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18.7. Enabling session replication in your application

To enable clustering of your web application you must tag it as distributable in the web.xml descriptor. Here's an example:

<?xml version="1.0"?> 
<web-app  xmlns="http://java.sun.com/xml/ns/j2ee"
    <!-- ... -->

You can futher configure session replication using the replication-config element in the jboss-web.xml file. Here is an example:


The replication-trigger element determines what triggers a session replication (i.e. when is a session is considered dirty and in need of replication). It has 4 options:

  • SET : With this policy, the session is considered dirty only when an attribute is set in the session (i.e., HttpSession.setAttribute() is invoked.) If your application always writes changed values back into the session, this option will be most optimal in terms of performance. The downside of SET is that if an object is retrieved from the session and modified without being written back into the session, the session manager will not know the attribute is dirty and the change to that object may not be replicated.

  • SET_AND_GET : With this policy, any attribute that is get or set will be marked as dirty. If an object is retrieved from the session and modified without being written back into the session, the change to that object will be replicated. The downside of SET_AND_GET is that it can have significant performance implications, since even reading immutable objects from the session (e.g., strings, numbers) will mark the read attributes as needing to be replicated.

  • SET_AND_NON_PRIMITIVE_GET : This policy is similar to the SET_AND_GET policy except that get operationsthat return attribute values with primitive types do not mark the attribute as dirty. Primitive system types (i.e., String, Integer, Long, etc.) are immutable, so there is no reason to mark an attribute with such a type as dirty just because it has been read. If a get operation returns a value of a non-primitive type, the session manager has no simple way to know whether the object is mutable, so it assumes it is an marks the attribute as dirty. This setting avoids the downside of SET while reducing the performance impact of SET_AND_GET. It is the default setting.

  • ACCESS : This option causes the session to be marked as dirty whenever it is accessed. Since a the session is accessed during each HTTP request, it will be replicated with each request. The purpose of ACCESS is to ensure session last-access timestamps are kept in sync around the cluster.. Since with the other replication-trigger options the time stamp may not be updated in other clustering nodes because of no replication, the session in other nodes may expire before the active node if the HTTP request does not retrieve or modify any session attributes. When this option is set, the session timestamps will be synchronized throughout the cluster nodes. Note that use of this option can have a significant performance impact, so use it with caution. With the other replication-trigger options, if a session has gone 80% of its expiration interval without being replicated, as a safeguard its timestamp will be replicated no matter what. So, ACCESS is only useful in special circumstances where the above safeguard is considered inadequate.

The replication-granularity element controls the size of the replication units. The supported values are:

  • ATTRIBUTE : Replication is only for the dirty attributes in the session plus some session data, like the last-accessed timestamp. For sessions that carry large amounts of data, this option can increase replication performance. However, attributes will be separately serialized, so if there are any shared references between objects stored in the attributes, those shared references may be broken on remote nodes. For example, say a Person object stored under key “husband” has a reference to an Address, while another Person object stored under key “wife” has a reference to that same Address object. When the “husband” and “wife” attributes are separately deserialized on the remote nodes, each Person object will now have a reference to its own Address object; the Address object will no longer be shared.

  • SESSION : The entire session object is replicated if any attribute is dirty. The entire session is serialized in one unit, so shared object references are maintained on remote nodes. This is the default setting.

  • FIELD : Replication is only for individual changed data fields inside session attribute objects. Shared object references will be preserved across the cluster. Potentially most performant, but requires changes to your application (this will be discussed later).

The replication-field-batch-mode element indicates whether you want all replication messages associated with a request to be batched into one message. Only applicable if replication-granularity is FIELD. Default is true.

If your sessions are generally small, SESSION is the better policy. If your session is larger and some parts are infrequently accessed, ATTRIBUTE replication will be more effective. If your application has very big data objects in session attributes and only fields in those objects are frequently modified, the FIELD policy would be the best. In the next section, we will discuss exactly how the FIELD level replication works.