Tag Archives: Apex Trigger Design Pattern

An architecture framework to handle triggers in the Force.com platform

Coding in Apex is similar to Java/C# in lot many ways, yet so different from them in few other ways. But one thing that is common is that the application of proper design patterns to solve the problem irrespective of platform or technological difference. This is very particular for the apex triggers, because in a typical Salesforce application, triggers play a pivotal role and a major chunk of the logic is driven through the triggers. Therefore a proper design of triggers is very essential, not only for successful implementations, but also for laying out a strong architectural foundation. There are several design patterns proposed like this, this and this. And some of these patterns have gotten mainstream support among the developers and the architects. This article series is going to propose one such design pattern for handling triggers. All these design patterns share a common trait – which is ‘One Trigger to rule them all’ – A phrase that Dan Appleman made it famous in his ‘Advanced Apex Programming‘ . In fact, the design pattern that is being published in this article series is heavily influenced by Dan Appleman’s original design pattern – many thanks to you, Dan. Another design pattern that influenced this implementation was published by Tony Scott and can be found here and I would like thank him as well for his wonderful contribution. I also borrowed couple of ideas from Adam Purkiss such as wrapping the trigger variables in a wrapper class and thank him as well. His training video on Force.com design patterns (available at pluralsight as a paid subscription) is great inspiration and anyone who is serious about taking their development skills on Force.com platform to the next level MUST watch them. That said, let’s dive into the details.

Now, why do we need a yet another design pattern for triggers, while we already have few. Couple of reasons – Firstly, though, the design pattern proposed by Dan and Tony provides a solid way of handling triggers, I feel that there is still room to get this better and provide a more elegant way of handling the triggers. Secondly, both these design patterns require touching the trigger framework code every time when a new trigger is added – the method that I propose eliminates it (Sure, this can be replicated with their design patterns as well, as I leverage the standard Force.com API). Thirdly, this trigger design pattern differentiates the dispatching and handling and provides full flexibility to the developers in designing their trigger handling logic. Last, but not least, this new framework, as the name suggests, it is not just a design pattern; it’s an architecture framework that provides complete control of handling triggers in more predictable and uniform way and helps to organize and structure the codebase in a very developer friendly way. Further, this design pattern takes complete care about dispatching and provides a framework for handling the events; thus the developers need to focus only on the building the logic to handle these events and not about dispatching.

Architecture

The fundamental principles that this architecture framework promotes are

  • Order of execution
  • Separation of concerns
  • Control over reentrant code
  • Clear organization and structure

Order of execution

In the traditional way of implementing the triggers, a new trigger is defined (for the same object) as the requirements come in. Unfortunately, the problem with this type of implementation is that there is no control over the order of execution. This may not be a big problem for the smaller implementations, but definitely it’s a nightmare for medium to large implementations. In fact, this is the exact reason, many people have come with a trigger design pattern that promotes the idea of ‘One trigger to rule them all’. This architecture framework does support this and it achieves this principle by introducing the concept of ‘dispatchers’. More on this later.

Separation of concerns

The other design patterns that I referenced above pretty much promote the same idea of ‘One trigger to rule them all’. But the one thing that I see missing is the ‘Separation of concerns’. What I mean here is that, the trigger factory/dispatcher calls a method in a class which handles all the trigger event related code. Once again for smaller implementations, this might not be a problem, but medium to large implementations, very soon it will be difficult to maintain. As the requirements change or new requirements come in, these classes grow bigger and bigger. The new framework alleviates this by implementing the ‘handlers’ to address the ‘Separation of concerns’.

Control over reentrant code

Many times there will be situation where the trigger code might need to perform a DML operation on the same object, which might end up in invoking the same trigger once again. This can go recursive, but usually developers will introduce a condition variable (typically a static variable) to prevent that. But this is not a elegant solution because, this doesn’t guarantee an orderly fashion of reentrant code. The new architecture provides complete control to the developers such that the developers can either deny the reentrant or allow both the first time call and the reentrant, but in totally separate ways, so they don’t step on each other.

Clear organization and structure

As highlighted under the section ‘Separation of concerns’, with medium to larger implementations, the codebase grows with no order or structure. Very soon, the developers might find it difficult to maintain. The new framework provides complete control over organizing and structure the codebase based on the object and the event types.

UML Diagram

The following UML diagram captures all the pieces of this architecture framework.

Trigger Architecture Framework

Trigger Architecture Framework

Framework Components

TriggerFactory

The TriggerFactory is the entry point of this architecture framework and is the only line of code that resides in the trigger definition (you may have other code such as logging or something else, but as far as this architecture framework, this will be the only code required). The TriggerFactory class, as the name indicates, is a factory class that creates an instance of the dispatcher object that the caller (the trigger class) specifies and delegates the call to the appropriate event handler method (the trigger event such as ‘before insert’, ‘before update’, …)  that the dispatcher provides. The beauty of the TriggerFactory is that it automatically finds the correct dispatcher for the object that the trigger is associated as far as the dispatcher is named as per naming convention and this convention is very simple as specified in the following table.

Object Type Format Example Notes
Standard Objects <Object>TriggerDispatcher AccountTriggerDispatcher
Custom Objects <Object>TriggerDispatcher MyProductTriggerDispatcher Assuming that MyProduct__c is the custom object, then the dispatcher will be named without the ‘__c’.

It accomplishes this by using the new Type API. Using the Type API to construct the instances of the dispatchers helps to avoid touching the TriggerFactory class every time a new trigger dispatcher is added (ideally only one trigger dispatcher class is needed per object).

Dispatchers

The dispatchers dispatch the trigger events to the appropriate event handlers to handle the trigger event(s). The framework provides the interface and a base class that provides virtual implementations of the interface methods, but the developers need to provide their own dispatcher class, which is derived from either the virtual base class for each object that they want to have this framework applied. Ideally, the developers want to inherit from the TriggerDispatcherBase, as it not only provides the virtual methods – giving the flexibility to the developers to implement the event handlers only that they are interested in their dispatcher class, but also the ability to provide reentrant feature to their logic.

ITriggerDispatcher

As discussed above, the ITriggerDispatcher essentially contains the event handler method declarations. The trigger parameters are wrapped in a class named ‘TriggerParameters’.

TriggerDispatcherBase

The TriggerDispatcherBase class implements the interface ITriggerDispatcher, providing virtual implementations for those interface methods, so that the developers need not implement all the event handlers that they do not wish to use. The TriggerDispatcherBase also has one more important method named ‘execute’ which controls if a call has to be dispatched in reentrant fashion or not. It has a separate member variable for each event to hold the instance of the trigger handler for that particular event which the ‘execute’ method utilizes to control the reentrant feature.

<Object>TriggerDispatcher

The trigger dispatcher classes contains the methods to handle the trigger events and this is the place where the developers had to instantiate the appropriate trigger event handler classes. At the heart of the dispatcher lies the ITriggerDispatcher interface which provides an interface for the developers to implement the appropriate dispatcher for the objects. The interface provides definitions for all trigger events, which means that the trigger dispatcher that the developers implement should implement methods for all the events. However, since it may not necessary to provide implementations for all trigger events – the framework provides a base class named ‘TriggerDispatcherBase’ that provides default implementation (virtual methods) to handle all events. This allows developers to implement the methods for only the events  that they really have to, by deriving from TriggerDispatcherBase instead of implementing the ITriggerDispatcher interface, as the TriggerDispatcherBase implements this interface. One more reason that the developer wants to derive from TriggerDispatcherBase instead of ITriggerDispatcher is because the TriggerDispatcherBase.execute method provides the reentrant feature and the developer will not be able to leverage this feature if the trigger dispatcher for the objects do not derive from this class.

It is very important that the trigger dispatcher class to be named as per the naming convention described under the TriggerFactory section. If this naming convention is not followed, then the framework will not be able find the dispatcher and the trigger class would throw an exception.

Understanding the dispatcher is really critical to successfully implement this framework, as this is where the developer can precisely control the reentrant feature. This is achieved by the method named ‘execute’ in the TriggerDispatcherBase which the event handler methods call by passing an instance of the appropriate event handler class. The event handler methods sets a variable to track the reentrant feature and it is important to reset it after calling the ‘execute’ method. The following code shows a typical implementation of the event handler code for ‘after update’ trigger event on the Account object.

   1: private static Boolean isAfterUpdateProcessing = false;

   2:

   3: public virtual override void afterUpdate(TriggerParameters tp) {

   4:       if(!isAfterUpdateProcessing) {

   5:            isAfterUpdateProcessing = true;

   6:            execute(new AccountAfterUpdateTriggerHandler(), tp, TriggerParameters.TriggerEvent.afterUpdate);

   7:            isAfterUpdateProcessing = false;

   8:       }

   9:       else execute(null, tp, TriggerParameters.TriggerEvent.afterUpdate);

  10:  }

In this code, the variable ‘isAfterUpdateProcessing’ is the state variable and it is initialized to false when the trigger dispatcher is instantiated. Then, inside the event handler, a check is made sure that this method is not called already and the variable is then set to true, to indicate that a call to handle the after update event is in progress. Then we call the ‘execute’ method and then we are resetting the state variable. At the outset, this (resetting the state variable to false) may not seem very important, but failure to do so, will largely invalidate the framework and in fact in most cases you may not be able to deploy the application to production. Let me explain this – when a user does something with an object that has this framework implemented, for example, saving a record, the trigger gets invoked, the before trigger handlers are executed, the record is saved and the after trigger event handlers are executed and then either the page is refreshed or redirected to another page depending on the logic. All of this happens in one single context. So, it might look like the state variable such as ‘isAfterUpdateProcessing’ needs to be set to true inside the if condition.

Handlers

Handlers contains the actual business logic that needs to be executed for a particular trigger event. Ideally, every trigger event will have an associated handler class to handle the logic for that particular event. This increases the number of classes to be written, but this provides a very clean organization and structure to the code base. This approach proves itself – as in the long run, the maintenance and enhancements are much easier as even a new developer would know exactly where to make the changes as far as he/she gets an understanding on how this framework works.

Another key functionality of the handlers is that the flexibility it gives to the developers to implement or ignore the reentrant functionality. The ‘mainEntry’ method is the gateway for the initial call. If this call makes a DML operation on the same object, then it will result in invoking this trigger again, but this time the framework knows that there is a call already in progress – hence instead of the ‘mainEntry’, this time, it will call the ‘inProgressEntry’ method. So if reentrant feature to be provided, then the developer need to place the code inside the ‘inProgressEntry’ method. The framework provides only the interface – the developers need to implement this interface for each event of an object. The developers can chose to ignore to implement the event handlers, if they are not going to handle the events.

ITriggerHandler

The ITriggerHandler defines the interface to handle the trigger events in reentrant fashion or non-reentrant fashion.

TriggerHandlerBase

The TriggerHandlerBase is an abstract class that implements the interface ITriggerHandler, providing virtual implementation for those interface methods, so that the developers need not implement all the methods, specifically, the ‘inProgressEntry’ and the ‘updateObjects’ methods, that they do not wish to use.

<Object><Event>TriggerHandler

As discussed above, the developer need to define one class per event per object that implements the ITriggerHandler interface. While there is no strict requirement on the naming convention like the dispatcher, it is suggested to name as per the following convention.

Object Type Format Example Notes
Standard Objects <Object><Event>TriggerHandler AccountAfterInsertTriggerHandler,
AccountAfterUpdateTriggerHandler, etc.
Custom objects <Object><Event>TriggerHandler MyProductAfterInsertTriggerHandler Assuming that MyProduct__c is the custom object, then the handler will be named without the ‘__c’.

So, if we take the Account object, then we will have the following event handler classes to be implemented by the developer that maps to the corresponding trigger events.

Trigger Event Event Handler
Before Insert AccountBeforeInsertTriggerHandler
Before Update AccountBeforeUpdateTriggerHandler
Before Delete AccountBeforeDeleteTriggerHandler
After Insert AccountAfterInsertTriggerHandler
After Update AccountAfterUpdateTriggerHandler
After Delete AccountAfterDeleteTriggerHandler
After UnDelete AccountAfterUndeleteTriggerHandler

Note that NOT all the event handler classes, as defined in the above table, needs to be created.  If you are NOT going to handle a certain event, such as, ‘After Undelete’ for the Account object, then you do not need to define the ‘AccountAfterUnDeleteTriggerHandler’.

TriggerParameters

The TriggerParameters class encapsulates the trigger parameters that the force.com platform provides during the invocation of a trigger. It is simply a convenience, as it avoid repeating all those parameters typing again and again in the event handler methods.

<Object>Helper

Often, there will be situations where you want to reuse the code from different event handlers such as sending email notifications. After all one of the fundamental principle of object oriented programming is code re-usability. In order to achieve that, this architecture framework proposes to place all the common code in a helper class so that not only the event handlers, but also the controllers, scheduled jobs, batch apex jobs can use the same methods, if necessary. But this approach is not without its caveats; for e.g. if the helper method slightly varies based on the event type, then how would you handle that? Do you pass the event type to the helper method, so that the helper method uses condition logic? There’s no right or wrong answer – but personally, I think it’s not a good idea to pass the event types to the helper methods; And for this example, you can just pass a flag and that can solve the issue. But for other types of situations, passing a flag may not be enough – you need to think little smarter and I’ll leave it to the reader as the situation is totally unique to their requirements.

Using the framework to handle updates

The framework comes with a default implementation to handle the updates. It achieves this by adding a Map variable to hold the objects to be updated and all that the developer needs to do is to just add the objects to be updated to this map in their event handlers. The TriggerHandlerBase abstract class has the default implementation to update the objects from this map variable which is called by the  ‘execute’ method in the TriggerDispatcherBase. Note that I chose to call the updateObjects method only for the ‘mainEntry’ and not for the ‘inProgressEntry’ simply because I didn’t have the time to test it.

Another thing to note is that since the framework will utilize the helper classes to get things done, sometimes the objects that you need to update may be handled in these helper classes. How would you handle that? I suggest design your helper methods to return those objects as a list and add them to the map from your event handler code, instead of passing the map variable to the helper class.

This framework can be easily extended to handle the inserts and deletes as well. To handle the insert, add a List variable to the TriggerHandlerBase and provide a virtual method named ‘insertObjects’ that will insert the list and call it from the ‘execute’ method on the TriggerHandlerBase. I’ll update the code when time permits and for the meanwhile, I’ll leave this to the reader to implement for their projects.

Note that it is not possible to do upsert in this way, because force.com platform doesn’t support upserting generic objects and since our map uses the generic object (sObject), this is not possible. (Thanks to Adam Purkiss for pointing out this fact).

Example

To illustrate this design pattern, the following diagram depicts how this architecture framework will apply for the account object.

Trigger Architecture Framework

Trigger Architecture Framework

The trigger architecture framework project is available as open source and hosted at google code.The source code for this entire framework, along with a dummy implementation which includes classes for handling trigger events on the Account object, is available as an app exchange package. If you need it as a zip file, then it can be downloaded from here. The code documentation is built using apexdoc and can be downloaded from here.

Summary

The new trigger architecture framework will provide a strong foundation on the force.com platform to build applications that will provide multiple benefits as outlined previously. The framework does involve many parts and the business solutions built using this framework need to follow certain rules and conventions and the number of classes written will be little high – but the benefits from this approach will easily out-live the effort and the investments. It may be still overkill for very smaller implementations, but it will prove its usefulness for medium to larger implementations.

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