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When is my View too smart?

In this posting, I will discuss the motivation behind keeping View code as thin as possible when using patterns such as MVC, MVVM, and MVP.  Once the motivation is identified, I will examine some ways to determine whether a View contains logic that belongs in another part of the application.  While the concepts that I will discuss are applicable to most any pattern which favors a thin View, any concrete examples that I present will center on ASP.NET MVC.

Design patterns that include a Model, a View, and other components such as a Controller, ViewModel, or Presenter are not new to application development.  These patterns have, in fact, been around since the early days of building applications with graphical interfaces.  The reason that these patterns emerged is simple – the code running closest to the user tends to be littered with logic and library calls that center around implementation details of showing and manipulating user interface widgets and when this type of code is interspersed with application domain logic it becomes difficult to understand and much more difficult to adequately test.  By removing domain logic from the View, we ensure that the View has a single responsibility of drawing the screen which, in turn, makes our application easier to understand and maintain.

I was recently asked to take a look at an ASP.NET MVC View because the developer reviewing it thought that it possibly had too much going on in the view.  I looked at the .CSHTML file and the first thing that occurred to me was that it began with 40 lines of code declaring member variables and performing the necessary calculations to populate these variables, which were later either output directly to the page or used to control some conditional rendering action (such as adding a class name to an HTML element or not rendering another element at all).  This exhibited both of what I consider the primary heuristics (or code smells) indicating that the View is too smart:

  • Member variables – in general, variables in View code are an indication that the Model to which the View is being bound is not sufficient for the needs of the View and that the View has had to augment that Model.  Notable exceptions to this guideline include variables used to hold information specifically related to rendering (such as a dynamically determined CSS class name or the depth within a recursive structure for indentation purposes) and variables which are used to facilitate looping through collections while binding.
  • Arithmetic – as with member variables, the presence of arithmetic operators within View code are an indication that the Model servicing the View is insufficient for its needs.  For example, if the Model represents a line item in a sales order, it might seem perfectly natural to “normalize” the Model by storing the quantity and unit price in the Model and multiply these within the View to show the line total.  While this does seem natural, it introduces a business rule to the View code and makes it impossible to test that the rounding of the result meets the requirement of the business without executing the View.  Within View code, arithmetic should only be used for activities such as incrementing loop counters and calculating element widths.

In addition to the two characteristics of a “Smart View” that I’ve discussed already, this View also exhibited another heuristic that commonly indicates to me the need to refactor a View and make it a bit less smart.  That characteristic is the existence of Boolean logic that either does not work directly with properties of the Model or works with too many properties of the Model.  Consider the following code and consider how logic that does not work directly with properties of the Model is just another form of the “member variable” heuristic covered earlier:

@if(DateTime.Now.Hour < 12) {
    <div>Good Morning!</div>
} else {
    <div>Greetings</div>
}

This code performs business logic to determine whether it is morning.  A possible refactoring would be to add an IsMorning property to the Model, but in this particular case there is enough similarity between the branches that the entire branching structure could be collapsed by adding a Greeting property to the Model and using it similarly to the following:

<div>@Model.Greeting</div>

Now let’s look at some complex logic around multiple Model properties:

@if (ModelPageNumber + Model.NumbersToDisplay == Model.PageCount
        || (Model.PageCount != Model.CurrentPage
            && !Model.DisplayValues.Contains(Model.PageCount))) {
    <div>There's more to see!</div>
}

In this scenario, not only is the View code difficult to read (you shouldn’t have to play “human compiler” to determine the purpose of the code), but it also complex enough to be at risk for logical errors that cannot be detected without executing the View.  Conditional logic that requires more than a single logical operator should be looked at more closely to determine whether the condition should be evaluated elsewhere and exposed as a single property of the Model.  Moving the logic above outside of the View and exposing a new Model property would simplify the View code to:

@if(Model.HasMoreToSee) {
    <div>There’s more to see!</div>
}

In this posting I have briefly discussed some of the more prominent heuristics that indicate a need to push code from the View into other pieces of the application.  You should now be able to recognize these symptoms when building or maintaining Views (or the Models that support them) in your applications.

Print | posted on Tuesday, October 9, 2012 8:30 AM |

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# re: When is my View too smart?

Kyle,

I've pre-ordered your Windows 8 book on amazon; is 10/17 still the target release date?
10/10/2012 6:24 PM | Clay Shannon
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# re: When is my View too smart?

Thanks for ordering it, Clay. The book is in the production process now and I'm told we're still on track for a 10/17 release.
10/10/2012 8:24 PM | Kyle Burns
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