I See AnemicDomainModels

AnemicDomainModel is an anti-pattern I seem to keep coming across. It's when a system has objects which represent its business entities, but all the business logic is crammed into static classes. The static classes (usually called SomethingOperations, or SomethingServices) take business entity instances in their methods and manipulate those entities directly, implementing business logic in a procedural fashion.

The problems with this setup:

  1. Your 'business objects' are just glorified data carriers - bags of getters and setters with no behaviour. This makes it much more difficult to use all those neat OO tricks which can simplify the way a system does its work, like polymorphism. Your static classes get filled with switch statements and logic paths based on whether the object they're dealing with represents Thing1 or Thing2 or Thing3, instead of the behaviour being implemented by Thing1, Thing2 and Thing3, with another class just invoking that behaviour. Your system becomes more complicated than it needs to be, and everyone gets very sad.
  2. Because your business logic classes are static, the classes that help them carry out their work also have to be static. You end up with a network of static classes strongly coupled to other static classes by direct references, with no visibility of the dependencies. This makes it much more difficult to write automated tests, which makes your system fragile and difficult to change. Everyone gets very sad.

OO has been around for decades – with the Gang of Four patterns book published nearly 20 years ago – so why are people still writing these sorts of systems? I think it betrays a fundamental failure to grasp the nature of OO. OO systems are composed of objects which are composed of other objects, with behaviour arising through object-object interactions. I see AnemicDomainModel systems built by people who first learned procedural programming and later tried to incorporate OO into their repertoire, but didn't manage to make the necessary shift in their thinking. They tend to have decades of experience, and to therefore be responsible for creating systems. They tend to be members of the large majority of developers who don't continue to read about or study their craft, and therefore miss out on better ways of doing things. As the systems get bigger and creak under their design flaws, they blame the business coming up with requirements late, changing their minds, or coming up with things they never expected – all things a well-designed OO system can handle.

How do you get from an AnemicDomainModel to a more best-practice OO system? Ideally you start by levering in some testability seams so you can get test coverage without having to call web services or query databases – this will protect you as you refactor. You can then pick out bits and pieces to move from static classes into appropriate business objects – perhaps starting by replacing those switch statements with polymorphism. It's a long road - and naturally the business will be pushing for new functionality to be added the entire time - and it boils down to a lack of education, or desire to educate oneself. Good luck!

Print | posted @ Saturday, November 30, 2013 9:21 PM

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