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An asynchronous dependency injection container written in coffeescript.
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Coffee-Injector in short

Coffee-Injector is a very small dependency injection container intended to fit both Javascript as a language and node.js as an environment where asynchronous execution is the rule rather than the exception. It is written in CoffeeScript (a terrific language that compiles into Javascript), takes advantage of the node-promise library for asynchrony and is unit tested using vows. Read on for details.

Dependency injection the node.js way

Dependency injection is an often used mechanism for achieving inversion of control, a design principle related to the D in SOLID. Dependency injection can be applied manually, but a container object specifically built for the occasion can make a programmer's life significantly easier. In statically typed languages, injection can often be automated to a large degree through such an approach with the alternative being meticulously handwritten resource initializations. In dynamic languages such as Javascript and Ruby, type information necessary for such automation is obviously going to be missing, but there are still ways for a container to perform valuable work for you. Why is it useful?

Dependency injection is, at its core, about how you wire different parts of your application together - about configuration. The sweet thing about this is the configured things don't really have to be just object graphs, but resources of any kind. Coffee-Injector borrows in ideology from a minimalistic style applied in Ruby and PHP that make use of closures for resource description. This, as opposed to automatic constructor and setter injection of objects, allows the container to remain agnostic of the kind of resources it stores. As Fabien Potencier puts it,

"Defining objects with lambda functions is great because the developer can do whatever he wants"

The essence of Coffee-Injector is to give you everything you need to set up your resources and resolve their dependencies, then get out of the way. You get a way to configure your application in one place. Because of the asynchronous nature of node.js, a sprinkle of Promises is added on top, but that is the extent of it. No bells and whistles. (Promises are one suggestion for a standard asynchronous interface suggested by and discussed at CommonJS. Go check it out!)

Features and usage

Describing resources and using them

Using a dependency injection container should generally follow a pattern of register-resolve-release, where you'll first configure the container, then retrieve root components and finally throw the container away. You'll be left with a small set of components with their dependencies fully resolved, meaning you're all set for launching your application. With the last, or the "release" step, being trivial, let's describe the first two in their basic forms with Coffee-Injector. We'll use accessing a local file as a simple example to include some asynchronous operations.

First, you'll need an instance of the container. This means requiring the container class and instantiating it.

Container = require 'path/to/coffee-injector/container.js'
c = new Container

There are two ways to register resources with the container. You can either set a fully resolved value - for things that are neither asynchronous nor dependent on other values - or provide a descriptor for resolving said value. The first kind is trivial.

c.set 'filename', 'example.txt'
if c.has 'filename'
	console.log "Successfully set a resource in the container!"

To access the value, use - you guessed it - get. The result of get, however, is not the resource as you'd expect, but a Promise. A Promise has a singular method, then, that accepts two arguments: the first one will be called if the promise was kept and resolved to a value, the second one in case there was an error and the promise was rejected. In this case, the promise will always immediately be resolved to a value.

c.get('filename').then (filename) ->
	console.log filename

The other way is to provide a description of the process required to access the resource. This description will be reused every time the resource is accessed. There are two things to note: the description is just code in which you may do whatever you want, but the results need to be announced using callback functions provided by the container. Let's look at how you would read a file using plain node.js libraries and then transform it into a Coffee-Injector resource description.

fs = require 'fs'
fs.readFile 'example.txt', (err, data) ->
	throw err if err
	console.log data

A trivial conversion will look something like the following.

c.describe 'example', (result, error) ->
	fs.readFile 'example.txt', (err, data) ->
		if err
			error err
			result data

We provide the container with a callback function that takes two arguments, one for informing the container of a successful resource acquisition and one for reporting an erroneous result. Once our asynchronous callback function (that we passed to readFile) is invoked, we take corresponding action based on the callback's input. One thing you'll notice is that example.txt is explicitly contained in the definition. To get rid of the explicitness, we'll need to retrieve the value from the container itself. The descriptor function is ran in a scope that has access to accessor methods like get. So the full snippet, including using the resource, would look like this.

fs = require 'fs'
Container = require 'path/to/coffee-injector/container.js'

c = new Container
c.set 'filename', 'example.txt'
c.describe 'example', (result, error) ->
	@get('filename').then (filename) ->
		fs.readFile filename, (err, data) ->
			if err
				error err
				result data

c.get('example').then (data) ->
	console.log data

The result we get is a decoupling of the wiring and the execution parts of the script.

Cyclic dependency detection

A cyclic dependency means a situation where a resource depends on itself either directly (which is usually pretty easy to spot) or indirectly through another resource or several (debugging which can be tedious). Given the relative ease at which these situations can arise during development, their prevention is an important feature in dependency injection containers. Coffee-Injector obviously does this as well.

In some other languages, cyclic dependencies can be found through static analysis of the dependency graph, but the dynamic nature of Javascript limits us to detection during runtime. Therefore, the following code alone will not fail:

c.describe 'foo', (result) ->
	@get('foo').then (value) ->
	    result value

Attempting to access foo, however, will generate an exception:

catch e
    console.log 'whoops, found a cyclic dependency'

Coffee-Injector opts for a fail-fast approach, which means exceptions are favored for configuration errors over returning Promises that are resolved to errors.

Installation and available cake tasks

Assuming you have node.js and npm installed:

npm install coffee-script
npm install vows
git clone

Once you're done, you can run the unit tests with cake test or just compile the coffeescript files with cake compile.

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