Dependency Injection in VBA

The big buzzy words are just a name given to what’s happening when we identify a procedure’s dependencies and decide to inject them. Like any procedure that needs to invoke Workbook.Worksheets.Add must depend on a given specific Workbook object. If the workbook we mean to work with is the document that’s hosting our VBA project, then that workbook is ThisWorkbook. Otherwise, you might have been writing something like this in a standard module:

Public Sub DoSomething()
    Dim sheet As Worksheet
    Set sheet = Worksheets.Add
    '...
End Sub

The problem is the implicit dependency in ActiveWorkbook. Indeed, if we don’t qualify a Worksheets call, then we’re implicitly writing [Global].Worksheets.Add, i.e. Application.Worksheets, …which means ActiveWorkbook.Worksheets – that is, whatever workbook happens to be active at that time. While that can be useful in certain specific situations, most of the time you will rather want to be working with one very specific Workbook object. The hidden, implicit dependency in the above snippet, is a Workbook; with dependency injection, you inject that Workbook object instead:

Public Sub DoSomething(ByVal wb As Workbook)
    Dim sheet As Worksheet
    Set sheet = wb.Worksheets.Add
    '...
End Sub

As a result, procedures explicitly tell their callers what their dependencies are. If a procedure starts needing many parameters, it speaks volumes about the code and its refactoring opportunities! Maybe two or more parameters are closely related and should really become a class in its own right, with its data and its methods; maybe the procedure is simply doing too many things though – having too many dependencies is easily a tell-tale sign.

Dependencies can be hard to find. Other times they’re plain obvious:

Public Sub DoSomething()
    Dim thing As ISomething
    Set thing = New Something
    thing.DoStuff
    '...
End Sub

In any case, correctly identifying all the dependencies of a procedure is definitely the hardest part of DI. The actual injection technique used makes for interesting decision-making though. If you’ve been passing parameters between procedures for any amount of time, congrats, you already master method injection.

Method Injection

We use method injection when we pass dependencies around as parameters to a method of an object.

Public Sub DoSomething(ByVal thing As ISomething)
    thing.DoStuff
    '...
End Sub

You would inject a parameter that way if no other method in that class would love to share that dependency – in which case you would preferably inject the dependency at the class level, and have one less parameter to every method that would otherwise need it.

Property Injection

Using a public Property Set member, we allow code written against the class’ default interface to inject a dependency at the class/instance level.

Public Property Get Thing() As ISomething
    Thing = this.Thing
End Property

Public Property Set Thing(ByVal value As ISomething)
    Set this.Thing = value
End Property

Public Sub DoSomething()
   this.Thing.DoStuff
    '...
End Sub

Property injection is nice, but the downside is that the point of injection isn’t as tight as with method injection: now we need to deal with temporal coupling, and make sure DoSomething can’t run if Thing isn’t set. Debug.Assert statements are perfect for this, since that kind of bug should be caught early on:

Debug.Assert Not this.Thing Is Nothing 'execution stops if expression is false
this.Thing.DoStuff '<~ this.Thing is safe to invoke members against

Alternatively, raise a custom error that explains that the Thing property needs to be assigned before DoSomething can be invoked.

But that won’t prevent other code from tampering with the assigned reference, since it’s Public. Remember when I said it allows code written against the default interface to invoke the setter? If we consider VBA classes’ default interface as the “concrete implementation”, and make it explicitly implement another interface, we can expose the Property Get member and leave the Property Set only accessible from the default interface – and since the “D” of SOLID says we shall be coding against interfaces, then very little code needs to know about the default interface: only the code that’s New-ing up the object does, in fact.

Implements IFoo

Public Property Get Thing() As ISomething
    Thing = this.Thing
End Property

Public Property Set Thing(ByVal value As ISomething)
    Set this.Thing = value
End Property

Private Property Get IFoo_Thing() As ISomething
    Set IFoo_Thing = this.Thing
End Property

Private Sub IFoo_DoSomething()
    this.Thing.DoStuff
    '...
End Sub

Any Public members of a class, are members of that class’ default interface. If this class module is Foo, then Foo.Thing can be read and assigned from a Foo variable. Since the class implements the IFoo interface and that this interface doesn’t expose a Property Set member for the Thing property, code written against IFoo will only be able to access the Property Get member and the DoSomething method: whatever code is responsible for injecting the Thing dependency, is the only code that needs to know about Foo and its Property Set Thing member.

Dim t As Foo
Set t = New Foo
Set t.Thing = New Something
'...

If you’ve read about factories in VBA, then you’ve already seen this in action; the Battleship project demonstrates it as well.

Where are all things created?

Since we’re injecting dependencies all the way down, this New-ing up necessarily happens near the entry point of the macro: ideally all dependencies are resolved and injected in one single place, known as the composition root. See, in the above snippet, imagine the Something dependency injected into foo.Thing itself had its own dependencies, which might themselves have their own dependencies: the dependency graph of a simple application should be relatively manageable, but larger applications configure a DI/IoC Container and let that object be responsible for automatically injecting all dependencies everywhere; Rubberduck uses Castle Windsor, and used Ninject before that. Unfortunately VBA does not have any offering of IoC containers at the moment, and until we’re able to create a VBA class instance from C# code, Rubberduck can’t do it either.

But, honestly, a VBA project shouldn’t become so huge as to really need an IoC container to resolve a dependency graph: poor man’s DI is perfectly fine! Here is one of the entry points of the Battleship code showing how each component is New‘d up and injected into other components – a WorksheetView is used for creating a GridViewAdapter through property injection (via a factory method), injected along with a GameRandomizer into a GameController through method injection in the NewGame method:

Public Sub PlayWorksheetInterface()
    Dim view As WorksheetView
    Set view = New WorksheetView
    
    Dim randomizer As IRandomizer
    Set randomizer = New GameRandomizer
    
    Set controller = New GameController
    controller.NewGame GridViewAdapter.Create(view), randomizer
End Sub

The controller has other dependencies that should be injected as well. One good example can be found in the viewAdapter_OnCreatePlayer handler:

    Dim player As IPlayer
    Select Case pt
        
        Case HumanControlled
            Set player = HumanPlayer.Create(grid)
            
        Case ComputerControlled
            Select Case difficulty
                Case AIDifficulty.RandomAI
                    Set player = AIPlayer.Create(grid, RandomShotStrategy.Create(rng))
                Case AIDifficulty.FairplayAI
                    Set player = AIPlayer.Create(grid, FairPlayStrategy.Create(rng))
                Case AIDifficulty.MercilessAI
                    Set player = AIPlayer.Create(grid, MercilessStrategy.Create(rng))
            End Select
    
    End Select

If we injected the IPlayer implementations from the start, we would be creating the players before the game even knows on which grid each player is playing, or whether a human player is even involved. So in this handler the GameController class is being coupled with HumanPlayer and AIPlayer classes, and this coupling isn’t ideal at all, because if the controller is coupled with a HumanPlayer object, then there’s no way we can write any unit tests for any of the controller logic. Surely there’s a better way to do this!

When you can’t create a dependency at the entry point

Sometimes you just can’t create the dependency until much later during the execution of a macro, so it’s not possible to inject it anywhere. For example you might need an ADODB.Connection, but the SQL authentication requires you to prompt the user for credentials – it would be clunky to prompt the user for database credentials at the start of the macro, before they even click any button to do something with a database. So instead of injecting the ADODB.Connection dependency directly, instead we inject an abstract factory, and since the role of a factory is precisely to create an instance of something, we’re not breaking any rules by New-ing up the connection object in there:

Implements IConnectionFactory

Private Function IConnectionFactory_Create(ByVal user As String, ByVal pwd As String) As ADODB.Connection
    Dim result As ADODB.Connection
    Set result = New ADODB.Connection
    result.ConnectionString = "..." & user & "..." & pwd & "..."
    result.Open
    Set IConnectionFactory_Create = result
End Function

And now whatever class needs a database connection can have an IConnectionFactory object injected as a dependency, and own a new connection object by invoking its Create method.

If we injected an abstract factory into Battleship’s GameController, say, IPlayerFactory, we would remove the coupling between the controller and the concrete IPlayer implementations: the controller wouldn’t need to care for HumanPlayer or AIPlayer, only that there’s a factory it can give parameters to, and get an IPlayer object back. That would greatly simplify the entire logic for the viewAdapter_OnCreatePlayer handler:

    Dim player As IPlayer
    Set player = factory.Create(grid, difficulty)

If the difficulty is AIDifficulty.Unspecified, the factory yields a HumanPlayer; otherwise, we get an AIPlayer – and by doing that, we’ve effectively removed a responsibility from the controller: now the concern of creating player objects belongs to a PlayerFactory class that can be injected into the controller at the entry point, as an IPlayerFactory dependency; the factory itself is coupled with the various IGameStrategy implementations, but that coupling isn’t hindering any testing, and so injecting some GameStrategyFactory would be possible, but it would also be over-abstracting/over-engineering, since IGameStrategy is only really relevant for an IPlayer, so a factory that’s creating players needs to know about the game strategies.

So now we can write tests for the factory to prove it returns the correct expected IPlayer implementations given different AIDifficulty arguments, and we could inject a fake implementation of the IPlayerFactory into the controller, and then write a series of tests that prove the GameController invokes the IPlayerFactory.Create method with the appropriate arguments in response to the GridViewAdapter.OnCreatePlayer event: given gridId=1, the handler instructs the factory it needs a player in grid 1; given pt=PlayerType.HumanControlled, the handler instructs the factory to create a player with AIDifficulty.Unspecified; given difficulty=AIDifficulty.MercilessAI, the handler instructs the factory to create a player with that specified difficulty parameter. We could also test that after two players have been created, the controller invokes the OnBeginShipPosition method against the view adapter, and so on.

Dependency injection promotes decoupling of dependencies, and testable procedures with fewer responsibilities.

7 thoughts on “Dependency Injection in VBA”

  1. Long time lurker, first time poster, just wanted to say how great it is you have started this series on your Battleship work.
    Just a question regarding to your IConnectionFactory interface, the return type for the factory method is ADODB.Connection, doesn’t that mean you are coupling that concrete object to the caller? And that we should be wrapping it in a class that implement a interface that the factory method return instead (since we can’t change ADODB.Connection to implement an interface)? Or how would you go about removing that type of dependencies?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right, that example wasn’t very thought out… An abstract factory should return an abstraction.. and there’s no way to abstract an ADODB.Connection without it being “leaky”, …bad example, thanks for that comment! The solution is to keep the connection an implementation detail of an object that consumes it, like …a repository I suppose.

      Like

  2. […] As we’ve seen, a factory method is useful when coupling isn’t a concern, and for all intents & purposes can be considered VBA’s take on parameterized object construction. A factory class is useful when the setup of an object is complex enough to warrant being pulled out of the class as its own responsibility, for it also shouldn’t be used when coupling matters. An abstract factory however, should be used when decoupling is needed (that would be when the class using the factory needs to be unit-tested but the factory then needs to supply an alternative implementation for testing purposes), and is a powerful tool in the injection of dependencies that cannot be initialized at the composition root. Big scary words? Read up on Dependency Injection in VBA! […]

    Like

  3. In this article and in the previous one on DI and IoC you mention “dependency graphs”. I did a little searching and don’t (quickly) find anything that seems relevant. Is that topic worth writing an article on or is there a resource you can point to that explains how to construct one?

    Again, many thanks for all you do!

    Like

    1. Class A has a dependency on class B; class B has a dependency on classes C and D; class C has no dependencies, but class D depends on class E, and class E needs an instance of F – if you made each class a box and drew “depends on” arrows between them, you would get a *dependency graph*.
      When you want to make an instance of class A, you need to “resolve the dependency graph” all the way to F. It’s just putting a name on the chain of dependencies between objects.

      Like

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