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Also known as

Filter, Criteria


Specification pattern separates the statement of how to match a candidate, from the candidate object that it is matched against. As well as its usefulness in selection, it is also valuable for validation and for building to order.


Real world example

There is a pool of different creatures and we often need to select some subset of them. We can write our search specification such as “creatures that can fly”, “creatures heavier than 500 kilograms”, or as a combination of other search specifications, and then give it to the party that will perform the filtering.

In Plain Words

Specification pattern allows us to separate the search criteria from the object that performs the search.

Wikipedia says

In computer programming, the specification pattern is a particular software design pattern, whereby business rules can be recombined by chaining the business rules together using boolean logic.

Programmatic Example

If we look at our creature pool example from above, we have a set of creatures with certain properties. Those properties can be part of a pre-defined, limited set (represented here by the enums Size, Movement and Color); but they can also be continuous values (e.g. the mass of a Creature). In this case, it is more appropriate to use what we call “parameterized specification”, where the property value can be given as an argument when the Creature is instantiated, allowing for more flexibility. A third option is to combine pre-defined and/or parameterized properties using boolean logic, allowing for near-endless selection possibilities (this is called “composite specification”, see below). The pros and cons of each approach are detailed in the table at the end of this document.

1public interface Creature {
2  String getName();
3  Size getSize();
4  Movement getMovement();
5  Color getColor();
6  Mass getMass();

And Dragon implementation looks like this.

1public class Dragon extends AbstractCreature {
3  public Dragon() {
4    super("Dragon", Size.LARGE, Movement.FLYING, Color.RED, new Mass(39300.0));
5  }

Now that we want to select some subset of them, we use selectors. To select creatures that fly, we should use MovementSelector.

 1public class MovementSelector extends AbstractSelector<Creature> {
 3  private final Movement movement;
 5  public MovementSelector(Movement m) {
 6    this.movement = m;
 7  }
 9  @Override
10  public boolean test(Creature t) {
11    return t.getMovement().equals(movement);
12  }

On the other hand, when selecting creatures heavier than a chosen amount, we use MassGreaterThanSelector.

 1public class MassGreaterThanSelector extends AbstractSelector<Creature> {
 3  private final Mass mass;
 5  public MassGreaterThanSelector(double mass) {
 6    this.mass = new Mass(mass);
 7  }
 9  @Override
10  public boolean test(Creature t) {
11    return t.getMass().greaterThan(mass);
12  }

With these building blocks in place, we can perform a search for red creatures as follows:

1    var redCreatures = ColorSelector(Color.RED))
2      .collect(Collectors.toList());

But we could also use our parameterized selector like this:

1    var heavyCreatures = MassGreaterThanSelector(500.0)
2      .collect(Collectors.toList());

Our third option is to combine multiple selectors together. Performing a search for special creatures (defined as red, flying, and not small) could be done as follows:

1    var specialCreaturesSelector = 
2      new ColorSelector(Color.RED).and(new MovementSelector(Movement.FLYING)).and(new SizeSelector(Size.SMALL).not());
4    var specialCreatures =
5      .collect(Collectors.toList());

More on Composite Specification

In Composite Specification, we will create custom instances of AbstractSelector by combining other selectors (called “leaves”) using the three basic logical operators. These are implemented in ConjunctionSelector, DisjunctionSelector and NegationSelector.

 1public abstract class AbstractSelector<T> implements Predicate<T> {
 3  public AbstractSelector<T> and(AbstractSelector<T> other) {
 4    return new ConjunctionSelector<>(this, other);
 5  }
 7  public AbstractSelector<T> or(AbstractSelector<T> other) {
 8    return new DisjunctionSelector<>(this, other);
 9  }
11  public AbstractSelector<T> not() {
12    return new NegationSelector<>(this);
13  }
 1public class ConjunctionSelector<T> extends AbstractSelector<T> {
 3  private final List<AbstractSelector<T>> leafComponents;
 5  @SafeVarargs
 6  ConjunctionSelector(AbstractSelector<T>... selectors) {
 7    this.leafComponents = List.of(selectors);
 8  }
10  /**
11   * Tests if *all* selectors pass the test.
12   */
13  @Override
14  public boolean test(T t) {
15    return -> (comp.test(t)));
16  }

All that is left to do is now to create leaf selectors (be it hard-coded or parameterized ones) that are as generic as possible, and we will be able to instantiate the AbstractSelector class by combining any amount of selectors, as exemplified above. We should be careful though, as it is easy to make a mistake when combining many logical operators; in particular, we should pay attention to the priority of the operations. In general, Composite Specification is a great way to write more reusable code, as there is no need to create a Selector class for each filtering operation. Instead, we just create an instance of AbstractSelector “on the spot”, using tour generic “leaf” selectors and some basic boolean logic.

Comparison of the different approaches

Hard-Coded SpecificationSelection criteria are few and known in advance+ Easy to implement- Inflexible
+ Expressive
Parameterized SpecificationSelection criteria are a large range of values (e.g. mass, speed,…)+ Some flexibility- Still requires special-purpose classes
Composite SpecificationThere are a lot of selection criteria that can be combined in multiple ways, hence it is not feasible to create a class for each selector+ Very flexible, without requiring many specialized classes- Somewhat more difficult to comprehend
+ Supports logical operations- You still need to create the base classes used as leaves

Class diagram

alt text


Use the Specification pattern when

  • You need to select a subset of objects based on some criteria, and to refresh the selection at various times.
  • You need to check that only suitable objects are used for a certain role (validation).
  • Repository