BuilderFramework – Dependent steps

Last time I started to detail about a new open source builder framework that I was writing. Today I wanted to speak about dependent steps.

It is important for the builder to support dependent steps. For example you might have one step to create an order and another step to create a customer. Obviously the step to create the customer will need to run before the step to create the customer. When reversing these steps they will need to run in the opposite order.

To manage this I have written an attribute DependsOnAttribute. This attribute takes a type as it’s constructor parameter.  The attribute allows you to annotate which steps your step depends on. For example:

public class CreateCustomerStep : IBuildStep { ...

public class CreateOrderStep : IBuildStep { ...

To support this the commit method needs to sort the steps into dependency order. It also needs to check for a circular dependency and throw an exception if one is found. We are going to need a separate class for managing the sorting of the steps (remember single responsibility!). The interface is detailed as follows:

public interface IBuildStepDependencySorter
    IEnumerable Sort(IEnumerable buildSteps);

Before we implement anything we need a set of tests to cover all of the use cases of the dependency sorter.  That way when all of the tests pass we know that our code is good. I always like to work in a TDD style.  (The tests I have come up with can be seen in depth on the github source page or by cloning the source).

At a high level these are the tests we need:

  • A simple case where we have 2 steps where one depends on the other
  • A simple circular reference with 3 steps throws an exception
  • A complex circular reference with 5 steps throws an exception
  • A more complex but valid 4 step dependency hierarchy gets sorted correctly
  • A multiple dependency (one step dependent or more than one other step) gets sorted correctly

It is so important to spend a decent amount of time writing meaningful tests that test all of the use cases of your code.  Once you have done this it makes it so much easier to write the code.  I see so many people writing the code first and then retro fitting the tests.  Some developers also claim that they haven’t got time to write tests.  I can’t see this logic.  When writing tests first your code is quicker to write as you know when the code is working.  If you write your tests last then you are just caught in a horrible debugger cycle trying to work out what’s going wrong and why.  You should rarely if ever need the debugger.

To implement dependency sorting we need to implement a topological sorted as detailed on wikipedia. I have decided to implement the algorithm first described by Khan (1962).

Here is the Psuedo code for the algorithm:

L ← Empty list that will contain the sorted elements
S ← Set of all nodes with no incoming edges
while S is non-empty do
    remove a node n from S
    add n to tail of L
    for each node m with an edge e from n to m do
        remove edge e from the graph
        if m has no other incoming edges then
            insert m into S
if graph has edges then
    return error (graph has at least one cycle)
    return L (a topologically sorted order)

Here is that code in C#:

public class BuildStepDependencySorter : IBuildStepDependencySorter
    private class Node
        public Node(IBuildStep buildStep)
            BuildStep = buildStep;
            IncomingEdges = new List<Edge>();
            OutgoingEdges = new List<Edge>();

        public IBuildStep BuildStep { get; private set; }
        public List<Edge> IncomingEdges { get; private set; }
        public List<Edge> OutgoingEdges { get; private set; }

    private class Edge
        public Edge(Node sourceNode, Node destinationNode)
            SourceNode = sourceNode;
            DestinationNode = destinationNode;

        public Node SourceNode { get; private set; }
        public Node DestinationNode { get; private set; }

        public void Remove()

    public IEnumerable<IBuildStep> Sort(IEnumerable<IBuildStep> buildSteps)
        List<Node> nodeGraph = buildSteps.Select(buildStep => new Node(buildStep)).ToList();

        foreach (var node in nodeGraph)
            var depends = (DependsOnAttribute[])Attribute.GetCustomAttributes(node.BuildStep.GetType(), typeof(DependsOnAttribute));
            var dependNodes = nodeGraph.Where(n => depends.Any(d => d.DependedOnStep == n.BuildStep.GetType()));

            var edges = dependNodes.Select(n => new Edge(node, n)).ToArray();

            foreach (var edge in edges)

        var result = new Stack<Node>();
        var sourceNodes = new Stack<Node>(nodeGraph.Where(n => !n.IncomingEdges.Any()));
        while (sourceNodes.Count > 0)
            var sourceNode = sourceNodes.Pop();

            for (int i = sourceNode.OutgoingEdges.Count - 1; i >= 0; i--)
                var edge = sourceNode.OutgoingEdges[i];

                if (!edge.DestinationNode.IncomingEdges.Any())

        if (nodeGraph.SelectMany(n => n.IncomingEdges).Any())
            throw new CircularDependencyException();

        return result.Select(n => n.BuildStep);


Imagine how hard this code would’ve been to get right with no unit tests! When you have unit tests and nCrunch an indicator simply goes green when it works! If you haven’t seen or heard of nCrunch before definitely check that out. It is a fantastic tool.

Now that we have the dependency sorter in place all we need to do is add some more tests to the builder class.  These tests ensure that the steps are sorted into dependency order before they are committed and they are sorted in reverse dependency order when they are rolled back. With those tests in place it is quite trivial update the builder to sort the steps for commit and rollback (see snippet from builder below):

private void Execute(IEnumerable<IBuildStep> buildSteps, Action<IBuildStep> action)
    foreach (var buildStep in buildSteps)

public void Commit()
                buildStep => buildStep.Commit());

public void Rollback()
                buildStep => buildStep.Rollback());

I love how clean that code is. When your code is short and to the point like this it is so much easier to read, maintain and test. That is the importance of following SOLID principles.

As always I welcome your feedback so feel free to tweet or email me.


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