Draconian Overlord

Oppressing software entropy

Framework-less Dependency Injection

Overview

I’d like to present an alternative to framework-based DI that allows you to still have clean, decoupled, testable code without handing over control of every non-trivial object’s instantiation to a DI framework.

The key idea is to:

  1. Make a single interface for retrieving all application-wide shared objects
  2. Pass an instance of this interface around in your application

That’s it. This basically combines Fowler’s old school Registry pattern with the DI hipness of constructor injection. I don’t claim this is anything novel, nor perfect; but I’m surprised I haven’t seen it being used more.

I’ve been using this approach for awhile now (since my Changing My Style post from a year ago) and it has been working out quite well.

There are pros and cons, but first an example.

Example

To frame the example, let’s setup three class that respond to a user request. Something like:

public class Servlet {
  private Handlers handlers = new Handlers();

  // called when user hits the service
  public void handle(HttpRequest request) {
    handlers.handle(request);
  }
}

public class Handlers {
  public void handle(HttpRequest request) {
    // dispatches request to the right handler for the request type
    if ("bar".equals(request.getParameter("type"))) {
      new BarHandler(request).handle();
    }
  }
}

// instantiated per request
public class BarHandler {
  private final HttpRequest request;

  public BarHandler(HttpRequest request) {
    this.request = request;
  }

  public void handle() {
    databaseRepo.lookupId(...);
    emailRepo.sendAnEmail();
  }
}

This is completely made-up, but the idea is that we have several objects involved in servicing the request. Some of them are stateless (Servlet and Handlers) but some are stateful (BarHandler).

The problem then is how to get the databaseRepo and emailRepo dependencies passed down into the BarHandler.

Potential Approaches

Throwing out possibilities, we could:

  • Instantiate databaseRepo and emailRepo in Servlet and pass them to Handlers’s constructor, which Handlers can then pass to BarHandler. However, with more than a few application-scoped variables, this would become quite tedious, especially for intermediary classes like Handlers which wouldn’t use the dependencies but just pass them on.

  • Create a DatabaseRepo.getInstance() static singleton method, but we add coupling and lose easy testability.

  • Use a DI framework to inject DatabaseRepo and EmailRepo into BarHandler. This would mean no longer being able to call new BarHandler, so our Handlers class would have to be passed a Provider<BarHandler> in it’s constructor. Which means Handlers also needs to be instantiated by the DI framework, etc.

I’m sure there are other potential approaches I’m missing, but I think these are the most common. Per the comments with each approach above, I wasn’t satisfied with any of these and so was looking for something else.

AppRegistry Approach

The approach I’ve settled on lately is based around an AppRegistry interface. All of the shared, application-scoped objects (DatabaseRepo, EmailRepo) go into this interface:

public interface AppRegistry {
  DatabaseRepo getDatabaseRepo();

  EmailRepo getEmailRepo();
}

I use the term Registry in deference to Fowler’s pattern, but you could just as well call it AppContext, which is more Spring-like. Which, speaking of Spring, you can basically think of AppRegistry as making a plain, strongly-typed interface with a getXxx method for each bean in your Spring config file.

And now we just create a new instance of it and pass it around:

public class Servlet {
  // registry can potentially be shared via the ServletContext
  private AppRegistry registry = new AppRegistryInstance();
  private Handlers handlers = new Handlers(registry);

  // called when user hits the service
  public void handle(HttpRequest request) {
    handlers.handle(request);
  }
}

public class Handlers {
  private final AppRegistry registry;

  public Handlers(AppRegistry registry) {
    this.registry = registry;
  }

  public void handle(HttpRequest request) {
    // dispatches request to the right handler for the request type
    if ("bar".equals(request.getParameter("type"))) {
      new BarHandler(registry, request).handle();
    }
  }
}

// instantiated per request
public class BarHandler {
  private final DatabaseRepo databaseRepo;
  private final EmailRepo emailRepo;
  private final HttpRequest request;
  
  public BarHandler(AppRegistry registry, HttpRequest request) {
    this.databaseRepo = registry.getDatabaseRepo();
    this.emailRepo = registry.getEmailRepo();
    this.request = request;
  }

  public void handle() {
    databaseRepo.lookupId(...);
    emailRepo.sendAnEmail();
  }
}

And that’s it. Pros/cons are discussed next, but the short of it is that we can still test the BarHandler class–a fake (stub or mock, but, no, really, use a stub) AppRegistry can be passed into BarHandler with whatever fake versions of the dependencies you want to use for the test.

Briefly, the AppRegistryInstance class just instantiates the dependencies and holds on to them:

public class AppRegistryInstance implements AppRegistry {
  private final DatabaseRepo databaseRepo;
  private final EmailRepo emailRepo;

  public AppRegistryInstance() {
    databaseRepo = new DatabaseRepo(...settings...);
    emailRepo = new EmailRepo(...settings...);
  }

  public DatabaseRepo getDatabaseRepo() {
    return databaseRepo;
  }

  public EmailRepo getEmailRepo() {
    return emailRepo;
  }
}

And you could just as well create a StubAppRegistryInstance for all of your tests to reuse:

public clas StubAppRegistryInstance implements AppRegistry {
  private final DummyDatabaseRepo databaseRepo = new DummyDatabaseRepo();
  private final DummyEmailRepo emailRepo = new DummyEmailRepo();

  public DummyDatabaseRepo getDatabaseRepo() {
    return databaseRepo;
  }

  public DummyEmailRepo getEmailRepo() {
    return emailRepo;
  }
}

So that now instead of copy/paste setting up a lot of mock expectations/results, your test can pass a StubAppRegistryInstance to the BarHandler under test and then assert against the side affects that BarHandler makes to DummyDatabaseRepo and DummyEmailRepo.

Pros/Cons

  • Pro: No auto-wiring DI framework. No magic.

  • Pro: Intermediary classes (e.g. Handlers) don’t have to know about each individual app-wide dependency of the classes it instantiates (either directly or indirectly). new calls stay clean, with at most the extra AppRegistry parameter passed.

  • Pro: Only classes that require app-wide sharing are in the AppRegistry interface–unlike auto-wiring DI, if a class is not going to be doubled out (like BarHandler, which there is only ever one implementation of), we can just use new and not worry about a DI library/Provider creating it for us.

  • Pro: AppRegistryInstance is regular Java code, so can freely use configuration files, system properties, even if statements to configure the implementations of DatabaseRepo and EmailRepo appropriately.

  • Pro: “scopes” become a lot less confusing–where as DI frameworks will, to the client, arbitrarily return shared (singleton) or new (prototype) instances, everything in AppRegistry is by definition application scoped. If you need a “prototype” instance, just call new. If you need a request scope, make a new RequestRegistry (or RequestContext) interface that follows the same AppRegistry pattern and explicitly models the request-scoped dependencies.

  • Con: BarHandler’s constructor signature only declares that it’s dependency is the AppRegistry (meaning some number of application-scoped beans). This is not as clear or self-documenting as a traditional DI constructor signature which would specify each direct dependency as a separate parameter (e.g.DatabaseRepo and EmailRepo).

  • Con: You give up the DI container’s “more than just DI” features (like Spring’s automatic transaction management, aspect/proxy features, etc.). Although, personally, I don’t consider this a huge loss anyway.

Other Alternatives

There is a (at least one) variation of this “make an interface for your dependencies” approach.

Context IoC is a pattern than uses per-class interfaces instead of per-scope interfaces. Which addresses the con listed above of BarHandler’s explicit dependencies not being apparent from the API.

E.g. Context IoC would have a BarHandler.Context interface that declared the explicit DatabaseRepo and EmailRepo dependencies, plus extended the corresponding Xxx.Context interface of each object that BarHandler instantiated (so that BarHandler.Context could be used for constructing those instances as well).

I think the Context IoC approach is quite novel, but it leads to a lot of extra interfaces and so is a bit excessive in my opinion.

Conclusion

For me, this pattern has worked out very well to test-enable my code. I can switch out dependencies as needed without giving up the new operator and without making object instantiation so painful that only a DI framework can do it.

So I can apply “YAGNI” to a DI framework and stay with the simplicity of regular Java.