Patterns for Building Enterprise Solutions

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Complete List of patterns & practices

"A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked...A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system." - John Gall in Systemantics: How Systems Really Work and How They Fail

Enterprise class business solutions, the kind that companies bet their business on, are often extremely complex and must perform well against high expectations. Not only must they be highly available and scalable in the face of unpredictable usage, they must also be malleable and predictable in response to rapidly changing business requirements.

The best solutions are those composed of a set of smaller, simple mechanisms that solve simple problems reliably and effectively. During the process of building larger and more complex systems, these simple mechanisms combine to evolve the larger system.

Knowledge of these simple mechanisms does not come easy. It usually resides in the minds of experienced developers and architects and is an important part of the tacit knowledge they bring to projects.

This guide captures the knowledge of seasoned developers and presents it in the form of a patterns catalog. Each pattern contains a simple, proven mechanism that solves a small problem effectively. Although you can understand and apply each pattern individually, you often combine these patterns to build complex systems.

Patterns are useful to developers and architects because they:

Document simple mechanisms that work.

Provide a common vocabulary and taxonomy for developers and architects.

Enable solutions to be described concisely as combinations of patterns.

Enable reuse of architecture, design, and implementation decisions.

This chapter introduces the notion of a pattern, explains how a pattern documents simple, proven mechanisms, and shows how collections of patterns provide a common language for developers and architects. To illustrate these concepts, this chapter applies abbreviated versions of actual patterns to real-life development situations.

Patterns Document Simple Mechanisms

A pattern describes a recurring problem that occurs in a given context and, based on a set of guiding forces, recommends a solution. The solution is usually a simple mechanism, a collaboration between two or more classes, objects, services, processes, threads, components, or nodes that work together to resolve the problem identified in the pattern.

Note: Although the underlying mechanisms described in these patterns are conceptually simple, in practice their implementation can become quite complex. The implementation requires skill and judgment to tailor general patterns to fit specific circumstances. In addition, the pattern examples in this chapter are highly abbreviated for the purpose of introduction; the actual patterns in subsequent chapters are much more detailed.

Consider the following example:

You are building a quote application, which contains a class that is responsible for managing all of the quotes in the system. It is important that all quotes interact with one and only one instance of this class. How do you structure your design so that only one instance of this class is accessible within the application?

A simple solution to this problem is to create a QuoteManager class with a private constructor so that no other class can instantiate it. This class contains a static instance of QuoteManager that is returned with a static method named GetInstance(). The code looks something like this:

public class QuoteManager
     //NOTE: For single threaded applications only
     private static QuoteManager _Instance = null;
     private QuoteManager() {}
     public static QuoteManager GetInstance() 
          if (_Instance==null) 
               _Instance = new QuoteManager ();
          return _Instance;

     //... functions provided by QuoteManager 

It is likely that you have solved problems like this in a similar manner, as many other developers have. In fact, pattern writers on the lookout for recurring problems and solutions have observed this kind of implementation frequently, distilled the common solution, and documented the problem-solution pair as the Singleton pattern [Gamma95].

Patterns as Problem-Solution Pairs

Notice that the Singleton pattern does not mention a Quote or QuoteManager class. Instead, the pattern looks something like the following abbreviated example.


Figure 1: Singleton pattern, abbreviated

Comparing the abbreviated pattern example in Figure 1 with the QuoteManager source code illustrates the difference between the pattern, which is a generalized problem-solution pair, and the application of the pattern, which is a very specific solution to a very specific problem. The solution, at a pattern level, is a simple, yet elegant, collaboration between several classes. The general collaboration in the pattern applies specifically to the QuoteManager class, which provides the mechanism that controls instantiations in the quote application. Clearly, you can apply the same pattern to countless applications by modifying the pattern slightly to suit specific local requirements.

Written patterns provide an effective way to document simple and proven mechanisms. Patterns are written in a specific format, which is useful as a container for complex ideas. These patterns exist in the minds of developers, and their code, long before they are documented and given pattern names. At some point, pattern writers discover these patterns from actual implementations and generalize them so they can be applied to other applications.

Although pattern writers usually provide implementation code examples within these generalized patterns, it is important to understand that there are many other correct ways to implement these patterns. The key here is to understand the guidance within the pattern and then customize it to your particular situation. For example, if you are familiar with the Singleton pattern, you probably noticed that the code example is based on the [Gamma95] implementation. This implementation is used here because it is the most popular example and requires the least explanation for the purposes of this introduction to patterns. However, an implementation of Singleton optimized for the C# language would look quite different, and while these two implementations differ significantly, both would be correct.

Patterns at Different Levels

Patterns exist at many different levels of abstraction. Consider another example, this time at a higher level of abstraction than the level of source code:

You are designing a Web-based quote application containing a great deal of business and presentation logic, which, in turn, depends on numerous platform software components to provide a suitable execution environment. How do you organize your system at a high level to be flexible, loosely coupled, and yet highly cohesive?

One solution to this problem involves organizing your system into a series of layers, with each layer containing elements at roughly the same level of abstraction. You then identify the dependencies in each layer and decide on either a strict or a relaxed layering strategy. Next, you decide if you are going to create a custom layering scheme or adopt a layering scheme previously documented by others. In this case, let's say you decide to use a well-known layering strategy: one layer each for presentation, business logic, and data access. Figure 2 shows how your layering scheme might look.


Figure 2: Quote application layers

If you always design systems this way, then you employ this pattern already, independent of any generalized pattern. Even so, there are many reasons why you might want to understand the patterns that underpin this design approach. You may be curious about why systems frequently are built this way, or you may be looking for more optimal approaches to problems that this pattern does not quite resolve. In either case, it is worth examining the patterns and mechanisms at work here.

Using layers as a high-level organizing approach is a well-established pattern described in the Layers pattern [Buschmann96]. Figure 3 shows an abbreviated version of this pattern.


Figure 3: Layers pattern, abbreviated

This simple strategy for organizing applications helps to solve two challenges in software development: the management of dependencies and the need for exchangeable components. Building applications without a well-considered strategy for dependency management leads to brittle and fragile components, which are difficult and expensive to maintain, extend, and substitute.

The mechanisms at work inside the Layers pattern are more subtle than those of the Singleton. For Layers, the first collaboration is at design time between classes, because the layered organization localizes the effects of source code changes and prevents the changes from rippling throughout the entire system. The second collaboration is at runtime, when relatively independent components within a layer become exchangeable with other components, again isolating the rest of the system from impact.

Although the Layers pattern is general enough to apply to areas such as network protocols, platform software, and virtual machines, it does not resolve certain specific forces that are present in enterprise-class business solutions. For example, in addition to managing complexity by decomposition (the essential problem solved by Layers), business solution developers also need to organize for effective reuse of business logic and conserve valuable connections to expensive resources such as databases. One way to solve this problem is by using the Three-Layered Application pattern. Figure 4 shows the abbreviated description of this pattern.


Figure 4: Three-Layered Application, abbreviated

Again, there is a difference between the pattern (Three-Layered Application) and the application of the pattern (quote application layering model). The pattern is a generalized problem-solution pair on the topic of application organization. In contrast, the application of the pattern solves a very specific problem by creating specific layers, each layer resolving very specific requirements.

Simple Refinement

Notice that Three-Layered Application is really a simple refinement of Layers;the context, forces, and solution identified in Layers still apply to Three-Layered Application,but not the other way around. That is, the Layers pattern constrains Three-Layered Application, and the Three-Layered Application pattern refines the Layers pattern. This pattern relationship is useful to manage complexity. After you understand one pattern, you must only understand the incremental differences between the initial pattern and patterns that refine it. Another example, this time in the area of Web services, should help to illustrate the concept of refinement:

You built a quote application for a successful enterprise that is rapidly expanding. Now you want to extend the application by exposing your quote engine to business partners and integrating additional partner services (such as shipping) into the quote application. How do you structure your business application to provide and consume services?

One solution to this problem is to extend Three-Layered Application by adding additional service-related responsibilities to each layer. The business layer adds the responsibility for providing a simplified set of operations to client applications through Service Interfaces. The responsibilities of the data access layer broaden beyond database and host integration to include communication with other service providers. This additional functionality in the data access layer is encapsulated in Service Gateway components, which are responsible for connecting to services (both synchronously and asynchronously), managing basic conversational state with the service, and notifying business process components of significant service-related events.

The Three-Layered Services Application (Figure 5) captures this problem-solution pair.


Figure 5: Three-Layered Services Application, abbreviated

Applying the Three-Layered Services Application pattern to the quote application example results in the following model.


Figure 6: Three-Layered Services Application applied to the quote application

Notice the relationships between these patterns (see Figure 7). Layers introduces a fundamental strategy for organizing a software application. Three-Layered Application refines this idea and constrains it to business systems that require business logic reuse, flexible deployment, and efficient use of connections. Three-Layered Services Application refines Three-Layered Application and extends the design to provide and consume granular elements of data and logic from highly variable sources.


Figure 7: Refinement of related patterns

Adding additional types of components to specific layers is not the only way to manage this growing complexity. As complexity warrants, designers often create additional layers within the application to handle this responsibility. For example, some designers move Service Interfaces into a separate layer. Other designers separate the business layer into a domain layer and an application layer. In any case, you sometimes see these three layers expanded to four, five, or even six layers as designers use this pattern in response to complex requirements. Conversely, the Layers pattern was also used in the relatively simpler days of client-server applications, when two-layered applications were the standard.

When grouped together, these Layers variations form a cluster of patterns (see Figure 8) that visually represents common approaches to application layering. Clustering, used in this context, simply means a logical grouping of some set of similar patterns. This notion of a cluster is quite useful for expanding the view of patterns to encompass an entire solution, and for identifying clusters of patterns that address similar concerns in the solution space. Chapter 2, "Organizing Patterns," discusses clusters in more detail.


Figure 8: A cluster of patterns

Common Vocabulary

While considering the Singleton, Layers, Three-Layered Application, and Layered Services Application patterns, you probably noticed that patterns also provide a powerful vocabulary for communicating software architecture and design ideas. Understanding a pattern not only communicates the knowledge and experience embedded within the pattern but also provides a unique, and hopefully evocative, name that serves as shorthand for evaluating and describing software design choices.

For example, when designing an application a developer might say, "I think the pricing engine should be implemented as a Singleton and exposed through a Service Interface." If another developer understands these patterns, he or she would have a very detailed idea of the design implications under discussion. If the developer did not understand the patterns, he or she could look them up in a catalog and learn the mechanisms, and perhaps even learn some additional patterns along the way.

Patterns have a natural taxonomy. If you look at enough patterns and their relationships, you begin to see sets of ordered groups and categories at different levels of abstraction. For example, the Singleton pattern example was at a lower level of abstraction than the Layers pattern, but the Layers pattern had a set of related patterns that refined it in one way or another. Chapter 2 further expands and refines this taxonomy.

Over time, developers discover and describe new patterns, thus extending the community body of knowledge in this area. In addition, as you start to understand patterns and the relationships between patterns, you can describe entire solutions in terms of patterns.

Concise Solution Description

In this guide, the term solution has two very distinct meanings: first, to indicate part of a pattern itself, as in a problem-solution pair contained within a context; second, to indicate a business solution. When the term business solution is used, it refers to a software-intensive system that is designed to meet a specific set of functional and operational business requirements. A software-intensive system implies that you are not just concerned with software; you must deploy this software onto hardware processing nodes to provide a holistic technology solution. Further, the software under consideration includes both custom-developed software and purchased software infrastructure and platform components, all of which you integrate together.


This chapter introduced the concept of a pattern, explained how patterns document simple, proven mechanisms, and showed how patterns provide a common language for developers and architects. Chapter 2 explains how to organize your thinking about patterns, and how to use patterns to describe entire solutions concisely.

patterns & practices Developer Center