Thursday, July 7, 2022

Structural Design Patterns # Decorator

Decorator is a structural design pattern that lets you attach new behaviors to objects by placing these objects inside special wrapper objects that contain the behaviors.


Imagine that you’re working on a notification library which lets other programs notify their users about important events.

The initial version of the library was based on the Notifier class that had only a few fields, a constructor and a single send method. The method could accept a message argument from a client and send the message to a list of emails that were passed to the notifier via its constructor. A third-party app which acted as a client was supposed to create and configure the notifier object once, and then use it each time something important happened.

At some point, you realize that users of the library expect more than just email notifications. Many of them would like to receive an SMS about critical issues. Others would like to be notified on Facebook and, of course, the corporate users would love to get Slack notifications.

How hard can that be? You extended the Notifier class and put the additional notification methods into new subclasses. Now the client was supposed to instantiate the desired notification class and use it for all further notifications.

But then someone reasonably asked you, “Why can’t you use several notification types at once? If your house is on fire, you’d probably want to be informed through every channel.”

You tried to address that problem by creating special subclasses which combined several notification methods within one class. However, it quickly became apparent that this approach would bloat the code immensely, not only the library code but the client code as well.

You have to find some other way to structure notifications classes so that their number won’t accidentally break some Guinness record.


Extending a class is the first thing that comes to mind when you need to alter an object’s behavior. However, inheritance has several serious caveats that you need to be aware of.

  • Inheritance is static. You can’t alter the behavior of an existing object at runtime. You can only replace the whole object with another one that’s created from a different subclass.
  • Subclasses can have just one parent class. In most languages, inheritance doesn’t let a class inherit behaviors of multiple classes at the same time.

One of the ways to overcome these caveats is by using Aggregation or Composition  instead of Inheritance. Both of the alternatives work almost the same way: one object has a reference to another and delegates it some work, whereas with inheritance, the object itself is able to do that work, inheriting the behavior from its superclass.

With this new approach you can easily substitute the linked “helper” object with another, changing the behavior of the container at runtime.

An object can use the behavior of various classes, having references to multiple objects and delegating them all kinds of work. Aggregation/composition is the key principle behind many design patterns, including Decorator. On that note, let’s return to the pattern discussion.

“Wrapper” is the alternative nickname for the Decorator pattern that clearly expresses the main idea of the pattern. A wrapper is an object that can be linked with some target object. The wrapper contains the same set of methods as the target and delegates to it all requests it receives. However, the wrapper may alter the result by doing something either before or after it passes the request to the target.

When does a simple wrapper become the real decorator? As I mentioned, the wrapper implements the same interface as the wrapped object. That’s why from the client’s perspective these objects are identical. Make the wrapper’s reference field accept any object that follows that interface. This will let you cover an object in multiple wrappers, adding the combined behavior of all the wrappers to it.

In our notifications example, let’s leave the simple email notification behavior inside the base Notifier class, but turn all other notification methods into decorators

The client code would need to wrap a basic notifier object into a set of decorators that match the client’s preferences. The resulting objects will be structured as a stack.

The last decorator in the stack would be the object that the client actually works with. Since all decorators implement the same interface as the base notifier, the rest of the client code won’t care whether it works with the “pure” notifier object or the decorated one.

We could apply the same approach to other behaviors such as formatting messages or composing the recipient list. The client can decorate the object with any custom decorators, as long as they follow the same interface as the others.


Decorator Design Pattern Example

We use inheritance or composition to extend the behavior of an object but this is done at compile time and its applicable to all the instances of the class. We can’t add any new functionality of remove any existing behavior at runtime – this is when Decorator pattern comes into picture.

Suppose we want to implement different kinds of cars – we can create interface Car to define the assemble method and then we can have a Basic car, further more we can extend it to Sports car and Luxury Car. The implementation hierarchy will look like below image

But if we want to get a car at runtime that has both the features of sports car and luxury car, then the implementation gets complex and if further more we want to specify which features should be added first, it gets even more complex. 

Now imagine if we have ten different kind of cars, the implementation logic using inheritance and composition will be impossible to manage. To solve this kind of programming situation, we apply decorator pattern in java.

We need to have following types to implement decorator design pattern

Component Interface – The interface or abstract class defining the methods that will be implemented. In our case Car will be the component interface.

public interface Car { public void assemble(); }

Component Implementation – The basic implementation of the component interface. We can have BasicCar class as our component implementation.
public class BasicCar implements Car { @Override public void assemble() { System.out.print("Basic Car."); } }

Decorator – Decorator class implements the component interface and it has a HAS-A relationship with the component interface. The component variable should be accessible to the child decorator classes, so we will make this variable protected.
public class CarDecorator implements Car { protected Car car; public CarDecorator(Car c){; } @Override public void assemble() {; } }

Concrete Decorators – Extending the base decorator functionality and modifying the component behavior accordingly. We can have concrete decorator classes as LuxuryCar and SportsCar.
public class SportsCar extends CarDecorator { public SportsCar(Car c) { super(c); } @Override public void assemble(){ super.assemble(); System.out.print(" Adding features of Sports Car."); } }

public class LuxuryCar extends CarDecorator { public LuxuryCar(Car c) { super(c); } @Override public void assemble(){ super.assemble(); System.out.print(" Adding features of Luxury Car."); } }

Decorator Design Pattern Test Program.
public class DecoratorPatternTest { public static void main(String[] args) { Car sportsCar = new SportsCar(new BasicCar()); sportsCar.assemble(); System.out.println("\n*****"); Car sportsLuxuryCar = new SportsCar(new LuxuryCar(new BasicCar())); sportsLuxuryCar.assemble(); } }

Notice that client program can create different kinds of Object at runtime and they can specify the order of execution too.

Output of above test program is

Basic Car. Adding features of Sports Car. ***** Basic Car. Adding features of Luxury Car. Adding features of Sports Car.

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