Soon after I posted my previous blog post on message dispatching without Service Location I received an email from Jeff Saunders with some great observations. Jeff has been so kind to allow me to quote his email here on the blog, so here it is:

“I enjoyed your latest blog post about message dispatching. I have to ask, though: why do we want weakly-typed messages? Why can't we just inject an appropriate IConsumer<T> into our services - they know which messages they're going to send or receive.

“A really good example of this is ISubject<T> from Rx. It implements both IObserver<T> (a message consumer) and IObservable<T> (a message producer) and the default implementation Subject<T> routes messages directly from its IObserver side to its IObservable side.

“We can use this with DI quite nicely - I have written an example in .NET Pad:,c26,

“The good thing about this is that we now have access to all of the standard LINQ query operators and the new ones added in Rx, so we can use a select query to map messages between layers, for instance.

“This way we get all the benefits of a weakly-typed IChannel interface, with the added advantages of strong typing for our messages and composability using Rx.

“One potential benefit of weak typing that could be raised is that we can have just a single implementation for IChannel, instead of an ISubject<T> for each message type. I don't think this is really a benefit, though, as we may want different propagation behaviour for each message type - there are other implementations of ISubject<T> that call consumers asynchronously, and we could pass any IObservable<T> or IObserver<T> into a service for testing purposes.”

These are great observations and I think that Rx holds much promise in this space. Basically you can say that in CQRS-style architectures we're already pushing events (and commands) around, so why not build upon what the framework offers?

Even if you find the IObserver<T> interface a bit too clunky with its OnNext, OnError and OnCompleted methods compared to the strongly typed IConsumer<T> interface, the question still remains: why do we want weakly-typed messages?

We don't, necessarily. My previous post wasn't meant as a particular endorsement of a weakly typed messaging channel. It was more an observation that I've seen many variations of this IChannel interface:

public interface IChannel
    void Send<T>(T message);

The most important thing I wanted to point out was that while the generic type argument may create the illusion that this is a strongly typed method, this is all it is: an illusion. IChannel isn't strongly typed because you can invoke the Send method with any type of message - and the code will still compile. This is no different than the mechanical distinction between a Service Locator and an Abstract Factory.

Thus, when defining a channel interface I normally prefer to make this explicit and instead model it like this:

public interface IChannel
    void Send(object message);

This achieves exactly the same and is more honest.

Still, this doesn't really answer Jeff's question: is this preferable to one or more strongly typed IConsumer<T> dependencies?

Any high-level application entry point that relies on a weakly typed IChannel can get by with a single IChannel dependency. This is flexible, but (just like with Service Locator), it might hide that the client may have (or (d)evolve) too many responsibilities.

If, instead, the client would rely on strongly typed dependencies it becomes much easier to see if/when it violates the Single Responsibility Principle.

In conclusion, I'd tend to prefer strongly typed Datatype Channels instead of a single weakly typed channel, but one shouldn't underestimate the flexibility of a general-purpose channel either.


Thanks for the response, Mark! We are in full agreement.
2011-09-23 09:20 UTC

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Friday, 23 September 2011 09:08:53 UTC


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