Where is the database?

I have just watched an interesting conversation between Martin Fowler and Badri Janakiraman about #hexagonalrails, and in particular about the role of databases. The central question in the discussion is whether the database should be considered outside or inside the domain. While watching, I realised I had had similar thoughts in 2005!

In recent years I have considered databases to be always outside the domain. I can definitely see the attraction of an “always present” domain model, but I think it is conflating different points of view, and misunderstanding the point of Hexagonal Architecture. I was wrong in 2005 :)

The comments on the video are very interesting, particularly those by Alistair Cockburn. Specifically he makes two key points:

  1. [There is no] debate of whether the persistence is in or out in HA, it is out. So you should say you chose not to use that piece of HA, not that you used it but brought the db inside.
  2. the purpose of HA is the configurable link t0 db

By forcing ourselves to keep to database outside of the domain we respect the hexagonal symmetry , and this is the only way to guarantee complete separation of concerns. The choice of Active Record or Data Mapper then becomes a decision about how to implement the “configurable database” port/adapter.


Query actions in Rails controllers

Recently some of my controller actions have taken on a definite new shape. Particularly when the action is a read-only query of the app’s state. Such actions tend to make up the bulk of my apps, and they can be simple because they are unlikely to “fail” in any predictable way. Here’s an example from my wiki app:

This has a couple of significant plus points: First, no instance variables, so both the controller action and the view are more readable and easier to refactor. Second, no instance variables! So there’s a clear, documented, named interface between the controller and the view. And third, this is so transparently readable that I never bother to test it.

The wiki used in the above action is a repository, built in a memoizing helper method that most of the controllers use:

In this case the correct kind of repository is created for the current user, and all of the other code in this request sits on top of that. So the controller action, helped by the memoized repository builder, effectively constructs an entire hexagonal architecture for each request, and the domain logic is thus blissfully unaware of its context.

Here’s a slightly bigger example. This is for a page that shows a variety of informative graphs about the wiki; and because I may want to re-organise my admin pages in the future, each graph’s data is built independently of the others:

That’s the most complex query controller action I have, and I maintain that it’s so simple I don’t need to test it. Would you?