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Repost: Rocket Java: What is Inversion of Control?

From IRC: “What’s Inversion of Control?”

First off: Oh, my.

Here’s a quick summary: traditionally, Java resources acquired whatever resources they need, when they need them. So if your DAO needed a JDBC connection, it would create one, which meant the more DAOs you created, for whatever reason, the more JDBC connections you used. It also meant that the DAO was responsible for its own lifecycle; mess it up, and you had problems.

This isn’t really a bad thing, honestly; lifecycle isn’t impossible to figure out. However, it means that the mechanism by which you acquired resources became really important – and if the mechanism wasn’t readily available, things got a lot more difficult to test.

Imagine a J2EE DAO, for example, where it used JNDI to get the JDBC DataSource. All good, until it’s time to do unit testing, and you don’t want to create a JNDI container just for testing – that’s slow and involves a lot of work that isn’t actually crucial to testing your DAO.

It’d be simpler for the DAO to not get its own resources, but accept the resources it needs. That means it no longer cares about JNDI (or how to get a JDBC connection) but it only says “I need to have a JDBC DataSource in order to work. If you want me to work properly, give me a DataSource.”

That’s inversion of control: instead of the control being in the DAO, the control is in what uses the DAO.

The implications are in many areas.

In production code, it means you want to have an easily repeated mechanism to create resources and provide them. A DAO is a resource; a DataSource is a resource; you want something to build both of them and manage giving the DAO the DataSource without you having to be involved much.

In testing, it means you have fine-grained control over what happens. You usually want to limit the scope of testing, honestly; testing a service that uses a DAO that uses a DataSource (that uses a database, of course) means: starting the database, establishing the connection to the database (the DataSource) and then creating the DAO and providing the Service with that DAO.

That’s lots of work. Too much work, really, and it means a lot of moving parts you don’t want.

With inversion of control, you create a DAO that has very limited functionality, just enough to fulfill the Service’ test. It might always return the same object, for example, no matter what data is requested. That means you’re not testing the DAO any more, nor are you establishing a database connection. This makes the test much lighter, and gives you a lot more control over what happens.

Need to test exception handling? Provide the service with a DAO that always throws an exception at a given point.

Need to test an exception that occurs later in the process? Provide a DAO that throws an exception at that later point (perhaps the fourth time you request data? – Whatever fulfills the need.)

Without Inversion of Control, this is much harder.

Implementations of IoC are pretty well known: Spring, Guice, even Java EE, now. Use them. You’ll be happier – and the Springbots won’t look at you as if you had a third eye any more, either.

Author’s Note: Reposted. This post predated CDI by quite a bit, unfortunately, so it’s badly dated; preserved for posterity.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Josip October 24, 2015, 9:18 am

    Hi JOhn,Thanks for your valueable tuotairls about Java. I am a former programmer who wants to program again to assemble own ideas in code. I have practise the DAO tutorial and try to reproduce what you’ve presented. I build a MySQL database and try to run the code. After some struggle it seems that it almost working, however I get the error: Field id’ doesn’t have a default value . It looks like that there is something happen with assigning the value to Id. After some debugging I am stil confused about how the id fiels is managed? In the database the field is set as INT and Auto Increment and PKey, but where is the initial value assigned? Has the error to do with this issue?Hope you can give me a little help .Thanks again,RegardsRoel

    • jottinge October 24, 2015, 9:40 am

      I’m not sure which DAO tutorial you’re referring to, honestly – but it sounds like you’re not using ID generation properly.

      What is the url of the DAO tutorial about which you’re speaking?

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