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Dependency Injection in Ruby. Originally from Jim Weirich’s blog which does not exist except for googles cache.

Dependency Injection in Ruby 07 Oct 04


At the 2004 Ruby Conference, Jamis Buck had the unenviable task to explain Dependency Injection to a bunch of Ruby developers. First of all, Dependency Injection (DI) and Inversion of Control (IoC) is hard to explain, the benefits are subtle and the dynamic nature of Ruby make those benefits even more marginal. Furthermore examples using DI/IoC are either too simple (and don’t convey the usefulness) or too complex (and difficult to explain in the space of an article or presentation). I once attempted to explain DI/IoC to a room of Java programmers (see, so I can’t pass up trying to explain it to Ruby developers.

Thanks goes to Jamis Buck (the author of the Copland DI/IoC framework) who took the time to review this article and provide feedback.

What is Dependency Injection?

Consider the problem of putting together a moderately complex OO program. Typical OO programs create a bunch of objects, wire them together in interesting ways and then let the objects run. It is the first two steps, creating and wiring, that are addressed by Dependency Injection.

By the way, another term for dependency injection is Inversion of Control. Unfortunately, so many things in computer science are called inversion of control that the phrase does not evoke the right connotations with me, so I tend to avoid it. But Inversion of Control is the older term for this pattern so you will see it in many places.

A Moderately Complex Example

One of the problems with explaining Dependency Inversion is that DI only becomes really useful in larger projects. Using a simple example to explain DI leaves the listener thinking "But I can do that easily by (fill in the blank)". So my example is going to be a bit more complex, but hopefully not so large that the reader is unable to understand it.

Imagine you have a webapp that tracks the prices of stocks over time. The application is nicely partitioned into different modules that each handle a portion of the job. A StockQuotes module talks to a remote web service to pull down the current values of the stocks you are tracking. A Database module records the stock values over time. Because this data is highly competitive, you require a login to use the system and thus have an Authentication module to handle validation of user names and password. In addition to these "main" modules, there are a number of additional utility modules used by multiple modules: ErrorHandler to standardize the handling and reporting of error messages and Logger to provide a standard way of logging messsages.

A fully wired system might look something like this:

Building it Old Style!

In the bad, old days, we would just put the logic of building the web app directly into its initialize method. It might look something like this…

  class WebApp
    def initialize
      @quotes =
      @authenticator =
      @database =
      @logger =
      @error_handler =
    # ...

That handles building the WebApp well enough, but what about the subordinate modules. How does the StockQuotes module find out about the logger and error handler, or how does the Authenticator find the database and logger?

We could rewrite WebApp#initialize to create everything in the right order and then pass the logger and error handler to StockQuotes. But that makes the web app rather dependent on details of the StockQuotes module. Currently the database module is created after the quote module, but suppose a change in StockQuotes causes it to need the database. That would require the WebApp to be aware of the change, rearrange the order of creation so that the database is created before the stock quotes module and finally make the database available to the quote service. Yuck!

Even worse, the WebApp knows the concrete name of every module it uses. If I wanted to create an instance of the WebApp for testing, I might want to provide a mock quote service so that I can control the quotes used in testing. Or I might want a mock database for testing. All of these choices are difficult because WebApp knows the class name of all its subordinates.

Enter the Service Locator

We would like to remove the explicit reference to class names in WebApp, but still allow it to locate the services it needs. The Service Locator pattern was designed to address this problem.

With Service Locator, we place references to services in one container and then pass that container to the modules that need to locate those services.

  def create_application
    locator = {}
    locator[:logger] =
    locator[:error_handler] =
    locator[:quotes] =
    locator[:database] =
    locator[:authenticator] =
    locator[:webapp] =

The initialize function for a service just uses the locator to find the services. Here is how StockQuotes might look…

  class StockQuotes
    def initialize(locator)
      @error_handler = locator[:error_handler]
      @logger = locator[:logger]
    # ...

Not bad. Now no service is aware of the exact class used for the other services. We can reconfigure the system easily by editted the create_application method.

We use the Service Locator pattern (and variations) at work in our Java system.

External Configuration

Although we built the service locator in Ruby code, it would not be difficult to specify the locator as a configuration file. A simple Ruby method could read the file, instantiate the objects and populate a hash table. This might allow non-programmers to tweak a configuration to their liking.

More Goodness

Another neat thing about the locator is that we can use it to configure data as well as modules. Suppose we wanted to specify the file to be used as the log file. We might modify the create_application method to include the following:

  locator[:log_file_name] = "webapp.log"
  locator[:logger] =

And Logger would have to know that the log file was identified by :log_file_name in the locator. The Database module is another likely candidate for locator based information (e.g. DB user name and password, DB host name).

But …

As good as the Service Locator pattern is, there are still some negatives. Every class that uses the locator needs to be written expecting a locator as an argument to initialize method. This is not a natural idiom for Ruby programmer. In the absence of Service Locators, I would expect that the Logger class would be written like this …

  class Logger
    def initialize(log_filename)
      # ...
    # ...

which would make it unusable in a system that depended upon service locators.

Another downside is that all modules that use the locator must agree on the names of the services. For example, if MyLogger expects its file name to be under :log_filename and YourLogger expects to find its filename under :log_file then the two loggers are not plug replaceable.

Also, Suppose both StackQuotes and Datebase found their loggers using :logger, but we want to give them separate logger instances for some reason. The explicit dependence on the name of the logger service makes this a bit difficult.

And finally, the service locator did not solve the problem of creation order. The database is still created after the stock quotes module, causing problems if the stocks quotes module were modified to use the database.

None of the problems are show stoppers and there are workarounds for each, but it does make us wonder if there is a more general solution.

Finally, Dependency Injection

Dependency Injection is much like using service locators in that we identify the services by name. The big difference is that dependency injectors also take the responsibility of creating the service objects and making sure the dependent services are provided as needed.

This means that the services can be written in complete ignorance of dependency injection framework. All they need to do is make sure that they can be told about the services they need, either through parameters to a constructor, or through some kind of setter.

It also means that dependency injectors are a bit more complicated than service locators, since they also handle the creation of the services as well.

Dependency Injection in Action

How does dependency injection work? Generally, you create a DI container that is configured to know how to create the various services. Then you just ask for a service by name, and the container will create the serice (if needed) and give it to you.

For example, configuring a logger service is as easy as …

   container =
   container.register(:logger) { )

This says that the logger service is named :logger. The first time a logger service is requested, the block supplied to register will be called and a logger object will be created. Subsequent requests for a logger will return the already created logger.

To get a logger service, all you need to do is ask:

   logger = container.logger

Note: In my examples, Service Locators were hash based, so using [] to access the services seems like a natural choice. For dependency injection containers, I chose to use a message-like syntax to access services (e.g. container.logger). Either notation can be used for either service locators or dependency injection containers. In fact, the example dependency injection framework supports both selecter messages and hash-like indexing. If a logger requires a parameter, then you can easily handle that in the registration block.

  container.register(:logger) {"logfile.log") }

If you would rather have the logger get its log filename from the container, you can do this …

  container.register(:logger) { |c| }

And then somewhere else you can specify the log name …

  container.register(:log_filename) { "logfile.log" }

Configuring the WebApp with Dependency Injection

Now that we’ve seen some DI in action, let’s try it on our web app …

  def create_application
    container =
    container.register(:logfilename) { "logfile.log" }
    container.register(:db_user) { "jim" }
    container.register(:db_password) { "secret" }
    container.register(:dbi_string) { "DBI:Pg:example_data" }

    container.register(:app) { |c|
      app =, c.authenticator, c.database)
      app.logger = c.logger
      app.set_error_handler c.error_handler

    container.register(:quotes) { |c|, c.logger)

    container.register(:authenticator) { |c|, c.logger, c.error_handler)

    container.register(:database) { |c|
      DBI.connect(c.dbi_string, c.db_user, c.db_password)

    container.register(:logger) { |c| }
    container.register(:error_handler) { |c|
      errh =
      errh.logger = c.logger

As you can see, it is a bit more complicated than the service locator. The main reason for the complexity is that we have moved the creation logic out of the services and into the DI container. What we have gained is the ability to inject dependencies into any object without having to make special code changes to support it.

Just a few closing notes:

Both constructor injection (StockQuotes) and setter injection (ErrorHandler) or a combination of both (WebApp) can be supported with this framework.

We can even handle cases where the creation method is not named "new" (DBI).

If a poorly written service didn’t provide a way to inject the services it depends upon, we could use instance_variable_set to force a dependent service into place. Obviously, this would be less than desireable.

The order of the registration doesn’t matter, since no service is created until everything is registered. If the StockQuotes module suddenly starts needing a database connection, no problem. We just add a reference to a database service in the creation code for StockQuotes and we are done. The DI framework worries about making sure the database is created before anything that needs it.

The container doesn’t have to be configured in one place. For example, we could move the first four register calls to a separate file that would allow the log file and database information to be modified independently of the rest. There still needs to be agreement about service names, but now only the container knows about them. The individual services don’t care.

Since the DI container is responsible for all the service names and service creation, it is easy to intercept a service and wrap an AOP-like wrapper around a it.

Just like the service locator, a DI container could be configured through a configuration file. The configuration would be more complex (because the DI container is more complex), but still quite doable. Another idea is to use Ruby as Domain Specific Language for DI container configuration. Summary

Both the Service Locator and Dependency Injection patterns are quite useful, but each has different tradeoffs between flexibility and complexity. Understand the differences and you will have all you need to choose the proper idiom for and give circumstance.

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I loved it so much I made it.

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rasouza commented Feb 28, 2018

Awesome! I just have one doubt: how do I make it accessible throughtout the whole application?

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ghost commented Oct 3, 2018

Nice! I really liked this.

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fdutey commented Oct 15, 2018

See also

BTW, I read here and there the same argument again and again => "Ruby is ducktyping, DI is not, it's a Java thing, interfaces, mumumu"

  1. You can inject whatever object you want as long as they quack like a duck. It's totally unrelated. Going against ducktyping would be achieved by testing the type of injected dependencies. That's not what DI is about
  2. DI is a design pattern (advised in SOLID principles) that (dramatically) helps managing relationship between objects. There's nothing in Ruby that magically solves this problem or forbids us to use this design pattern.
  3. It forbids circular dependencies that are pretty common in ruby and eventually lead to maintenance struggle.
  4. It removes singleton implementation from class definitions

I've never written more tests and they've never been that easy to write / maintain than since I'm using DI. It really makes dev safer and cleaner. Unless you're on a very simple project or prototyping, it should be the default way of writing code, no matter which language.

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