Welcome!

You will be redirected in 30 seconds or close now.

ColdFusion Authors: Yakov Fain, Maureen O'Gara, Nancy Y. Nee, Tad Anderson, Daniel Kaar

Related Topics: ColdFusion

ColdFusion: Article

Model-View-Controller for You and Me

Building an MVC application in ColdFusion isn't Hard

I saw a one-man band once, and it was quite a sight. He had a bass drum on his back, operated by a cog attached to one ankle, thumping as he stomped his foot. Shoestrings tied to the neck of his guitar would move drumsticks attached to a snare drum perched atop the bass drum.

Another string attached to his right elbow operated a cymbal clamped to the side of the snare drum. I spotted duct tape in more than one place. It was a little complicated, and changing anything was bound to affect everything else.

Does this sound like an application you may have worked on? I'll admit it: it sure sounds familiar to me.

Now, I've also seen some very good orchestras. The conductor runs the show. She doesn't necessarily know how to play the viola or the sousaphone, but she knows how to use her musicians, and trusts them to do their jobs.

I don't know about you, but I'd much rather be a conductor. My musicians could change how their instruments worked, but as long as they still played in tune, it wouldn't matter to me. More importantly, I can add new instruments without having to learn to play them or figuring out how to tie, clamp, tape, and/or tack weld them into place.

That's a powerful paradigm, and this power is what the Model-View-Controller (MVC) design pattern gives you.

What Is Model-View-Controller?

According to James Dempsey's "Model-View-Controller Song," MVC is a way of organizing your code into "functional segments so your brain does not explode." MVC divides your application into three layers, each with a clearly defined task:

Model
The Model contains all of the business logic and data in your application. It is not a stretch to say that your Model literally is your application. Typically, a Model consists entirely of objects or services such as CFCs, Java classes, and / or Web Services. A Model never has any knowledge of Views or Controllers.

View
A View is what the user sees, and is how the user interacts with your application. The View's job is to allow user input and display the "state of the Model," an Object-Oriented (OO) way of saying "your application's data." Most often, Views are traditional ColdFusion pages (.cfm). Other mediums such as Flash can also act as views. Because your Model isn't aware of the Views, you can interchange views without affecting your overall application.

Controller
The Controller is simply "glue" code that passes data back and forth between the View and the Model. The Controller takes data from the user, such as form data, and gives it to the Model for processing. The results are then given back to the View, which is shown to the user.

While some users of MVC may object to passing the data back through the Controller, it's a common way to implement the MVC pattern in a Web environment. In a desktop application, however, the View might be allowed to ask the Model for its state information directly. However, because of the nature of the Web, it's a lot easier to simply "push" the state information into the View through the Controller.

Why Use Model-View-Controller?

I'm sure we've all heard talk about separating "business logic" from "presentation logic," and MVC does exactly that. By putting the Controller in between the Model (business logic) and View (presentation), we're insuring that they're not only separate, but highly reusable because they're not specific to a particular implementation. Additional Views can use the same Model without any modification. More importantly, the internal working of the Model can change without affecting the Views. This should sound familiar: we've arrived at the power described earlier when I said I'd rather be a conductor than a one-man band. Let's revisit what I said earlier, but change a few words:

"My components could change how their internals worked, but as long as they kept the same interface, it wouldn't matter to me. More importantly, I can add new components without having to learn how they work, just how to use them."

That's a very powerful statement to make about application design. Model-View-Controller utilizes Object-Oriented Design concepts known as "decoupling" and "separation of concerns" to achieve this power. In a "traditional" ColdFusion application, each page is responsible for a good deal: business logic, data access logic, presentation logic, and data validation. By isolating the business logic in the Model and the presentation logic in the View and having the two communicate through the Controller, we've "decoupled" the business layer from the presentation layer. Each of the three layers has a responsibility, or "concern" that is separate from the others. As long as the boundaries along which the layers communicate, or "interfaces," remain the same each layer can change its internal functionality without affecting other the other two.

Let's Code: An MVC Example

Building an MVC application in ColdFusion isn't very hard. You'll just need a good understanding of ColdFusion Components (CFCs) and an open mind. If you're not up and running with ColdFusion Components, you may want to read Jeffry Houser's article entitled "ColdFusion Components" when you're through with this article (CFDJ vol. 6, issue 11).

First, we need a problem to Model. For a fun example, I've chosen to Model translation of English phrases into Pig Latin. For our first attempt, I'm implementing a very simple version of Pig Latin - for any given word, move all consonants until the first vowel to the end of the word, and then add "ay." For example, "Model-View-Controller" becomes "odelMay iewVay ontrollerCay."

It's easy enough to encapsulate all the logic for this into a CFC. Listing 1 shows the entire model for our application, contained in PigLatinizer.cfc. You'll see that it has a single method ("Translate") that receives a string, and returns a translated string. At this point, we have a working "Model" of our "problem domain" - translating phrases into Pig Latin.

Now, we need a View to interact with our model. Listing 2 shows our basic translator form. It has a form field that collects a phrase to translate, a submit button, and will optionally show results of the latest translation.

Well, that was easy. We have a Model and View. Now we need a Controller to glue the two together. One approach many have taken is to simply add pseudo-Controller code to the top of their View pages, closely mimicking the standard self-posting form architecture ColdFusion developers have used for years. However, this places the Controller code in your View, eliminating any chance of re-use. Instead of doing this, we're going to use a CFC called PigLatinController. The source code for PigLatinController.cfc is shown in Listing 3. Examining the code reveals that it's pretty simple. There's an empty constructor ("Init") and a single method ("Translate"). While our constructor here remains empty, in the real world, this may be a place to insert information, such as datasource names or other configuration data, that the controller will need to pass along to the Model.

Examining the Translate method shows a controller in action. It first creates the needed portions of the model - in this case, simply an instance of PigLatinizer.cfc. It then passes data from the View (form.phrase) to the Translate method of the PigLatinizer. The user is then redirected to the view, with the resulting translation passed as a URL variable.

Now we have a Model, a View, and a Controller. What we're still lacking, however, is a way to have them all "talk." This is a where a framework is needed.

Building a Simple Framework

While there are two popular frameworks available for what we need to do (Fusebox and Mach-II), we're going to build our own mini-framework using about ten lines of code. It's going to be bare-bones, but it should get the job done while also introducing the need for more robust, application-agnostic frameworks.

Listing 4 shows our Pig Latin's Application.cfm file, where lines 3 - 13 represent our framework. First, we see if the application is initialized. If it's not, we create an instance of our Controller, placing it into the application scope. Second, we examine the URL scope to see if a parameter named "method" exists. If it does, we CFInvoke that method of our controller.

Running Our Application

We've now built a complete MVC application for translating phrases to Pig Latin. Let's step through two page requests, initial and form post, to trace how the pieces of MVC work together.

Initially, the user requests Index.cfm. ColdFusion processes the Application.cfm file. Our framework insures that an instance of PigLatinController (the Controller) exists in the application scope, and then looks for URL.Method. Because URL.Method doesn't exist, no action is taken. Index.cfm (the View) then presents the user with the appropriate form.

The user then enters a phrase and clicks the submit button, and our next request cycle begins.

Again, ColdFusion processes the Application.cfm file and insures that our Controller exists. This time, however, URL.Method is defined, and its value is "Translate." Our mini-framework recognizes this, and invokes the "Translate" method of the Controller.

Inside the Controller, the "Translate" method creates an instance of PigLatinizer (our Model). It passes the data from the View (form.phrase) into the Model's "Translate" method, and collects the result. The Controller then CFLocates the user back to Index.cfm, appending the result of the translation to the URL. Index.cfm, the View, shows the "state of the model" (the translated phrase), and dutifully re-displays the translation form.

Modifying Our Application

Because we've placed the Controller between the Model and the View, changes to the Model won't affect the View, and vice versa. Realizing our implementation of Pig Latin isn't complete and that there are additional rules for handling words beginning with vowels, we need to modify our Model. Luckily, there's a freely available Java class that translates English into Pig Latin. We can modify our Model to use this class instead of its own internal logic (Listing 5 shows this modification). Because we're only changing its internals, and not altering its interface, the rest of our application will remain unaffected. By isolating our changes, and decoupling our business logic from our presentation logic, we've given ourselves a both more powerful and safer way to alter or scale our application.

The Need for Frameworks

Our bare-bones framework is fine for our Pig-Latin translator, but I wouldn't want to develop an enterprise application with it. On a low level, the method of processing input in the controller then CFLocating would make it hard to return meaningful validation results - the URL string could become huge! On a higher level, what if one method of the Controller needed to call another method? It'd be easy to add the code to do so, but this may begin to fall outside of the "concern" of the controller (passing data between the View and the Model) and may begin to fall into the realm of business logic or application design. Frameworks such as Fusebox and Mach-II help out in this problem. By removing this control of "flow" from the Controller and letting you organize your application using XML, they both allow the Controller to assume its proper role of passing data. Frameworks have a number of other advantages, but that's another article.

Summary

Model-View-Controller is an elegant way to divide your application into logical layers. Each layer has a single job, and does it well. The Model represents your application's business logic. The View presents data from the Model, and accepts user input. The Controller serves to pass data between the View and the Model. Most importantly, the Controller serves to decouple the View from the Model, isolating what changes to bring unprecedented power to your application's design.

Further Reading

This article provided a high-level introduction to Model-view-controller. Hopefully, it's gotten you interested in using MVC to simplify and enhance your application designs. However, it's glossed over a good deal of Object-Oriented concepts and terminology. There's a lot to learn about the theory of MVC and the various design patterns that are used inside of it (MVC is technically a "compound" pattern, made up of other design patterns).

If you're ready to jump into using MVC for ColdFusion applications, I'd begin by taking a look at the Fusebox (www.fusebox.org), Model-Glue (www.model-glue.com) and Mach-II (www.mach-ii.com) frameworks.".

More Stories By Joe Rinehart

Joe Rinehart is a Flex, ColdFusion, and J2EE developer. You can find his blog at Firemoss.com.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Derek 05/04/05 10:45:24 AM EDT

Where is the sample code for this?

@ThingsExpo Stories
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
The 3rd International @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
The Internet of Things promises to transform businesses (and lives), but navigating the business and technical path to success can be difficult to understand. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, demonstrated how to approach creating broadly successful connected customer solutions using real world business transformation studies including New England BioLabs and more.
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
There's Big Data, then there's really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, discussed how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...