Conversation timeout seems to be a commonly misunderstood Seam concept. I often see postings on the Seam forums claiming that the conversation-timeout doesn’t work! Well, actually it does, you simply have to understand the semantics.

Configuring the conversation-timeout period can be accomplished through the following in your components.xml:

<core:manager conversation-timeout="900000" />

At first glance most developers relate conversation-timeout to session timeout, where any conversation will simply timeout after the configured conversation timeout period. As you will quickly notice during testing, this is not the case. To execute a quick experiment, try the following configuration in the components.xml of the seam-booking example:

<core:manager conversation-timeout="60000" />

Because the conversation-timeout is set in milliseconds, the above configuration sets the conversation-timeout to 1 minute. Now in the web.xml set the session timeout to 5 minutes:

<session-config>
  <session-timeout>5</session-timeout>
</session-config>

Now in the destroy method of the HotelBookingAction add the following line:

...
@Destroy @Remove
public void destroy() {
  log.info("Destroying HotelBookingAction...");
}
...

This will log our message when the conversation ends and the HotelBookingAction is destroyed. Now deploy the seam-booking example to your local JBoss instance and start up a conversation. This can be accomplished by logging in, navigating to the hotels listing, and selecting a hotel for booking. At this point, wait for the 1 minute period… nothing happens. Now wait for another 4 minutes, the message is displayed. The conversation timed out along with the session.

Foreground vs. Background Conversations

So why didn’t our conversation timeout as configured? This is because the conversation-timeout only affects background conversations. The foreground conversation will only timeout when the session times out. Foreground, background, what? The foreground conversation is the conversation that the user last interacted with. A background conversation is any other conversation in the user’s session. Thus, in our previous scenario the foreground conversation timed out with the session as expected.

Now lets try another approach. Perform the same steps as before to proceed to the booking screen. Now open a new window and perform the same steps. We now have a foreground conversation and a background conversation in progress. Again, wait 1 minute. Nothing happened. If you wait an additional 4 minutes, both conversations will timeout. So what is going on here, I thought we had a background conversation? We did, Seam simply checks the conversation timeout on each request. Thus, if I interact with the foreground conversation after 1 minute, the background conversation times out. Try it, perform the same steps, wait 1 minute and then click on the window of the foreground conversation and you will see the log message.

This is very desirable behavior. Essentially when a user leaves his or her desk for a period of time and comes back, if the session is still active it would be desirable to maintain the state the user was previously in. This is the foreground conversation state. All other background conversation state is left to timeout after the configured conversation-timeout period which reduces overall memory consumption. This enables a developer to think less about memory usage and cleaning up state and more about developing business logic. That’s why we’re here right?

Letting the user choose

So you may be asking at this point why the conversation-timeout doesn’t use polling. As we said, you must interact with the foreground conversation to cause the background conversations to timeout after the conversation-timeout period. Imagine that the user had many windows open and leaves his or her desk. Based on which window the user clicks on when they return, that becomes the foreground conversation timing out any other background conversations. This gives the user a chance to resume whichever conversation he or she chooses, not the one the developer chooses.