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Dependency Injection for Loose Coupling

, 18 Apr 2006
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This article describes the use of Dependency Injection, or Inversion-of-Control, to promote loose coupling and convenient unit testing.

Introduction

In designing an object-oriented application, a major tenet of design is "loose coupling". Loosely, not meant for the pun, "loose coupling" means that objects should only have as many dependencies as is needed to do their job - and the dependencies should be few. Furthermore, an object's dependencies should be on interfaces and not on "concrete" objects, when possible. (A concrete object is any object created with the keyword new.) Loose coupling promotes greater reusability, easier maintainability, and allows you to easily provide "mock" objects in place of expensive services, such as a socket-communicator.

"Dependency Injection" (DI), also more cryptically known as "Inversion of Control" (IoC), can be used as a technique for encouraging this loose coupling. There are two primary approaches to implementing DI: constructor injection and setter injection. Obviously, at some point, something must be responsible for creating the concrete objects that will be injected into another object. The injector can be a parent object, which I'll call the "DI controller", or can be externalized and handled by a "DI container" framework. What follows is a brief overview of the various approaches for using dependency injection techniques.

Constructor Injection

Constructor Injection is the DI technique of passing an object's dependencies to its constructor. The below example includes a class, Customer, that exposes a method for retrieving every sales-order that the customer made on a particular date. Consequently, the Customer class needs a data-access object for communicating with the database. Assume, an OrderDao ("order data-access object") exists which implements the interface IOrderDao. One way that a Customer object can get this dependency is by executing the following within the: IOrderDao orderDao = new OrderDao();. The primary disadvantage of this is two-fold:

  1. the benefit of having the interface in the first place has been negated since the concrete instance was created locally, and
  2. OrderDao cannot easily be replaced by a mock object for testing purposes. (Mock objects will be discussed shortly.)

The aforementioned example follows:

public class Customer {
    public Customer(IOrderDao orderDao) {
        if (orderDao == null)
            throw new ArgumentNullException("orderDao may not be null");
        
        this.orderDao = orderDao;
    }
    
    public IList GetOrdersPlacedOn(DateTime date) {
       // ... code that uses the orderDao member
       //     get orders from the datasource ...
    }
    
    private IOrderDao orderDao;
}

In the example, note that the constructor accepts an interface; it does not accept a concrete object. Also, note that an exception is thrown if the orderDao parameter is null. This emphasizes the importance of receiving a valid dependency. Constructor Injection is, in my opinion, the preferred mechanism for giving an object its dependencies. It is clear to the developer invoking the object which dependencies need to be given to the Customer object for proper execution. But consider the following example... Suppose you have a class with ten methods that have no dependencies, but you're adding a new method that does have a dependency on IOrderDao. You could change the constructor to use Constructor Injection, but this may force you to change constructor calls all over the place. Alternatively, you could just add a new constructor that takes the dependency, but then how does a developer easily know when to use one constructor over the other. Finally, if the dependency is very expensive to create, why should it be created and passed to the constructor when it may only be used rarely? "Setter Injection" is another DI technique that can be used in situations such as this.

Setter Injection

Setter Injection does not force dependencies to be passed to the constructor. Instead, the dependencies are set onto public properties exposed by the object in need. As implied previously, the primary motivators for doing this include:

  1. supporting dependency injection without having to modify the constructor of a legacy class, and
  2. allowing expensive resources or services to be created as late as possible and only when needed.

The code below modifies the Constructor Injection example to use Setter Injection instead:

public class Customer {
    public Customer() {}

    public IOrderDao OrderDao {
        set { orderDao = value; }
        get {
            if (orderDao == null)
              throw new MemberAccessException("orderDao" + 
                             " has not been initialized");
            return orderDao;
        }
    }
    
    public IList GetOrdersPlacedOn(DateTime date) {
        //... code that uses the OrderDao public
        //... property to get orders from the datasource ...
    }
    
    // Should not be called directly;
    // use the public property instead
    private IOrderDao orderDao;
}

In the above example, the constructor accepts no arguments. Instead, the invoking object is responsible for setting the IOrderDao dependency before the method GetOrdersPlacedOn is called. With Constructor Injection, an exception is thrown if the dependency is not set immediately, i.e., upon creation. With Setter Injection, an exception isn't thrown until a method actually attempts to use the dependency. Make note of the fact that GetOrdersPlacedOn uses the public OrderDao property; it does not call the private orderDao directly. This is so that the getter method has an opportunity to validate if the dependency has yet been initialized.

Setter Injection should be used sparingly in place of Constructor Injection, because it:

  1. does not make it clear to the developer which dependencies are needed when, at least until a "has not been initialized" exception is thrown, and
  2. makes it a bit more difficult to track down where the exception came from and why it got thrown. With this said, Setter Injection can save on modifying a lot of legacy code when introducing new methods, and can provide a performance boost if the dependency is expensive or not easily accessible.

The Injectors

The next logical question is, what actually creates the dependencies that are to be injected into "injectees"? There are two appropriate places for adding creation logic: controllers and containers.

DI Controllers

The "DI controller" approach is the simpler to understand and implement. In a properly tiered architecture, an application has distinct layers for handling logic. The simplest layering usually consists of a data-layer for talking to the database, a presentation-layer for displaying the UI, and a domain-logic layer for performing business logic. A "controller" layer always exists, even if not well defined, for coordinating UI events to the domain and data layers, and vice versa. For example, in ASP.NET, the code-behind page acts as a rudimentary controller layer. More formalized controller-layer approaches exist: Struts and Spring for Java; Front Controller and Spring .NET for .NET. All of these approaches follow some form of variant of the Model-View-Controller pattern. Regardless of what you use as your controller, the controller is an appropriate location for performing Dependency Injection "wiring". This is where concrete objects are created and injected as dependencies. What follows are two examples of DI performed by a controller. The first is an illustrative example of "production code" - code that you'd end up deploying. The second is an example of "test code" - code that's used to test the application, but is not deployed and does not have the need to have a live database.

Controller code performing the dependency injection (e.g., from an ASP.NET code-behind page):

//... code performed when the controller is loaded ...

IOrderDao orderDao = new OrderDao();
// Using Setter Injection on a pre-existing customer
someCustomer.OrderDao = orderDao;
IList ordersPlacedToday = 
  someCustomer.GetOrdersPlacedOn(DateTime.Now);

...

Unit-test code performing dependency injection:

IOrderDao orderDao = new MockOrderDao();
// Using Setter Injection on a pre-existing customer
someCustomer.OrderDao = orderDao;
IList ordersPlacedToday = 
   someCustomer.GetOrdersPlacedOn(DateTime.Now);

One of the major benefits of using a DI-controller to inject dependencies is that it's straightforward and easy to point to where the creation is occurring. The drawback to using DI-controllers is that the dependencies are still hard-coded somewhere; albeit, they're hard-coded in a location that is often subject to frequent changes anyway. Another drawback is that now the DI-controllers themselves can't be easily unit-tested with mock objects. (Granted, a powerful tool such as TypeMock can do just about anything when it comes to injecting mock objects. But a tool such as TypeMock should be used only when absolutely necessary as it can lead to habits of not programming-to-interface. In fact, I'd recommend only considering the use of it on very difficult to test, legacy applications.)

In ASP.NET, I prefer to use the Model-View-Presenter (MVP) pattern, and have the ASP.NET code-behind page create dependencies and inject them to the presenter via Construction Injection. Additionally, I use UserControls as the View part of the pattern, so the ASP.NET code-behind acts purely as an MVP "dependency initializer" between the UserControls (View) and their presenters.

Another option to implementing constructor or setter DI is the use of an application container...

DI Containers

Inversion-of-Control/Dependency-Injection "containers" can be used to watch an application and inject dependencies whenever a particular event occurs. For example, whenever a Customer instance is created, it automatically gets injected with its needed dependencies. It's a strange concept at first, but can be useful for managing large applications with many service dependencies. Different container providers each have their own mechanism for managing dependency injection settings.

Spring .NET allows you to define dependency injections within an XML file. The following example Spring .NET XML uses Setter Injection to give an ASPX code-behind page its data-access object dependency:

<spring>
    <context type="Spring.Context.Support.WebApplicationContext, Spring.Web">
        <resource uri="config://spring/objects" />
    </context>

    <objects xmlns="http://www.springframework.net">
        <!--<span class="code-comment"> Data Access Object that will be injected into ASPX page --></span>
        <object id="daoFactory" type="MyApp.Data.DaoFactory, MyApp.Data" />

        <object type="ViewDetails.aspx">
            <property name="DaoFactory"  ref="daoFactory" />
        </object>
    </objects>
</spring>

The ASPX code-behind simply exposes a public property called DaoFactory that "catches" the dependency whenever the page gets called. See Spring .NET's website for more details and more examples. For Java developers, be sure to check out Spring's website.

Many other containers exist, some of which don't require much XML management at all (for those of you that cringe at the sight of a 500 line XML file). For Java developers, take a look at Container Comparison for a good comparison of options. For .NET developers, the decision is simpler as fewer options exist. (Is that a good thing?) See Open Source Inversion of Control Containers in C# for some open-source options.

Unit Testing with Injected Mock Objects

The greatest benefits that I've experienced using DI are cleaner unit testing and greater portability. Portability is a given as most of the dependencies are on interfaces. But let's look at how DI can benefit unit testing as well. It is often the case that developers write unit tests against a live database. This is all well and fine, but it quickly brings the speed of a suite of unit tests to a crawl. To keep unit testing from becoming a drag, it needs to be easy to turn off slow unit tests that actually hit the database while still testing the business logic that depends on data access. Mock objects are perfect for doing just this. A mock object simulates the responses of an actual object, acting as if it's using a real resource. They're great for mocking access to a database, mocking calls to IO, mocking calls to a web service, etc.

The below code shows a mock data-access implementation of the IOrderDao interface used throughout the article:

public class MockOrderDao : IOrderDao {
    public Order GetOrderById(long orderId) {
        Order foundOrder = new Order();
        foundOrder.SaleDate = "1/1/06";
        foundOrder.ID = orderId;
        
        return foundOrder;
    }
}

This trivial, mock data-access object implements IOrderDao, and can therefore be passed to any object that's dependent on IOrderDao via Constructor or Setter injection. Now all your business logic can be tested without actually hitting the database. In my own test suite, I usually have a section that contains "real" database tests, and then pass mock database-access objects for testing my domain objects.

Additional References

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The BSD License

About the Author

Billy McCafferty
Web Developer
United States United States
No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

 
GeneralMethod Injection PinmemberRonald Band11-Jul-07 14:10 
Nice article.
 
I was wondering if method injection should be considered in your article (as mentioned by like Dr Herbie).
 
I tend to use method injection so that the object receiving the injection does not need to store it, which further reduces dependencies.
 
Regards,
Ronald Band.
 
The challenge of software engineering is to keep it simple and easy to change later as change is the only constant. Visit www.wiselittlebirdie.com.

GeneralRe: Method Injection PinmemberJon Davis30-Jul-07 2:15 

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