Morning Coffee About

Separating Commands and Queries

Igor Šarčević Igor wrote this in November 2017

I have learned an important lesson this year. A clear separation between queries and commands can bring a lot of long term benefits to your code.

Separating Commands and Queries

Let me start with an example to showcase the essence of this approach. In a book retail application, we want to lower the price of books that have sold less than 100 copies this year. One approach to implement it would be the following:

def discount_poor_performing_books(books)
  books.each do |book|
    if book.copies_sold_this_year < 100
      book.price = book.price * 0.8

How can we improve it?

Imagine that you are an administrator of this book management system. Would you feel comfortable to click on a button that executes this change in your system? Probably not. You would first like to see a list the of books that will be affected by this change.

Let’s rewrite the above code to make this possible.

def books_for_discount(books) { |book| book.copies_sold_this_year < 100 }

def give_discount(books)
  books.each { |book| book.price = book.price * 0.8 }

Now, you can use the books_for_discount to display the list of books that will be affected when the button is clicked by our administrator. When the administrator decides to click on the button, we can execute give_discount on that list of books.

Generalizing the separation for a wide range of issues

There is an underlying pattern in the above example that can be generalized to a wide range of problems.

The first implementation discount_poor_performing_books combined the selection of the books with the update on the books.

The second approach, separated the query books_for_discount from the execution give_discount. This separation allowed us to gain more control over the process.

As a rule of thumb, when I design background processes, I always make sure to separate these two concerns. I do this even if there is no immediate reason for this separation. This keeps my system modular and allows future maintainers to inject various observation or metric in the processes I develop.

Benefits of query command separation

Apart from the benefit described in the previous chapter, this separation has some other benefits that are worth noting.

  1. The query part of the process is usually side-effect free. This reduces the size of the code that can be potentially dangerous, and we can be more relaxed when invoking the query part of the process.

  2. The separation tends to make the code easier to test.

  3. Additional queries can be introduced in the process more easily. In the example from the start, this would allow giving discounts based on other criteria without changing the code that gives the discount.

Did you like this article? Or, do you maybe have a helpful hint to share? Please leave it in the comment section bellow.