface or the class and that instances of any subclass of the class will be returned by a query that names the class itself. For most purposes the default, polymorphism=”implicit”, is appropriate.

In simple terms, for getting a better idea about Implicit polymorphism, here is a scenario. Consider a program that manipulates lists of several different types of elements. One approach is to define a separate composite class hierarchy for each kind of list. But this approach requires replicating essentially the same code in the definition of each class. To avoid this code replication, we can define a single composite class hierarchy for lists of type Object. Since all Java object types are subtypes of Object, such a list type can be used in place of any specific list type. However, when we extract an element from such a list, we will generally have to cast it to the specific type required by the context in which it is used.

Explicit Polymorphism:

Explicit polymorphism means that class instances will be returned only by queries that explicitly name that class and that queries that name the class will return only instances of subclasses mapped inside this <class> declaration as a <subclass> or <joined-subclass>.

Explicit polymorphism is useful when two different classes are mapped to the same table (this allows a “lightweight” class that contains a subset of the table columns).

Further beyond all the findings and explanations, I was still in need of a clear living example for understand the concept, especially about explicit polymorphism and its usage. Eventually I landed up in a much better place than expected which gave me a right picture of how polymorphism strategies work in Hibernate.

Light weight Class: http://www.hibernate.org/41.html

I hope the article in the above link have given you a better understanding too.

Extreme Power of Implicit Polymorphism:

BTW, I came across a snippet in one such article, which showed me the extreme power of implicit polymorphism in Hibernate. (Please note that all classes have got the polymorphism set to ‘implicit’ by default.)

Here is a code snippet (HQL query) that I came across using which you can retrieve the whole database.

public List all() {

List objects = session.find(“from Object”);


Pretty powerful Huh!


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