Oskar Dudycz

Pragmatic about programming

Event transformations, a tool to keep our processes loosely coupled

2023-08-31 oskar dudyczEvent Sourcing

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One of the biggest pains in traditional software design is accidental complexity. We want to understand and reflect on the business process in the code, but our perspective becomes immediately blurred. We add a new field, change the business flow a bit and w realise that “dammit, foreign keys won’t work now” or “now views will be broken”. Blood pressure increases, and instead of continuing to focus on the business logic, we’re starting to do it all at once.

That’s never a pleasant experience.

Event Sourcing can help with that, as it does things differently. First, we’re focusing on the business process. We distil the critical points as events, e.g. Order Confirmed, Invoice Issued, etc. They should be recorded as the results of business operations. That creates a simple pattern that allows us to prototype and quickly verify our understanding.

It’s easier to keep backward compatibility when adding or updating events. With simple versioning patterns, we could even deploy changes to business logic and then consider how to reflect that in read models. That means we’re getting a decent separation of concerns between our business logic and read models.

That sounds too good to be true, and indeed, we need to do a tradeoff analysis. I explained that in:

Event Sourcing won’t remove the need for a proper design exercise, but it can help streamline this effort, reducing the cognitive load.

We’ll discuss today another scenario: how to keep events granular and not coupled to read model needs.

Let’s say we’re building a feature for managing the work schedule. We should enable defining the employee allocation for the set of days in the selected period. The event reflecting that could look as follows:

public record Allocation(
    DateTime Day,
    double Hours
);

public record EmployeeAllocated(
    Guid EmployeeId,
    List<Allocation> Allocations
);

Of course, each employee can have multiple allocations so that the employee allocation stream will contain a sequence of those events. Data from further events can also override allocation.

A lot of us work on monthly schedules, but not all. Some of us can have weekly, 10 days, or other type of schedules. Our software should be flexible and allow defining all of them.

Still, we can have different perspectives on the same data. Accounting is usually working in the monthly schedules. We might want to view allocation in such a way:

public class MonthlyAllocation
{
    public string Id { get; init; }
    public Guid EmployeeId { get; init; }
    public DateOnly Month { get; init; }
    public double Hours { get; init; }
}

Yet, if we’re using a weekly schedule, the week can start in one month and finish in the other. So, one EmployeeAllocated event can update multiple read models.

Monthly allocation id could be a string in the format: {EmployeeId}|{Month:yyyy-MM-dd}, as the employee id and the first day of the month shapes the unique value.

We could update MonthlyAllocation read model based on the EmployeeAllocated event as follows:

  1. Take the employee id and all allocated dates.
  2. Take the first date of the month from each date with the employee id and select the MonthlyAllocation read model.
  3. Update selected MonthlyAllocation with data from the event.

Sounds simple, right? But it’s not if we want to make it performant.

Let’s look at the following payload of the EmployeeAllocated event.

{
    "EmployeId": "90033055-c5a3-4e98-aaf8-1ca14554c346",
    "Allocations": [
        { "Day": "2023-08-30", "Hours": "3" },
        { "Day": "2023-08-31", "Hours": "2" },
        { "Day": "2023-09-01", "Hours": "8" },
        { "Day": "2023-09-02", "Hours": "6" },
        { "Day": "2023-09-03", "Hours": "4" },
    ]
}

We have here an allocation that’s touching two months: August and September. Each of them will have multiple days. For the naive implementation, we could iterate through allocations and update read models as described above. That could work on a smaller scale, but not in the long term. For our example, instead of doing two updates (one for August, the other for September), we’d do five for each allocation. Consider having more events like that and monthly allocations for hundreds of employees. Yeah… We need to do better than that.

We could come up with the idea that it’d be better to have an event reflecting employee’s monthly allocation definition.

public record EmployeeAllocatedInMonth(
    Guid EmployeeId,
    DateOnly Month,
    List<Allocation> Allocations
);

That sounds like a decent move, but it’s not, as this is different from how the business works. It works as described before, so defining flexible allocations. If we try to replace the EmployeeAllocated event with that one, we’d be cheating. We’d bend the business process to how we’d like to view our data.

That’s a no-go.

Yet, what if we transformed our EmployeeAllocated into EmployeeAllocatedInMonth, keeping the original flow and events intact? That’s a much better idea.

One way of doing it is to transform them and store results durable in another stream. Then, we update our read model based on the events from transformed data. That’s how EventStoreDB projections works.

That’s a valid solution. The downside is that it increases the size of the database, which may not be ideal if we just want to update the read model and won’t need those events for other cases.

The other option is to perform transformations in the memory before running the projection update.

Let’s say that we prefer this option and use Marten. We might want to have our projection look as follows (read more in introduction to Marten projections):

public class MonthlyAllocationProjection: MultiStreamProjection<MonthlyAllocation, string>
{
    public void Apply(MonthlyAllocation allocation, EmployeeAllocatedInMonth @event)
    {
        allocation.EmployeeId = @event.EmployeeId;
        allocation.Month = @event.Month;

        var hours = @event
            .Allocations
            .Sum(x => x.Hours);

        allocation.Hours += hours;
    }
}

That looks simple, as it should. Now, how to do the transformation? Marten provides a feature called IAggregateGrouper. The name may sound enigmatic, but it enables custom transformation and grouping of events before we apply projection logic. So, all the slicing and dicing we need.

Let’s define the custom grouper, then. I’ll show you the whole code and then explain what we’re doing step by step.

public class MonthlyAllocationGrouper: IAggregateGrouper<string>
{
    public Task Group(
        IQuerySession session,
        IEnumerable<IEvent> events,
        ITenantSliceGroup<string> grouping
    )
    {
        var allocations = events
            .OfType<IEvent<EmployeeAllocated>>();

        var monthlyAllocations = allocations
            .SelectMany(@event =>
                @event.Data.Allocations.Select(
                    allocation => new
                    {
                        @event.Data.EmployeeId,
                        Allocation = allocation,
                        Month = allocation.Day.ToStartOfMonth(),
                        Source = @event
                    }
                )
            )
            .GroupBy(allocation =>
                new { allocation.EmployeeId, allocation.Month, allocation.Source }
            )
            .Select(monthlyAllocation =>
                new
                {
                    Key = $"{monthlyAllocation.Key.EmployeeId}|{monthlyAllocation.Key.Month:yyyy-MM-dd}",
                    Event = monthlyAllocation.Key.Source.WithData(
                        new EmployeeAllocatedInMonth(
                            monthlyAllocation.Key.EmployeeId,
                            monthlyAllocation.Key.Month,
                            monthlyAllocation.Select(a => a.Allocation).ToList())
                    )
                }
            );

        foreach (var monthlyAllocation in monthlyAllocations)
        {
            grouping.AddEvents(
                monthlyAllocation.Key,
                new[] { monthlyAllocation.Event }
            );
        }

        return Task.CompletedTask;
    }
}

We recommend running such projections as asynchronous ones. Marten has a background process called AsyncDaemon that’s doing many optimisations like grouping and parallelisation. It tries to group events by projection type, tenants, etc. Such grouping we call slice. Each slice will try to load read models and apply changes to all of them at once. Also, if the piece has multiple updates to the same read model instance, it’ll only be updated once. Read more on Scaling async projections.

Getting back to our grouper. The first thing we do is to select the events we’d like to handle in our projection. We’re selecting the original EmployeeAllocated events.

var allocations = events
     .OfType<IEvent<EmployeeAllocated>>();

Then, we need to transform them into EmployeeAllocatedInMonth. We’re starting by flattening the allocations list to get each as a separate row. We’re also transforming the date into the first day of the month:

allocations
     .SelectMany(@event =>
          @event.Data.Allocations.Select(
               allocation => new
               {
                    @event.Data.EmployeeId,
                    Allocation = allocation,
                    Month = new DateOnly(allocation.Day.Year, allocation.Day.Month, 1),
                    Source = @event
               }
          )
     )

Then we’re grouping them by employee id and month:

var monthlyAllocations = allocations
     .SelectMany(@event => /* (...) flattening allocations */ )
     .GroupBy(allocation =>
          new { allocation.EmployeeId, allocation.Month, allocation.Source }
     )

And getting new events based on the data from grouping:

var monthlyAllocations = allocations
     .SelectMany(@event => /* (...) flattening allocations */ )
     .GroupBy(allocation => /* (...) grouping by employee id and month */ )
     .Select(monthlyAllocation =>
          new
          {
               Key = $"{monthlyAllocation.Key.EmployeeId}|{monthlyAllocation.Key.Month:yyyy-MM-dd}",
               Event = monthlyAllocation.Key.Source.WithData(
                    new EmployeeAllocatedInMonth(
                         monthlyAllocation.Key.EmployeeId,
                         monthlyAllocation.Key.Month,
                         monthlyAllocation.Select(a => a.Allocation).ToList())
                    )
          }
     );

We’re generating:

  • Key - it’ll be used to select read model instances.
  • Event - this event will be handled by projection. We need to create the event with metadata. By using the WithData method, new events will have the same metadata as the original event but different data.

We must also tell Marten to use those transformed data in the custom grouping.

foreach (var monthlyAllocation in monthlyAllocations)
{
     grouping.AddEvents(
          monthlyAllocation.Key,
          new[] { monthlyAllocation.Event }
     );
}

As the final step, we also need to tell Projection that we’re transforming EmployeeAllocated events using custom grouper. We do that by registering them in a projection constructor:

public class MonthlyAllocationProjection: MultiStreamProjection<MonthlyAllocation, string>
{
    public MonthlyAllocationProjection()
    {
        CustomGrouping(new MonthlyAllocationGrouper());
        TransformsEvent<EmployeeAllocated>();
    }

    public void Apply(MonthlyAllocation allocation, EmployeeAllocatedInMonth @event)
    {
        allocation.EmployeeId = @event.EmployeeId;
        allocation.Month = @event.Month;

        var hours = @event
            .Allocations
            .Sum(x => x.Hours);

        allocation.Hours += hours;
    }
}

And that’s it. See the full sample.

I understand that it may sound a bit complex. Still, it’s a powerful and flexible mechanism that allows us to achieve our main goal: keep our business workflow loosely coupled with read models.

No matter which event store implementation you’re using, it’s worth focusing on keeping our business workflow reflecting the real world. We can make tradeoffs, but we should also consider other options to avoid rotten compromises. Event transformations can help achieve that.

Cheers!

Oskar

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Event-Driven by Oskar Dudycz
Oskar Dudycz For over 15 years, I have been creating IT systems close to the business. I started my career when StackOverflow didn't exist yet. I am a programmer, technical leader, architect. I like to create well-thought-out systems, tools and frameworks that are used in production and make people's lives easier. I believe Event Sourcing, CQRS, and in general, Event-Driven Architectures are a good foundation by which this can be achieved.