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Differences Between NHibernate and Entity Framework

| Sunday, June 10, 2012

NHibernate and Entity Framework are two of the most popular O/RM frameworks on the .NET world. Although they share some functionality, there are some aspects on which they are quite different. This post will describe this differences and will hopefully help you get started with the one you know less. Mind you, this is a personal selection of features to compare, it is by no way an exhaustive list.


First, a bit of history. NHibernate is an open-source project that was first ported from Java’s venerable Hibernate framework, one of the first O/RM frameworks, but nowadays it is not tied to it, for example, it has .NET specific features, and has evolved in different ways from those of its Java counterpart. Current version is 3.3, with 3.4 on the horizon. It currently targets .NET 3.5, but can be used as well in .NET 4, it only makes no use of any of its specific functionality. You can find its home page at NHForge.

Entity Framework 1 came out with .NET 3.5 and is now on its second major version, despite being version 4. Code First sits on top of it and but came separately and will also continue to be released out of line with major .NET distributions. It is currently on version 4.3.1 and version 5 will be released together with .NET Framework 4.5. All versions will target the current version of .NET, at the time of their release. Its home location is located at MSDN.


In NHibernate, there is a separation between the Unit of Work and the configuration and model instances. You start off by creating a Configuration object, where you specify all global NHibernate settings such as the database and dialect to use, the batch sizes, the mappings, etc, then you build an ISessionFactory from it. The ISessionFactory holds model and metadata that is tied to a particular database and to the settings that came from the Configuration object, and, there will typically be only one instance of each in a process. Finally, you create instances of ISession from the ISessionFactory, which is the NHibernate representation of the Unit of Work and Identity Map. This is a lightweight object, it basically opens and closes a database connection as required and keeps track of the entities associated with it. ISession objects are cheap to create and dispose, because all of the model complexity is stored in the ISessionFactory and Configuration objects.

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