Separate Business Logic and Presentation

October 9, 2022
Flutter

The Flutter community is always looking for ways to create a clear separation between business logic and presentation. There are several solutions, but they can be overcomplicated. This article will introduce you to three approaches and explain why using StatefulWidgets directly can make it difficult to separate business logic and presentation (widgets). 

Why Separate Business Logic and Presentation?

Widgets display information and allow the user to interact with the app. Logic, and the infrastructure layers underneath process, validate and transfer data. Separating these at the code level creates a clear separation of concerns. If we isolate logic in a class that does not reference the UI (widget code), it is easy to understand how the logic works by reading the code. The logic exists outside the context of the widget. We can reason about it without considering how it affects the widgets on-screen or how the user might interact with them.

Lastly, logic clutters up widget classes. When we look at widget code, we want to see mostly UI declarations. If we look at a complex widget tree with a lengthy callback code, it distracts us from being able to imagine how that tree will render at runtime. The separation is also about readability. 

StatefulWidgets

Using simple StatefulWidgets is not wrong and may be appropriate for your team. It is harder to create a separation of business logic and presentation with vanilla StatefulWidgets because the State class forces you to do widget build logic. But you should note that all state management solutions build on top of StatefulWidget in some way. The most important thing is that you can test your UI and logic.

We don't always have to go to great lengths to separate the concerns. Some apps are very simple, and mixing presentation and logic does not pose a problem. Google's own Flutter examples don't always have a clear separation between business logic and presentation. Take this example. The code passes an HTTP Client into a widget. This is an example of mixing logic or infrastructure into the widget (presentation).

Take a look at the typical flutter Counter Example. It has a StatefulWidget, and business logic and presentation are in the same class. _incrementCounter has business logic and modifies the state while the build() method creates physical UI elements (widgets).

Note that this post does not go into Provider or InheritedWidgets or show examples of how to use them. That's so the examples remain simple and clear.

Counter Sample State


Testing

One of the most important decisions you can make about state management is how to test your app. Widget tests allow you to test the UI and the logic of your UI simultaneously. They decouple your tests from the state management approach, so your tests should stay intact if you decide to change approaches. This video can give you more context. The takeaway is that you can build widget tests before settling on a state management approach. Your tests can remain constant even if you change the state management approach multiple times. 

Directly testing the business logic is usually unnecessary because we can indirectly test the logic with widget tests. But, isolating the logic allows us to create unit tests for the logic if needed. This can sometimes be useful if the app has very complex logic or users consistently encounter logic bugs. 

A Note on the Observer Pattern

This is a bit technical, and you don't need to understand this to understand separating business logic and presentation so you can skip this part. Still, it's important to know that the BloC pattern and ChangeNotifier use the Observer Pattern (or Publisher/Subscriber pattern). Dart streams are an example implementation of the pattern, and the observer pattern is the basis for Reactive Programming. The BloC pattern uses Dart Streams

The wikipedia definition says:

an object, named the subject, maintains a list of its dependents, called observers, and notifies them automatically of any state changes, usually by calling one of their methods.

According to Wikipedia, the Observer pattern addresses the following problems. If you don't have these problems, perhaps you don't need the observer pattern.

A one-to-many dependency between objects should be defined without making the objects tightly coupled. It should be ensured that when one object changes state, an open-ended number of dependent objects are updated automatically. It should be possible that one object can notify an open-ended number of other objects.

If we translate this to Flutter language, we might need the observer pattern's decoupling when multiple widgets need to listen to state changes emanating from a central subject (Bloc or ChangeNotifier). We probably don't need this for simple scenarios where we have one business logic component for each widget and vice versa. 

Approach One: bloobit

bloobit is a simple library. You extend the Bloobit class and define your state and business logic in that class. You call setState() when the state changes. However, bloobit does not implement the Observer Pattern. Instead, bloobit directly calls setState(). The code under the hood is extremely simple, and you can follow it or fix it yourself. bloobit doesn't attach or detach listeners like a Dart Stream. If you need to stream state changes (observer pattern) from bloobit, you can wire up the onSetState callback.

Use this approach when your business logic is simple and there is a one-to-one relationship between your business logic and your widgets.

Check out the Flutter counter increment sample with Bloobit here

Approach Two: ChangeNotifier and AnimatedBuilder

These classes are part of the Flutter framework. Like bloobit, you define your state and business logic in a class that extends ChangeNotifier and call notifyListeners when the state changes. AnimatedBuilder listens to these changes and calls setState for you. You don't need to dispose of the change notifier if you only attach an AnimatedBuilder because the AnimatedBuilder will automatically remove its handler when it disposes.

Use this approach when your business logic is moderately complex and multiple widgets may need to listen to state changes from one central subject.

Check out the Flutter counter increment sample with ChangeNotifier here

Approach Three: BloC Pattern

You can roll your own version of BloC or use the BloC Library. I find that the Cubit class in the BloC Library is the simplest way to implement the BloC pattern. As you can see in the example below, you can use it similarly to bloobit. 

Use this approach when your business logic is moderately complex and multiple widgets may need to listen to state changes from one central subject. 

Check out the Flutter counter increment sample with Cubit here


Consistency

Consistency is critical for any app. That doesn't mean that one app should never use more than one approach to state management, but it does mean that there should be clear, logical reasons for using more than one approach. For example, you may use one of the three approaches mentioned here for complex screens and StatefulWidgets for simple ones.   

However, using more than one approach could increase the cognitive load for a new team member. They may find it hard to navigate the file structure, so it's preferable to stick to one approach where possible. The key is to balance this with adding complexity for complexity's sake. If sticking to one approach makes your code too complex, consider more than one approach.

Wrap-Up

There are many ways to implement a separation of business logic and presentation. There are many other libraries that this article does not mention. Separating business logic and presentation can make your app more readable and easy to understand, but it is not always necessary for testing. The important thing is that your team understands and can navigate the code and that you have good-quality testing in place. If you find that StatefulWidgets get confusing and muddy the waters, try one of the solutions listed here. Lastly, always consider consistency.

Photo by Jonathan Borba from Pexels

My photoChristian Findlay

I am a Flutter, .NET and Cloud Developer living in Melbourne, Australia. I've been developing software and mentoring teams for over twenty years.

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