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Organizing Patterns

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"Each pattern then depends both on the smaller patterns it contains, and on the larger patterns within which it is contained." - Christopher Alexander in The Timeless Way of Building

An innovation in one area of technology often fuels a breakthrough in another area. Radar technology turned into a cooking device: the microwave oven. The Internet itself was originally designed as a military communications network with resilience against single points of attack and has since turned into the world's largest repository of knowledge. Similarly, patterns, originally applied to building and town architecture, were quickly embraced by the software development community as a means to describe complex software systems.

Today there are dozens of patterns related to software with more emerging daily. This abundance of patterns creates a new set of challenges. How can a developer identify those patterns that are most relevant to the task at hand? Is the collection of patterns sufficient to describe complete solutions?

This chapter answers some of these questions by demonstrating how to:

  • Identify relationships between patterns.

  • Group patterns into clusters.

  • Identify patterns at various levels of abstraction.

  • Apply patterns to multiple aspects of a solution.

  • Organize patterns into a frame.

  • Use patterns to describe solutions concisely.

  • Pattern of Patterns

    One reason the object-oriented programming community embraced patterns so emphatically is because patterns describe relationships. The base element of object-oriented programming is a class. However, a single class is not very meaningful apart from its relationship to other classes that make up the solution. Each pattern typically describes a cluster of classes, highlighting the relationships and interactions between them. Thus, patterns turn the sea of classes into a much more manageable collection of patterns.

    Now that the number of available patterns easily exceeds the number of classes in an average application, you may suddenly find yourself in a sea of patterns. How can you make sense out of all these patterns? Again, the relationships between items appear to be the key. It is easy to see that some patterns are closely related to other patterns. For example, some patterns are refinements of others. Three-Tiered Distribution is a specific application of the concept of Tiered Distribution. Observer is frequently used to implement a part of the Model-View-Controller pattern. Page Controller describes the controller portion of Model-View-Controller in more detail. Implementing Page Controller in ASP.NET is an implementation of the Page Controller pattern using Microsoft ASP.NET.

    To begin organizing patterns according to relationship, visualize a set of patterns as small circles (see Figure 1):


    Figure 1: A set of patterns

    If you draw a line between each pair of patterns that share some relationship, you get a picture like this:


    Figure 2: Pattern relationships represented as lines

    The somewhat random collection of circles becomes a connected web of patterns. When you look at a pattern, you can now identify closely related patterns and review those as well. You can also identify "neighborhoods" of closely related patterns and see how they are related to other, more remote patterns.

    Pattern Clusters

    Charting the relationships between patterns helps you navigate from one pattern to a set of related patterns. However, it does not yet tell you where to start. If you are building a Web application, should you read the Model-View-Controller pattern first or should you look at Page Cache instead? Should you look at a Broker as well?

    Pattern clusters are groupings of patterns that relate to a specific subject area. For example, you can start with the Web Presentationcluster to find the patterns that are relevant to creating the front end of a Web application. Likewise, the Distributed Systems cluster contains patterns that are helpful in communicating with remote objects. Dividing the collection of patterns into clusters enables you to examine a group of patterns together. Although the pattern graph shows that two patterns are related, the cluster overview describes, in much more detail, how to combine the patterns to build actual solutions. Each cluster takes the reader on a guided tour through all the patterns within the cluster. Taking some inspiration from Christopher Alexander's world of town and building architecture, you can draw an analogy between a cluster and a city neighborhood. To stretch this analogy a little bit further, you can consider the cluster overview a neighborhood tour offered by the local tourism office.


    Figure 3: Pattern clusters

    This initial release of Enterprise Solution Patterns Using Microsoft .NET (ESP) identifies the five clusters shown in Table 1.

    Table 1: Enterprise Solution Patterns Clusters

    Web PresentationHow do you create dynamic Web applications?
    DeploymentHow do you divide an application into layers and then deploy them onto a multi-tiered hardware infrastructure?
    Distributed SystemsHow do you communicate with objects that reside in different processes or different computers?
    Performance and ReliabilityHow do you create a systems infrastructure that can meet critical operational requirements?
    ServicesHow do you access services provided by other applications? How do you expose your application functionality as services to other applications?

    Chapters 3 through 7 describe these clusters in detail.

    Different Levels of Abstraction

    Dividing patterns into clusters makes them more manageable. If you are building the front end of a Web application, start with the Web Presentation cluster, take the quick tour, and see what other patterns are related to this cluster. Keep in mind, though, that different people may be interested in different aspects of building a Web application, depending on the role they are playing or the stage of the project. A developer may be most interested in the most efficient implementation of the Page Controller pattern on the Microsoft .NET Framework, while an architect may be more interested in deciding whether to use a three-tiered or a four-tiered application architecture.

    Level of abstraction, therefore, is a useful way to categorize patterns so that different user groups can find the patterns that correspond most closely to their area of interest. Dividing the patterns from general to more specific detail also helps you decide which patterns to consider first. You may want to think about how many tiers your application should have before you consider the intricacies of ASP.NET caching directives described in the Implementing Page Cache with ASP.NET pattern.

    One way categorize the patterns is to divide the pattern graph into the three levels shown in Figure 4.


    Figure 4: Levels of abstraction

    This division largely coincides with the terminology used in some of the most influential books about software patterns.

    Architecture Patterns

    "An architectural pattern expresses a fundamental structural organization schema for software systems. It provides a set of predefined subsystems, specifies their responsibilities, and includes rules and guidelines for organizing the relationships between them." [Buschmann96]

    ESP follows the Buschmann, et al. definition of architecture patterns. These patterns describe how to structure an application at the highest level. For example, the Layered Application pattern is an architecture pattern.

    Design Patterns

    "A design pattern provides a scheme for refining the subsystems or components of a software system, or the relationships between them. It describes a commonly recurring structure of communicating components that solves a general design problem within a particular context." [Gamma95]

    Design patterns provide the next level of refinement, as described in the seminal work by Gamma, et al. Many of the iconic patterns, such as Model-View-Controller or Singleton, are in this layer.

    Implementation Patterns

    The patterns community refers to more detailed, programming-language-specific patterns as idioms. This definition works well for software patterns. However, the scope of this guide is not just software, but software-intensive systems, including the deployment of the software onto hardware processing nodes to provide a holistic business solution. Therefore, ESP modifies the definition of an idiom given in Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture (POSA) [Buschmann96] to reflect the broader scope and relabels these patterns as implementation patterns:

    An implementation pattern is a low-level pattern specific to a particular platform. An implementation pattern describes how to implement particular aspects of components or the relationships between them, using the features of a given platform.

    The ESP implementation patterns demonstrate how to implement design concepts using the.NET Framework. In some cases, the framework already incorporates the bulk of the work, making the developer's task easier.

    Note: Even though POSA [Buschmann96] defines idioms as patterns and The Timeless Way of Building [Alexander79] includes implementation patterns in his original pattern work, there is a debate among some members of the pattern community as to whether implementation patterns are true patterns. Regardless of how they can be classified, they are very helpful when thinking about patterns, and are therefore included in this guide.

    Dividing the collection of patterns into three levels of abstraction makes it easier for different user groups to identify patterns that relate to their fields of interest and expertise. The resulting model flows from high-level organization, through progressive refinement of subsystems and components, down to the implementation of these patterns using platform-specific technology.


    Although the levels of abstractions help to address different user groups, they do not reflect the fact that a software solution encompasses much more than code components. A holistic view of building an enterprise solution includes custom-developed software, platform software, hardware infrastructure, and the deployment of software onto hardware. Because of the stark differences between these areas, it makes sense to align the patterns with this nomenclature.

    Keep in mind that these four areas describe different viewpoints of the same solution. Therefore, unlike the levels of refinement, these viewpoints do not describe a hierarchy, but simply provide four different ways of looking at the same thing. You can compare these viewpoints to different types of maps. One map of a region may depict traffic networks such as roads and freeways, while another map of the same area shows the topography. Still another map may show state and county borders. Each map has its own vocabulary. For example, lines in the topographical map represent elevations, while lines in the traffic map represent streets. Nevertheless, all maps describe the same subject: a specific geographic region.

    Each viewpoint itself can also focus on different levels of abstraction. Therefore, ESP depicts the following viewpoints as vertical slices across the pattern graph: database, application, and infrastructure. There is often a significant gap between the application and infrastructure viewpoints. Concepts, abstractions, and skill sets are sufficiently different to warrant the insertion of a buffer between the two that helps to bridge the divide. This viewpoint is called the deployment viewpoint.

    This line of reasoning results in the four viewpoints shown in Table 2.

    Table 2: Enterprise Solution Patterns Viewpoints

    DatabaseThe database view describes the persistent layer of the application. This view looks at such things as logical and physical schemas, database tables, relationships, and transactions.
    ApplicationThe application view focuses on the executable aspect of the solution. It includes such things as domain models, class diagrams, assemblies, and processes.
    DeploymentThe deployment view explicitly maps application concerns to infrastructure concerns (for example, processes to processors).
    InfrastructureThe infrastructure view incorporates all of the hardware and networking equipment that is required to run the solution.

    Figure 5 overlays these viewpoints as vertical lines over the pattern graph and the levels of abstraction.


    Figure 5: Adding viewpoints

    For the sake of simplicity, Figure 5 does not show the cluster boundaries. However, the clusters, the layers of abstraction, and the viewpoints exist in parallel. They represent different ways to access the same set of patterns.

    The Pattern Frame

    The combination of three levels of refinement on the vertical axis and the four viewpoints on the horizontal axis results in a grid-like organization of the pattern graph. This arrangement, called the Pattern Frame, is shown in Figure 6.


    Figure 6: The Pattern Frame

    The Pattern Frame is included with each individual pattern description as a point of reference and as a navigational aid.


    The Pattern Frame organizes the collection of patterns into meaningful subcategories. For example, you can now focus on the design patterns of the Database view or on the implementation patterns of the Application view.

    However, software takes many forms. Today, software operates embedded systems such as pacemakers and telecommunications equipment, real-time systems such as antilock brakes, or in data warehousing systems constructed to analyze consumer buying behavior. Trying to address patterns related to all these flavors of software solutions would quickly enlarge the scope of any single book or pattern repository. ESP, therefore, constrains the patterns to enterprise business solutions. Because this term is somewhat nebulous, ESP identifies a small set of specific top-level architectural patterns, or root patterns, within the pattern graph. All other patterns in this collection adhere to the following constraints:

  • Online transaction processing (OLTP)

  • Object-oriented

  • Layered application

  • Tiered distribution systems

  • OLTP systems are database subsystems that manage the processing of transactions. These subsystems ensure that each transaction is atomic, consistent, isolated, and durable (the so-called ACID properties). In practice, these applications often manipulate one or more relational databases that maintain the business state of the enterprise. In other words, these are the databases that keep track of the customers, orders, accounting, and so on. By identifying OLTP as a top-level constraint in the Pattern Frame, ESP excludes online analytical processing (OLAP) or simple flat file systems that do not support transactions. The online aspect of OLTP implies that these systems are reading or updating the database immediately in response to a change in business state, which excludes offline batch processing from consideration.

    From the application viewpoint, the Pattern Frame is constrained by two patterns: Object-OrientedApplication and Layered Application. Most, if not all, of the application viewpoint patterns depend on object-oriented concepts such as encapsulation, polymorphism, and inheritance to successfully resolve their forces. Therefore, the Pattern Frame addresses only object-oriented applications and specifically does not address procedural applications.

    Interesting enterprise applications are usually composed of a large number of objects and services that must collaborate to provide something of value to the business. To manage these collaborations, there must exist some high-level organization of the system. Most enterprise class systems use a layered approach to manage this complexity. As a result, the Pattern Frame addresses only applications that are designed as a set of layers and specifically excludes monolithic applications with little or no internal structure.

    From the infrastructure viewpoint, the model is constrained to a hardware infrastructure that supports distributing an application over a number of servers arranged into tiers. The tiered approach is commonly used for enterprise applications, because it has a relatively low startup cost and it supports a scaling out strategy where inexpensive servers can be added to the infrastructure to add incremental capability. Excluded from the model are solutions based on deploying applications to a single mainframe or large multiprocessor computer.

    The deployment perspective is concerned with bridging the gap across the applications and infrastructure viewpoints. As a consequence, it does not have any constraints of its own, but operates within the constraints set by the application and infrastructure viewpoints. In other words, the highest-level deployment pattern is about mapping layered applications to a tiered distribution infrastructure and does not impose any additional constraints of its own.

    Taken as a group, these four high-level constraints, or root constraints, help to narrow the patterns that are in scope for the remainder of this guide. Figure 7 shows the root constraints along the top of the Pattern Frame.


    Figure 7: Root constraints of the Pattern Frame

    Reducing the scope of the Pattern Frame makes it possible to focus on specific patterns and the relationships between them in more relevant detail.


    The use of root constraints reduces the number of patterns to a manageable order of magnitude. Nevertheless, elaborating on all patterns in the grid takes a significant amount of effort. Developing all patterns in isolation and then publishing "the ultimate patterns guide" would counteract many benefits realized by the patterns communities. Patterns need to evolve as the collective understanding of them evolves. Patterns are not created by a single author, but are harvested from actual use in the software development community. Recognizing the evolutionary nature of patterns, the authors of this guide have published the subset of patterns included here to obtain feedback and start building a community.

    Deferring patterns until later, however, leaves holes in the pattern graph, which could result in related patterns suddenly becoming disconnected. To preserve the integrity of the relationships inside the pattern graph, this guide includes the patterns that were not included in the first release as pattlets. Pattlets are actual patterns that have not yet been documented in detail. A pattlet describes a solution to a problem, but does not contain a detailed description of the context, problem, or forces that may impact the solution.

    The concept of pattlets is also useful for referencing prior pattern works. The patterns community has been discovering and documenting software patterns for over a decade. It would be foolish to try to replicate these efforts. It would also be foolish, however, to require readers to purchase several other books as context for these patterns. Therefore, this guide includes a pattlet whenever it references a pattern that is described in an existing book about patterns. The pattlet includes the reference to the original work for those readers who would like to look at the complete pattern in more detail.

    For a detailed list of all pattlets, see Appendix A.

    Pattern Language for Solutions

    The constrained Pattern Frame and the patterns it contains provide enough data points to begin using patterns to describe entire solutions. In fact, the quoting example from Chapter 1 can be described in terms of patterns. Recall that the requirements specified a Web-based quote application. Someone describing the architecture of the solution might say something like this:

    Let's start by looking at the quote application at the architecture level of abstraction. From the application viewpoint, the quote application is an Object-OrientedApplication that is logically structured as a Three-Layered Services Application. From the database viewpoint, the application is based on the OLTP processing model. From the infrastructure viewpoint, the hardware and network architecture are based on Four-Tiered Distribution, which calls for separate physical tiers for Web server and application server functionality. And finally, from the deployment viewpoint, the team has created a Deployment Plan to map components to servers, based on a Complex Web Application.

    This concisely describes the architecture of the solution across all four of the viewpoints to anyone familiar with the referenced patterns. Continuing down one level of abstraction, you can see how someone might describe the design of the system:

    From the application viewpoint, let's consider each layer of our Three-Layered Services Application separately.

    The presentation layer is structured around a Web presentation framework based on Model-View-Controller (MVC). Although MVC provides a level of separation between business and presentation logic, each page contains a great deal of common logic. To eliminate this redundancy, we use a Page Controller to render common headers and footers and set a friendly display name for the user.

    The business layer holds the Customer, Quote, Order, Line Item, and Inventory domain objects. The domain objects are realized using Table Module [Fowler03] because speed of development is a key requirement. The Complex Web Application Deployment Model calls for separate Web and application tiers. Therefore, the two tiers communicate through a Broker. Business entities, acting in the role of Data Transfer Objects [Fowler03], are used to encapsulate the information traveling between the two tiers.

    The data layer uses a Data Table Gateway [Fowler03] to access the OLTP database subsystem and a number of data access components to support the persistence requirements of the domain objects.

    From the infrastructure viewpoint: to meet the operational requirements of the business, we build on the basic Four-Tiered Distribution model by adding Load-Balanced Cluster and Failover Cluster. Responding to a requirement calling for a high level of concurrent users, we added load balancing to our Web tier. To meet availability requirements, we added clustering to our database tier.

    The description could continue on to describe the data and deployment viewpoints at the same level of abstraction. To continue, instead, down one more level of abstraction, you can see how someone might describe the implementation of the solution:

    Let's look at the solution from the application viewpoint. The solution is built using Microsoft .NET technology. The presentation layer is based on the Web presentation framework that is built into ASP.NET. ASP.NET simplifies the implementation of Model-View-Controller with the built-in code-behind page feature. We use the built-in Page Controller mechanism in ASP.NET to implement our presentation logic. The domain objects in the business layer are managed .NET objects. Because the presentation layer and business layer are deployed on separate tiers, we use Implementing Broker with .NET Remoting Using Server-Activated Objects. Finally, the data layer is based on the ADO.NET classes within the .NET Framework to provide database access. The Table Modules and business entities are constructed using the DataSet component of ADO.NET. The remainder of the Data Access Components are provided by the Microsoft Application Blocks for .NET building block.

    From the infrastructure viewpoint: Microsoft SQL Server, running in a failover cluster, is used for the OLTP database subsystem. Microsoft Network Load Balancing clusters provide load balancing between Web servers.

    All of these conversations make frequent references to patterns. This can be daunting at first, but when you understand the patterns used, you realize that even this brief description gives you a detailed understanding about how the system works. Notice that you gained this understanding without having to wade through reams of documentation or step through endless lines of code. The communication benefits of patterns become clear if you imagine how much more work would be involved in describing the solution without using patterns.


    This chapter demonstrated how patterns provide a vocabulary to efficiently describe complex solutions without sacrificing detail. Effectively, the patterns form a new language with which architects and designers can communicate their thinking.

    Because of the large number of patterns involved in building enterprise solutions, it can seem difficult to learn this new language. This guide structures the patterns into smaller, more closely related sets of patterns. This allows you to get started by using a smaller set of patterns, depending on your specific interest or the stage of the project.

    This chapter introduced four mechanisms to help you navigate the patterns:

  • Relationships. Relationships between patterns help you to identify patterns that are closely associated to the pattern you are using (for example, Page Controller focuses on the controller aspect of Model-View-Controller).

  • Clusters. Clusters group patterns that belong to a common subject area (for example, Web Presentation).

  • Levels of abstraction. Levels of abstraction allow you to describe concepts in a manner that is consistent with the level of detail of your discussion (for example, an architectural conversation).

  • Viewpoints. Viewpoints help you select the vocabulary that is relevant to a team's particular role (for example, the infrastructure team).

  • These mechanisms are not meant to constrain your thinking, but instead are intended to make looking at complex systems easier. With practice, you will naturally switch between these mechanisms as you switch between roles, subject areas, and levels of detail.

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