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Hackernoon logoWhat is Declarative Validation? by@vadim-samokhin

What is Declarative Validation?

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@vadim-samokhinVadim Samokhin

Aspiring object-thinker

What is declarative?

Declarative code describes, or declares, what the desired result should look like. At the same time, it doesn’t explicitly specify the steps needed to reach its goal. Wikipedia has a bit more formal definition, yet still readable:

Declarative programming is a programming paradigm — a style of building the structure and elements of computer programs — that expresses the logic of a computation without describing its control flow.

As we see, declarative programming has nothing to do with the
language. You may very well use dense imperative code in Haskell. You
can write declarative code in PHP.

It does have something to do with you though.

Check out a quick example of declarative and imperative code, deliberately in pseudo-code. "Unit" thing there is a main building block in your language of choice. Typically, it’s either a class or a function.

Here is a declarative one:

unit sum {
    (int a, int b) => a + b
}

Why is it declarative in the first place? Because only a desired
result is described, which is a sum. You can implement it in a number of ways, not only by addition.

Declarative programming concept is so badass that it even has a real-life counterpart. It's starting any endeavor with the end in mind. Seneca and Stephen Covey knew what they talked about.

Nevertheless, when one needs a sum, the following code is typical:

unit add {
    (int a, int b) => a + b
}

What a big deal, just a different name, you might say. But naming is what reflects your way of thinking. By the way, this is exactly the cause why, they say, naming is among two most difficult things in development. So there is just a tiny difference in this situation, where we have only two basic programming units. And it’s huge when we have 1 million lines of code.

The consequences of being imperative on a bigger scale

How do your user stories (or Application services, or Controllers) look like? I bet you recognize the following pattern:

  • Validate a request
  • Send some http request
  • Parse response
  • Update some entity
  • Save it in a database

Quick declarativeness test: you API changes, 3rd party API changes
either, including the number and format of requests, thus parsing logic changes, consequently entity update logic does either, and finally, however crazy, you DB vendor changes. Does you controller code have to change? If yes – bad news, sorry: your code is probably imperative. I hope you have controller tests in place. But chances are you don’t. Anyways, you’re facing a changes that affect a significant area of your codebase.

Declarative approach helps you mitigate those issues. First, you don’t have to validate the request. You just need a validated request. Second, you don’t have to send an http request and parse its response. Instead, you need either a command result (like whether a transaction authorization was successful or not) or particular data (like special marketing offer for current client). And finally you don’t have to update an entity and save it in database; instead you want it persisted.

So as a result we get the following list of expressions:
1. Validated request
2. Information about either successfulness or remote entity data
3. Persisted local object as a result

There are no implementation details left on this user-story level. Thus, your design will be subjected to less changes in case of any requirement changes. The scope of changes will be smaller, which means more readable and maintainable code.

Declarative code probably can be considered as a special case of encapsulation. But there are plenty of ways to organize your classes in such a way that encapsulation is respected. Declarative code is both encapsulated and descriptive -- contrary to prescriptive -- giving you an extra benefit.

What declarative is not?

One of the misconceptions I see quite often is that the fact that
you’ve put all your dependencies in a config file automatically makes
your code declarative. Nope. Declarative code is much more than mechanical actions. Simply sticking your service classes
in a config file won’t bring you closer to maintainable code.

Using functions does not ensure your code to be declarative either. You can wrap each implementation step into its own function (or a service class), as in a previous controller example. But it still remains susceptible to specific kinds of changes.

Declarative validation

If you’re tired of spaghetti validation code mess, you can try a declarative approach. Class names reflect what is validated, not how. Their implementation doesn’t clutter the higher-level validation logic description.
It’s especially convenient in case of complex json data structures, when
your validation composite object reflects the request structure. And as a nice declarative-approach side-effect, your code is not temporally coupled.

To get a feel of what it looks like, consider a following example of a complex request validation. JSON structure looks the following:

{
   "guest":{
      "phone":"+44123456789",
      "name":"Vasily Belov",
      "email":"vasya@belov.com"
   },
   "bag":{
      "items":[
         {
            "id":888
         },
         {
            "id":777
         }
      ],
      "discount":{
         "promo_code":"VASYA1988"
      },
      "served_for":3
   },
   "delivery":{
      "type_id":20,
      "where":{
         "restaurant_id":1
      },
      "when":{
         "datetime":"2019-10-23T08:33:11.798400+00:00"
      },
      "from_where":{
         "restaurant_id":1
      }
   },
   "payment":{
      "type_id":30
   },
   "source":20
}

The semantics basically doesn’t really matter, though you can guess that it has something to do with food delivery order registration. Schema is quite large. Typically, validation code is less then clear.

Here is the declarative validation composite with Validol library
(check Validol’s Quick start page for a line-by-line analysis, it’s not as scary as you imagine):

new FastFail<>(
    new WellFormedJson(
        new Unnamed<>(Either.right(new Present<>(this.jsonRequestString)))
    ),
    requestJsonObject ->
        new UnnamedBlocOfNameds<>(
            List.of(
                new FastFail<>(
                    new IsJsonObject(
                        new Required(
                            new IndexedValue("guest", requestJsonObject)
                        )
                    ),
                    guestJsonObject ->
                        new NamedBlocOfNameds<>(
                            "guest",
                            List.of(
                                new AsString(
                                    new Required(
                                        new IndexedValue("email", guestJsonObject)
                                    )
                                ),
                                new AsString(
                                    new Required(
                                        new IndexedValue("name", guestJsonObject)
                                    )
                                )
                            ),
                            Guest.class
                        )
                ),
                new FastFail<>(
                    new Required(
                        new IndexedValue("items", requestJsonObject)
                    ),
                    itemsJsonElement ->
                        new NamedBlocOfUnnameds<>(
                            "items",
                            itemsJsonElement,
                            item ->
                                new UnnamedBlocOfNameds<>(
                                    List.of(
                                        new AsInteger(
                                            new Required(
                                                new IndexedValue("id", item)
                                            )
                                        )
                                    ),
                                    Item.class
                                ),
                            Items.class
                        )
                ),
                new FastFail<>(
                    new Required(
                        new IndexedValue("delivery", requestJsonObject)
                    ),
                    deliveryJsonElement ->
                        new SwitchTrue<>(
                            "delivery",
                            List.of(
                                new Specific<>(
                                    // Here goes the condition whether this order should be delivered by courier or picked up.
                                    // It's omitted for brevity.
                                    () -> true,
                                    new UnnamedBlocOfNameds<>(
                                        List.of(
                                            new FastFail<>(
                                                new IndexedValue("where", deliveryJsonElement),
                                                whereJsonElement ->
                                                    new NamedBlocOfNameds<>(
                                                        "where",
                                                        List.of(
                                                            new AsString(
                                                                new Required(
                                                                    new IndexedValue("street", whereJsonElement)
                                                                )
                                                            ),
                                                            new AsInteger(
                                                                new Required(
                                                                    new IndexedValue("building", whereJsonElement)
                                                                )
                                                            )
                                                        ),
                                                        Where.class
                                                    )
                                            ),
                                            new FastFail<>(
                                                new IndexedValue("when", deliveryJsonElement),
                                                whenJsonElement ->
                                                    new NamedBlocOfNameds<>(
                                                        "when",
                                                        List.of(
                                                            new AsDate(
                                                                new AsString(
                                                                    new Required(
                                                                        new IndexedValue("date", whenJsonElement)
                                                                    )
                                                                ),
                                                                new SimpleDateFormat("yyyy-MM-dd HH:mm:ss")
                                                            )
                                                        ),
                                                        DefaultWhen.class
                                                    )
                                            )
                                        ),
                                        CourierDelivery.class
                                    )
                                )
                            )
                        )
                ),
                new AsInteger(
                    new Required(
                        new IndexedValue("source", requestJsonObject)
                    )
                )
            ),
            OrderRegistrationRequestData.class
        )
)
    .result()

What catches the eye first? There are plenty of

FastFail
gizmos. This class accepts exactly two arguments: original element and closure. Whether the first parameter results in true, the second closure is invoked.
The typical cases are just as in an example above:

  • Check whether the request represents a well-formed json
  • Check whether some key is present (like
    new IndexedValue("when", deliveryJsonElement)
    )

Second, the object structure reflects the request structure. It might seem to (and actually could) be a drawback, since the request can be extremely complex. The solution is pretty simple: you can represent each semantic block as its own class, like the following:

new FastFail<>(
    new WellFormedJson(
        new Unnamed<>(Either.right(new Present<>(this.jsonRequestString)))
    ),
    requestJsonObject ->
        new UnnamedBlocOfNameds<>(
            List.of(
                new Guest(requestJsonObject),
                new Items(requestJsonObject),
                new RequiredNamedBlocOfCallback<>(
                    "delivery",
                    requestJsonObject,
                    deliveryJsonElement ->
                        new SwitchTrue<>(
                            "delivery",
                            List.of(
                                new Specific<>(
                                    // pretty dumb clause
                                    () -> true,
                                    new Courier(deliveryJsonElement)
                                )
                            )
                        )
                ),
                new Source(requestJsonObject)
            ),
            OrderRegistrationRequestData.class
        )
)

If you have a block structure that depends on passed type (like

delivery.type_id
),
SwitchTrue
is your friend. It represents a sort of declarative switch-case expression, where the value checked against is always true (hence the name, "Switch True").

If everything’s successful, you get a data object reflecting the request structure, with type hinted values:

Result<OrderRegistrationRequestData> result = new ValidatedOrderRegistrationRequest(jsonRequest).result();
// get an email:
result.value().raw().guest().email();

In case you passed only

guest.email
and
source
, you would get a following error:

assertFalse(result.isSuccessful());
assertEquals(
    Map.of(
        "guest", Map.of("email", new MustBePresent().value()),
        "items", new MustBePresent().value(),
        "delivery", new MustBePresent().value(),
        "source", new MustBeInteger().value()
    ),
    result.error().value()
);

There is plenty of space left to extend the logic, just add another validating decorator.

More examples

Check out more usage examples in Unit-tests. Here is an example of inline validation in greater detail. And here you can find out how to split the validation logic according to semantic request blocks.

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