A small abstraction for encapsulating non-trivial business logic in Ruby applications
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Readme.md

Use Case

Compose non-trivial business logic into use cases, that combine:

  • Input parameter abstractions; type safety and coercion, and white-listing of supported input for any given operation
  • Pre-conditions: System-level conditions that must be met, e.g. "a user must be logged in" etc.
  • Input parameter validation: ActiveRecord-like validations as composable objects. Combine specific sets of validation rules for the same input in different contexts etc.
  • Commands: Avoid defensive coding by performing the core actions in commands that receive type-converted input, and are only executed when pre-conditions are met and input is validated.

Example

UseCase is designed to break up and keep non-trivial workflows understandable and decoupled. As such, a trivial example would not illustrate what is good about it. The following example is simplified, yet still has enough aspects to show how UseCase helps you break things up.

Pre-conditions are conditions not directly related to input parameters alone, and whose failure signifies other forms of errors than simple validation errors. If you have a Rails application that uses controller filters, then those are very likely good candidates for pre-conditions.

The following example is a simplified use case from Gitorious where we want to create a new repository. To do this, we need a user that can admin the project under which we want the new repository to live.

NB! This example illustrates how to solve common design challenges in Rails applications; that does not mean that UseCase is only useful to Rails applications.

First, let's look at what your Rails controller will look like using a UseCase:

class RepositoryController < ApplicationController
  include Gitorious::Authorization # Adds stuff like can_admin?(actor, thing)

  # ...

  def create
    outcome = CreateRepository.new(self, current_user).execute(params)

    outcome.pre_condition_failed do |f|
      f.when(:user_required) { redirect_to(login_path) }
      f.otherwise do
        flash[:error] = "You're not allowed to do that"
        redirect_to project_path
      end
    end

    outcome.failure do |model|
      # Render form with validation errors
      render :new, :locals => { :repository => model }
    end

    outcome.success do |repository|
      redirect_to(repository_path(repository))
    end
  end
end

Executing the use case in an irb session could look like this:

include Gitorious::Authorization
user = User.find_by_login("christian")
project = Project.find_by_name("gitorious")
outcome = CreateRepository.new(self, user).execute(:project => project,
                                                   :name => "use_case")
outcome.success? #=> true
outcome.result.name #=> "use_case"

The code behind this use case follows:

require "use_case"
require "virtus"

# Input parameters can be sanitized and pre-processed any way you like. One nice
# way to go about it is to use Datamapper 2's Virtus gem to define a parameter
# set.
#
# This class uses Project.find to look up a project by id if project_id is
# provided and project is not. This is the only class that directly touches
# classes from the Rails application.
class NewRepositoryInput
  include Virtus.model
  attribute :name, String
  attribute :description, String
  attribute :project, Project
  attribute :project_id, Integer

  def project
    @project ||= Project.find(@project_id)
  end
end

# Validate new repositories. Extremely simplified example.
NewRepositoryValidator = UseCase::Validator.define do
  validates_presence_of :name, :project
end

# This is often implemented as a controller filter in many Rails apps.
# Unfortunately that means we have to duplicate the check when exposing the use
# case in other contexts (e.g. a stand-alone API app, console API etc).
class UserRequired
  # The constructor is only used by us and can look and do whever we want
  def initialize(user)
    @user = user
  end

  # A pre-condition must define this method
  # Params is an instance of NewRepositoryInput
  def satisfied?(params)
    !@user.nil?
  end
end

# Another pre-condition that uses app-wide state
class ProjectAdminPrecondition
  def initialize(auth, user)
    @auth = auth
    @user = user
  end

  def satisfied?(params)
    @auth.can_admin?(@user, params.project)
  end
end

# The business logic. Here we can safely assume that all pre-conditions are
# satisfied, and that input is valid and has the correct type.
class CreateRepositoryCommand
  def initialize(user)
    @user = user
  end

  # Params is an instance of NewRepositoryInput
  def execute(params)
    params.project.repositories.create(:name => params.name, :user => @user)
  end
end

# The UseCase - this is just wiring together the various classes
class CreateRepository
  include UseCase

  # There's no contract to satiesfy with the constructor - design it to receive
  # any dependencies you need.
  def initialize(auth, user)
    input_class(NewRepositoryInput)
    add_pre_condition(UserLoggedInPrecondition.new(user))
    add_pre_condition(ProjectAdminPrecondition.new(auth, user))
    # A step is comprised of a command with 0, 1 or many validators
    # (e.g. :validators => [...])
    # The use case can span multiple steps (see below)
    step(CreateRepositoryCommand.new(user), :validator => NewRepositoryValidator)
  end
end

The use case pipeline at a glance

This is the high-level overview of how UseCase strings up a pipeline for you to plug in various kinds of business logic:

User input (-> input sanitation) (-> pre-conditions) -> steps
  1. Start with a hash of user input
  2. Optionally wrap this in an object that performs type-coercion, enforces types etc.
  3. Optionally run pre-conditions on the santized input
  4. Execute steps. The initial step is fed the sanitized input, each following command is fed the result from the previous step.

Each step is a pipeline in its own right:

Step: (-> builder) (-> validations) -> command
  1. Optionally refine input by running it through a pre-execution "builder"
  2. Optionally run (refined) input through one or more validators
  3. Execute command with (refined) input

Input sanitation

In your UseCase instance (typically in the constructor), you can call the input_class method to specify which class is used to santize inputs. If you do not use this, inputs are forwarded to pre-conditions and commands untouched (i.e. as a Hash).

Datamapper 2's Virtus is a very promising solution for input sanitation and some level of type-safety. If you provide a Virtus backed class as input_class you will get an instance of that class as params in pre-conditions and commands.

Pre-conditions

A pre-condition is any object that responds to satisfied?(params) where params will either be a Hash or an instance of whatever you passed to input_class. The method should return true/false. If it raises, the outcome of the use case will call the pre_condition_failed block with the raised error. If it fails, the pre_condition_failed block will be called with a failure object wrapping the pre-condition instance that failed.

The wrapper failure object provides three methods of interest:

when

The when method allows you to associate a block of code with a specific pre-condition. The block is called with the pre-condition instance if that pre-condition fails. Because the pre-condition class may not be explicitly available in contexts where you want to use when, a symbolic representation is used.

If you have the following two pre-conditions:

  • UserRequired
  • ProjectAdminRequired

Then you can use when(:user_required) { |condition ... } and when(:project_admin_required) { |condition ... }. If you want control over how a class name is symbolized, make the class implement symbol, i.e.:

class UserRequired
  def self.symbol; :user_plz; end
  def initialize(user); @user = user; end
  def satisfied?(params); !@user.nil?; end
end

# Then:

outcome = use_case.execute(params)

outcome.pre_condition_failed do |f|
  f.when(:user_plz) { |c| puts "Needs moar user" }
  # ...
end

otherwise

otherwise is a catch-all that is called if no calls to when mention the offending pre-condition:

class CreateProject
  include UseCase

  def initialize(user)
    add_pre_condition(UserRequired.new(user))
    add_pre_condition(AdminRequired.new(user))
    step(CreateProjectCommand.new(user))
  end
end

# Then:

outcome = CreateProject.new(current_user).execute(params)

outcome.pre_condition_failed do |f|
  f.when(:user_required) { |c| puts "Needs moar user" }
  f.otherwise { |c| puts "#{c.name} pre-condition failed" }
end

pre_condition

If you want to roll your own flow control, simply get the offending pre-condition from this method.

Validations

The validator uses ActiveModel::Validations, so any Rails validation can go in here (except for validates_uniqueness_of, which apparently comes from elsewhere - see example below for how to work around this). The main difference is that the validator is created as a stand-alone object that can be used with any model instance. This design allows you to define multiple context-sensitive validations for a single object.

You can of course provide your own validation if you want - any object that defines call(object) and returns something that responds to valid? is good. I am following the Datamapper2 project closely in this area.

Because UseCase::Validation is not a required part of UseCase, and people may want to control their own dependencies, activemodel is not a hard dependency. To use this feature, gem install activemodel.

Builders

When user input has passed input sanitation and pre-conditions have been satisfied, you can optionally pipe input through a "builder" before handing it over to validations and a command.

The builder should be an object with a build or a call method (if it has both, build will be preferred). The method will be called with santized input. The return value will be passed on to validators and the commands.

Builders can be useful if you want to run validations on a domain object rather than directly on "dumb" input.

Example

In a Rails application, the builder is useful to wrap user input in an unsaved ActiveRecord instance. The unsaved object will be run through the validators, and (if found valid), the command can save it and perform additional tasks that you possibly do with ActiveRecord observers now.

This example also shows how to express uniqueness validators when you move validations out of your ActiveRecord models.

require "activemodel"
require "virtus"
require "use_case"

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
  def uniq?
    user = User.where("lower(name) = ?", name).first
    user.nil? || user == self
  end
end

UserValidator = UseCase::Validator.define do
  validates_presence_of :name
  validate :uniqueness

  def uniqueness
    errors.add(:name, "is taken") if !uniq?
  end
end

class NewUserInput
  include Virtus.model
  attribute :name, String
end

class NewUserCommand
  def execute(user)
    user.save!
    Mailer.user_signup(user).deliver
    user
  end

  def build(params)
    User.new(:name => params.name)
  end
end

class CreateUser
  include UseCase

  def initialize
    input_class(NewUserInput)
    cmd = NewUserCommand.new
    # Use the command as a builder too
    step(cmd, :builder => cmd, :validator => UserValidator)
  end
end

# Usage:
outcome = CreateUser.new.execute(:name => "Chris")
outcome.success? #=> true
outcome.result #=> #<User name: "Chris">

If the command fails to execute due to validation errors, using the builder allows us to access the partial object for re-rendering forms etc. Because this is such a common scenario, the command will automatically be used as the builder as well if there is no explicit :builder option, and the command responds to build. This means that the command in the previous example could be written as so:

class CreateUser
  include UseCase

  def initialize
    input_class(NewUserInput)
    step(NewUserCommand.new, :validator => UserValidator)
  end
end

When calling execute on this use case, we can observe the following flow:

# This
params = { :name => "Dude" }
CreateUser.new.execute(params)

# ...roughly expands to:
# (command is the command instance wired in the use case constructor)
input = NewUserInput.new(params)
prepared = command.build(input)

if UserValidator.call(prepared).valid?
  command.execute(prepared)
end

Note

I'm not thrilled by builder as a name/concept. Suggestions for a better name is welcome.

Commands

A command is any Ruby object that defines an execute(params) method. Alternately, it can be an object that responds to call (e.g. a lambda). Its return value will be passed to the outcome's success block. Any errors raised by this method is not rescued, so be sure to wrap use_case.execute(params) in a rescue block if you're worried that it raises. Better yet, detect known causes of exceptions in a pre-condition so you know that the command does not raise.

If the command responds to the build message and there is no explicitly configured :builder for the current step, the command is also used as a builder (see example above, under "Builders").

Use cases

A use case simply glues together all the components. Define a class, include UseCase, and configure the instance in the constructor. The constructor can take any arguments you like, making this solution suitable for DI (dependency injection) style designs.

The use case can optionally call input_class once, add_pre_condition multiple times, and step multiple times.

When using multiple steps, input sanitation with the input_class is performed once only. Pre-conditions are also only checked once - before any steps are executed. The use case will then execute the steps:

step_1: sanitizied_input -> (builder ->) (validators ->) command
step_n: command_n-1 result -> (builder ->) (validators ->) command

In other words, all commands except the first one will be executed with the result of the previous command as input.

Outcomes

UseCase#execute returns an Outcome. You can use the outcome in primarily two ways. The primary approach is one that takes blocks for the three situations: success(&block), failure(&block), and pre_condition_failed(&block). Only one of these will ever be called. This allows you to declaratively describe further flow in your program.

For use on the console and other situations, this style is not the most convenient. For that reason each of the three methods above can also be called without a block, and they always return something:

  • success returns the command result
  • failure returns the validation object (e.g. failure.errors.inspect)
  • pre_condition_failed returns the pre-condition that failed, or an exception object, if a pre-condition raised an exception.

In addition to these, the outcome object responds to success? and pre_condition_failed?.

Inspiration and design considerations

This small library is very much inspired by Mutations. Nice as it is, I found it to be a little limiting in terms of what kinds of commands it could comfortably encapsulate. Treating everything as a hash of inputs makes it hard to do things like "redirect if there's no user, render form if there are validation errors and redirect to new object if successful".

As I started working on my own solution I quickly recognized the power in separating input parameter type constraints/coercions from validation rules. This is another area where UseCase differs from Mutations. UseCase is probably slightly more "enterprise" than Mutations, but fits the kinds of problems I intend to solve with it better than Mutations did.

Testing

Using UseCase will allow you to test almost all logic completely without loading Rails. In the example above, the input conversion is the only place that directly touches any classes from the Rails application. The rest of the classes work by the "data in, data out" principle, meaning you can easily test them with any kind of object (which spares you of loading heavy ActiveRecord-bound models, running opaque controller tets etc).

Installation

$ gem install use_case

Developing

$ bundle install
$ rake

Contributing

  • Clone repo
  • Make changes
  • Add test(s)
  • Run tests
  • If adding new abilities, add docs in Readme, or commit a working example
  • Send patch, pull request or merge request

If you intend to add entirely new features, you might want to open an issue to discuss it with me first.

License

UseCase is free software licensed under the MIT license.

The MIT License (MIT)

Copyright (C) 2013 Gitorious AS

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