Dependency Injection and the YAGNI principle

April 13, 2014

One of my new personal projects involves writing an application using Node.js and MongoDB. It's going to have a RESTful interface for the services, and MongoDB as the database (I haven't decided about what I'm going to use for the front-end, but Angular.js is a strong contender). I had looked at using mean.io to build it, but after playing with it for a while, it seemed to bring in too many things I wouldn't end up needing, so I decided to build it all from scratch using Restify for the RESTful services.

I'm writing it in an MVC-ish way (really, since it's REST, it's more like MRC - Model - Route - Controller) where the top-level module requires routing modules from whatever Javascript files are in a particular directory (lib/routes), and calls them as functions, passing in the Restify server instance so the routes can be set up. Each route would call a corresponding "controller", which would bring in a corresponding "model", and set up the functions that each route would use to do its thing. So, the question became: how do I pass the database connection down to the model?

When I looked at how mean.io does things, I noticed that they use a dependency injection package called "dependable". The way it works is that you create a "container" using dependable, and register dependencies in it, then the module that needs it would grab the container and read the dependencies out of it.

First of all, this isn't dependency injection, because the module needing the dependencies has to actively retrieve the dependencies from a container, rather than having them injected (hence the term "dependency injection"). Of course, it doesn't really matter what you call it, the package performs the basic function well - removing the coupling between the module creating the dependency and the module using it. However, I question whether it makes sense for the mean.io stack to use it in this case, for the simple reason that I believe this is a case where coupling is fine, in that the top-level module is already coupled to the routing modules, which are coupled to the controllers, which are coupled to the models, so pretending that they don't know anything about one another is kind of silly.

This speaks to another issue I've seen a lot of (especially in the Java world), which is a lack of understanding of the role YAGNI ("You Ain't Gonna Need It") should play in programming.

One of the most egregious examples of this (which I've been guilty of myself) is the idea, in Java, that any class which is a dependency of another class should have an interface which the depending class uses as a proxy for it. In other words, if I have a class A which contains class B, I feel like I have to create a BInterface interface which A really contains, but which is implemented using B. The idea behind this is: what if, some day, I create a new class C which implements BInterface, but with a different implementation. Then, I don't have to change A's declaration, I just change where it creates B to create C.

This is fundamentally the same idea as the one where you have to dependency inject everything - you want everything to be perfectly flexible, so you don't have to make changes when the implementation changes. However, the hidden expense here is that you now have twice as many classes/modules that you have to manage. Admittedly, half of them are interfaces, so they don't do much, but it's still adding a lot of complexity where it isn't needed, because, chances are, YAGNI. And, in those places where you do need it, creating a new interface is trivial (especially in something like Eclipse), so you can do it then.

Flexibility always comes with a cost. The key to a good design is knowing where to add flexibility, and where not to. In the case of my Node.js code, I decided to pass the database connection through the route, simply because I think it's fine that the top-level module understands that the routes might need to pass it down to their dependencies - that's what having it as a parameter means - either "I'm going to need it", or "one of my children will need it". Either way, it doesn't make the design any less clean, and, if something changes where I do need dependency injection, well, I can always add it later. YAGNI.

Jack Lund

Jack Lund

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