dci / scaladci

Exploring the DCI paradigm in Scala

GitHub

Scala DCI

The Data Context Interaction (DCI) paradigm by Trygve Reenskaug and James Coplien embodies true object-orientation where runtime Interactions between a network of objects in a particular Context is understood and coded as first class citizens. ScalaDCI tries to get as close as Scala allows us to realize the goals of DCI by using macro source code transformation, also known as "injectionless DCI".

DCI is a new paradigm that implies many layers of new thinking that are fundamentally different from how mainstream "object-oriented" coding is perceived Today. It's not just a "technique" or a "pattern". It is also about how we think about the domain and what the system is versus what the system does. And DCI offers new ways to be more explicit about the does-side in ways that enable us to reason about what the code will do at runtime. Something that the Gang of Four admitted most "object-oriented" systems don't offer with their deeply nested deferred hierarchies of classes organized in endless patterns that tell almost nothing about the path objects instantiated from those classes will take at runtime. That unfortunately makes Todays programs almost impossible to reason about and therefore completely reliant on extensive test suites that desperately try to catch runtime surprises - surprises that DCI tries to avoid from the outset by taking a fundamentally more reasonable approach.

At the moment extensive research and development is taken on by James Coplien to develop a truly object-oriented research language called "trygve", named after the inventor of DCI, Trygve Reenskaug. See more on the official DCI site and on the google list.

To see how ScalaDCI works, let's take a very simple example of a Data class Account with some basic methods:

case class Account(name: String, var balance: Int) {
  def increaseBalance(amount: Int) { balance += amount }
  def decreaseBalance(amount: Int) { balance -= amount }
}

This is a primitive data class only knowing about its own data and how to manipulate that. The concept of a transfer between two accounts we can leave outside its responsibilities and instead delegate to a "Context" - the MoneyTransfer Context class. In this way we can keep the Account class very slim and avoid that it gradually takes on more and more responsibilities for each use case it participates in.

Our Mental Model of a money transfer could be "Withdraw amount from a source account and deposit the amount in a destination account". Interacting concepts like our "source" and "destination" accounts we call "Roles" in DCI. And we can define how they can interact in our Context to accomplish a money transfer:

@context
class MoneyTransfer(source: Account, destination: Account, amount: Int) {

  source.withdraw // Interactions start...

  role source {
    def withdraw() {
      source.decreaseBalance(amount)
      destination.deposit
    }
  }

  role destination {
    def deposit() {
      destination.increaseBalance(amount)
    }
  }
}

We want our source code to map as closely to our mental model as possible so that we can confidently and easily overview and reason about how the objects will interact at runtime! We want to expect no surprises at runtime. With DCI we have all runtime interactions right there! No need to look through endless convoluted abstractions, tiers, polymorphism etc to answer the reasonable question where is it actually happening, goddammit?!

At compile time, our @context macro annotation transforms the abstract syntax tree (AST) of our code to enable our runtime data objects to "have" those extra Role Methods. Well, I'm half lying to you; the objects won't "get new methods". Instead we call Role-name prefixed Role methods that are lifted into Context scope which accomplishes what we intended in our source code. Our code gets transformed as though we had written this:

class MoneyTransfer(source: Account, destination: Account, amount: Int) {
  
  source_withdraw()
  
  private def source_withdraw() {
    source.decreaseBalance(amount) // Calling Data instance method
    destination_deposit()          // Calling Role method
  }
  
  private def destination_deposit() {
    destination.increaseBalance(amount)
  }
}

Role methods that "shadow" instance methods

In ScalaDCI, role methods will always take precedence over instance methods of the object that will play the role.

Generally we want to avoid defining a role method with a name that clashes with - or "shadows" - an instance method since this could cause confusion about the runtime behavior of our program. "Which method is called on the role-playing object?".

Therefore ScalaDCI tries to determine the instance type to see if a role method shadows one of its methods, and if so throw a compile time error.

But at runtime we might not be able to determine the instance type and thereby what instance method it has. In that case ScalaDCI falls back on always calling the role method. In this case no error is thrown.

self reference to a Role Player

As an alternative to using the Role name to reference a Role Player we can also use self:

  role source {
    def withdraw {
      self.decreaseBalance(amount)  
      destination.deposit
    }
  }

  role destination {
    def deposit {
      self.increaseBalance(amount)
    }
  }

or this:

  role source {
    def withdraw {
      this.decreaseBalance(amount)
      destination.deposit
    }
  }

  role destination {
    def deposit {
      this.increaseBalance(amount)
    }
  }

Multiple roles

We can "assign" or "bind" a domain object to several Roles in our Context by simply making more variables with role names pointing to that object:

@context
class MyContext(someRole: MyData) {
  val otherRole = someRole
  val localRole = new DummyData()
  
  someRole.foo() // prints "Hello world"
  
  role someRole {
    def foo() {
      someRole.doMyDataStuff()
      otherRole.bar()
    }
  }
  
  role otherRole {
    def bar() {
      localRole.say("Hello")
    }
  }
  
  role localRole {
    def say(s: String) {
      println(s + " world")
    }
  }
}

As you see in line 3, otherRole is simply a reference pointing to the MyData instance (named someRole).

Inside each role definition we can still use self/this.

We can add as many references/role definitions as we want. This is a way to allow different Roles of a Use Case each to have their own meaningful namespace for defining their role-specific behavior / role methods.

How does it work?

In order to have an intuitive syntax like

role roleName {
  // role methods...
}

for defining a Role and its Role methods we need to make a Scala contruct that is valid before our macro annotation can start transforming our code:

object role extends Dynamic {
  def applyDynamic(obj: Any)(roleBody: => Unit) = roleBody
}

Since the role object extends the Dynamic marker trait and we have defined an applyDynamic method, we can invoke methods with arbitrary method names on the role object. When the compiler find that we are trying to call a method on role that we haven't defined (it doesn't type check), it will rewrite our code so that it calls applyDynamic:

role.foo(args) ~~> role.applyDynamic("foo")(args)
role.bar(args) ~~> role.applyDynamic("bar")(args)

For the purpose of DCI we can presume to call a method on role that "happens" to have a Role name:

role.source(args)      ~~> role.applyDynamic("source")(args)
role.destination(args) ~~> role.applyDynamic("destination")(args)

Scala allow us to replace the . with a space and the parentheses with curly braces:

role source {args}      ~~> role.applyDynamic("source")(args)
role destination {args} ~~> role.applyDynamic("destination")(args)

You see where we're getting at. Now, the args signature in our applyDynamic method has a "by-name" parameter type of => Unit that allow us to define a block of code that returns nothing:

role source {
  doThis
  doThat
}      
~~> role.applyDynamic("source")(doThis; doThat) // pseudo code

The observant reader will note that "source" given the Dynamic invocation capability is merely a "free text" name that has no connection to the object that we have called "source":

val source = new Account(...) // `source` is an object identifier
role source {...}             // "source" is a method name

In order to enforce that the method name "source" points to the object source our @context macro annotation checks that the method name has a corresponding identifier in the scope of the annotated Context. If it doesn't it won't compile and the programmer will be noticed of available identifier names (one could have misspelled the Role name for instance).

Scala DCI demo application

In the Scala DCI Demo App you can see an example of how to create a DCI project.

Using Scala DCI in your project

ScalaDCI is available for Scala 2.12.2 at Sonatype. To start coding with DCI in Scala add the following to your SBT build file:

libraryDependencies ++= Seq(
  "org.scaladci" %% "scaladci" % "0.5.6"
),
addCompilerPlugin("org.scalamacros" % "paradise" % "2.1.0" cross CrossVersion.full)

Building Scala DCI

git clone https://github.com/DCI/scaladci.git
<open in your IDE>

Have fun!

DCI resources

Discussions - Object-composition
Website - Full-OO
Wiki - DCI wiki

Credits

Trygve Renskaug and James O. Coplien for inventing and developing DCI.

Scala DCI solution inspired by

  • Risto Välimäki's post and
  • Rune Funch's Marvin DCI language and Maroon for Ruby.