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Dependency injection for Glimmer applications.

What is Dependency Injection?

Dependency injection is a pattern that increases the flexibility, testability and consistency of your code.

The three key ideas are:

  1. An object's dependencies (that is, the other objects it needs to do its job) should be provided to the object when it is created, rather than hard-coded.
  2. A dependency may have multiple implementations, so long as each implementation adheres to an agreed-upon interface.
  3. An object using a dependency shouldn't care where on the filesystem that dependency comes from.

Let's look at a short example that does not use dependency injection. We'll write a hypothetical server that renders a short HTML document when an incoming request is received:

import HTTPServer from "./servers/http";
export default class HelloWorldServer {
  constructor() {
    let server = new HTTPServer({
      port: 80
    server.on('request', req => {
      req.write("<html><body>Hello, world!</body></html>");

This is great, but there's one problem. As you can see, our Hello World server is importing the HTTP library directly. If we want to support both HTTP and HTTP/2 (or even something like a WebSocket), this code is not reusable.

We would have to either duplicate this code, or add some configuration options to let the user tell us which protocol they want to use. Of course, that would work today, but if we wanted to support HTTP/3 in the future, we'd have to come back and add a new configuration option for every new protocol.

What if, instead of telling the server what protocol to use, we could instead provide it with an object that encapsulated all of those concerns?

Instead of having our HelloWorldServer import and instantiate HTTPServer directly, we can provide it with an object that we guarantee implements the same interface. In this case, that means any object that emits a 'request' event and supports adding an event listener with the on() method.

Let's look at what that updated example might look like:

export default class HelloWorldServer {
  constructor(server) {
    server.on('request', req => {
      req.write("<html><body>Hello, world!</body></html>");

Now we're no longer concerned with instantiating and configuring an HTTP server. All we have to know is that whatever object gets passed to our class has an on() method that lets us add an event listener.

Now, let's look at a few different ways we can use our newly improved Hello World server.

import HelloWorldServer from "./hello-world-server";
import HTTPServer from "./servers/http";
import HTTP2Server from "./servers/http2";
import WebSocketServer from "./servers/web-socket";
// HTTP 1 
let httpServer = new HTTPServer({
  port: 80
new HelloWorldServer(httpServer);
// HTTP 2 
let http2Server = new HTTP2Server({
  port: 4200
new HelloWorldServer(http2Server);
// WebSocket 
let wsServer = new WebSocketServer();
new HelloWorldServer(wsServer);

With that one small change, we've dramatically improved the reusability and flexibility of our Hello World server. It can now handle any protocol, even ones that didn't exist when it was written, so long as they can be adapted to follow the simple interface we've defined.

This idea may seem simple, but it has profound implications for managing the complexity of your code as your application grows. And it means that you can swap in different pieces of code easily depending on the environment.

For example, in unit tests we may want to swap in some stub objects to verify some behavior. Dependency injection makes it easy and avoids having to override global values.

We can also make it possible to run the same application on both Node.js and the browser, by swapping in one piece of framework code when you have a full DOM implementation and another implementation when you don't.

While dependency injection is just a simple pattern, it helps to have that pattern formalized into code. That's exactly what this library does: implement an incredibly lightweight version of dependency injection, with some utilities to help us clean up after ourselves when we're done running the app.

Containers and Registries

The two core parts of the Glimmer DI system are the Registry and the Container.

Here's how to remember the role of each:

  1. The Registry is where you register code (that is, JavaScript classes).
  2. The Container contains objects, and is where you request instances of registered classes.

If that sounds confusing, let's look at an example that should make it clearer.

Let's say I have a class for a UI component that I want to make available to the system. The first thing I would do is create a new Registry instance and tell it about my class.

import { Registry } from '@glimmer/di';
import ProfileComponent from './components/profile';
let registry = new Registry();
registry.register('component:profile', ProfileComponent);

You probably noticed the string that we're passing to the register method: 'component:profile'. This is what we call a specifier, which is a unique identifier for a class. They take the form of ${type}:${name}. In this case, we have a UI component called Profile so its specifier would be 'component:profile'. If instead we had an blog post model, its specifier might be 'model:blog-post'.

So now we've told the Registry about our component. Let's get an instance of that component now. To do that, we'll need to create a new Container, tell it about our registry, and then ask it for the component we want:

import { Container } from '@glimmer/di';
// Create the container and pass in the registry we previously created. 
let container = new Container(registry);
let component = container.lookup('component:profile');

Now our component variable contains an instance of the previously-registered profile component.


One important thing to note is that (by default) every time you call the lookup method, you'll get the same instance of the component:

let component1 = container.lookup('component:profile');
let component2 = container.lookup('component:profile');
component1 === component2; // => true 

But that's not the behavior we want: in an app, you need to be able to create many instances of the same component.

In this case, we want to change the default behavior and tell the registry that we should always get a new instance when we call lookup('component:profile'):

registry.registerOption('component:profile', 'singleton', false);

Here, we've set the singleton option to false for this component. We could have also configured this setting back when we originally registered the component:

registry.register('component:profile', ProfileComponent, {
  singleton: false

Now if we lookup multiple components, we'll get a different instance each time:

let component3 = container.lookup('component:profile');
let component4 = container.lookup('component:profile');
component3 === component4; // => false 


So far, this doesn't seem to offer any benefits over just instantiating the class ourselves whenever we need a new instance. Let's look at one of the killer features: injections.

An injection is a rule that tells the container to automatically give one object access to another.

For example, let's imagine we have a centralized data store that we want to make available to all of our components, so they can retrieve model data over the network. Without worrying about how components get created in our framework, we just want to say: "every time a new component is instantiated, make sure it has access to the data store."

We can set this up automatically with an injection. First, let's register the data store with the registry:

import DataStore from "./data/store";
registry.register('store:main', DataStore);

Because we want components to share a single store instance, note that we didn't disable the default singleton setting. For the whole app, there will be just one store.

(If there's only one instance of a particular type in an app, we often call it main. In this case, because there's one store and it's a singleton, its specifier is store:main. There's nothing special about this name, though; it's just a common convention.)

Next, we'll create a rule that tells the registry that new components should be provided with the data store instance:

registry.registerInjection('component', 'store', 'store:main');

Let's look at each of these arguments to registerInjection. Each one helps define part of the injection rule. In this case, it means:

  1. For every new component created,
  2. Set its store property to
  3. The instance of store:main

In other words, every time container.lookup('component:profile') gets called, something like this is happening under the hood:

let store = container.lookup('store:main');
return ProfileComponent.create({ store });

The nice thing about injections is that we can set up a rule once and not worry about the details of where and how instances actually get created. This separation of concerns allows for less brittle code.

You've also now seen why specifiers contain information about both name and type. Injections let us specify rules that apply to all instances of a component, say, without having to repeat that rule for every component in the system.

Resolvers: Mapping to the File System

So far, we've always had to tell the Registry about a class before we're able to get an instance from the Container. But if we're being good developers, and organizing our code well and being consistent in our naming, shouldn't our app be able to find our classes automatically?

That's exactly what the Resolver helps us do. With a resolver, we can define rules that map specifiers (like component:profile) on to module names (like app/components/profile.js).

A simple Resolver implements a single method, retrieve(), which takes a specifier and returns the associated class.

Lets write a resolver that will load the component class using CommonJS instead of having to eagerly register every component in our app:

class Resolver {
  retrieve(specifier) {
    let [type, name] = specifier.split(':');
    if (type !== 'component') { throw new Error("Unsupported type"); }
    return require(`./app/${type}s/${name}.js`);
let registry = new Registry();
let resolver = new Resolver();
let container2 = new Container(registry, resolver);
// Make sure components aren't singletons 
registry.registerOption('component', 'singleton', false);
// Requires and instantiates `./app/components/admin-page.js`: 
let adminPage = container2.lookup('component:admin-page');

Note that retrieve() must return synchronously. Your module loader therefore must return synchronously, as it does in this CommonJS example. If you're using an asynchronous module loader, you'll need to make sure modules are loaded before you start instantiating objects.

As a general rule, this package is designed to be synchronous to achieve maximum performance; it is your responsibility to ensure that code is ready before it is needed.

One last thing: you may have noticed that the container in this example has both a registry and a resolver. The container will look for classes in both, but the registry always takes precedence. If the registry is empty, the container will fall back to asking the resolver for its help.


Thanks to Monegraph and Cerebris for funding the initial development of this library.


MIT License.