MVC and ADR are User-Interface Patterns, Not Application Architectures

N.b.: I am the author of the Action-Domain-Responder paper referenced in this article.

In his post on MVC alternatives (including Action-Domain-Responder), Anthony Ferrara makes a claim that is central to his discussion. While I agree with much he says in that and related articles, I believe that one claim is in error, and while it does not discredit the essay as a whole, replacing the erroneous claim with a more accurate one gives the essay a different flavor.

The central mistake I think Anthony makes is near the end of this post, where he states (in talking about MVC, ADR, et al.) that “All Pretend To Be Application Architectures.” That assertion strikes me as incorrect.

While it may be that developers using MVC may mistakenly think of MVC as an application architecture, the pattern description itself makes no such claim. Indeed, Fowler categorizes MVC as a “Web Presentation Pattern” and not as an “Application Architecture” per se.

Sure, MVC is described in book called “Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture”, but MVC itself is a presentation pattern within an application architecture. Here’s another example of the distinction: we would not call “Table Data Gateway” an application architecture, even though it too appears in the same book. It is a data source pattern within an application architecture.

Fowler’s categorization and description of MVC define it pretty clearly as a user interface pattern. ADR, as a refinement of MVC, is likewise a user interface pattern. Neither is an application architecture in and of itself, although they are the outermost part of an application architecture. So when Anthony’s article states elsewhere that ADR’s “coupling to HTTP that it becomes difficult to make a non-HTTP interface” my response is “Well, obviously – it’s a user interface pattern centered around HTTP.”

Anthony then goes on to say:

And that’s the biggest reason all of these “patterns”, “architectures” and “concepts” are a bad joke. They solve the easy problem, and throw the hard problem over the fence.

MVC, ADR, et al., solve a user-interface problem. That may be an easy problem for Anthony to solve, but to say that user-interface patterns “throw the hard problem over the fence” strikes me as starting from the wrong set of expectations. MVC and ADR, as user-interface patterns, aren’t supposed to be dealing with core business logic in the first place.

It might be better to say that the underlying application that is presented through the user interface is not really the user interface’s problem in the first place. The user interface code probably should not care too much about the internal operation of the underlying application code. If it does, then the application code is bubbling up too far into the user interface.

In summary, I think the assertion that “All Pretend To Be Application Architectures” is just not an accurate categorization. It would more correct to say that “All Are User Interface Patterns, Not Entire Application Architectures” – or, even better, that “Developers Frequently Misunderstand Them To Be Application Architectures”.