Creational Patterns

Creational Patterns

Creational design patterns abstract the instantiation process. They help make a system independent of how its objects are created, composed, and represented. A class creational pattern uses inheritance to vary the class that's instantiated, whereas an object creational pattern will delegate instantiation to another object.

Creational patterns become important as systems evolve to depend more on object composition than class inheritance. As that happens, emphasis shifts away from hard-coding a fixed set of behaviors toward defining a smaller set of fundamental behaviors that can be composed into any number of more complex ones. Thus creating objects with particular behaviors requires more than simply instantiating a class.

There are two recurring themes in these patterns. First, they all encapsulate knowledge about which concrete classes the system uses. Second, they hide how instances of these classes are created and put together. All the system at large knows about the objects is their interfaces as defined by abstract classes. Consequently, the creational patterns give you a lot of flexibility in what gets created, who creates it, how it gets created, and when. They let you configure a system with "product" objects that vary widely in structure and functionality. Configuration can be static (that is, specified at compile-time) or dynamic (at run-time).

Sometimes creational patterns are competitors. For example, there are cases when either Prototype or Abstract Factory could be used profitably. At other times they are complementary: Builder can use one of the other patterns to implement which components get built. Prototype can use Singleton in its implementation.

Because the creational patterns are closely related, we'll study all five of them together to highlight their similarities and differences. We'll also use a common example—building a maze for a computer game—to illustrate their implementations. The maze and the game will vary slightly from pattern to pattern. Sometimes the game will be simply to find your way out of a maze; in that case the player will probably only have a local view of the maze. Sometimes mazes contain problems to solve and dangers to overcome, and these games may provide a map of the part of the maze that has been explored.

We'll ignore many details of what can be in a maze and whether a maze game has a single or multiple players. Instead, we'll just focus on how mazes get created. We define a maze as a set of rooms. A room knows its neighbors; possible neighbors are another room, a wall, or a door to another room.

The classes Room, Door, and Wall define the components of the maze used in all our examples. We define only the parts of these classes that are important for creating a maze. We'll ignore players, operations for displaying and wandering around in a maze, and other important functionality that isn't relevant to building the maze.

The following diagram shows the relationships between these classes:

Each room has four sides. We use an enumeration Direction in C++ implementations to specify the north, south, east, and west sides of a room:

enum Direction {North, South, East, West};
 

The Smalltalk implementations use corresponding symbols to represent these directions.

The class MapSite is the common abstract class for all the components of a maze. To simplify the example, MapSite defines only one operation, Enter. Its meaning depends on what you're entering. If you enter a room, then your location changes. If you try to enter a door, then one of two things happen: If the door is open, you go into the next room. If the door is closed, then you hurt your nose.

class MapSite {
public:
    virtual void Enter() = 0;
};
 

Enter provides a simple basis for more sophisticated game operations. For example, if you are in a room and say "Go East," the game can simply determine which MapSite is immediately to the east and then call Enter on it. The subclass-specific Enter operation will figure out whether your location changed or your nose got hurt. In a real game, Enter could take the player object that's moving about as an argument.

Room is the concrete subclass of MapSite that defines the key relationships between components in the maze. It maintains references to other MapSite objects and stores a room number. The number will identify rooms in the maze.

class Room : public MapSite {
public:
    Room(int roomNo);

    MapSite* GetSide(Direction) const;
    void SetSide(Direction, MapSite*);

    virtual void Enter();

private:
    MapSite* _sides[4];
    int _roomNumber;
};
 

The following classes represent the wall or door that occurs on each side of a room.

class Wall : public MapSite {
public:
    Wall();

    virtual void Enter();
};

class Door : public MapSite {
public:
    Door(Room* = 0, Room* = 0);

    virtual void Enter();
    Room* OtherSideFrom(Room*);

private:
    Room* _room1;
    Room* _room2;
    bool _isOpen;
};
 

We need to know about more than just the parts of a maze. We'll also define a Maze class to represent a collection of rooms. Maze can also find a particular room given a room number using its RoomNo operation.

class Maze {
public:
    Maze();

    void AddRoom(Room*);
    Room* RoomNo(int) const;
private:
    // ...
};
 

RoomNo could do a look-up using a linear search, a hash table, or even a simple array. But we won't worry about such details here. Instead, we'll focus on how to specify the components of a maze object.

Another class we define is MazeGame, which creates the maze. One straightforward way to create a maze is with a series of operations that add components to a maze and then interconnect them. For example, the following member function will create a maze consisting of two rooms with a door between them:

Maze* MazeGame::CreateMaze () {
    Maze* aMaze = new Maze;
    Room* r1 = new Room(1);
    Room* r2 = new Room(2);
    Door* theDoor = new Door(r1, r2);

    aMaze->AddRoom(r1);
    aMaze->AddRoom(r2);

    r1->SetSide(North, new Wall);
    r1->SetSide(East, theDoor);
    r1->SetSide(South, new Wall);
    r1->SetSide(West, new Wall);

    r2->SetSide(North, new Wall);
    r2->SetSide(East, new Wall);
    r2->SetSide(South, new Wall);
    r2->SetSide(West, theDoor);

    return aMaze;
}
 

This function is pretty complicated, considering that all it does is create a maze with two rooms. There are obvious ways to make it simpler. For example, the Room constructor could initialize the sides with walls ahead of time. But that just moves the code somewhere else. The real problem with this member function isn't its size but its inflexibility. It hard-codes the maze layout. Changing the layout means changing this member function, either by overriding it—which means reimplementing the whole thing—or by changing parts of it—which is error-prone and doesn't promote reuse.

The creational patterns show how to make this design more flexible, not necessarily smaller. In particular, they will make it easy to change the classes that define the components of a maze.

Suppose you wanted to reuse an existing maze layout for a new game containing (of all things) enchanted mazes. The enchanted maze game has new kinds of components, like DoorNeedingSpell, a door that can be locked and opened subsequently only with a spell; and EnchantedRoom, a room that can have unconventional items in it, like magic keys or spells. How can you change CreateMaze easily so that it creates mazes with these new classes of objects?

In this case, the biggest barrier to change lies in hard-coding the classes that get instantiated. The creational patterns provide different ways to remove explicit references to concrete classes from code that needs to instantiate them:

  • If CreateMaze calls virtual functions instead of constructor calls to create the rooms, walls, and doors it requires, then you can change the classes that get instantiated by making a subclass of MazeGame and redefining those virtual functions. This approach is an example of the Factory Method pattern.
  • If CreateMaze is passed an object as a parameter to use to create rooms, walls, and doors, then you can change the classes of rooms, walls, and doors by passing a different parameter. This is an example of the Abstract Factory pattern.
  • If CreateMaze is passed an object that can create a new maze in its entirety using operations for adding rooms, doors, and walls to the maze it builds, then you can use inheritance to change parts of the maze or the way the maze is built. This is an example of the Builder pattern.
  • If CreateMaze is parameterized by various prototypical room, door, and wall objects, which it then copies and adds to the maze, then you can change the maze's composition by replacing these prototypical objects with different ones. This is an example of the Prototype pattern.

The remaining creational pattern, Singleton , can ensure there's only one maze per game and that all game objects have ready access to it—without resorting to global variables or functions. Singleton also makes it easy to extend or replace the maze without touching existing code.