CQRS with Mediatr and ASP.NET Core Implementing basic CQRS with ASP.NET Core

I was first introduced to the Mediatr library when I started contributing to the allReady project. It is now being used quite extensively within that application. It has proven to be very useful in decoupling code and separating the concerns. Contributors to the project have recently worked through a good chunk of the codebase and moved many database commands and queries over to the Mediatr request/response pattern. This is allowing us to move away from a large data access wrapper to multiple handlers that clearly handle one function and which are much easier to maintain. This has led to smaller, more testable classes and made the code easier to read as a result.

CQRS Overview

Before going into Mediatr specifically I feel it’s worth briefly talking about Command Query Responsibility Segregation or CQRS for short. CQRS is a pattern that seeks to separate the code and models which perform query logic from the code and models which perform commands such as an insert or update. In each case the model to define the input and output usually differs. By separating the commands and queries it allows the input/output models to be more focused on the specific task they are performing. This makes testing the models simpler since they are less generalised and are therefore not bloated with additional code. Rather than returning an entire database model, a query response model will usually contain only a subset of a table’s fields and possibly data from many related objects, all needed to form a particular view. The input model for a query may be very small. Commands on the other hand will usually require larger input models which more closely map to a full database table and have slimmer response models. Commands may perform some business logic on the properties in order to validate the object before saving it into a database. By contrast the models used for a query will generally contain less business logic.

As with any pattern, there are pros and cons to consider. Some may feel that the complexity added by having to manage different models may outweigh the benefits of separating them. Also, as with all patterns, the concept can be taken too far and start to become a burden on productivity and readability of the code. Therefore the degree to which one uses the CQRS pattern should be governed by each use case. If it’s not providing value, then don’t use it!

Coming back to the allReady project; the approach taken there has been to separate the querying of data used to build the view models from the commands used to update the database. Queries occur far more often than commands, as each page load will need to build up a view model, often with calls to the database to pull in relevant data. By keeping the queries distinct from the commands we can manage the exact shape of the input as well as the size of the data being returned. Queries need to perform quickly since they have a direct effect on user experience and page loads times. Keeping the models as slim as possible and only querying for the required database columns can help the overall performance.

Back to Mediatr

The Mediatr library provides us with a messaging solution and is a nice fit to help us introduce some concepts from the CQRS pattern into our code. In allReady it has allowed the team to greatly simplify the controllers and in many cases they now have a single dependency on Mediatr which is injected by the built in ASP.NET Core dependency injection. The MVC actions use Mediatr to send messages for the data they need to populate the view (queries) or to perform actions that update the database (commands).

Mediatr has the concept of handlers which are responsible for dealing with a query or command message. A handler is setup to handle a particular message which will contain the input needed for the command or query. A query message will usually need only a few properties, perhaps just an id of the object to query for. A command message may contain a more complete object with all of the model’s properties that need to be updated by the handler.

Using Mediatr with ASP.NET Core

Using Mediatr in an ASP.NET Core project is pretty straightforward. There are a couple of steps required in order to set things up.

Firstly we need to bring in the Mediatr package from Nuget. The quickest way is to use the package manager console by issuing the command “Install-Package MediatR”. At the time of writing the current version is 2.0.2.

Now that we have Mediatr added to our project we need to register it’s classes with the ASP.NET Core Dependency Injection (DI) container. The exact way you do this will depend on which DI container you are using. I’m going to show how I’ve got it working in ASP.NET Core with the default container. I ended up pretty much following a great Gist that I found. It got me started with registering Mediatr and it’s delegate factories so all credit to the author.

Within the Startup.cs class ConfigureServices method I added the following code to register Mediatr.

services.AddScoped<IMediator, Mediator>();
services.AddTransient<SingleInstanceFactory>(sp => t => sp.GetService(t));
services.AddTransient<MultiInstanceFactory>(sp => t => sp.GetServices(t));
services.AddMediatorHandlers(typeof(Startup).GetTypeInfo().Assembly);

First I add the Mediatr component itself. There are also two delegate types for the Mediatr factories which must be registered. The final line calls an extension method which will look through the assembly and ensure that any class which is a type of IRequestHandler or IAsyncRequestHandler is registered. By reflecting through the assembly in this way we avoid having to manually map each handler in DI when we create it.

public static class MediatorExtensions
{
	public static IServiceCollection AddMediatorHandlers(this IServiceCollection services, Assembly assembly)
	{
		var classTypes = assembly.ExportedTypes.Select(t => t.GetTypeInfo()).Where(t => t.IsClass && !t.IsAbstract);

		foreach (var type in classTypes)
		{
			var interfaces = type.ImplementedInterfaces.Select(i => i.GetTypeInfo());

			foreach (var handlerType in interfaces.Where(i => i.IsGenericType && i.GetGenericTypeDefinition() == typeof(IRequestHandler<,>)))
			{
				services.AddTransient(handlerType.AsType(), type.AsType());
			}

			foreach (var handlerType in interfaces.Where(i => i.IsGenericType && i.GetGenericTypeDefinition() == typeof(IAsyncRequestHandler<,>)))
			{
				services.AddTransient(handlerType.AsType(), type.AsType());
			}
		}

		return services;
	}
}

The AddMediatorHandlers method first finds all class types in the assembly. It loops through each class and gets it’s interfaces. If any of the interfaces are an IRequestHandler or IAsyncRequestHandler then we add a transient mapping to the services collection.

If you need further details or samples for registering Mediatr with a different DI container I recommend you check out the wiki on Github which contains some setup guidance and links to samples.

Messages and Handlers

The pattern we’ve employed in allReady is to use the Mediatr handlers to return ViewModels needed by our actions. An action will send a message of the correct type to the Mediatr instance and expect a ViewModel in return. All of the logic to handle the DB queries which fetch the data needed to build up the view model are contained within the handler. We also use Mediatr to issue and handle commands for HTTP post/put/delete request actions. These actions will often need to update a record in the database. We send the created/updated object in the message and a handler picks it up, processes it and returns a success or failure result back to the action.

You can also chain Mediatr handlers by having a handler send out it’s own message which allows you to compose queries to get the data you need. For example if you have a handler which reads a user record from a database, this same user model may be needed as part of multiple view models. Rather than code the same database query each time within each handler, you can place your data access query inside a single handler. This handler can then return the user data to any other handler which sends a message for the user data. This allows us to adhere to the don’t repeat yourself principle by writing the code and logic only once. We can also test that logic to ensure that it works as expected and be confident that as everyone uses it they can expect consistent responses.

To create a request message in Mediatr you create a basic class marked as an implementation of the IRequest or IAsyncRequest interface. I try to use async methods for everything I do in ASP.NET Core so I’ll stick to async examples in this post. You can optionally specify the return type you expect from the handler. An async handler will return that object wrapped in a task which can be awaited.

Your message class will define all of the properties expected to be in the message. Here is an example of a basic message which will send an Id out and which expects the response from the handler to be a UserViewModel.

public class UserQuery : IAsyncRequest<UserViewModel>
{
	public int Id { get; set; }
}

With a request message defined we can now go ahead and create a handler that will respond to any messages of that type. We need to make our class implement the IRequestHandler or in my case IAsyncRequestHandler interface, defining the input and output types.

public class UserQueryHandlerAsync : IAsyncRequestHandler<UserQuery, UserViewModel>
{
    public async Task<UserViewModel> Handle(UserQuery message)
    {
        // Could query a db here and get the columns we need.
        
        viewModel = new UserViewModel();
        viewModel.UserId = 100;
        viewModel.Username = "sgordon";
        viewModel.Forename = "Steve";
        viewModel.Surname = "Gordon";

        return viewModel;
    }
}

This interface defines a single method named Handle which returns a Task of your output type. This expects your request message object as it’s parameter.

In my example I’m simply newing up a UserViewModel object, setting it’s properties and returning it. In the real world this would be where I query the database using Entity Framework and build up my view model from the resulting data.

I personally have been in the habit of keeping my request message and my response handler classes together in the same physical .cs file, but you can split them if you prefer. I’m normally keen on keeping one class to one file, but in this case since the two classes are very interrelated I’ve found it quicker to work when I can see both in the same file.

We now have everything wired up so finally it’s time to send a message from our controller.

public class UsersController : Controller
{
    private readonly IMediator _mediator;

    public UsersController(IMediator mediator)
    {
        if (mediator == null)
            throw new ArgumentNullException(nameof(mediator));

        _mediator = mediator;
    }

    [HttpGet]
    [Route("users/{userId}")]
    public async Task<IActionResult> UserDetails(int userId)
    {
        UserViewModel model = await _mediator.SendAsync(new UserQuery { Id = userId });

        if (model == null)
            return HttpNotFound();

        return View(model);
    }
}

The key things to highlight here are the controller’s constructor accepting an IMediatr object. This will be injected by the ASP.NET Core DI when the application runs. What’s very useful is that we can easily mock an IMediatr and it’s response which makes testing a breeze.

The UserDetails action itself expects a user id when it is called. This id gets bound from the route parameter by MVC.

The key line in the code above is where we send the mediator message. We do this by calling SendAsync on the IMediatr object. We send a UserQuery object with the Id property set. This message will now be managed by Mediatr. It will locate the suitable handler, pass it the request message and return the response to our action.

As you can see, this has made our controller very light. The only code left is a basic check to return an appropriate not found response if the response to our Mediatr request is null. That won’t ever be true in my example, but in a real world app if the database doesn’t find an object with the id provided I return null instead of a UserViewModel. This is exactly how I like a controller to be, it’s single responsibility is to send the client a HTTP response of some kind to the user’s request. It doesn’t and shouldn’t need to know about our database or have any concerns with building up it’s view model directly.

Testing

Being good citizens we should always consider the testing process. Testing when using Mediatr and a CQRS style pattern is very simple. My approach has been to ensure that each handler has appropriate unit tests around the handle method testing the logic within. To do this we can new up a Mediatr handler in our test class and then we can call the Handle method direct and run tests on the returned object to verify the result.

[Fact]
public async Task HandlerReturnsCorrectUserViewModel()
{ 
    var sut = new UserQueryHandlerAsync();
    var result = await sut.Handle(new UserQuery { Id = 100 });

    Assert.NotNull(result);
    Assert.Equal("Steve", result.Forename);
}

This is a bit of a contrived example, especially as my handler example really doesn’t perform any logic. However we can test for whatever is necessary on the returned result. You can check out the allReady code on Github to see some real examples of tests around the handlers used there. In those cases we often use an in memory Entity Framework DbContext object so that we can test the handler’s EF query returns the expected data from a known set of test data.

We can also test the controllers very easily by passing in a mock of the IMediatr.

[Fact]
public void UserDetails_SendsQueryWithTheCorrectUserId()
{
    const int userId = 1;
    var mediator = new Mock<IMediator>();
    var sut = new UserController(mediator.Object);

    sut.UserDetails(userId);

    mediator.Verify(x => x.SendAsync(It.Is<UserQuery>(y => y.EventId == userId)), Times.Once);
}

We create a mock IMediatr using Moq and pass that in when instantiating a controller. Here I’ve called the UserDetail action with an Id and verified that a query has been sent to the mediator containing that Id.

If necessary you can setup your IMediatr mock so that you define the data that is returned in response to a message. This can be useful if you want to validate your action’s behaviour to different responses. You can mock up the response object using code such as…

var user = new UserViewModel
{
    viewModel.UserId = 100,
    viewModel.Username = "sgordon",
    viewModel.Forename = "Steve",
    viewModel.Surname = "Gordon",
};

var mediator = new Mock<IMediator>();
mediator.Setup(x => x.SendAsync(It.IsAny<UserQuery>())).Returns(user);

If your controller performs any logic based on the returned object you can now easily specify the different scenarios to test that. Something I often do is to write a test that verifies that when the Mediatr response is null the action sends a HttpNotFound result. In a simple example that can be done in the following way…

[Fact]
public async Task UserDetailsReturnsHttpNotFoundResultWhenUserIsNull()
{
    var mediator = new Mock<IMediator>();

    var sut = new UserController(mediator);

    var result = await sut.UserDetails(It.IsAny<int>());

    Assert.IsType<HttpNotFoundResult>(result);
}

Summing Up

I’ve really taken to the pattern that Mediatr allows us to easily implement. It’s a personal choice of course but my view is that it keeps my controllers clean and allows me to create handlers that have a single responsibility. It keeps things nicely separated as nothing it too tightly bound together. I can easily change the behaviour of a handler and as long as it still returns the correct object type my controllers never care.

As I’ve shown the testing process is pretty nice and if we ensure each handler is tested as well as the controllers, then we have good coverage of the behaviours we expect from the classes. A big bonus is that it already supports ASP.NET Core and is pretty simple to setup with the built-in DI container.

Mediatr also supports a publisher/subscriber pattern which I’ve yet to need in my code. It’s something worth taking a look at though if you need multiple handlers to respond when an event occurs. It’s something that I plan to look into at some point.

I highly recommend trying out the Mediatr library and reviewing the pattern being used on the allReady project. It takes little time to setup and quickly become a comfortable flow when writing code. It’s made me think about what my models are involved in and helped me keep them focused and more robust.

NOTE: This post was written based on RC1 of ASP.NET Core and may not be current by the time RC2 and RTM are released.

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