Hexagonal Architecture: A Guide for Developers

In a Nutshell

Learn the ins and outs of developing full-fledged software using Hexagonal Architecture. In this blog, we will talk about (How, Why, and When) keeping everything simple and clear and consice for you to undestand and develop robust, flexible apps, from the basics of Hexagonal Architecture to how to put those concepts into practice.

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Table of Contents

Hexagonal Architecture encases the core business logic, organising app components around it. In simple words, this architecture is based on Ports and Adapters. The main role it plays is to partition an application into several layers, which helps to isolate different concerns.

Hexagonal Architecture designs the application around the business logic, making it independent of external dependencies such as databases, user interfaces, or external services.

The mind behind Hexagonal Architecture was Alistair Cockburn, who proposed it in 2005. Since then, it has become popular, and now all the big tech companies are using this architecture to scale their applications for long-term needs.

The main components of Hexagonal Architecture are:

  1. Core

This is the innermost layer where the business logic of the application resides. It contains the domain entities, business rules, and use cases.

  1. Ports

Ports are interfaces that define the interactions between the core application and the external world. They represent the input and output mechanisms of the application. Ports are usually defined as interfaces or abstract classes.

  1. Adapters

Adapters are the implementations of the ports. They are responsible for translating the core application’s interactions into the specific protocols or frameworks used by the external components. Adapters can be thought of as the bridges between the core application and the external world.

Want to build software that’s adaptable, testable, and future-proof? That’s all the good you get with hexagonal architecture! It’s like a game-changer for developers, offering a simplified approach to organising the code.

How Hexagonal Architecture Works

Key pointers of how to build a rock solid foundation with Hexagonal architecture in infographic form 

Hexagonal Architecture organises software into layers resembling a hexagon.

At the core lies the domain logic, representing the essential operations and rules of the application.

Surrounding the core are ports, which serve as interfaces defining how external software modules can interact with the core. These ports specify the types of operations that can be performed on the core.

Adapters sit between the ports and the external software modules. They translate requests and responses between the core and the external modules. For instance, an adapter might convert data from a database query into objects that the core can understand or vice versa.

The decoupling nature between the core application and its external dependencies enables greater flexibility, testability, and adaptability.

This architecture isolates the core logic from the details of its environment. It allows developers to modify or replace external components, like databases or user interfaces, without affecting the core logic. Similarly, changes to the core logic can be made without impacting the external interfaces. This modularity and separation of concerns make the software easier to maintain, test, and evolve over time.

Why Use Hexagonal Architecture?

Developers back then had headaches doing complex and tightly coupled code. For instance, A change in one layer rippled through everything, slowing down development and introducing bugs. But Hexagonal architecture solves that! Here’s why you must be adopting this Architecture:

1. Flexibility and Future-Proofing

Need to switch databases? No problem! Just plug in a new adapter. Is a new UI framework on the horizon? Easy transition! Your core logic remains untouched, making updates a breeze.

2. Easy Testability

Isolating the core logic makes writing unit tests a joy. No more complex mocks or tangled dependencies. Simply interact with the ports and ensure your core delivers the right results.

3. Maintainability and Readability

Code becomes cleaner and easier to understand. Each layer has a clear responsibility, and the overall structure is well-defined. This makes collaboration and long-term maintenance simple and easy.

4. Scalability and Reusability

Need to expand your application? With decoupled components, scaling becomes much easier. You can even reuse core logic across different projects, saving time and effort.

5. Independent Deployment

Different components can be deployed independently, giving you more control and flexibility in your development architecture.

An Example of Hexagonal Architecture in E-commerce Platforms

How exactly does Hexagonal Architecture enable e-commerce platforms? Let’s find out:

Core Domain

Everything surrounds accross the core domain – order processing, inventory management, customer accounts, and product information. This forms the core domain, independent of external concerns like database technologies or UI frameworks.

Ports and Adapters

  • Order Management Port: The interface defines how a core logic interacts with order data. Adapters might connect to different databases (MySQL, MongoDB) depending on specific needs.
  • Inventory Management Port: Here, the interactions with inventory information occur. Adapters can connect to specific inventory management systems or warehouse databases.
  • Customer Account Port: Now comes the main part; the port here handles customer data access and updates. So, the adapters might connect to dedicated customer databases or social login providers.
  • Product Information Port: This is the blueprint for the core’s data retrieval and manipulation capabilities. Adapters can connect to either internal files of products or feeds from suppliers outside the company.

Example Workflow

When a customer puts an item in their cart, the core logic, through the Order Management Port, interacts with the Order Adapter connected to the relevant database. The adapter translates the order data into the specific database format and stores it securely.

Similarly, the core uses het Inventory Management Port and Inventory Adapter to check stock availability and update inventory levels across different warehouses. If payment is successful, the order is confirmed, and notifications are sent to the customer via the Customer Account Port and Notification Adapter (email, SMS).

Real-world Example

  • Shopify: The popular E-Commerce platform is also following Hexagonal Architecture. Their flexible API allows developers to connect various external tools and services through adapters, maintaining independence in the core E-Commerce functionality. FuturByte also provides Custom Shopify Development services

Benefits of Using Hexagonal Architecture

There are several benefits to using Hexagonal Architecture in your software projects:

  • Fosters modularity and separates concerns effectively.
  • Places core logic at the heart of the application.
  • External interactions are encapsulated by ports and adapters.
  • Simplifies testing of core business logic.
  • Provides flexibility and adaptability.
  • Streamlines replacement or modification of external components.
  • Facilitates adaptation to evolving requirements.
  • Yields higher-quality software with reduced bugs.
  • Mitigates accumulation of technical debt.

Conclusion: Is Hexagonal Architecture Right for You?

Hexagonal Architecture offers clear benefits such as modularity, testability, and maintainability. However, its suitability for your project depends on factors like project size, team familiarity, and specific requirements.

Consider Hexagonal Architecture if you’re working on a large, complex project that requires flexibility and scalability. It’s also ideal if you prioritise testability and maintainability.

Be mindful of the potential complexity and overhead it may introduce, especially in smaller projects. Assess whether the benefits align with your project’s needs before adopting it.

Ultimately, the decision should be based on your project’s unique requirements and context.

What is Hexagonal Architecture?

Hexagonal Architecture is a software composition pattern that organises an application’s components around the core business logic, encapsulating it within the innermost layer. In Hexagonal Architecture, the external interactions are abstracted through ports and adapters, promoting modularity, flexibility, and maintainability.

What are the benefits of using Hexagonal Architecture?
  • You may easily change databases, UI frameworks, or external systems without impacting core logic.
  • The isolated core logic simplifies unit testing and facilitates clear integration testing with adapters.
  • Decoupled components with clear responsibilities make code easier to understand, modify, and extend.
  • Provides independent scaling of different components based on specific needs and demands.
When should I use Hexagonal Architecture?

Consider using Hexagonal Architecture if:

  • Your project prioritises long-term maintainability and adaptability.
  • Testability is a major concern for your application.
  • Your project involves multiple databases, UI frameworks, or external systems.
  • You anticipate future scaling requirements.
When is Hexagonal Architecture not the best fit?

Hexagonal Architecture might not be ideal for:

  • Simple, small projects with limited external dependencies.
  • Teams lack experience with this architectural pattern.
  • Projects with tight time constraints, as initial setup requires some investment.
What are some real-world examples of Hexagonal Architecture?

Companies like Netflix, Uber, and Shopify utilise principles similar to Hexagonal Architecture to build flexible and scalable platforms.

What is the difference between Hexagonal Architecture and Microservices?

Hexagonal Architecture focuses solely on organising the internal structure of a single application. The emphasis is on modularity and separation of concerns within the application’s components.

Microservices is about breaking down an application into smaller, independent services. The idea behind microservices is to decouple a large application into smaller sub-services that could interact with one another using APIs.

What does "Hexagonal" mean in Hexagonal Architecture?

The term “Hexagonal” refers to the shape of the architecture having six sides, which resembles a hexagon with the core business logic at its centre.

This design emphasises the idea of surrounding the core logic with layers of ports and adapters, creating a flexible and adaptable structure for the application.

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