davidoff davidoff - 4 months ago 23
C# Question

Is ServiceLocator an anti-pattern?

Recently I've read Mark Seemann's article about Service Locator anti-pattern.

Author points out two main reasons why ServiceLocator is anti-pattern:


  1. API usage issue (which I'm perfectly fine with)

    When class employs a Service locator it is very hard to see its dependencies as, in most cases, class has only one PARAMETERLESS constructor.
    In contrast with ServiceLocator, DI approach explicitly expose dependencies via constructor's parameters so dependencies are easy seen in IntelliSence.

  2. Maintenance issue (which puzzles me)

    Consider the following expample



We have a class 'MyType' which employs a Service locator approach:

public class MyType
{
public void MyMethod()
{
var dep1 = Locator.Resolve<IDep1>();
dep1.DoSomething();
}
}


Now we want to add another dependency to class 'MyType'

public class MyType
{
public void MyMethod()
{
var dep1 = Locator.Resolve<IDep1>();
dep1.DoSomething();

// new dependency
var dep2 = Locator.Resolve<IDep2>();
dep2.DoSomething();
}
}


And here is my misunderstanding start. Author says:


It becomes a lot harder to tell whether you are introducing a breaking change or not. You need to understand the entire application in which the Service Locator is being used, and the compiler is not going to help you.


But wait a second, if we were using DI approach, we would introduce a dependency with another parameter in constructor (in case of constructor injection). And the problem will be still there. If we may forget to setup ServiceLocator, then we may forget to add a new mapping in our IoC container and DI approach would have the same run-time problem.

Also, author mentioned about unit test difficulties. But, won't we have issues with DI approach? Won't we need to update all tests which were instantiating that class? We will updated them to pass a new mocked dependency just to make our test compilable. And I don't see any benefits from that update and time spending.

I'm not trying to defend Service Locator approach. But this misunderstanding make me think that I'm losing something very important. Could somebody dispel my doubts?

UPDATE (SUMMARY):

The answer for my question "Is Service Locator anti-pattern" really depends upon the circumstances. And I definitely wouldn't suggest to cross it out from your tool list. It might be become very handy when you start dealing with a legacy code. If you're lucky enough to be at the very beginning of your project then DI approach might be a better choice as it has some advantages over Service Locator.

And here is main differences which convinced me to not use Service Locator for my new projects:


  • Most obvious and important: Service Locator hides class dependencies

  • If you are utilizing some IoC container it will likely scan all constructor at startup to validate all dependencies and give you immediate feedback on missing mappings (or wrong configuration); this is not possible if you're using your IoC container as Service Locator



For details read excellent answers which are given below.

Answer

If you define patterns as anti-patterns just because there are some situations where it does not fit, then YES it's an anti pattern. But with that reasoning all patterns would also be anti patterns.

Instead we have to look if there are valid usages of the patterns, and for Service Locator there are several use cases. But let's start by looking at the examples that you have given.

public class MyType
{
    public void MyMethod()
    {
        var dep1 = Locator.Resolve<IDep1>();
        dep1.DoSomething();

        // new dependency
        var dep2 = Locator.Resolve<IDep2>();
        dep2.DoSomething();
    }
}

The maintenance nightmare with that class is that the dependencies are hidden. If you create and use that class:

var myType = new MyType();
myType.MyMethod();

You do not understand that it has dependencies if they are hidden using service location. Now, if we instead use dependency injection:

public class MyType
{
    public MyType(IDep1 dep1, IDep2 dep2)
    {
    }

    public void MyMethod()
    {
        dep1.DoSomething();

        // new dependency
        dep2.DoSomething();
    }
}

You can directly spot the dependencies and cannot use the classes before satisfying them.

In a typical line of business application you should avoid the use of service location for that very reason. It should be the pattern to use when there are no other options.

Is the pattern an anti-pattern?

No.

For instance, inversion of control containers would not work without service location. It's how they resolve the services internally.

But a much better example is ASP.NET MVC and WebApi. What do you think makes the dependency injection possible in the controllers? That's right -- service location.

Your questions

But wait a second, if we were using DI approach, we would introduce a dependency with another parameter in constructor (in case of constructor injection). And the problem will be still there.

There are two more serious problems:

  1. With service location you are also adding another dependency: The service locator.
  2. How do you tell which lifetime the dependencies should have, and how/when they should get cleaned up?

With constructor injection using a container you get that for free.

If we may forget to setup ServiceLocator, then we may forget to add a new mapping in our IoC container and DI approach would have the same run-time problem.

That's true. But with constructor injection you do not have to scan the entire class to figure out which dependencies are missing.

And some better containers also validate all dependencies at startup (by scanning all constructors). So with those containers you get the runtime error directly, and not at some later temporal point.

Also, author mentioned about unit test difficulties. But, won't we have issues with DI approach?

No. As you do not have a dependency to a static service locator. Have you tried to get parallel tests working with static dependencies? It's not fun.