ORM Entities vs. Domain Entities under Entity Framework 6.0

domain-model entity-framework orm


I stumbled upon the following two articles First and Second in which the author states in summary that ORM Entities and Domain Entities shouldn't be mixed up.

I face exactly this problem at the moment as I code with EF 6.0 using the Code First approach. I use the POCO classes as entities in the EF as well as my domain/business objects. But I find myself frequently in the situation where I define a property as public or a navigation property as virtual only because the EF Framework forces me to do so.

I don't know what to take as the bottom line of the two articles? Should I really create for example a CustomerEF class for the entity framework and a CustomerD for my domain. Then create a repository which consumes CustomerD maps it to CustomerEF do some queries and than maps back the received CustomerEF to CustomerD. I thought EF is all about mapping my domain entities to the data.

So please give me some advice. Do I overlook an important thing the EF is able to provide me with? Or is this a problem which can not completely solved by the EF? In the latter case what is a good way to manage this problem?

10/17/2016 5:33:12 PM

Accepted Answer

I agree with the general idea of these posts. An ORM class model is part of a data access layer first and foremost (even if it consists of so-called POCOs). If any conflict of interests arises between persistence and business logic (or any other concern), decisions should always be made in favor of persistence.

However, as software developers we always have to balance between purism and pragmatism. Whether or not to use the persistence model as a domain model depends on a number of factors:

  • The size/coherence of the development team. When the whole team knows that properties can be public just because of ORM requirements, but should not be set all over the place, it may not be a big deal. If everybody knows (and obeys) that an ID property is not to be used in business logic, having IDs may not be a big deal. A scattered, unexperienced or undisciplined team may need more stringent segregation of code.

  • The overlap between business logic concerns and persistence concerns. Object oriented design thrives when a class model sticks to SOLID principles. But these principles are not necessarily at odds with persistence concerns. I mean that although the concerns are different, in the end their resultant requirements may be quite similar. For instance, both concerns may require valid object state and correct associations.

    There can be use cases, however, in which objects temporarily need to be in a state that absolutely shouldn't be stored. This may be a reason to work with dedicated domain classes. Another reason may be that the entity model just can't fulfill the best segmentation of responsibilities. For instance, a business process "blacklisting customer" may require data that is scattered over so many entity objects that new domain classes must be designed that can encapsulate the data and the methods working on them. In other words: doing this by entities would violate the Tell Don't Ask principle.

  • The need for layering. For instance, if the data access layer targets different database vendors it may have to consist of interchangeable parts that are vendor-specific (e.g. to account for subtle differences in data types between Oracle and Sql Server or to exploit vendor-specific features). Using the persistence model as domain model would probably bleed vendor-specific implementations into the business logic. That would be really bad. There the data access layer should be precisely that, a layer.

  • (Very trivial) The amount of data. Creating objects takes time and resources. When "many" objects are involved in a business case it may just be too expensive to build both entity objects and domain objects.

And more, undoubtedly.

So I would always try to be a pragmatist. If entity classes do a decent job, go for it. If the mismatch is too large, create a business domain for appropriate parts of the business logic. I would not slavishly follow a (any) design pattern just because it is a good pattern. Contrary to what is said in the post, it requires a lot of maintenance to map an entity model onto a business model. When you find yourself creating myriads of business classes that are almost identical to entity classes it's time to rethink what you're doing.

8/7/2013 8:52:40 PM

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