08 August 2010

Requirements for a Dependency Injection Container

Recently I was asked by a coworker about my requirements for a DI Container as part of a poll to all developers. My first reaction was to answer with the famous Ford quote “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This was because I personally realized the benefits of using a DI container only after working with one in a real project. Before this experience I wasn’t really able to give reasons why I should use one at all. Sure, I wanted one to try out, because I had the feeling it could be useful, but giving requirements was out of scope.

Today I have worked with Spring.NET and much more with Unity. I know StructureMap and Autofac (but Castle Windsor is still on my list :-). I believe that DI containers should be provided by the .NET framework (and sooner or later will be) just like the collection classes. No big up front requirements analysis should be done because a DI container is no longer rocket science. Just start using one that is accepted by the community. If you haven’t used one you wouldn’t know what a DI can do for you. If you have used only one you would repeat features as requirements. If you know more than one you would list the features you love most.

This is my list of important and useful features:

  • Container setup should be possible in code with a readable and fluent API. Use explicit xml configuration only as a last resort (too much bad experiences with Spring.NET xml configuration). Setup with code allows intellisense and checking at compile time. Most setups will be done in test code, not in production code!
  • Wiring dependencies should be possible by conventions or attribute based. Use explicit wiring only as a last resort (bad maintainability).
  • Understandable error message and diagnostic help if something went wrong when constructing/resolving a type.
  • Constructor and property must be possible, event and method injections would be nice to have.
  • Nested Container. That means you can create a container that inherits from an existing one and add or overwrite some mappings or strategies. Useful for test code.
  • Extensibility: it should be possible to implement autofaking or automocking strategies (described here and here) which are extremely useful for unit testing.
  • Lifetime of objects should be configurable in different ways (free, singleton, container bound, thread bound, …).
  • If object lifetime can be bound to the container lifetime the disposal of the container should also dispose all contained objects.
  • Automatic factories. The possibility to not inject a single object but a generic factory, say Func<T>(), without explicit configuration.
  • The container should have at least two distinct interfaces, one for configuring the container and one for resolving/constructing types.
  • Static Service Locator Facade (with override possibility) for working with legacy code.
  • Partial construction if you have no control over object creation (for frameworks like WPF or ASP.NET) but still want to use you container to inject some dependencies.
  • Should have no or very tedious interface to specify constructor parameters at resolve time. Reason: if you do so you don’t use your DI container as intended.
  • … (to be continued) …