Hexagonal Architecture

09/12/20192 Min Read — In Software Design

I've just read an internal design document that deals with "Hexagonal Architecture" among other things. I've heard the term before, but I've never gone deeper, so I summarize some points about it in this post.

Hexagonal Architecture
  • was proposed by Alistair Cockburn in 2005
  • is a model/pattern for designing software elements
  • was the working name for the "Ports and Adapters Pattern"
  • aims to put inputs and outputs (e.g. request/response, file, database, console) at the edges of your design
  • the goal is to isolate application logic from outside concerns.
  • makes it easier to change your input/output handlers since your "core" is not affected by any of it
Why (or do we even want?) Hexagonal Architecture?

Alistair Cockburn describes the intent in his article * as follows:

Allow an application to equally be driven by users, programs, automated test or batch scripts, and to be developed and tested in isolation from its eventual run-time devices and databases.

Sounds, I think, very reasonable. We don't want our app (domain and business Logic) to have direct dependencies to other systems, like databases, console, web services, or similar. The more complicated part is, how can this be achieved? Maybe you can remember my blog post about isolated tests? In that post, I described the problem that my Scala Tic-Tac-Toe application dependent heavily on console input. The dependencies were so intense that the game logic was coupled with reading input from the console. In order to make the application more testable and more comfortable to maintain, we, therefore, need some decoupling.

* (a cached version of his article can be found here - the original url doesn't seem to work anymore)

How can we achieve decoupling using 'Hexagonal Architecture'?

Hexagonal Architecture describes a system using three components, i.e., "Application", "user-side API" and "data-side API". The "Application" contains the domain and business logic - this is what really brings business value since it solves a problem. Within this layer, we will not (directly) talk to the real world (i.e., reading from the console, writing to the database, listening on messages from a message broker, etc.). For these concerns, we have the "user-side API" which defines inputs for our application, as well as the "data-side API" which is used to access and store data. The "Application" layer defines "Ports" which are gateways which define how the application can be accessed or used. The "user-side API" and "data-side API" provide corresponding "Adapters". In the end, "Ports" are interfaces and "Adapters" are concrete implementations. This way, our "core" does not know about concrete, technical parts like specific databases, or web-services. It is enough to know that we have a defined gateway (port) and there is an adapter for it.

alt text

My masterpiece Elixir project currently is split into three applications. (Elixir projects structured like this are called "Umbrella Projects.") The app structure (and also the corresponding directory structure) is like this:

├── apps
│   ├── miles_check_cli
│   ├── miles_check_core
│   └── miles_check_web
├── README.md
├── ...

The miles_check_core defines the domain / business logic. It contains code which solves the current problem of manual checking miles and thus provides value for the business (automation saves time and is less error-prone). The miles_check_core is also the app with which I started when I created the project. The miles_check_cli is a simple command-line application which uses the miles_check_core-app. It does not know much about the miles_check_core; it only calls a few public functions to trigger a miles check. However, since colleagues from the Content department should have an easy way to do the miles check, I'm building a small web application. Therefore, I created a third app called miles_check_web. It is only a simple web page which right now sends an HTTP request to the backend which then triggers the miles check.

So I will continue to work on it now :-)