Monday, August 8, 2011

Going off the Reservation with Constructor Logic, Part 2

First I want to say thanks to Alex for the feedback on my previous post. I did eventually manage to clean up my design quite a bit, but couldn't really put my finger on why it was so hard. After reading Alex's comment it occured to me that I hadn't really thought very hard on where the layer boundaries are. I had (and maybe still have) my persistence, my service, and my infrastructure layers somewhat intertwined. I'm ashamed to have been bitten by this considering how much of a proponent of intentional design and layering as I've been.  But I was on a spike to tackle some unfamiliar territory, as well as fighting with a bit of an uncooperative helper framework, so it seems I bit off more than I could chew.

The problem I was trying to deal with was a multi-threaded service, with some threads producing data, and others consuming it to store to a DB. Between device sessions, threads, DB sessions, and domain transactions, I had a lot of "resources" and "lifetimes" that needed very careful managing. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to test the limits of the pattern I've been fond of lately, of creating objects whose primary responsibility is managing lifetime. All services which operate within the context of such a lifetime must then take an instance of the lifetime object.  This is all well and good, until you start confusing the context scoping rules.

Below is a sample of my code. I'd have to post the whole project to really give a picture of the concentric scopes, and that would be at least overwhelming and at worst a violation of my company's IP policies. So this contains just the skeleton of the persistence bits.

The important part of this picture is the following dependency chain (from dependent to dependency): Repository->DataContext->SessionProvider->UnitOfWork. What this would indicate is that before you can get a Repository object, you must have a Unit Of Work first. But it's common in our web apps to basically just make the UoW a singleton, created at the beginning of a request, and disposed at the end. Whereas in a service or desktop app the most obvious/direct implementation path is to have different transactions occurring all over the place, with no such implicit static state to indicate where one ends and the next begins. You get a common workflow that looks like this: Create UoW, save data to Repo, Commit UoW. This doesn't work nicely with a naive IoC setup because the UoW, being a per-dependency object now, is created after the Repo, which already has its own UoW. The changes are in the latter, but it's the former that gets committed. So either the UoW must be created at a higher scope, or the Repo must be created at a lower scope, such as via a separate factory taking a UoW as an argument. I'm not super fond of this because it causes the UoW to sort of vanish from the code where it is most relevant.

One final option is that the dependency chain must change. In my case, I realized that what I really had was an implicit Domain Transaction or Domain Command that wasn't following the pattern of having an object to manage lifetime scope. The fact that this transaction scope was entirely implicit, and its state split across multiple levels of the existing scope hierarchy, was one of the things that was causing me so much confusion. So I solved the issue by setting up my IoC to allow one UoW and one Repo per "lifetime scope" (Autofac's term for child container). Then I created a new domain command object for the operation which would take those two as dependencies. Finally the key: I configured Autofac to spawn a new "lifetime scope" each time one of these domain command objects is created.

Again this illustration is a bit simplified because I was also working with context objects for threads and device sessions as well, all nested in a very particular way to ensure that data flows properly at precise timings. Building disposable scopes upon disposable scopes upon disposable scopes is what got me confused.

I have to say that at this point, I feel like the composability of the model is good, now that I've got layer responsibilities separated. But that it feels like a lot is still too implicit. There is behavior that has moved from being explicit, if complex, code within one object, to being emergent from the composition of multiple objects. I'm not convinced yet that this is an inherently bad thing, but one thing is for certain: it's not going to be covered properly with just unit tests. If this is a pattern I want to continue to follow, I need to get serious about behavioral/integration testing.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Going off the Reservation with Constructor Logic

I'm noticing a strange thing happening as I make classes more composable and immutable. Especially as I allow object lifetime to carry more meaning, in the form of context or transaction objects. This shift has made object initialization involve a lot of "real" computation, querying, etc. Combined with a desire to avoid explicit factories where possible, to capitalize on the power of my IoC container, this has led to an accumulation of logic in and around constructors.

I'm not sure how I feel about so much logic in constructors. I remember being told, I can't remember when or where, that constructors should not contain complex logic. And while I wouldn't call this complex, it certainly is crucial, core logic, such as querying the database or spinning up threads. It feels like maybe the wrong place for the work to happen, but I can't put my finger on why.

It's important to me to be deliberate, and I do have a definite reason for heading down this path. So I don't want to turn away from it without a definite reason. Plus, pulling the logic out into a factory almost certainly means writing a lot more code, as it steps in between my constructors and the IoC container, requiring manual pass-through of dependencies.

I'm not certain what the alternative is. I like the idea of object lifetimes being meaningful and bestowing context to the things below them in the object graph. Especially if it can be done via child containers and lifetime scoping as supported by the IoC container. But it is really causing me some headaches right now.

My guess at this point is that I am doing too much "asking" in my constructors, and not enough telling. I've done this because to do the telling in a factory would mean I need to explicitly provide some of the constructor parameters. But I don't want to lose the IoC's help for providing the remainder. So I think I need to start figuring out what my IoC can really do as far as currying the constructor parameters not involved in the logic, so that I can have the best of both worlds.

Maybe it will bite me in the end and I'll pull back to a more traditional, less composable strategy. Maybe the headaches are a necessary consequence of my strategy. But I think it's worth trying. At least if I fail I will know exactly why not to do this, and I can move on to wholeheartedly looking for alternatives.

Thoughts, suggestions, criticisms? Condemnations?