Why?

One of the most common things I hear from people who are new to Ember, new to programming in general, or coming from another frontend ecosystem (especially React and Vue), is that they think Ember's dependency injection system is too complicated and magical -- too hard to reason about or know where the injected services come from. I, too, was in that boat -- until I really dove into how it works -- it was then that I began to understand why dependency injection even exists, and how it's actually simpler than not having it at all.

What is Dependency Injection?

According to Wikipedia

dependency injection is a technique in which an object receives other objects that it depends on.

That's it.

So… this is dependency injection?

let foo = new Foo()

let bar = new Bar(foo);

yes!.

The big deal with dependency injection usually comes from managing how an object receives those other objects.

Why use Dependency Injection?

For me personally, there are two reasons:

  1. Application State (data and functions) can be easily shared between components
  2. Testing is much easier and can be done in isolation

For #1, there are many ways to share state between components, but I like that dependency injection provides a centralized pattern and location for that state as well as an ergonomic and light way to interact with that state.

For #2, this is a little harder to boil down to a sentence or two, and ultimately comes down overall architecture of your app, how big your app is, and what sorts of things provide value when tested. For example, let's say you have some behavior for interacting with an external API, maybe it's the Star Wars JSON api, or maybe it's interacting with a game that you're building a bot for -- you could build all that functionality into your component(s) -- because why prematurely abstract? But you could also build that functionality into a Service, or "just another class that your component will end up using", like this:

class MyComponent {
  constructor() {
    this.api = new StarWarsApi();
  }
}

let myComponent = new MyComponent();

This is a great first step! as the StarWarsApi can be tested by itself without needing to be tied to your component. However, your component has the opposite problem, it is dependent on the StarWarsApi, and there is no way to test the behaviors of MyComponent without using the real implementation of StarWarsApi. The solution to this is dependency injection, where the coupling between the specific implementation of StarWarsApi is reduced to just the interface (the list of methods that we care about), and during testing, we can swap out the StarWarsApi with a fake one that has all the same methods.

class MyComponent {
  constructor(api) {
    this.api = api;
  }
}

let fakeApi = { /* fake stuff here */ }
let myComponent = new MyComponent(fakeApi);

There is a lot of information on this topic, and I think this StackOverflow Answer summarizes it well:

So, to cut a long story short: Dependency injection is one of two ways of how to remove dependencies in your code. It is very useful for configuration changes after compile-time, and it is a great thing for unit testing (as it makes it very easy to inject stubs and / or mocks).

Which reminds me of the whole point of software engineering and architecture in general: to make testing easier.

If we do not learn from the mistakes of those before us and allow ourselves to make testing hard for both our coworkers as well as our future selves, we are doing our coworkers (and ourselves!) a disservice.

This could easily go on a tangent about the important and philosophy of testing and testing-driven architecture, but that's a topic for another time.

How does Dependency Injection work in Ember?

I think the best way to describe this is to first demonstrate how we would create our own dependency injection system from scratch.

This is a bottom-up approach, meaning that we start with the bare minimum, and the gradually add more behavior as we move forward. First, we'll need to define some terms and set goals, so we're on the same page:

Nomenclature:

  • Service: a named bucket of state and/or behavior (usually a class instance);
  • Injection: the act of defining a reference to a Service
  • Container: the object that holds references to each Service

Goals:

  1. A Service can be referenced from anywhere, regardless of where it is accessed
  2. A Service is a singleton
  3. Services can reference each other (circular dependencies are valid)
  4. Access to the global namespace is not allowed

This could be considered an ancestor to dependency injection, where there exists a shared container object in the module scope, still allowing for us to achieve the first three goals.

// app.js
let container = {};

function bootApp() {
  initializeServices();

  container.bot.begin();
}

class Bot {
  begin() {
    let nextMove = container.ai.getMove();

    container.ui.sendKeyPress(nextMove);
  }
}

function initalizeServices() {
  container.ai = new AI();
  container.bot = new Bot();
  container.ui = new UI();
}


bootApp();

To see this code in action, view this CodeSandBox

In a multi-file environment we don't have access to the same module scope between files,

// app.js
import Bot from './bot';
import AI from './ai';
import UI from './ui';

let container = {};

function bootApp() {
  initializeServices();

  container.bot.begin();
}

function initializeServices() {
  container.ai = new AI(container);
  container.bot = new Bot(container);
  container.ui = new UI(container);
}

// bot.js
export default class Bot {
  constructor(container) {
    this.container = container;
  }

  begin() {
    let nextMove = this.container.ai.getMove();

    this.container.ui.sendKeyPress(nextMove);
  }
}

To see this code in action, view this CodeSandBox

However, as a framework or library developer, forcing users / application developers to remember to assign the container each time isn't very ergonomic.

// app.js
// same as before

// service.js
export default class Service {
  constructor(container) {
    this.container = container;
  }
}

// bot.js
import Service from './service';

export default class Bot extends Service {
  begin() {
    let nextMove = this.container.ai.getMove();

    this.container.ui.sendKeyPress(nextMove);
  }
}

This is a little better, we have abstracted away a bit of boilerplate, but there is still a "magic property", container -- this is generally where object oriented programming can get a negative reputation for -- a lack of proper or incomplete abstraction.

A bad abstraction is worse than no abstraction

So, let's clean that up a bit using a decorator

// app.js
// same as before

// service.js
let CONTAINER = Symbol('container');

export default class Service {
  constructor(container) {
    // the container is now set on a symbol-property so that app-devs don't
    // directly access the container. We want app-devs to use the abstraction,
    // which we're aiming to be more ergonamic
    this[CONTAINER] = container;
  }
}

// this is a decorator, and would be used like `@injectService propertyName`
// where target is the class, name would be "propertyName", and descriptor is the
// property descriptor describing the existing "propertyName" on the class that is
// being decorated
//
// For more information on decorators, checkout the above linked decorator plugin
// for babel.
export function injectService(target, name, descriptor) {
  return {
    configurable: false,
    enumerable: true,
    get: function() {
      if (!this[CONTAINER]) {
        throw new Error(`${target.name} does not have a container. Did it extend from Service?`);
      }

      return this[CONTAINER][name];
    }
  }
}

// bot.js
import Service { injectService } from './service';

export default class Bot extends Service {
  @injectService ai;
  @injectService ui;

  begin() {
    let nextMove = this.ai.getMove();

    this.ui.sendKeyPress(nextMove);
  }
}

To see this code in action, view this CodeSandBox

With this approach we can reference each service by name -- but we have a new problem now: as a framework developer, how do we ensure that service properties match up to the service classes?

In the current implementation, we've been arbitrarily assigning values on the container object, ui, ai, and bot. Since this has been in user-space, we've always known what those properties are on the container.

This is where convention steps in.

As framework / library authors, we can say that services are required to be in the services/ folder of your project.

let container = {};

function bootApp() {
  initializeServices();

  container.bot.begin();
}

function initializeServices() {
  for (let [name, AppSpecificService] of detectedServices) {
   container[name]  = new AppSpecificService(container);
  }
}

However, if you're familiar with module-based javascript, you'll noticed that detectedServices needs to somehow be aware of the services in the services/ folder and know their names.

This is where a CLI, at build-time, can help out our framework at run-time.

In Ember, this step is handled be the ember-resolver which then defers to requirejs, which defines modules in the AMD format -- which, for now, we don't need to worry about.

For demonstration purposes, we'll "say" that our bundler and CLI are configured together to produce a map of relative file paths to modules:

let containerRegistry = {
  'services/bot': await import('./services/bot'),
  'services/ai': await import('./services/ai'),
  'services/ui': await import('./services/ui'),
}

so then our app.js may look like this:

let knownServices = Object.entries(containerRegistry);
let container = {};

function bootApp() {
  initializeServices();

  container.bot.begin();
}

function initializeServices() {
  for (let [fullName, ServiceModule] of knownServices) {
    let name = fullName.replace('services/', '');
    let DefaultExport = ServiceModule.default;

    container[name]  = new DefaultExport(container);
  }
}

So now in our documentation, we can write that whatever the file name of the service is will be the name of the property pointing to an instance of that service within the container.

Now, what if we wanted our services to be lazily instantiated, so that we don't negatively impact the time to interactive benchmark if we don't have to?

So far our container has been a plain old object. We can utilize a Proxy

let knownServices = Object.entries(containerRegistry);
let registry = {};

let container = new Proxy(registry, {
  get: function(target, propertyName) {
    if (target[propertyName]) {
      return target[propertyName];
    }

    let FoundService = lookupService(propertyName);

    target[propertyName] = new FoundService(container);

    return target[propertyName];
  }
});

function lookupService(serviceName) {
  let serviceModule = Object.entries(knownServices).find((serviceInfo) => {
    let [ servicePath, serviceModule ] = serviceInfo;

    let name = servicePath.replace('services/', '');

    if (serviceName === name) {
      return serviceModule;
    }
  });

  if (!serviceModule) {
    throw new Error(`The Service, ${serviceName}, was not found.`);
  }

  return serviceModule.default;
}

function bootApp() {
  // initialization now happens on-demand
  container.bot.begin();
}

To see the final implementation, view this CodeSandBox

What does Ember do behind the scenes?

Ember abstracts nearly all of the above from you and provides conventions for building out the map of service names to service instances, accessing those services, and creating any container aware-object.

The most important thing to know about the container, is that it'll provide the contained, known internally-to-ember as the "owner", as the first argument to each of your classes.

So, if you want to have your own "kind" of object, maybe it's a bunch of custom objects that interact with something external, such as an API, or a Canvas, or WebGL, or .. really anything!, it's possible to registry your objects with Ember's container.

Ember does this internally for Services, Routes, Controllers, Components, Helpers, and Modifiers, but to do what ember is doing, have this somewhere in your app

// maybe in a Route's beforeModel hook
let owner = getOwner(this);
owner.register(
  /*
    full name in the format:
    namespace:name
  */
  'webgl:renderer',
  /* class */
  Renderer
);

Now, how would you access that from your component? It's not a service, so the service decorator wouldn't work. First, let's look at what the service decorator does look like

// abridged version of the @service decorator
//
//
// NOTE: ember convention is:
//   import { inject as service } from '@ember/service';
export function inject(target, name, descriptor) {
  return {
    configurable: false,
    enumerable: true,
    get: function() {
      let owner = getOwner(this);

      return owner.lookup(`service:${name}`);
    }
  }
}

So that way, when you have @service api, the namespace gets prepending for you, and the service:api full name is looked up in the container.

Knowing the above, we can make our own decorator so that we may access the our "foo" singleton

export function webgl(target, name, descriptor) {
  return {
    configurable: false,
    enumerable: true,
    get: function() {
      let owner = getOwner(this);

      return owner.lookup(`webgl:${name}`);
    }
  }
}

So then anywhere in our app, we could have a component with the following:

class MyComponent extends Component {
  @webgl renderer;
}

"That's all, folks!"

Once I realized the implementation of ember's dependency injection, it felt simple. It's pretty much a global store where instances of classes are stored on that global store and referenced from other places within your app. If something here doesn't feel simple, let me know!, and hopefully I can tweak this blog post until it does feel simple.

I like the pattern a lot, because it avoids the need to explicitly pass references to every object you want to use throughout your entire app. Instead, Ember abstracts away the passing of the container object to all objects created through that container (mostly components and services, but custom classes can be used as well).

Disclaimers

Dependency injection can be a big topic and have a lot of features implemented. This demonstration has narrow scope and is not intended to be a "fully featured" dependency injection implementation.

About

Professionally, I had my start to frontend development in React, and at the time there was really only Redux and MobX for state management -- but I only had the privilege of working with Redux and eventually React's Context Provider/Consumer pattern. There is a little bit of overlap between React's Contexts and Ember's Services, but they differ in fundamental ways -- which could be a topic for another time.

Now that I'm getting paid to work with Ember almost every day I've only gotten more excited about the programming patterns introduced by the framework and am eager to share them with the world.


This was inspired from some conversations on Twitter as well as trying not to use a web framework for building an Artificatial Intelligence to play a game

References