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About the Axon Framework

A brief history

The demands on software projects increase rapidly, as time progresses. Companies no longer accept brochure-like homepage to promote their business; they want their (web)applications to evolve together with their business. That means that not only projects and code bases become more complex, it also means that functionality is constantly added, changed and (unfortunately not enough) removed. It can be frustrating to find out that a seemingly easy-to-implement feature can require development teams to take apart an entire application. Furthermore, today's webapplications target an audience of potentially billions of people, making scalability a bare necessity.

Although there are many applications and frameworks around that deal with scalability issues, such as GigaSpaces and Terracotta, they share one fundamental flaw. These stacks try to solve the scalability issues while letting developers develop application using the layered architecture they are used to. In some cases, they even prevent or severely limit the use of a real domain model, forcing all domain logic into services. Although that is faster to start building an application, eventually this approach will cause complexity to increase and development to slow down.

Greg Young, initiator of the Command Query Responsiblity Segregation (CQRS) pattern addressed these issues by drastically changing the way applications are architected. Instead of separating logic into separate layers, logic is separated based on whether it is changing an applition's state or querying it. That means that executing commands (actions that potentially change an application's state) are executed by completely different components than those that query for the application's state. The most important reason for this separation is the fact that there are different technical and non-technical requirements for each of them. When commands are executed, the query components are asynchronously updated using events. These asynchronous updates through events is what makes this architecture is extensible, scalable and ultimately more maintainable.

Since CQRS is so fundamentally different than the layered-architecture which dominates the software landscape nowadays, it is quite hard to grasp. It is not uncommon for developers to walk into a few traps while trying to find their way around this architecture. That's why Axon Framework was conceived: to help developers implement CQRS applications while focussing on the business logic.

What is Axon?

Axon Framework helps build scalable, extensible and maintainable applications by supporting developers apply the Command Query Responsibility Segregation (CQRS) architectural pattern. It does so by providing implementations, sometimes complete, sometimes abstract, of the most important building blocks, such as aggregates, repositories and event busses (the dispatching mechanism for events). Furthermore, Axon provides annotation support, which allows you to build aggregates and event listeners without tying your code to Axon specific logic. This allows you to focus on your business logic, instead of the plumbing, and helps you makes your code easier to test in isolation.

Axon does not, in any way, try to hide the CQRS architecture or any of its components from developers. Therefore, depending on team size, it is still advisable to have one or more developers with a thorough understanding of CQRS on each team. However, Axon does help when it comes to guaranteeing delivering events to the right event listeners and processing them concurrently and in the correct order. These multi-threading concerns are typically hard to deal with, leading to hard-to-trace bugs and sometimes complete application failure. When you have a tight deadline, you probably don't even want to care about these concerns. Axon's code is thoroughly tested to prevent these types of bugs.

Most of the concerns Axon addresses are located inside the JVM. However, for an application to be scalable, a single JVM is not enough. Therefore, Axon provides the axon-intregration module, which allows events to be sent to a Spring Integration channel. From there, you can use Spring Integration to dispatch events to application components on different machines. In the near future, Axon will provide more ways to dispatch events between JVM's and physical machines.

When to use Axon

Will each application benefit from Axon? Unfortunately not. Simple CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) applications which are not expected to scale will probably not benefit from CQRS or Axon. Fortunately, there is a wide variety of applications that does benefit from Axon.

Applications that will most likely benefit from CQRS and Axon are those that show one or more of the following characteristics:

The application is likely to be extended with new functionality during a long period of time. For example, an online store might start off with a system that tracks progress of Orders. At a later stage, this could be extended with Inventory information, to make sure stocks are updated when items are sold. Even later, accounting can require financial statistics of sales to be recorded, etc. Although it is hard to predict how software projects will evolve in the future, the majority of this type of application is clearly presented as such.

The application has a high read-to-write ratio. That means data is only written a few times, and read many times more. Since data sources for queries are different to those that are used for command validation, it is possible to optimize these data sources for fast querying. Duplicate data is no longer an issue, since events are published when data changes.

The application presents data in many different formats. Many applications nowadays don't stop when showing information on a web page. Some applications, for example, send monthly emails to notify users of changes that occured that might be relevant to them. Search engines are another example. They use the same data your application does, but in a way that is optimized for quick searching. Reporting tools aggregate information into reports that show data evolution over time. This, again, is a different format of the same data. Using Axon, each data source can be updated independently of each other on a real-time or scheduled basis.

When an application has clearly separated components with different audiences, it can benefit from Axon, too. An example of such application is the online store. Employees will update product information and availability on the website, while customer place orders and query for their order status. With Axon, these components can be deployed on separate machines and scaled completely differently. They are kept up-to-date using the events, which Axon will dispatch to all subscribed components, regardles of the machine they are deployed on.

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