Sunday, December 8, 2013

Simple dependency management for dependent Salesforce objects


Salesforce programmers know it is sometime difficult to save multiple objects with dependencies on each other in the right order and with as little effort possible.  The "Collecting Parameter" pattern is an easy way to do this and this article will show you how to use it in your own code.

Unit of Work

In June 2013, FinancialForce's CTO, Andrew Facett, wrote his Unit Of Work article, explaining how a dependency mechanism might be implemented to simplify the saving of multiple objects with dependencies between them.

The problem is a common one for Salesforce programmers--the need to create master and detail objects simultaneously.  Programmers must save the master objects first before their IDs can be set in the detail objects.

An example might be an invoice and its line-items.  To save any InvoiceLine__c, its master object, an Invoice__c, must be saved first.

To solve this problem, Xede uses a pattern popularized by Kent Beck in his 1995 book, Smalltalk Best Practice Patterns, called Collecting Parameter.  For those unfamiliar with the Smalltalk programming language, it can be briefly described as the first object-oriented language where everything is an object.  Numbers, messages, classes, stack frames--everything.  In 1980, (nearly 34 years ago) it also supported continuable exceptions and lambda expressions.    Lest I gush too much about it, I'll say only that nearly all object oriented languages owe their best features to Smalltalk and their worse features to either trying to improve on it or ignoring prior art.

Returning to the subject at-hand, dependency saves, Xede will have created two classes to wrap the objects; Invoice and InvoiceLine.  Each instance of Invoice will aggregate within it the InvoiceLine instances belonging to it.

The code might look something like this.

// create an invoice and add some lines to it
Invoice anInvoice = new Invoice(anInvoiceNumber, anInvoiceDate, aCustomer);
// adding details is relatively simple

So now our Invoice has two detail instances inside it.  Keeping true to the OO principles of data-hiding and loose-coupling, we can safely ignore how these instances store their sobject variables;  Invoice's Invoice__c and InvoiceLine's InvoiceLine__c.  But without knowing how they store their sobjects, how can we save the master and the detail records with the minimum of two DMLs, one to save the master and another to save the details?

We do it using a collecting parameter.

Collecting Parameter

A collecting parameter is basically a collection of like-things that cooperating classes add to.  Imagine a basket that might get passed to attendees at a charity event.  Each person receiving the collection basket may or may not add cash or checks to it.  In both programming and charity fundraisers it is better manners to let each person add to the basket themselves than to have an usher reach into strangers' pockets and remove cash.  The latter should be regarded as criminal--if not at charity events then in programming.

For programmer's such a thing violates data-hiding; not all classes keep their wallets in the same pocket (variable), some may use money clips rather than wallets, some use purses (collection types), some may have cash while others have checks or coin.  Writing code that will rummage through each class' data looking for cash is nearly impossible--even with reflection.  In the end they all get deposited into a bank account.

Let's first look at the saveTo() methods of Invoice and InvoiceLine.  They are the simplest.

public with sharing class Invoice {
    public getId() { return; }

    public override void saveTo(list<sobject> aList, list<XedeObject> dependentList)

        for (InvoiceLine each : lines)
            saveTo(aList, dependentList);

    Invoice__c sobjectData;
    list<InvoiceLine> lines;

Invoice knows where it keeps its own reference to Invoice__c (cohesion), so when it comes time to save it simply adds its sobject to the list of sobjects to be saved.  After that, it also knows where it keeps its own list of invoice lines and so calls saveTo() on each of them.

public with sharing class InvoiceLine {
    public override void saveTo(list dependentList) {
        if (sobjectData.parent__c != null)  // if I already have my parent's id I can be saved

        else if (parent.getId() != null) {  // else if my parent has an id, copy it and I can be saved
            sobjectData.parent__c = parent.getId();

            dependentList.add(this); // I can't be saved until my parent is saved

    Invoice parent;
    InvoiceLine__c sobjectData;

InvoiceLine's implementation is nearly as simple as Invoice's, but subtly different.

Basically, if the InvoiceLine already has its parent's id or can get it's parent's id, then it adds its sobject data to the list to be saved.  If it doesn't have its parent's id then it must wait its turn, and adds itself to the dependent list.

Reader's may wonder why Invoice doesn't decide for itself whether to save its children.  Invoice could skip sending saveTo() to its children if it doesn't have an id, but whether or not its children should be saved is not its decision--it's theirs.  They may have other criteria that must be met before they can be saved.  They may have two master relationships and are waiting for them both.  They may have rows to delete before they can be saved, or may have detail records of their own with other critiera independent of whether Invoice has an id or not.  Whatever the reason may be, the rule is each objects should decide for itself whether it's ready to save, just as it's each person's decisions whether and how much money to put into the collection basket.

In our example below, save() passes two collection baskets; one collects sobjects and another collections instances of classes whose sobjects aren't ready for saving--yet.  save() loops over both lists until they're empty, and in this way is able to handle arbitrary levels of dependencies with the minimum number of DML statements.

Let's look at the base class' (XedeObject) implementation of save().

public virtual class XedeObject {
    public virtual void save() {
        list objectList = new list();
        list dependentList = new list { this };

        do {
            List aList = new List();
            List updateList = new List();
            List insertList = new List();

            objectList = new list(dependentList);

            for (XedeObject each: objectList)
                each.saveTo(aList, dependentList);

            for (sobject each : aList) {
                if ( == null)

            try {
                update updateList;
                insert insertList;
            } catch (DMLException dmlex)  {
                XedeException.Raise('Error adding or updating object : {0}', dmlex.getMessage());
        } while (dependentList.isEmpty() == false);

    public virtual void saveTo(list anSobjectList, list aDependentList)

To understand how this code works you need to be familiar with subclassing.  Essentially, the classes Invoice and InvoiceLine are both subclasses of XedeObject.  This means they inherit all the functionality of XedeObject.  Though neither Invoice or InvoiceLine implement save(), they will both understand the message because they've inherited its implementation from XedeObject.

The best way to understand what save() does is to walk through "" executes XedeObject's save() method because Invoice doesn't have one of its own (remember it's a subclass of XedeObject).  save() begins by adding its own instance to dependentList.  Then it loops over the dependent list, sending saveTo() to each instance, and collecting new dependent objects in the dependent list.

After collecting all the objects it either updates or saves them, then returns to the top of the list of the dependent list isn't empty and restarts the process.

When the dependent list is empty there's nothing else to do and the methods falls off the bottom returning to the caller.

XedeObject also implements saveTo(), but its implementation throws an exception.  XedeObject's subclasses ought to implement saveTo() themselves if they intend to participate in the dependency saves.  If they don't or won't, there's no need to override saveTo().

One of our recent projects was a loan servicing system.  Each loan could have multiple obligors, and each obligor could have multiple addresses.  The system could be given multiple loans at a time to create, and with each batch of loans a log record was recorded.  We had an apiResponse object with a list of loans.  When we called, it's saveTo() sent saveTo() to each of its loans, each loan sent saveTo() to each of its obligors, and each obligor() sent saveTo() to each of its addresses, before apiResponse sent saveTo() to its log class.

In the end, ApiResponse saved the loans, obligors, addresses, and log records with three DML statements--all without anything much more complicated than each class implementing saveTo().

Some programmers may argue that interfaces might have accomplished the same feat without subclassing, but in this case it is not true.  Interfaces don't provide method implementation.  Had we used interfaces then every object would be required to implement save().

Still to do

As useful as save()/saveTo() has proved to be, I can think of a few improvements I'd like to make to it.

First, I'd like to add a delete list.  Some of our operations include deletes, and rather than having each object do its own deletes I'd prefer to collect them into a single list and delete them all at once.

Next, the exception handling around the update and insert should be improved.  DmlException has lots of valuable information we could log or include in our own exception.

Third, I would love to map the DML exceptions with the objects that added them to the list.  save() could then collect all the DML exceptions and send them to the objects responsible for adding them to the list.

Coming up

  • XedeObject has implemented other useful methods we tend to use in multiple of our projects.  Implementing them once in XedeObject and deploying it to each of our customer's orgs saves time, money, and improves consistency across all our projects.  One of these is coalesce().  There are many others.
  • Curl scripts for exercising Salesforce REST services.
  • Using staticresources as a source for unit-test data.
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