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Posts Tagged ‘inversion of control’

I hate IoC containers. Spring? Evil. Guice? The devil’s own work. Why? Because it leads to such slack, lazy, thoughtless programming.

Why the hate?

Ok, perhaps I better explain myself a bit. IoC is a great idea. What annoys me, is the way IoC frameworks end up getting used by normal people. I’ve ranted previously about how IoC containers lead us to implement anaemic domain models. The trouble is, once you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Especially those pesky fingers. Once you have a dependency injection framework, everything starts to look like a dependency that needs to be injected. Need to implement some business logic? First create a new class, test drive it, then make it injectable, inject it into the class where the calling code needs it, test driving it natch, then bingo – you just hit yourself on the finger.

Now I’ve got two classes, basically closely coupled, but the IoC container hides that fact from me. I see a nice, clean interface being injected in. Aren’t I a good little OO developer? No, you’re stupid and you’re lazy.

Before you know it, your class has a dozen or more dependencies, each of which have a dozen dependencies, each of which have a dozen dependencies, each of which… you get the picture. You’ve managed to build a rats nest of a dependency graph, little by little. What you’ve TDD’d isn’t a design. The technical name for it is The Big Ball of Mud.

An Alternative

Instead, I think dependency injection works best at application seams, at architectural boundaries. Say, for example, you’re building a web app. You’ve created a TradeEntryController that allows users to, well, enter trades. The TradeEntryController naturally has loads of dependencies on the rest of the system. It needs to fetch valid assets to invest in and prices, it needs to know what your balance is so you can’t buy more shares than money in the bank etc etc. A perfect example where life without an IoC container could become really cumbersome.

But, I don’t think you need one. I think what your controller needs is a few, specific dependencies – that define the architectural boundary the controller lives within. Above the controller is a HTTP request, a session and all that blah blah. Within it, is business logic. Below it is the database. So, the dependencies we inject should represent only the architectural context in which the controller operates. For the most part, this will be common to all my controllers – not just trade entry. Controllers for managing balances, lists of assets, user accounts – these all depend on knowing stuff about their session, and to be able to talk to the next layer down: the database (or in an n-tier setup, perhaps some web services).

So, why not just inject those dependencies?

public class TradeEntryController {
    public void setSessionManager(ISessionManager sessionManager) { ... }
    public void setTradeDatabase(ITradeDatabase tradeDatabase) { ... }
    public void setAccountDatabase(IAccountDatabase accountDatabase) { ... }
    public void setAssetDatabase(IAssetDatabase assetDatabase) { ... }
}

Then in my controller, I can fetch user information from the SessionManager; I can get the list of assets from the AssetDatabase; I can check the user’s balance via the AccountDatabase; and I can record the trade via the TradeDatabase. So far, so much the same as a normal IoC container.

So what’s different?

Rather than manage these dependencies via an IoC container. I think you should push them in manually. Yes, I’m suggesting you write your own dead simple dependency injection framework. What? Am I mad? Quite probably, but bear with me.

public interface ICanHazTradeDatabase {
    void setTradeDatabase(ITradeDatabase tradeDatabase);
}

public class TradeEntryController
    implements ICanHazTradeDatabase, ICanHazAssetDatabase...
{
    ...
}

public class ControllerFactory {
    public Controller createController(Class clazz) {
        Controller c = clazz.newInstance();
        if (c instanceof ICanHazTradeDatabase)
            ((ICanHazTradeDatabase) c).setTradeDatabase(tradeDatabase);
        if (c instanceof ICanHazAssetDatabase)
            ((ICanHazAssetDatabase) c).setAssetDatabase(assetDatabase);
        if ...

        return c;
    }
}

The exact mechanics of ControllerFactory of course depend on your MVC framework, but hopefully the idea is clear: when we instantiate a controller, we check it against a known set of interfaces and push in very specific dependencies. Is it pretty? Not really. Is it easy to write? Of course. Does it push dependencies into your controller? Well, yes. Where do they come from? Well, that’s an exercise for the reader. But I’m sure you can find a way to make ControllerFactory a singleton and instantiate all your dependencies in one place.

The Point

What, exactly, is the point of all this? Well, as a developer writing a controller – I can get easy access to all the dependencies that represent the architectural context I’m running within. The databases, services, message brokers, email server, blah blah blah that the application as a whole depends on. They’re right there – I just add the interface, one method and bang – ICanHazCheeseburger.

More interesting, is what I can’t do. I can’t decide that my TradeEntryController needs a TradePricingCalculator and inject that as a dependency. Well, I could, but I’d be making TradePricingCalculator available everywhere, and I’ve got a little more work to do than I would if I was using plain old Spring or Guice – I’ve an interface to create, a couple of lines to add to some scarily named GlobalControllerFactory. Why is this important? It adds some friction. It makes something bad hard to do. I’m forced instead to think about creating a TradePrices object and adding some functionality to it. I’m forced to have a rich domain, because I can’t just move all my functionality off into a TradePriceCalculatorVisitorFactoryManagerBuilder.

The choices we make and the technologies we choose make some things easy and other things hard. We need to think carefully about whether the things we make easy should be easy. It’s always possible to do the right thing, but sometimes we need to make it easier than doing the wrong thing.

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