An Anemic Domain Model is something that can be found a lot of projects and, astonishingly, is often viewed as a good practice. But as you may already have deduced from its name, it doesn’t sound like something desirable and certainly not in DDD-oriented software.

And indeed it isn’t. An Anemic Domain Model is the result of having all, or almost all, the behavior of the Domain in separate classes (often called Services) that are directly changing the internal state of entities through setters. In that case the entities are merely a data model (often projected from a relational model through an ORM) with no behavior at all. To recognize if your software suffers from the Anemic Domain Model anti-pattern, consider the following questions:

  • Do all the classes of your model have mostly public getters and setters and no, or almost no business logic ?
  • Do the classes that use your model contain the business logic of the system ?

If you answered «No» to both questions, no worry, your project doesn’t seem to suffer this problem. If you answered «Yes» to both questions, read-on, we will analyze the situation. As you may have guessed, there is no other valid answer combination.

Disadvantages of an Anemic Domain Model

The main disadvantage of an Anemic Domain Model is that it costs you the same as a Rich Domain Model to build and you get little to no benefit in return:

  • The encapsulation OOP principle, which is very important to create and maintain complex systems is violated. You allow any code to change your model internal state without any sanity check and as such cannot ensure that the model is in a correct and valid state.
  • The model is a lot less expressive since all behavior has been stripped out of it.
  • The model is completely untestable because we cannot ensure that the model doesn’t get invalid at some point.
  • Business logic is wholly implemented in a procedural-style separate layer, which mixes domain logic and application logic.

The greatest irony comes when you still use an Object/Relational mapping, with its often heavy associated cost, and finally end up with procedures altering data holders. Put bluntly, this is simply bad design.

Bad example

Consider a Customer class which only has public getters and setters for a few attributes. Then consider the following example service that is client of an Anemic Domain Model:

public class CustomerServiceImpl implements CustomerService {
    @Inject
    private Repository<Customer> customerRepository;

    @Inject
    private Factory<Customer> customerFactory;

    @Transactional
    public void saveCustomer(
            String id,
            String firstName,
            String lastName,
            String street,
            String city,
            String postalCode,
            String String phone,
            String email) {
        Customer customer = customerRepository.load(id);

        if (customer == null) {
            customer = customerFactory.create(customerId);
            customerRepository.persist(customer);
        }

        customer.setFirstName(firstName);
        customer.setLastName(lastName);
        customer.setStreet(street);
        customer.setCity(city);
        customer.setPostCode(postalCode);
        customer.setPhone(phone);
        if (email != null) {
            customer.setEmail(email);
        }

        customerRepository.save(customer);
    }

}

This service operation can be used in dozen of different business circumstances, like changing its address, updating its phone number, or even creating a new customer. This may seem awesome at first sight but this method can work in various invalid ways and the model cannot prevent it. It also has a number of additional problems:

  • No business intention is revealed by the saveCustomer() interface.
  • The Customer domain object is just a data holder, not an object.
  • Even if the service operation contains additional validation logic and checks, it cannot be guaranteed that there is no other badly implemented service which will potentially corrupt the model.

Refactoring to goodness

The first thing we could do is to create intention-revealing operations on the Customer class itself, that draw their names from the Ubiquitous Language, and implement business behavior in them:

public class Customer {

    public void changePersonalName(String firstName, String lastName) { ... }
    public void relocateTo(PostalAddress newPostalAddress) { ... }
    public void changeTelephone(Telephone newTelephone) { ... }
    public void disconnectTelephone() { ... }
    public void changeEmail(EmailAddress newEmailAddress) { ... }

}

We can immediately see that the business intentions are clearly apparent here and that additional behavior linked to these intentions can now be easily implemented and enforced in the Customer class itself. This logic is testable and those tests will ensure that Customer objects will behave correctly. Furthermore, we can now ensure that no Customer object can be used invalidly by its clients.

This is perhaps not the best design for a Customer but as it reveals its intentions and capabilities, this design can then be improved upon, instead of being kept implicit and dependent of its callers. Note that in our quest of expressiveness, we also introduced some Value Objects like Telephone, PostalAddress or EmailAddress which will contain additional encapsulated business logic about them.

The service will also be refactored to reflect explicit business intentions:

public class CustomerServiceImpl implements CustomerService {
    @Inject
    private Repository<Customer> customerRepository;

    @Transactional
    public void changeCustomerName(
                    String customerId, 
                    String newFirstName, 
                    String newLastName) {

        Customer customer = customerRepository.load(customerId);

        if (customer == null) {
            throw new IllegalStateException("Customer doesn't exist");
        }

        customer.changePersonalName(newFirstName, newLastName);
    }

}

Now this method can only be used in a well-defined business case that everyone can understand by reading the code. The terms coming from the Ubiquitous Language are now clearly apparent and as they are shared across the team (including business experts), there is little to no possible misunderstanding about what this really does.

The result is a software design that not only is fully functional and correct, but also directly relates to and reflect business knowledge.