Part 1: The Single Responsibility Principle

Notes / Software Architecture / Principles of OOD / Part 1: The Single Responsibility Principle

Page 110


Why was it important to separate these two responsibilities into separate classes? Because each responsibility is an axis of change. When the requirements change, that change will be manifest through a change in responsibility amongst the classes. If a class assumes more than one responsibility, then there will be more than one reason for it to change.

If a class has more than one responsibility, then the responsibilities become coupled. Changes to one responsibility may impair or inhibit the class’ ability to meet the others. This kind of coupling leads to fragile designs that break in unexpected ways when changed.

Page 111

Two different applications use the Rectangle class. One application does computational geometry. It uses Rectangle to help it with the mathematics of geometric shapes. It never draws the rectangle on the screen. The other application is graphical in nature. It may also do some computational geometry, but it definitely draws the rectangle on the screen.

This design violates the SRP. The Rectangle class has two responsibilities. The first responsibility is to provide a mathematical model of the geometry of a rectangle. The second responsibility is to render the rectangle on a graphical user interface.

The violation of SRP causes several nasty problems. Firstly, we must include the GUI in the computational geometry application. In .NET the GUI assembly would have to be built and deployed with the computational geometry application.

Secondly, if a change to the GraphicalApplication causes the Rectangle to change for some reason, that change may force us to rebuild, retest, and redeploy the ComputationalGeometryApplication. If we forget to do this, that application may break in unpredictable ways.

A better design is to separate the two responsibilities into two completely different classes as shown in Figure 8-2. This design moves the computational portions of Rectangle into the GeometricRectangle class. Now changes made to the way rectangles are rendered cannot affect the ComputationalGeometryApplication.

What is a Responsibility?

In the context of the Single Responsibility Principle (SRP) we define a responsibility to be “a reason for change.” If you can think of more than one motive for changing a class, then that class has more than one responsibility. This is sometimes hard to see. We are accustomed to thinking of responsibility in groups. For example, consider the Modem interface in Listing 8-1. Most of us will agree that this interface looks perfectly reasonable. The four functions it declares are certainly functions belonging to a modem.

Page 112

However, there are two responsibilities being shown here. The first responsibility is connection management. The second is data communication. The dial and hangup functions manage the connection of the modem, while the send and recv functions communicate data.

Should these two responsibilities be separated? That depends upon how the application is changing. If the application changes in ways that affect the signature of the connection functions, then the design will smell of Rigidity because the classes that call send and read will have to be recompiled and redeployed more often than we like. In that case the two responsibilities should be separated as shown in Figure 8-3. This keeps the client applications from coupling the two responsibilities.

If, on the other hand, the application is not changing in ways that cause the the two responsibilities to change at differen times, then there is no need to separate them. Indeed, separating them would smell of Needless Complexity.

There is a corrolary here. An axis of change is only an axis of change if the changes actually occurr. It is not wise to apply the SRP, or any other principle for that matter, if there is no symptom.

Page 113

Separating coupled responsibilities.

Notice that in Figure 8-3 I kept both responsibilities coulped in the ModemImplementation class. This is not desirable, but it may be necessary. There are often reasons, having to do with the details of the hardware or OS, that force us to couple things that we’d rather not couple. However, by separating their interfaces we have decoupled the concepts as far as the rest of the application is concerned.

We may view the ModemImplementation class as a kludge, or a wart; however, notice that all dependencies flow away from it. Nobody need depend upon this class. Nobody except main needs to know that it exists. Thus, we’ve put the ugly bit behind a fence. It’s ugliness need not leak out and pollute the rest of the application.


The SRP is one of the simplest of the principles, and one of the hardest to get right. Conjoining responsibilities is something that we do naturally. Finding and separating those responsibilities from one another is much of what software design is really about. Indeed, the rest of the principles we will discuss come back to this issue in one way or another.