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Layers, ports & adapters - Part 3, Ports & Adapters

syndicated from on August 3, 2017

In the previous article we discussed a sensible layer system, consisting of three layers:

  • Domain
  • Application
  • Infrastructure


The infrastructure layer, containing everything that connects the application's use cases to "the world outside" (like users, hardware, other applications), can become quite large. As I already remarked, a lot of our software consists of infrastructure code, since that's the realm of things complicated and prone to break. Infrastructure code connects our precious clean code to:

  • The filesystem
  • The network
  • Users
  • The ORM
  • The web framework
  • Third party web APIs
  • ...


The layering system already offers a very useful way of separating concerns. But we can improve the situation by further analyzing the different ways in which the application is connected to the world. Alistair Cockburn calls these connection points the "ports" of an application in his article "Hexagonal architecture". A port is an abstract thing, it will not have any representation in the code base (except as a namespace/directory, see below). It can be something like:

  • UserInterface
  • API
  • TestRunner
  • Persistence
  • Notifications

In other words: there is a port for every way in which the use cases of an application can be invoked (through the UserInterface, through an API, through a TestRunner, etc.) as well as for all the ways in which data leaves the application (to be persisted, to notify other systems, etc.). Cockburn calls these primary and secondary ports. I often use the words input and output ports.

What exactly a port is and isn’t is largely a matter of taste. At the one extreme, every use case could be given its own port, producing hundreds of ports for many applications.

— Alistair Cockburn


For each of these abstract ports we need some code to make the connection really work. We need code for dealing with HTTP messages to allow users to talk to our application through the web. We need code for talking with a database (possibly speaking SQL while doing so), in order for our data to be stored in a persistent way. The code to make each port actually work is called "adapter code". We write at least one adapter for every port of our application.

Adapters, which are very concrete and contain low-level code, are by definition decoupled from their ports, which are very abstract, and in essence just concepts. Since adapter code is code related to connecting an application to the world outside, adapter code is infrastructure code and should therefore reside in the infrastructure layer. And this is where ports & adapters and layered architecture play well together.

If you remember the dependency rule from my previous article, you know that code in each layer can only depend on code in the same layer or in deeper layers. Of course the application layer can use code from the infrastructure layer at runtime, since it gets everything injected as constructor arguments. However, the classes themselves will only depend on things more abstract, i.e. interfaces defined in their own layer or a deeper one. This is what applying the dependency inversion principle entails.

When you apply the principle everywhere, you can now write alternative adapters for your application's ports. You could run an experiment with a Mongo adapter side by side with a MySQL adapter. Also, you can make the tests that exercise application layer code a lot faster by replacing the real adapter with something faster (for example, an adapter that doesn't make network or filesystem calls, but simply stores things in memory).

Directory structure

Knowing which ports and adapters your application has or should have, I recommend reflecting them in the project's directory/namespace structure as well:



Having specialized adapters for running tests is the main reas

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