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Writing dynamic queries with Spring Data JPA

September 3rd, 2019
7 minute read
Hibernate JPA Spring Spring Data

In one of my earlier tutorials, I’ve explored the basics about Spring Data JPA. While that tutorial shows what you have to do in most situations, in some cases you want to have more control over your queries rather than having a fairly static one.

Using examples

One of the possibilities to have more dynamic control over your queries, is by using Example API. We can use this API to construct an example object for further use within our query.

For example, let’s say we have the following entity:

@Table(name = "marvel_character")
public class MarvelCharacter {
    @Column(name = "hero_name")
    private String heroName;
    @Column(name = "first_name")
    private String firstName;
    @Column(name = "last_name")
    private String lastName;

Additionally, we defined a service to optionally send a first- and a last name. When these parameters are null, we shouldn’t filter on those fields. For example:

public List<MarvelCharacter> findByName(String firstName, String lastName) {
    // TODO: Implement

Using simple queries, we could do this by defining three different methods, such as:

Obviously, this doesn’t scale well, as for each new parameter, the amount of queries would double. So, how would we solve this? Using the Example API, we can use the findAll(Example) method that’s available within a JpaRepository.

For example:

MarvelCharacter example = MarvelCharacter
    .firstName(firstName) // firstName from parameter
    .lastName(lastName) // lastName from parameter
return repository.findAll(Example.of(example));

The advantage of this API is that it scales much better, as null values are being ignored. This means that if lastName would be null, it’s being ignored for the query.

Additionally, you can change the way the examples are being matched, by providing an ExampleMatcher parameter. For example, let’s say we want to filter the firstName parameter case insensitively, and filtering first names that contain the given value rather than being an exact match.

In that case, we could write a matcher like this:

ExampleMatcher matcher = ExampleMatcher
    .withMatcher("firstName", contains().ignoreCase());
MarvelCharacter example = MarvelCharacter
    .firstName(firstName) // firstName from parameter
    .lastName(lastName) // lastName from parameter
return repository.findAll(Example.of(example, matcher));

In this example, the contains() method is a static import of ExampleMatcher.GenericPropertyMatchers.contains(), which allows you to write it in a more concise way.

Using specifications

While we can use the Example API in many cases, it’s still limited and can’t be used for all scenarios. Another possibility that allows you to do pretty much anything is by using the Specification API.

The specification API is an abstraction on top of the JPA Criteria API, which means we can do anything you could do with these criteria as well.

If we take the example we used previously, and convert it into specifications, we can write the following specifications:

public static Specification<MarvelCharacter> firstNameContains(String expression) {
    return (root, query, builder) -> builder.like(root.get("firstName"), contains(expression));

public static Specification<MarvelCharacter> lastNameContains(String expression) {
    return (root, query, builder) -> builder.like(root.get("lastName"), contains(expression));

private static String contains(String expression) {
    return MessageFormat.format("%{0}%", expression);

In this case, we have two specifications, being firstNameContains() and lastNameContains(). Since the Specification interface only contains a single method, we can actually write them as a lambda expression.

This interface method passes three arguments which you can use:

  1. The first parameter (root) allows you to select the field you want to filter on. This can be done by using root.get("name") or if you need joining, you can use root.join("myField").get("name").
  2. The second parameter (query) isn’t used that often, but contains information about the type of query that’s being executed. I’ll cover one of its use cases later on in this tutorial.
  3. The last parameter is the CriteriaBuilder, that allows you to define exactly what type of query you want to construct (LIKE, IS NULL, CONTAINS, AND, OR, =, …).

Usually, I put these specifications within a new class, for example MarvelCharacterSpecifications. Since this class will only contain static methods that return a Specification, we can mark this class as final. For example:

public final class MarvelCharacterSpecifications {
    // ...

Additionally, we have to change our repository, so that it extends from JpaSpecificationExecutor. For example:

public interface MarvelCharacterRepository extends JpaRepository<MarvelCharacter, String>, JpaSpecificationExecutor<MarvelCharacter> {

Once that’s done, we’ll implement our service method:

// Create a Specification<MarvelCharacter>
Specification<MarvelCharacter> specification = Specification
    // firstName from parameter
    .where(firstName == null ? null : firstNameContains(firstName))
    // lastName from parameter
    .and(lastName == null ? null : lastNameContains(lastName));
// Call repository.findAll()
List<MarvelCharacter> characters = repository.findAll(specification);

The nice thing with the Specification API is that we can properly chain these specifications using the and() and or() method. Additionally, null values are filtered out, so if we return null in stead of our actual specification, we can properly filter these depending on the input values. This means that if firstName is null, we won’t filter by firstNameContains().

This approach allows you to write more complex specifications as well, for example:

public static Specification<MarvelCharacter> lastNameIn(String... values) {
    return (root, query, builder) -> builder.or(Arrays
        .map(value -> builder.equal(root.get("lastName"), value))

However, I personally recommend to keep the filtering within one specification limited to one specific field. Sometimes, I see people write one big specification that does everything. In my opinion, this decreases readability a lot. and these specifications are usually so tightly coupled, that they aren’t re-usable in other scenarios.

Join fetching with specifications

Now, so far we’ve seen what we could do with specifications, and more precisely the first and the third argument (root and builder). One of the use cases for the second argument, is to change your specification according to what type of query we execute.

For example, if you’ve used custom queries with Spring Data JPA before, you probably know that you can’t use join fetching when you’re using a count query. In those cases, you usually have to provide a separate countQuery that doesn’t do the fetching, for example:

    value = "select mc from MarvelCharacter mc left join fetch mc.team where mc.firstName like ?1",
    countQuery = "select count(mc) from MarvelCharacter where mc.firstName like ?1")
Page<MarvelCharacter> findByFirstNameFetchingTeam(String firstName, Pageable page);

Since Spring Data uses a count query to determine how many total elements there are when retrieving paged data, you have to provide a separate count query.

Within your specifications, you can also use join fetching, which allows you to dynamically fetch fields as well. For example, you could write a specification like this:

public static Specification<MarvelCharacter> fetchTeam() {
    return (root, query, builder) -> {
        return null;

However, just like before, if you would use this specification within a count query, it won’t work.

To solve this, we can use the query argument to detect if we’re executing a count query or not:

public static Specification<MarvelCharacter> fetchTeam() {
    return (root, query, builder) -> {
        if (MarvelCharacter.class.equals(query.getResultType())) {
        return null;

In this case, we’re using query.getResultType() to see if we’re actually fetching MarvelCharacter objects. If we aren’t, we won’t fetch it.

Using subqueries

Another purpose of the query parameter is to create subqueries. For example:

return (root, query, builder) -> {
    SubQuery<MarvelCharacter> subquery = query.subquery(MarvelCharacter.class);
    Root<MarvelCharacter> = subquery.from(MarvelCharacter.class);
    Predicate isTony = builder.equal(subroot.get("firstName"), "Tony");
    Predicate sameId = builder.equal(subroot.get("id"), root.get("id"));
    return builder.exists(subquery.select(subroot).where(isTony, sameId));

The JPQL variant of this query would become:

select mc from MarvelCharacter mc where not(exists(select mc2 from MarvelCharacter mc2 where mc2.firstName = 'Tony' and mc2.id = mc.id));

In this case, it’s pretty useless, as there’s no point in using a subquery here, but for some cases, like verifying that all objects in a one-to-many relationship match certain criteria, subqueries could be very helpful.

With that, we’ve seen how to write more dynamic queries by using the Example and Specification APIs.