Six weeks ago, when I started my experiments with NHibernate's 3.2 new mapping feature - mapping-by-code, I was a loyal Fluent NHibernate user and a fan of method chains in APIs. My first impression about mapping-by-code was that it seems to be a good direction, but it's still immature and - what's important - not documented at all. I decided to have a deeper look and it turned into almost twenty parts series exploring all the possible mappings - probably the only complete guide to mapping-by-code on the web so far. Time to sum the series up.
Let's start with what mapping-by-code is. It is an XML-less mapping solution being an integral part of NHibernate since 3.2, based on ConfORM library. Its API tries to conform to XML naming and structure. There's a strong convention in how the mapping methods are built. Its names are almost always equal to XML elements names. The first parameter points to the mapped property, second is for its options corresponding XML attributes (and XML <key> element, if applicable) and the rest of parameters, if any, corresponds to nested XML elements. It's very convenient for those familiar with XML schema or for documentation readers.
Mapping-by-code also came with very powerful mapping by convention tool - ConventionModelMapper. It is highly flexible and customizable, but customizing it may not even be needed, as by default it is able to figure out mappings even for components or maps. The only thing it can't map automatically are bidirectional relationships - but it was pretty easy to fix this using conventions (I've updated my conventions since first published - it now supports all kinds of collections, inheritance and more - feel free to use it).
Here is the full table of contents of my mapping-by-code series.
- First impressions
- Naming convention resembling Fluent
- dynamic component
- Set and Bag
- OneToMany and other collection-based relation types
- List, Array, IdBag
- Id, NaturalId
- composite identifiers
- entity-level mappings
And what about Fluent NHibernate? Hiding the XML was a great idea, but simplifying the mappings went too far, in my opinion. I've already mentioned the mess caused by concept name changes made in Fluent NHibernate (1) (2) - I wouldn't repeat it again. Moreover, XML mapping is a tree structure and it just doesn't fit into single method chains. Fluent NHibernate's API bypasses this limitations by prefixing method names (like KeyColumn) or by falling back to the interface that uses Action<T> (i.e. in Join or Component mapping), quite similiar to mapping-by-code API. Method chaining also makes it hard to reuse the same concepts in different contexts. It's lot easier in mapping-by-code way - i.e. Column mapping is the same in every mapped feature and it is handled by exactly the same code.
Don't get me wrong. I think FNH was a good and useful project. But I've used it as the only existing alternative to cumbersome and verbose XML mapping. And now, when we have an alternative that is integrated into NHibernate (no external dependency and versioning issues), more efficient (no XML serialization) and with better API (no ambiguity, NH naming kept), the purpose of FNH's existence is highly reduced.