Relations

Entity relations are declared using wrapper types. Learn how to form to-one and to-many relations here.

Objects may reference other objects, for example using a simple reference or a list of objects. In database terms, we call those references relations. The object defining the relation we call the source object, the referenced object we call target object. So the relation has a direction.

If there is one target object, we call the relation to-one. And if there can be multiple target objects, we call it to-many. Relations are lazily initialized: the actual target objects are fetched from the database when they are first accessed. Once the target objects are fetched, they are cached for further accesses.

To-One Relations

To-One Relation

You define a to-one relation using the ToOne class, a smart proxy to the target object. It gets and caches the target object transparently.

For example, an order is typically made by one customer. Thus, we could model the Order class to have a to-one relation to the Customer like this:

class Customer: Entity {
var id: Id = 0
// ...
}
class Order: Entity {
var id: Id = 0
var customer: ToOne<Customer> = nil
// ...
}

Given these entities and their to-one relation, you can create a relation and persist it:

let store = ...
// Illustrate that initially, nothing did exist
assert(try store.box(for: Customer.self).isEmpty())
assert(try store.box(for: Order.self).isEmpty())
let customer = Customer()
let order = Order()
order.customer.target = customer
let orderId = try store.box(for: Order.self).put(order) // puts order and customer
// Verify the `put` was called for the relation target as well
assert(try store.box(for: Customer.self).count() == 1)
assert(try store.box(for: Order.self).count() == 1)

You can persist whole trees of object relations at once: If the customer object does not yet exist in the database, the ToOne will put() it. If it already exists, the ToOne will only create the relation (but not put() it).

For a comprehensive documentation of its features, visit the ToOne API docs.

Removing Relations

You have to set the target of a relation to nil and persist the changed object(s) via Box.put()to remove a relation permanently. Which one you reset doesn't matter, though. You have these options:

anOrder.customer.target = nil
// ... or ...
anOrder.customer.targetId = nil
// ... are both equivalent to:
anOrder.customer = nil
// ... whis is a short version of:
anOrder.customer = ToOne<Customer>(target: nil)

Removing a relation never removes participating objects.

ToOne is a Lazy Relation Proxy

The target object of a relation is not eagerly loaded from the store; it is loaded lazily. Until you request the ToOne.target, it will not be read into main memory.

To-Many Relations

To define a to-many relation, you can use a property of type ToMany. Like the ToOne class, the ToMany class helps you to keep track of changes and to apply them to the database.

Note that to-many relations are resolved lazily on first access, and then cached in the source entity inside the ToMany object. So subsequent calls to any method, like the count of the ToMany, do not query the database, even if the relation was changed elsewhere. To avoid the cache and trigger a fresh reload from the database, call reset() on the ToMany.

There is a slight difference if you require a one-to-many (1:N) or many-to-many (N:M) relation. A 1:N relation is like the example above where a customer can have multiple orders, but an order is only associated with a single customer. An example for an N:M relation are students and teachers: students can have classes by several teachers but a teacher can also instruct several students.

One-to-Many Relations (1:N)

One-To-Many Relation

For every ToOne relation that you have, you can define a backlink. Backlinks are using the same relation information, but in the reverse direction. Thus, a backlink of a ToOne will result in a list of potentially multiple objects: all entities pointing to the same entity. Example: Two Order objects point to the same Customer using a ToOne. The backlink is a ToMany from the Customer referencing its two Order objects.

Let's extend the example from above to get the backlinks from Customer to Order:

class Customer: Entity {
var id: Id = 0
// objectbox: backlink = "customer"
var orders: ToMany<Order> = nil
// ...
}
class Order: Entity {
var id: Id = 0
var customer: ToOne<Customer> = nil
// ...
}

Note you tell ObjectBox about your backlink using an // objectbox: backlink = "name" annotation (where name is the name of the ToOne property that makes up the other end of the relation).

Once the backlink is set up, you can traverse the relation in both directions:

// Store two new orders for a new customer
let customer = Customer()
let order1 = Order(customer: customer)
let order2 = Order(customer: customer)
try store.box(for: Order.self).put([order1, order2])
// ID of customer was also set by put()
assert(customer.id != 0)
// Backlink: customer has two orders
assert(try store.box(for: Customer.self).get(customer.id).orders.count() == 2)

In database terminology, you create a (bi-directional) one-to-many (1:N) relationship by defining a ToOne with a backlink ToMany.

Collection Nature of ToMany

ToMany conforms to Swift's RandomAccessCollection protocol. Thus, you can use it just like an array or similar collections and pass it around. And of course, you can create an Array if need be:

let orders = Array(customer.orders)

See also: ToMany API docs

Modifying One-to-Many Relations

Apart from being a RandomAccessCollection, a ToMany relation is also a RangeReplaceableCollection. That means you can use append(_:) etc. on it just like on an Array to modify it. We've also added a replace(_:) method as a convenience to replace all entities referenced by the relation.

Once you've performed all the modifications you want, call applyToDb() on the ToMany to actually cause them to be written to the database. This separation into two steps prevents e.g. a filtering algorithm being called on the ToMany from triggering an unnecessailry huge number of database writes.

When you change its contents, ToMany will simply set the ToOne relation in the removed entities to nil, and will make added entities' ToOne point at the object containing the ToMany backlink. Note that you can only assign an entity to a relation that has already been assigned an ID (by putting it or loading an existing entity from the database):

let newOrder = Order(summary: "Shoes")
try orderBox.put(newOrder) // Must put or the replace() below will fail!
aCustomer.orders.replace([newOrder, oldOrder])
try aCustomer.orders.applyToDb()

Also, modifying a ToMany backlink modifies the ToOne of the referenced entities (in this example, newOrder and oldOrder) and will put() those objects to actually write out the changed relation. To remove all references to an entity, you may pass an empty array to replace():

// You cannot set `aCustomer.orders = nil`, so:
aCustomer.orders.replace([])
try aCustomer.orders.applyToDb()

Removing a relation never removes the referenced objects from the database.

Many-to-Many (N:M)

Many-to-Many (N:M)

To define a many-to-many relation you simply add a property using the ToMany class. Assuming a students and teachers example, this is how a simple Student class that has a to-many relation to Teacher entities can look like:

class Teacher: Entity {
var id: Id = 0
...
}
class Student: Entity {
var id: Id = 0
var ToMany<Teacher> teachers = nil
...
}

Adding the teachers of a student works exactly like with an array, or a one-to-many relation:

let teacher1 = Teacher()
let teacher2 = Teacher()
let student1 = Student()
let student2 = Student()
try store.box(for: Teacher.self).put([teacher1, teacher2])
try store.box(for: Student.self).put([student1, student2])
student1.teachers.append(teacher1)
student1.teachers.append(teacher2)
student2.teachers.append(teacher2)
try student1.teachers.applyToDb()
try student2.teachers.applyToDb()

To get the teachers of a student we just access the list:

var student1 = try boxStore.box(for: Student.self).get(student1.id)
for (let teacher in student1.teachers) {
...
}

And if a student drops out of a class, we can remove a teacher:

student1.teachers.remove(at: 0)
try student1.teachers.applyToDb()

Removing a relation never removes the referenced objects from the database.

Access Many-To-Many in the reverse direction

Following the above example, you might want an easy way to find out what students a teacher has. Instead of having to perform a query, you can just add a to-many relation to the teacher and annotate it with the // objectbox: backlink annotation:

class Teacher: Entity {
var id: Id = 0
// objectbox: backlink = "teachers"
var students: ToMany<Student> = nil
...
}
class Student: Entity {
var id: Id = 0
var ToMany<Teacher> teachers = nil
...
}

This will tell ObjectBox that there is only one relation, teachers, and that students is just a reverse-lookup of this relation. In any other respect, a many-to-many backlink can be used just like its forward counterpart.

Relations in Queries

You can traverse relations in queries.

Example: Modelling Tree Relations

You can model a tree relation with a to-one and a to-many relation pointing to itself:

class TreeNode: Entity {
var id: Id = 0
var parent: ToOne<TreeNode> = nil
// objectbox: backlink = "parent"
var children: ToMany<TreeNode> = nil
}

The generated entity lets you navigate its parent and children:

let parent = entity.parent.target
let children = Array(entity.children)