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StructureMap – Software Design Concepts

Before you jump into using StructueMap in anger, there are some design concepts that can help you get the most out of an IoC tool.  This web page is strictly about conceptual design fundamentals, and not particularly specific to StructureMap itself.  I think this stuff is important to real world development.  You might not memorize the “Liskov Substitution Principle” text, but you’re code will be better for following its intent — even if you don’t particulary know the exact term for LSP.  When you read this section, please focus on the concepts and any class’s role within a system rather than get caught up in coding details like “why is he using an AddressController instead of that being part of another class?”

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Design Concepts

Over the years a series of concepts and principles have been discovered and developed to describe well-structured Object Oriented systems.  To most effectively use StructureMap, or any other IoC tool for that matter, your system needs to be designed with these principles first:

To sum it all up, well designed Object Oriented systems are composed of many objects that work with each other to accomplish to goals of the system.  We want our systems to be decomposed into cohesive classes that perform a well defined responsibility within the system, rather than monolithic “God” classes that do too much.  A cohesive class will have to be dependent upon other classes to perform services outside of its own tightly defined responsibility.  In IoC speak, we call the collaborating objects dependencies.


For example, in my current system we have a class called AddressEditController that governs the creation and editing of Address entities in our web based UI.  The AddressEditController needs to validate user input and persist or load data.  Those are two distinct responsibilities, so AddressEditController has dependencies on other objects for these services.

public class AddressEditController : Controller
// AddressEditController uses IValidator to validate user input
// and IRepository to load and save Address information
private readonly IValidator _validator;
private IRepository _repository;

So here’s some facts about AddressEditController:

  • AddressEditController depends on IValidator and IRepository
  • AddressEditController cannot function unless it has both an IValidator and an IRepository
  • From the concepts section above, for best results, the AddressEditController should be loosely coupled to its dependencies by knowing as little about the inner workings of the real IValidator and IRepository
  • The real IRepository is a Gateway into NHibernate. The concrete Repository class cannot be used without its own dependency trail of external configuration, a Singleton to keep track of an expensive resource, and some NHibernate bootstrapping code.

Just calling a new() constructor on its dependencies isn’t the best design for our AddressEditController.  Creating a concrete Validator class is very possible, but what if we want to selectively replace the implementation of IValidator later?  That’s only somewhat likely, but the dependency on Repository is a much larger concern.  I might have semantic decoupling between AddressEditController and Repository, but ifAddressEditController calls new Repository() itself, AddressEditController will not be able to function without all that NHibernate bootstrapping.  I do not want a piece of my user interface to be tightly coupled to the existence of the persistence layer.

In other scenarios, creating the dependencies may involve more than just calling new() on the dependencies (don’t believe me?  Go try to create an HttpContext object).

AddressEditController is responsible for the workflow around editing Address entities in the UI.  It shouldn’t be concerned with NHibernate configuration and whatnot.  One way to solve this problem is to move the responsibility for building its dependencies to somewhere external to AddressEditController.

Inversion of Control and Dependency Injection

In many cases, I don’t want my classes to have to be aware of how their dependencies are created or located.  I don’t want controller classes to even care that they’re using an object that is created via Microsoft’s Provider infrastructure, or a Singleton, or needs configuration data.  My class should only know the public interfaces of its dependencies.  I can make that true by applying “Inversion of Control.”  Instead of doing:

public AddressEditController()
_validator = new Validator();
_repository = new Repository();

where AddressEditController calls linearly through to the constructors on Validator and Repository, we can invert the control to make the creator of AddressEditController responsible for building the dependencies and “pushing” them into AddressEditController.

public class AddressEditController : Controller
private readonly IValidator _validator;
private IRepository _repository;
public AddressEditController(IValidator validator, IRepository repository)
_validator = validator;
_repository = repository;

The code sample above uses a form of Inversion of Control called Dependency Injection to push in the dependencies via a constructor function.  Of course, at some point, something needs to know how to create the entire chain of dependencies and do all of that Dependency Injection.  StructureMap supports a pattern known as Service Locator:

// Creates an AddressEditController with all of its dependencies
AddressEditController controller = ObjectFactory.GetInstance<AddressEditController>();

ObjectFactory is a StructureMap class that serves as a well known place to go and find any service that you need.  When theAddressEditController is created and returned by ObjectFactory, it should be completely ready to go.  There’s another important concept to understand before you use StructureMap.

Auto Wiring

Every “real” IoC container supports the concept of “Auto Wiring.”  Auto Wiring simply means that StructureMap can figure out dependency chains for you without a lot of explicit configuration.  When you ask for AddressEditController, there is more going on than justAddressEditController and its two dependencies.  The Repository class itself has its own dependencies.

public Repository(ISessionSource source) : this(source.CreateSession())

In turn, the concrete version of ISessionSource above has its own dependencies:

public SessionSource(IDictionary<string, string> properties, PersistenceModel model)
_configuration = new Configuration();
_sessionFactory = _configuration.BuildSessionFactory();

which starts to get interesting because SessionSource needs some information like connection strings that have to come in from Xml configuration:

<StructureMap MementoStyle="Attribute">
<Pair Key="connection.provider" Value="NHibernate.Connection.DriverConnectionProvider" />
<Pair Key="connection.driver_class" Value="NHibernate.Driver.SqlClientDriver" />
<Pair Key="dialect" Value="NHibernate.Dialect.MsSql2000Dialect" />
<Pair Key="hibernate.dialect" Value="NHibernate.Dialect.MsSql2000Dialect" />
<Pair Key="use_outer_join" Value="true" />
<Pair Key="connection.connection_string" Value="a connection string that I’m certainly not giving out to you!" />
<Pair Key="show_sql" Value="true" />

Here’s some of the configuration for the other services that the entire EditAddressController needs:


At no point did I specify that EditAddressController needs an IRepository that needs an ISessionSource that needs 2-3 other things, but yet when I call:

// Creates an AddressEditController with all of its dependencies
AddressEditController controller = ObjectFactory.GetInstance<AddressEditController>();

StructureMap will construct EditAddressController that had a new instance of Repository that had a new instance ofSessionSource that had an IDictionary<string, string> object and a new instance of DovetailPersistenceModel.  I don’t have to explicitly tell StructureMap to do that for me because it uses its “Auto Wiring” feature to examine the dependencies of each concrete class and act accordingly.  StructureMap does need to know what to do with each type of object it encounters.  When it tries to build the Repositoryclass StructureMap sees the constructor argument for ISessionSource on Repository, and knows to build and inject a newSessionSource object (and so on as deep as you need to go).

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