Domain Model Validation

Introduction

In previous post I described how requests input data can be validated on Application Services Layer. I showed FluentValidation library usage in combination with Pipeline Pattern and Problem Details standard. In this post I would like to focus on the second type of validation which sits in the Domain LayerDomain Model validation.

What is Domain Model validation

We can divide the validation of the Domain Model into two types based on scope – Aggregates scope and Bounded Context scope

Aggregates scope

Let’s remind what the Aggregate is by quoting a fragment of the text from Vaughn Vernon Domain-Driven Design Distilled book:

Each Aggregate forms a transactional consistency boundary. This means that within a single
Aggregate, all composed parts must be consistent, according to business rules, when the controlling
transaction is committed to the database.

The most important part of this quote in context of validation I underlined. It means that under no circumstances we can’t persist Aggregate to database which has invalid state or breaks business rules. These rules are often called “invariants” and are defined by Vaughn Vernon as follows:

… business invariants — the rules to which the software must always adhere — are guaranteed to be consistent following each business operation.

So in context of Aggregates scope, we need to protect these invariants by executing validation during our use case (business operation) processing.

Bounded Context scope

Unfortunately, validation of Aggregates invariants is not enough. Sometimes the business rule may apply to more than one Aggregate (they can be even aggregates of different types).

For example, assuming that we have Customer Entity as Aggregate Root, the business rule may be “Customer email address must be unique”. To check this rule we need to check all emails of Customers which are separated Aggregate Roots. It is outside of the scope of one Customer aggregate. Of course, supposedly, we could create new entity called CustomerCatalog as Aggregate Root and aggregate all of the Customers to it but this is not good idea for many reasons. The better solution is described later in this article.

Let’s see what options we have to solve both validation problems.

Three solutions

Return Validation Object

This solution is based on Notification Pattern. We are defining special class called Notification/ValidationResult/Result/etc which “collects together information about errors and other information in the domain layer and communicates it”.

What does it mean for us? Is means that for every entity method which mutates the state of Aggregate we should return this validation object. The keyword here is entity because we can have (and we likely will have) nested invocations of methods inside Aggregate. Recall the diagram from the post about Domain Model encapsulation:

Domain model encapsulation

The program flow will look like:

Validation Object Flow

and the code structure (simplified):

However, if we don’t like to return ValidationResult from every method which mutates the state we can apply different approach which I described in article about publishing Domain Events. In short, in this solution we need to add ValidationResult property for every Entity (as Domain Events collection) and after Aggregate processing we have to examine these properties and decide if the whole Aggregate is valid.

Deferred validation

Second solution how to implement validation is to execute checking after whole Aggregate’s method is processed. This approach is presented for example by Jeffrey Palermo in his article. The whole solution is pretty straightforward:

Deferred validation

Always Valid

Last but not least solution is called “Always Valid” and it’s just about throwing exceptions inside Aggregate methods. It means that we finish processing of the business operation with the first violation of the Aggregate invariant. In this way, we are assured that our Aggregate is always valid:

Always Valid program flow

Comparison of solutions

I have to admit that I don’t like Validation Object and Deferred Validation approach and I recommend Always Valid strategy. My reasoning is as follows.

Returning Validation Object approach pollutes our methods declarations, adds accidental complexity to our Entities and is against Fail-Fast principle. Moreover, Validation Object becomes part of our Domain Model and it is for sure not part of ubiquitous language. On the other hand Deferred Validation implies not encapsulated Aggregate, because the validator object must have access to aggregate internals to properly check invariants.

However, both approaches have one advantage – they do not require throwing exceptions which should be thrown only when something unexpected occurs. Business rule broken is not unexpected.

Nevertheless, I think this is one of the rare exception when we can break this rule. For me, throwing exceptions and having always valid Aggregate is the best solution. “The ends justify the means” I would like to say. I think of this solution like implementation of Publish-Subsribe Pattern. Domain Model is the Publisher of broken invariants messages and Application is the Subscriber to this messages. The main assumption is that after publishing message the publisher stops processing because this is how exceptions mechanism works.

Always Valid Implementation

Exception throwing is built into the C# language so practically we have everything. Only thing to do is create specific Exception class, I called it BusinessRuleValidationException:

Suppose we have a business rule defined that you cannot order more than 2 orders on the same day. So it looks implementation:

What we should do with the thrown exception? We can use approach from REST API Data Validation and return appropriate message to the client as Problem Details object standard. All we have to do is to add another ProblemDetails class and set up mapping in Startup:

The result returned to client:

Problem details validation domain model

For simpler validation like checking for nulls, empty lists etc you can create library of guards (see Guard Pattern) or you can use external library. See GuardClauses created by Steve Smith for example.

BC scope validation implementation

What about validation which spans multiple Aggregates (Bounded Context scope)? Let’s assume that we have a rule that there cannot be 2 Customers with the same email address. There are two approaches to solve this.

The first way is to get required aggregates in CommandHandler and then pass them to aggregate’s method/constructor as arguments:

However, this is not always a good solution because as you can see we need to load all Customer Aggregates to memory. This could be serious performance issue. If we can not afford it then we need to introduce second approach – create Domain Service which is defined as (source – DDD Reference):

When a significant process or transformation in the domain is not a natural responsibility of an entity or value object, add an operation to the model as a standalone interface declared as a service

So, for that case we need to create ICustomerUniquenessChecker service interface:

This is the implementation of that interface:

Finally, we can use it inside our Customer Aggregate:

The question here is whether pass Domain Service as an argument to aggregate’s constructor/method or execute validation in Command Handler itself. As you can see above I am fan of former approach because I like keep my command handlers very thin. Another argument for this option is that if I ever need to register Customer from a different use case I will not be able to bypass and forget about this uniqueness rule because I will have to pass this service.

Summary

A lot of was covered in this post in context of Domain Model Validation. Let’s summarize:
– We have two types of Domain Model validation – Aggregates scope and Bounded Context scope
– There are generally 3 methods of Domain Model validation – using Validation Object, Deferred Validation or Always Valid (throwing exceptions)
Always Valid approach is preferred
– For Bounded Context scope validation there are 2 methods of validations – passing all required data to aggregate’s method or constructor or create Domain Service (generally for performance reason).

Source code

If you would like to see full, working example – check my GitHub repository.

Additional Resources

Validation in Domain-Driven Design (DDD) – Lev Gorodinski
Validation in a DDD world– Jimmy Bogard

Related posts

REST API Data Validation
Domain Model Encapsulation and PI with Entity Framework 2.2
Simple CQRS implementation with raw SQL and DDD
How to publish and handle Domain Events

REST API Data Validation

Introduction

This time I would like to describe how we can protect our REST API applications from requests containing invalid data (data validation process). However, validation of our requests is not enough, unfortunately. In addition to validation, it is our responsibility to return the relevant messages and statuses to our API clients. I wanted to deal with these two things in this post.

Data Validation

Definition of Data Validation

What is data validation really? The best definition I found is from UNECE Data Editing Group:

An activity aimed at verifying whether the value of a data item comes from the given (finite or infinite) set of acceptable values.

According to this definition we should verify data items which are coming to our application from external sources and check if theirs values are acceptable. How do we know that the value is acceptable? We need to define data validation rules for every type of data item which is processing in our system.

Data vs Business Rules validation

I would like to emphasize that data validation is totally different concept than validation of business rules. Data validation is focused on verifying an atomic data item. Business rules validation is a more broad concept and more close to how business works and behaves. So it is mainly focused on behavior. Of course validating behavior depends on data too, but in a more wide range.

Examples of data validation:

– Product order quantity cannot be negative or zero
– Product order quantity should be a number
– Currency of order should be a value from currencies list

Examples of business rules validation

– Product can be ordered only when Customer age is equal or greater than product minimal age.
– Customer can place only two orders in one day.

Returning relevant information

If we acknowledge that the rules have been broken during validation, we must stop processing and return the equivalent message to the client. We should follow the following rules:

– we should return message to the client as fast as possible (Fail-fast principle)
– the reason for the validation error should be well explained and understood for the client
– we should not return technical aspects for security reasons

Problem Details for HTTP APIs standard

The issue of returned error messages is so common that a special standard was created describing how to handle such situations. It is called “Problem Details for HTTP APIs standard” and his official description can be found here. This is abstract of this standard:

This document defines a “problem detail” as a way to carry machine-readable details of errors in a HTTP response to avoid the need to define new error response formats for HTTP APIs.

Problem Details standard introduces Problem Details JSON object, which should be part of the response when validation error occurs. This is simple canonical model with 5 members:

– problem type
– title
– HTTP status code
– details of error
– instance (pointer to specific occurrence)

Of course we can (and sometimes we should) extend this object by adding new properties, but the base should be the same. Thanks to this our API is easier to understand, learn and use. For more detailed information about standard I invite you to read documentation which is well described.

Data validation localization

For the standard application we can put data validation logic in three places:

  • GUI – it is entry point for users input. Data is validated on the client side, for example using Javascript for web applications
  • Application logic/services layer – data is validated in specific application service or command handler on the server side
  • Database – this is exit point of request processing and last moment to validate the data
Data validation localization
Data validation localization

In this article I am omitting GUI and Database components and I am focusing on the server side of the application. Let’s see how we can implement data validation on Application Services layer.

Implementing Data Validation

Suppose we have a command AddCustomerOrderCommand:

Suppose we want to validate 4 things:

1. CustomerId is not empty GUID.
2. Products list is not empty
3. Each product quantity is greater than 0
4. Each product currency is equal to USD or EUR

Let me show 3 solutions to this problem – from simple to the most sophisticated.

1. Simple validation on Application Service

The first thing that can come to mind is a simple validation in the Command Handler itself. In this solution we need to implement private method which validates our command and throws exception if validation error occurs. Closing this kind of logic in separate method is better from the Clean Code perspective (see Extract Method too).

The result of invalid command execution:

This is not so bad approach but has two disadvantages. Firstly, it involves from us writing a lot of easy and boilerplate code – comparing to nulls, defaults, values from list etc. Secondly, we are losing here part of separation of concerns because we are mixing validation logic with orchestrating our use case flow. Let’s take care of boilerplate code first.

2. Validation using FluentValidation library

We don’t want to reinvent the wheel so the best solution is to use library. Fortunately, there is a great library for validation in .NET world – Fluent Validation. It has nice API and a lot of features. This is how we can use it to validate our command:

Now, the Validate method looks like:

The result of validation is the same as earlier, but now our validation logic is more cleaner. The last thing to do is decouple this logic from Command Handler completely…

3. Validation using Pipeline Pattern

To decouple validation logic and execute it before Command Handler execution we arrange our command handling process in Pipeline (see NServiceBus Pipeline also).

For the Pipeline implementation we can use easily MediatR Behaviors. First thing to do is behavior implementation:

Next thing to do is to register behavior in IoC container (Autofac example):

This way we achieved separation of concerns and Fail-fast principle implementation in nice and elegant way.

But this is not the end. Finally, we need to do something with returned messages to clients.

Implementing Problem Details standard

Just as in the case of validation logic implementation, we will use a dedicated library – ProblemDetails. The principle of the mechanism is simple. Firstly, we need to create custom exception:

Secondly, we have to create own Problem Details class:

Last thing to do is to add Problem Details Middleware with definition of mapping between InvalidCommandException and InvalidCommandProblemDetails class in startup:

After change in CommandValidationBehavior (throwing InvalidCommandExecption instead Exception) we have returned content compatible with the standard:

Problem details

Summary

In this post I described:
– what Data validation is and where is located
– what Problem Details for HTTP APIs is and how could be implemented
– 3 methods to implement data validation in Application Services layer: without any patterns and tools, with FluentValidation library, and lastly – using Pipeline Pattern and MediatR Behaviors.

Source code

If you would like to see full, working example – check my GitHub repository

Related posts

Domain Model Encapsulation and PI with Entity Framework 2.2
Simple CQRS implementation with raw SQL and DDD
How to publish and handle Domain Events
10 common broken rules of clean code