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Chapter 1

CQRS in Context (Chapter Title)

This chapter is intended to provide some context for the main subject of this guide: a discussion of the Command Query Responsibility Segregation (CQRS) pattern. It is useful to understand some of the origins of the CQRS pattern and some of the terminology you will encounter both in this guide and in other material that discusses the CQRS pattern. It is particularly important to understand that the CQRS pattern is not intended for use as the top-level architecture of your system; rather it should be applied to those sub-systems that will gain specific benefits from the application of the pattern.

Before we look at the issues surrounding the use of different architectures within a complex application, we need to introduce some of the terminology that we will use in this chapter, and in subsequent chapters of this reference guide. Much of this terminology comes from an approach known as Domain-driven Design (DDD). There are a few important points to note about our use of this terminology:

  • There are other approaches that tackle the same problems that DDD tackles, with similar concepts, but with their own specific terminologies.

  • We are using the DDD terminology because many CQRS practitioners also use this terminology, and it is used in much of the existing CQRS literature.

  • While it is clear that using a DDD approach sometimes leads naturally to an adoption of the CQRS pattern, we are not saying that the DDD approach always leads to the use of the CQRS pattern, or that the DDD approach is a prerequisite for using the CQRS pattern.

  • You may question our interpretation of some of the concepts of DDD. The intention of this guide is to take what is useful from DDD to help us explain the CQRS pattern and related concepts, not to provide guidance on how to use the DDD approach.

To learn more about DDD, you should read the book "Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software" by Eric Evans.

For a summary of the key points in Eric Evans' book, you should read the free book, "Domain-Driven Design Quickly" by Abel Avram and Floyd Marinescu.

What is Domain-Driven Design?

As previously stated, DDD is an approach to developing software systems, and in particular systems that are complex, that have ever-changing business rules, and that you expect to last for the long-term within the enterprise.

The core of the DDD approach uses a set of techniques to analyze your domain and to construct a conceptual model that captures the results of that analysis: you can then use that model as the basis of your solution. The analysis and model in the DDD approach are especially well suited to designing solutions for large and complex domains. DDD also extends its influence to other aspects of the software development process as a part of the attempt to help you manage complexity:

  • In focusing on the domain, DDD focuses on the area where the business and the development team must be able to communicate with each other clearly, but where in practice they often misunderstand each other. The domain models that DDD uses should capture detailed, rich business knowledge, but should also be very close to the code that is actually written.
  • Domain models are also useful in the longer term if they are maintained. By capturing valuable domain knowledge, they facilitate maintaining and enhancing the system in the future.
  • DDD offers guidance on how large problem domains can be effectively divided up, enabling multiple teams to work in parallel, and enabling you to target appropriate resources to those parts of the system with the greatest business value.

The DDD approach is appropriate for large, complex systems that are expected to have a long life span. You are unlikely to see a return on your investment in DDD if you use it on small, simple, or short-term projects.

Comment [DRB]: Look for a suitable quote to use for the previous paragraph.

Domain-Driven Design: Concepts and Terminology

As previously stated, this guide is not intended to provide guidance on using the DDD approach. However, it is useful to understand some of the concepts and terminology from DDD because they are useful when we describe some aspects of CQRS pattern implementations. These are not official or rigorous definitions; they are intended to be useful, working definitions for the purposes of this guide.

Domain Model

At the heart of DDD lies the concept of the domain model. This model is built by the team responsible for developing the system in question, and that team consists of both domain experts from the business and software developers. The domain model serves several functions:

  • It captures all of the relevant domain knowledge from the domain experts.
  • It enables the team to determine the scope and verify the consistency of that knowledge.
  • The model is expressed in code by the developers.
  • It is constantly maintained to reflect evolutionary changes in the domain.

DDD focuses on the domain because it contains business value. An enterprise derives its competitive advantage and generates business value from its core domains. The role of the domain model is to capture what is valuable or unique to the business.

Much of the DDD approach focuses on how to create, maintain, and use these domain models. Domain models are typically composed of elements such as Entities, Value Objects, Aggregates, and described using terms from a Ubiquitous Language.

Ubiquitous Language

The concept of a ubiquitous language is very closely related to that of the domain model. One of the functions of the domain model is to foster a common understanding of the domain between the domain experts and the developers. If both the domain experts and the developers use the same terms for things and actions within the domain (for example, conference, chair, attendee, reserve, waitlist), there is less possibility for confusion or misunderstanding. More specifically, if everyone uses the same language there are less likely to be misunderstandings that result from translations between languages. For example, if a developer has to think, "if the domain expert talks about a delegate, he is really talking about an attendee in the software," then eventually something will go wrong as a result of a misunderstanding or mistranslation.

Entities, Value Objects, and Services

DDD uses these terms to identify some of the internal artifacts that will make up the domain model.

Entities

Entities are objects that are defined by their identity, and that identity continues through time. For example, a conference in a conference management system will be an entity; many of its attributes could change over time (such as its status, size, and even name), but within the system each particular conference will have its own unique identity. The object that represents the conference may not always exist within the system's memory; at times it may be persisted to a database, only to be re-instantiated at some point in the future.

Value Objects

Not all objects are defined by their identity: for some objects what is important are the values of their attributes. For example, within our conference management system we do not need to assign an identity to every attendee's address (for a start all of the attendee's from a particular organization may share the same address). All we are concerned with are the values of the attributes of an address: street, city, state, etc. Value objects are usually immutable.

Services

You cannot always model everything as an object. For example, in the conference management system it makes sense to model a third-party payment processing system as a service: the system can pass the parameters required by the payment processing service and then receive a result back from the service. Notice that a common characteristic of a service is that it is stateless (unlike entities and value objects).

Note: Services are usually implemented as regular class libraries that expose a collection of stateless methods. A service in a DDD domain model is not a Web service; these are two different concepts.

Aggregates and Aggregate Roots

Whereas entities, value objects, and services are terms for the elements that DDD uses to describe things in the domain model, the terms aggregate and aggregate root relate specifically to the life cycle and grouping of those elements.

When you design a system that allows multiple users to work on shared data, you will have to evaluate the trade-off between consistency and usability. At one extreme, when a user needs to make a change to some data, you could lock the entire database to ensure that the change is consistent. However, the system would be unusable for all other users for the duration of the update. At the other extreme, you could decide not enforce any locks at all, allowing any user to edit any piece of data at any time, but you would soon end up with inconsistent or corrupt data within the system. Choosing the correct granularity for locking to balance the demands of consistency and usability requires detailed knowledge of the domain:

  • You need to know which set of entities and value objects each transaction can potentially affect. For example, are there transactions in the system that can update attendee, conference, and room objects?
  • You need to know how far the relationships from one object extend through other entities and value objects within the domain, and where you must define the consistency boundaries. For example, if you delete a room object, should you also delete a projector object, or a set of attendee objects?

DDD uses the term aggregate to define a cluster of related entities and value objects that form a consistency boundary within the system. That consistency boundary is usually based on transactional consistency.

An aggregate root (also known as a Root Entity) is the gatekeeper object for the aggregate: all access to the objects within the aggregate must be done through the aggregate root, external entities are only permitted to hold a reference to the aggregate root, and all invariants should be checked by the aggregate root.

In summary, aggregates are the mechanism that DDD uses to manage the complex set of relationships that typically exist between the many entities and value objects that exist within a typical domain model.

Bounded Contexts

So far, the DDD concepts and terminology that we have briefly introduced are related to creating, maintaining, and using a domain model. For a large system, it may not be practical to maintain a single domain model; it is too large and complex to make it feasible to keep it coherent and consistent. To manage this scenario, DDD introduces the concepts of bounded contexts and multiple models. Within a system, you might choose to use multiple smaller models rather than a single large model, each one focusing on some aspect or grouping of functionality within the overall system. A bounded context is the context for one, particular domain model. Similarly, each bounded context (if implemented following the DDD approach) has its own ubiquitous language, or at least its own dialect of the domain's ubiquitous language.

Figure 1

Bounded contexts within a large, complex system

Figure 1 shows an example, drawn from a conference management system, of a system that is divided into multiple bounded contexts. In practice, there are likely to be more bounded contexts than the three shown in the diagram.

There are no hard and fast rules that specify how big a bounded context should be. Ultimately it's a pragmatic issue that is determined by your requirements and the constraints on your project:

Favoring Larger Bounded Contexts

  • Flow between user tasks is smoother when more is handled with a unified model.
  • It is easier to understand one coherent model than two distinct ones plus mappings.
  • Translation between two models can be difficult (sometimes impossible).
  • Shared language fosters clear team communication.

Favoring Smaller Bounded Contexts

  • Communication overhead between developers is reduced.
  • Continuous Integration is easier with smaller teams and code bases.
  • Larger contexts may call for more versatile abstract models, requiring skills that are in short supply.
  • Different models can cater to special needs or encompass the jargon of specialized groups of users, along with specialized dialects of the Ubiquitous Language.

    Eric Evans, "Domain-Driven Design," p383.

Context Maps

A large complex system can have multiple bounded contexts that interact with one another in various ways. A Context Map is the documentation that describes the relationships between these bounded contexts. It might might be in the form of diagrams or tables or text.

A Context Map helps to visualize the system at a high level, showing how some of the key parts relate to each other. It also helps to clarify the boundaries between the bounded contexts: it shows where and how the bounded contexts exchange data and share data, and also where you must translate data as it moves from one domain model to another.

A business entity such as a Customer might exist in the different bounded contexts. However it may may need to expose different facets or properties that are relevant to a particular bounded context. As a Customer entity moves from one bounded context to another you may need to translate it so that it exposes the relevant facets or properties for its current context.

Bounded Contexts and Multiple Architectures

A bounded context typically represents a slice of the overall system with clearly defined boundaries separating it from other bounded contexts within the system. If a bounded context is implemented by following the DDD approach, the bounded context will have its own domain model and its own ubiquitous language. Bounded contexts are also typically vertical slices through the system, so the implementation of a bounded context will include everything from the data store, right up to the UI.

The same domain concept can exist in multiple bounded contexts: for example, the concept of an attendee in a conference management system might exist in the bounded context that deals with bookings, in the bounded context that deals with badge printing, and in the bounded context that deals with hotel reservations. From the perspective of the domain expert, these different versions of the attendee may require different behaviors and attributes. For example, in the bookings bounded context the attendee is associated with a registrant who makes the bookings and payments. Information about the registrant is not relevant in the hotel reservations bounded context where information such as dietary requirements or smoking preferences is important.

One important consequence of this split is that you can use different implementation architectures in different bounded contexts. For example, one bounded context might be implemented using a DDD layered architecture, another might use a two-tier CRUD architecture, and another might use an architecture derived from the CQRS pattern. Figure 2 illustrates a system with multiple bounded contexts each using a different architectural style. It also highlights that each bounded context is typically end-to-end, from the persistence store through to the UI.

Figure 2

Multiple architectural styles within a large, complex application

This highlights another benefit of dividing the system into bounded contexts in addition to managing complexity. You can use an appropriate technical architecture for different parts of the system that addresses the specific characteristics of that part: is it a complex part of the system; does it contain core domain functionality; what is its expected lifetime?

Bounded Contexts and Multiple Development Teams

Clearly separating out the different bounded contexts, working with separate domain models and ubiquitous languages also makes it possible to parallelize the development work by using separate teams for each bounded context. This relates to the idea of using different technical architectures for different bounded contexts because the different development teams might have different skill sets and skill levels.

Maintaining Multiple Bounded Contexts

Although bounded contexts help to manage the complexity of large systems by dividing them up into more manageable pieces, it is unlikely that each bounded context will exist in isolation. Bounded contexts will need to exchange data with each other, and this exchange of data will be complicated if you need to translate between the different definitions of the same thing that exist in the different domain models. In our conference management system, we may need to move information about attendees between the bounded contexts that deal with conference bookings, badge printing, and hotel reservations. The DDD approach offers a number of approaches for handling the interactions between multiple models in multiple bounded contexts such as using anti-corruption layers, or using shared kernels.

Note: At the technical implementation level, communication between bounded contexts is often handled asynchronously using events and a messaging infrastructure.

For more information about how DDD deals with large systems and complex models, you should read "Part IV: Strategic Design" in the book "Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software" by Eric Evans.

CQRS and DDD

As stated in the introduction to this chapter, it is useful to understand a little of the terminology and concepts from DDD when you are learning about the CQRS pattern.

Many of the ideas that informed the CQRS pattern arose from issues that DDD practitioners faced when applying the DDD approach to real-world problems. As such, if you decide to use the DDD approach, you may find that the CQRS pattern is a very natural fit for some of the bounded contexts that you identify within your system, and that it is relatively straightforward to move from your domain model to the physical implementation of the CQRS pattern.

Some experts consider the DDD approach to be an essential pre-requisite for implementing the CQRS pattern.

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However, many people can point to projects where they have seen real benefits from implementing the CQRS pattern, but where they have not used the DDD approach for the domain analysis and model design.

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In summary, the DDD approach is not a pre-requisite for implementing the CQRS pattern, but in practice they do often go together.

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