Monday, May 31, 2010

Relationship Advice : Grails One-To-Many

If you are here investigating bigamy.... you have come to the wrong place.... We are actually going to have a quick once over on One-To-Many relationships in Grails and GORM (Let's abbreviate to OTM for the sake of my fingers). Here's what we'll cover:

  • Starting a Relationship
  • Living and Working With Your Relationship
  • Finding out more about your Relationship (or querying :) )
  • What if you don't belongTo someone?

Starting a Relationship :

First of all, what is an OTM? Let's let the code do the talking:

class Parent{
static hasMany = [children:Child]
String name

class Child {
static belongsTo = [parent:Parent]
String name

Here is a very simple domain model that will serve as a nice concise example. We have a Parent domain that can 'haveMany' children... in turn these children belongTo a specific parent. This is quite a 'tightly coupled' OTM. There can be a few nuances that catch people out here, which of course we will cover... (we will take a brief look at the "loosely coupled" OTM too).

The definition of the hasMany in the Parent class is actually a Map, and it should read like [collectionName:TypeContainedInCollection], so the parent has a collection with the name 'children', that will contain instances of the Child domain class.

Similarly in the Child class, the 'belongsTo' property is also a Map, [instanceOfOwningClass:typeOfOwningClass]. The 'belongsTo' property forms what I referred to earlier as a 'tightly coupled' OTM. This basically entails that the children instances are 'owned' by their 'parent', this in turn has some interesting side effects that we will cover now.

Living and Working With Your Relationship :

OK let's create a parent with some children :

def parent = new Parent(name:'Dad')

//add a new child instance
parent.addToChildren(new Child(name:'son'))

//add another child instance using a map

//save the parent,failOnError:true)

To add a Child to a Parent we use the 'addTo' method that is provided by Grails, it is basically addTo+Name of Association. When we use these methods, GORM will wire up our domain classes and because children have a 'belongsTo' property set, calling save() on the parent will also validate and save the children... sweetness :)

OK now... what if we need to remove some children from our relationship.... easy....

//retrieve our parent
def parent = Parent.findByName('Dad')

//retrieve the child instance
def child = Child.findByName('son')

//remove the child

Oh.... wait.... NOT EASY!!! If we run the above code we get the following Exception:

"not-null property references a null or transient value: Child.parent"

Yeeeeeeeeesh.... not pretty... The knee jerk reaction here might to add a nullable constraint for the parent property in the Child class... but this would be wrong. The relationship we defined has a 'belongsTo' so in this case, if we remove a child.... we simply want it to be deleted automatically at the same time. To achieve this, our Parent domain must look like:

class Parent{
static hasMany = [children:Child]
String name

static mapping = {
children cascade: "all-delete-orphan"

Now if we re-run the previous code, the child instance will be removed from our relationship and also deleted!

Finding out more about your Relationship :

If we have a Parent instance, it is rather easy to query for our children.... we simply access them as a property:

def parent = Parent.findByName(name:'Dad', [lazy:[children:false]])
parent.children.each{//do something}

However, things are not so clear cut when coming from the other direction. Suppose we have the name of a child and we want to find all the parents that have children with that name, so basically querying the relationship from the many side:

def name = 'son'

//create criteria so we can perform a criteria query
def c = Parent.createCriteria()

//perform a listDistinct as querying relationships can result in duplications
def parents = c.listDistinct{
createAlias("children", "c")
eq("", name)

Thanks to Robert Fletcher for blogging on this (link to follow)....

What if you don't belongTo someone? :

In brief, if you define an OTM without declaring a 'belongsTo' property as we have, you're Child instances can exist on their own, without the need of being attached to a parent. One side effect of this is that the cascading save behaviour we saw before does not apply here... you will need to call save() on each domain separately.

So there we have it.... defining, creating and querying a One-To-Many relationship in Grails... I hope this has been helpful to anyone that comes across it! Happy trails!

Resources :

Constraining across relationships:


  1. what if you have two parents or a grandParent? how do you define belongsto for multiple owners?

  2. Sorry for the delay, I am unsure how to define a belongsTo for multiple parent, might be one for the user list. I know you can do, belongsTo = [MyFirstClass,MySecondClass] but I am not sure how to define it so you can have an instance as in belongsTo = [myInstance:MyClass]...

    Try the user list :)

  3. Excellent article i am sure that i will come back here soon!

  4. How can I capture all the validation errors occurring in the child when I call so that I can display all the errors at once on the screen.
    e.g nameMapList.each{nameMap ->

    so now, if we loop 10 times, I need to have all the 10 errors so that I can display them on the screen at once?

  5. Hey,

    I always thought that retrieving errors on the parent would display all those in the children that were preventing the save.

    Can you confirm in test code that this is not the case??


  6. I want to show list of all children(with all of their propertis)-short children 'list' view related to parent.How i can do this?

  7. Thanks a lot, the steps are easy to understand and implement.

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