Mastering the Use of getReferenceById() and findById() Methods in Spring Data JPA

Naveen Metta
4 min readMay 7, 2024
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In the realm of Spring Data JPA, where efficient data access is paramount, understanding the subtle nuances between the getReferenceById() and findById() methods is crucial. These methods are the pillars of entity retrieval by their identifiers, yet their behaviors differ significantly. In this comprehensive guide, we'll dive deep into each method, explore their intricacies, provide ample code examples in Java, and expand our discussion to encompass additional considerations and best practices for utilizing these methods effectively in Spring Data JPA applications.

1. findById() Method:

Let’s start our exploration with the venerable findById() method. As a standard feature of the Spring Data JPA repository interface, it's widely used for fetching entities based on their identifiers.


public interface UserRepository extends CrudRepository<User, Long> {
Optional<User> findById(Long id);
  • Usage: findById() is your go-to choice when you need to retrieve an entity and expect its state to be loaded from the database immediately.
  • Behavior: This method directly queries the database and fetches the entity object corresponding to the specified identifier. If the entity doesn’t exist, it gracefully returns an empty Optional.
  • Example:
Optional<User> userOptional = userRepository.findById(1L);
if(userOptional.isPresent()) {
User user = userOptional.get();
// Perform operations with the user object
} else {
// Handle the scenario where the user doesn't exist

getReferenceById() Method:

Now, let’s delve into the intriguing getReferenceById() method. While it serves the same purpose as findById(), its approach is notably different.


public interface UserRepository extends JpaRepository<User, Long> {
User getReferenceById(Long id);
  • Usage: getReferenceById() shines when you require only a reference to an entity without loading its state immediately.
  • Behavior: Unlike findById(), getReferenceById() returns a reference proxy to the entity. It refrains from hitting the database immediately; instead, it creates a proxy object with the given identifier. The actual database query is triggered only when the proxy object's state is accessed.
  • Example:
User userReference = userRepository.getReferenceById(1L);
// At this point, no query is executed
// Accessing properties or methods of userReference will trigger a database query

When to Use Each Method:

Now that we’ve grasped the essence of both methods, let’s discern the scenarios where each method shines.

  1. Use findById():
  • When immediate loading of the entity’s state is necessary.
  • In situations where you anticipate the entity to exist in the database.
  • When handling cases where both existing and non-existing entities need explicit treatment.
  1. Use getReferenceById():
  • When you solely require a reference to the entity without loading its state immediately.
  • In scenarios where deferring the database query until necessary can improve performance.
  • When dealing with cases where the existence of the entity is certain, or missing entities are inconsequential.

Advantages and Considerations:

To truly master the art of utilizing these methods, it’s imperative to understand their advantages and considerations.

  • findById() Advantages:
  • Provides immediate access to the entity’s state.
  • Suitable for scenarios where the entity’s state is required upfront.
  • findById() Considerations:
  • Incurs a database query immediately, regardless of whether the entity’s state is needed.
  • getReferenceById() Advantages:
  • Delays database query until the entity’s state is accessed, potentially improving performance.
  • Offers a lightweight reference to the entity, useful in scenarios where immediate loading is unnecessary.
  • getReferenceById() Considerations:
  • Requires caution when accessing properties or methods, as it triggers a database query.

Additional Considerations and Best Practices:

To augment our understanding, let’s delve into additional considerations and best practices for utilizing getReferenceById() and findById() methods effectively:

  1. Performance Optimization:
  • Consider using getReferenceById() in scenarios where immediate loading of entity state is unnecessary, thus deferring database queries until needed, potentially improving application performance.
  1. Transactional Context:
  • Be mindful of the transactional context when using getReferenceById(). Accessing properties or methods on the reference proxy outside an active transaction may lead to unexpected behavior or exceptions.
  1. Proxy Initialization:
  • Understand that accessing properties or methods on a reference proxy obtained via getReferenceById() initializes the proxy and triggers a database query. Ensure that this behavior aligns with your application's requirements and performance considerations.
  1. Consistency and Error Handling:
  • Implement consistent error handling strategies when utilizing both methods. Handle scenarios where entities do not exist gracefully to prevent unexpected application behavior.
  1. Testing and Debugging:
  • When testing and debugging your application, pay close attention to the behavior of both methods in various scenarios. Use logging and debugging tools to trace database queries and understand performance implications.


In conclusion, the getReferenceById() and findById() methods in Spring Data JPA provide distinct approaches to entity retrieval by their identifiers. By mastering their usage and understanding their nuances, you can optimize data access and enhance the performance of your Spring Data JPA applications. Whether you require immediate access to an entity's state or prefer to defer database queries until necessary, these methods empower you to navigate the intricacies of data retrieval with finesse and efficiency. Armed with this knowledge and best practices, you're well-equipped to harness the full potential of Spring Data JPA in your applications.



Naveen Metta

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