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A software built to deliver business value but coded ignoring business language will be unintuitive to change and will foster institutional knowledge that makes onboarding of new engineers a daunting experience.

One effective way to alleviate this is to encapsulate business rules in a specification object rather then leaving them as scattered relics that the next engineer will have to glue together and decrypt.

I will use Ruby examples throughout this article but the concepts are applicable to any programming language.

The example

Let’s say a company wants to automate its private driver booking business. Its clients are executives that don’t mind paying extra for a reliable service that can adapt based on unplanned events.

This is a simplified example adapted from a real application.

On Monday Alfred–Mr. David H.’s personal assistant–books him a limousine pickup for Wednesday at 11.20am from JFK International Airport with drop off in the Manhattan financial district.

The trip fits in a flat rate offered by a limousine service between two known locations so the system quotes the reservation 150$.

source = LocationRepository.find(name: 'JFK Airport')
destination = LocationRepository.find(name: '197 Broadway, New York, NY')
reservation_booking = ReservationBooking.new(source: source, destination: destination)
reservation_booking.create # => 12345
ReservationRepository.find(12345).quote # => $150

David flight land at JFK on time and the driver picks him up and start heading towards Manhattan.

source = LocationRepository.find(name: 'JFK Airport')
reservation = ReservationRepository.find(12345)
reservation.pickup(source)

During the trip David decides to make an unplanned stop in Brooklyn to have Ramen for lunch at Ganso.

location = LocationRepository.find(name: '25 Bond St, Brooklyn, NY 11201')
reservation.add_stop(location)

The driver parks at Central Parking a nearby garage–that charges 60$ per hours–and wait until David finishes his lunch.

location = LocationRepository.find(name: '276-300 Livingston Street')
reservation.add_stop(location)
reservation.add_incidental(kind: 'parking 1 hour', cost: 60)

When done David calls the driver to pick him up and shortly after that he’s dropped off at his penthouse in Manhattan.

location = LocationRepository.find(name: '195 Brodway, New York, NY 10007')
reservation.dropoff(location)

When David decided to made an unplanned stop his reservation changed from transfer to hourly rate and because of that the quote must be recalculated.

reservation = ReservationRepository.find(12345)
if reservation.quoted_type == :transfer && reservation.type == :hourly
  quote = Booking::QuoteGenerator.new(reservation)
  updated_quote = quote.recalculate
  ReservationRepository.update(quote: updated_quote)
end

A more realistic challenge

Let’s add more requoting conditions to resemble the challenges you’d face in a real application. The quote has to be regenerated:

  • before the trip starts and the client calls to change the vehicle type
  • or after the trip starts and it was quoted for a number of hours and is now matching a more expensive point to point trip
  • or after the trip starts and the driver had to reach an invalid area not usually served by the vendor requiring surcharges

We can create methods on the reservation entity like:

reservation = ReservationRepository.find(12345)
if ( reservation.quoted_type == :transfer && reservation.type == :hourly ) ||
   ( reservation.quoted_vehicle_type != reservation.vechicle_type ) ||
   ( reservation.quoted_type == :hourly && reservation.matching_more_expensive_point_to_point?) ||
   ( !reservation.driver.valid_zipcodes.include?(reservation.stops.zipcodes) )
  quote = Booking::QuoteGenerator.new(reservation)
  updated_quote = quote.recalculate
  ReservationRepository.update(id: reservation.id, quote: updated_quote)
end

but if you didn’t know the code was evaluating the conditions I described above would you have been able to tell? Not very intention revealing.

The usual antipatterns

Plain Old God Object (POGO)

A step in the right direction would be to move those conditions on methods on the reservation entity: changed_from_transfer_to_hourly?, changed_vehicle_type?, travelled_to_invalid_area? but that’s not its responsibility. Follow this approach and you will end up with a POGO a Plain Old God Object with hundreds of lines and too many responsibilities.

This is an antipattern I often find in Ruby on Rails and ActiveRecord objects but it affects every programming language.

Polluting other objects responsibilities

Moving these conditions within the Booking::QuoteGenerator is a bad idea–it would be simpler to let that class just generate a new quote and delegate the evaluation of the trigger conditions elsewhere.

Perhaps the whole reservation update can be handled/hidden in a service object?

reservation = ReservationRepository.find(12345)
reservation_update_service = ReservationUpdateService.new(reservation)
reservation_update_service.execute

But we just moved the messy conditions inside ReservationUpdateService a service class that now has too many concerns on when to trigger the update rather then just orchestrating it.

Refactor business logic with the specification pattern

I think our evaluation of an obsolete reservation quote should be delegated to another object. A Booking::ObsoleteQuoteSpecification that can take care of these conditions and tell when to trigger the quote recalculation:

reservation = ReservationRepository.find(12345)
specification = Booking::ObsoleteQuoteSpecification.new
if specification.satified_by?(reservation)
  quote = QuoteGenerator.new(reservation)
  updated_quote = quote.recalculate
  ReservationRepository.update(id: reservation.id, quote: updated_quote)
end

What is inside the specification class?

module Booking
  class ObsoleteQuoteSpecification

    def satisfied_by?(reservation)
      @reservation = reservation
      if changed_vehicle_type?
        return true
      else
        return evaluate_quote_type_logic
      end
    end
    
    private

    def changed_vehicle_type?
      # details omitted
    end

    def evaluate_quote_type_logic
      if quoted_hourly?
        return more_expensive_transfer_fare? || travelled_in_invalid_area?
      elsif quoted_transfer?
        return increased_stops?
      end
    end
    
    def quoted_hourly?
      @reservation.quote_type == :hourly
    end
   
    def more_expensive_transfer_fare?
      # details omitted
    end
    
    def travelled_in_invalid_area?
      # Evaluating if the reservation stopped in an invalid
      # area for its vendor has significant business logic
      # so I delegate it to a separate specification.
      specification = InvalidAreaSpecification.new
      specification.satisfied_by?(@reservation)
    end

    def quoted_transfer?
      @reservation.quote_type == :transfer
    end

    def increased_stops?
      # details omitted
    end
  end
end

The specification details on when to run a quote recalculation is now encapsulated leaving the wrapping code easier to test and without obscuring other object’s responsibilities.

This is separating how to match a candidate from the candidate object that it is matched against.

The candidate object is an entity in my example but the specification might also rely on a Repository to run dedicated queries. In some instance this could mean performance degradation that needs to be evaluated on a case by case. This is the workflow I follow for Ruby on Rails applications.

More comple specifications composed of multiple conditions can be treated as a composite.

Do not group all your specifications in a single directory! Their role is bound to a specific context–in my example booking–use it to locate the file and to namespace the class.

When not to use specification

Avoid specification for a single condition that applies to a single spot. Instead create an intention revealing method on the service or policy using it. If that condition starts to get used in multiple places reconsider the creation of a specification.

If the business owner talks repeatedly about a condition you should map it in code.

Conclusion

All but the simplest applications will have many conditions like the ones in my example–failing to surface them will do a disservice to your code longevity.

You can read more examples using the specification pattern on the paper written by Evans and Fowler. Lots of great examples in Domain Driven Design too.

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Enrico Teotti

developer and agile mentor with 15 years experience in the IT industry across Europe, Australia and the US.

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