Data Transfer Objects

Introduction

Data Transfer Objects (DTO) are used to transfer data between the Application Layer and the Presentation Layer or other type of clients.

Typically, an application service is called from the presentation layer (optionally) with a DTO as the parameter. It uses domain objects to perform some specific business logic and (optionally) returns a DTO back to the presentation layer. Thus, the presentation layer is completely isolated from domain layer.

The Need for DTOs

You can skip this section if you feel that you know and confirm the benefits of using DTOs.

At first, creating a DTO class for each application service method can be seen as tedious and time-consuming work. However, they can save your application if you correctly use them. Why & how?

Abstraction of the Domain Layer

DTOs provide an efficient way of abstracting domain objects from the presentation layer. In effect, your layers are correctly separated. If you want to change the presentation layer completely, you can continue with the existing application and domain layers. Alternatively, you can re-write your domain layer, completely change the database schema, entities and O/RM framework, all without changing the presentation layer. This, of course, is as long as the contracts (method signatures and DTOs) of your application services remain unchanged.

Data Hiding

Say you have a User entity with the properties Id, Name, EmailAddress and Password. If a GetAllUsers() method of a UserAppService returns a List<User>, anyone can access the passwords of all your users, even if you do not show it on the screen. It's not just about security, it's about data hiding. Application services should return only what it needs by the presentation layer (or client). Not more, not less.

Serialization & Lazy Load Problems

When you return data (an object) to the presentation layer, it's most likely serialized. For example, in a REST API that returns JSON, your object will be serialized to JSON and sent to the client. Returning an Entity to the presentation layer can be problematic in that regard, especially if you are using a relational database and an ORM provider like Entity Framework Core. How?

In a real-world application, your entities may have references to each other. The User entity can have a reference to it's Roles. If you want to serialize User, its Roles are also serialized. The Role class may have a List<Permission> and the Permission class can has a reference to a PermissionGroup class and so on... Imagine all of these objects being serialized at once. You could easily and accidentally serialize your whole database! Also, if your objects have circular references, they may not be serialized at all.

What's the solution? Marking properties as NonSerialized? No, you can not know when it should be serialized and when it shouldn't be. It may be needed in one application service method, and not needed in another. Returning safe, serializable, and specially designed DTOs is a good choice in this situation.

Almost all O/RM frameworks support lazy-loading. It's a feature that loads entities from the database when they're needed. Say a User class has a reference to a Role class. When you get a User from the database, the Role property (or collection) is not filled. When you first read the Role property, it's loaded from the database. So, if you return such an Entity to the presentation layer, it will cause it to retrieve additional entities from the database by executing additional queries. If a serialization tool reads the entity, it reads all properties recursively and again your whole database can be retrieved (if there are relations between entities).

More problems can arise if you use Entities in the presentation layer. It's best not to reference the domain/business layer assembly in the presentation layer.

If you are convinced about using DTOs, we can continue to what ABP Framework provides and suggests about DTOs.

ABP doesn't force you to use DTOs, however using DTOs is strongly suggested as a best practice.

Standard Interfaces & Base Classes

A DTO is a simple class that has no dependency and you can design it in any way. However, ABP introduces some interfaces to determine the conventions for naming standard properties and base classes to don't repeat yourself while declaring common properties.

None of them are required, but using them simplifies and standardizes your application code.

Entity Related DTOs

You typically create DTOs corresponding to your entities, which results similar classes to your entities. ABP Framework provides some base classes to simplify while creating such DTOs.

EntityDto

IEntityDto<TKey> is a simple interface that only defines an Id property. You can implement it or inherit from the EntityDto<TKey> for your DTOs that matches to an entity.

Example:

using System;
using Volo.Abp.Application.Dtos;

namespace AbpDemo
{
    public class ProductDto : EntityDto<Guid>
    {
        public string Name { get; set; }
        //...
    }
}

Audited DTOs

If your entity inherits from audited entity classes (or implements auditing interfaces), you can use the following base classes to create your DTOs:

  • CreationAuditedEntityDto
  • CreationAuditedEntityWithUserDto
  • AuditedEntityDto
  • AuditedEntityWithUserDto
  • FullAuditedEntityDto
  • FullAuditedEntityWithUserDto

Extensible DTOs

If you want to use the object extension system for your DTOs, you can use or inherit from the following DTO classes:

  • ExtensibleObject implements the IHasExtraProperties (other classes inherits this class).
  • ExtensibleEntityDto
  • ExtensibleCreationAuditedEntityDto
  • ExtensibleCreationAuditedEntityWithUserDto
  • ExtensibleAuditedEntityDto
  • ExtensibleAuditedEntityWithUserDto
  • ExtensibleFullAuditedEntityDto
  • ExtensibleFullAuditedEntityWithUserDto

List Results

It is common to return a list of DTOs to the client. IListResult<T> interface and ListResultDto<T> class is used to make it standard.

The definition of the IListResult<T> interface:

public interface IListResult<T>
{
    IReadOnlyList<T> Items { get; set; }
}

Example: Return a list of products

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Threading.Tasks;
using Volo.Abp.Application.Dtos;
using Volo.Abp.Application.Services;
using Volo.Abp.Domain.Repositories;

namespace AbpDemo
{
    public class ProductAppService : ApplicationService, IProductAppService
    {
        private readonly IRepository<Product, Guid> _productRepository;

        public ProductAppService(IRepository<Product, Guid> productRepository)
        {
            _productRepository = productRepository;
        }

        public async Task<ListResultDto<ProductDto>> GetListAsync()
        {
            //Get entities from the repository
            List<Product> products = await _productRepository.GetListAsync();

            //Map entities to DTOs
            List<ProductDto> productDtos =
                ObjectMapper.Map<List<Product>, List<ProductDto>>(products);

            //Return the result
            return new ListResultDto<ProductDto>(productDtos);
        }
    }
}

You could simply return the productDtos object (and change the method return type) and it has nothing wrong. Returning a ListResultDto makes your List<ProductDto> wrapped into another object as an Items property. This has one advantage: You can later add more properties to your return value without breaking your remote clients (when they get the value as a JSON result). So, it is especially suggested when you are developing reusable application modules.

Paged & Sorted List Results

It is more common to request a paged list from server and return a paged list to the client. ABP defines a few interface and classes to standardize it:

Input (Request) Types

The following interfaces and classes is to standardize the input sent by the clients.

  • ILimitedResultRequest: Defines a MaxResultCount (int) property to request a limited result from the server.
  • IPagedResultRequest: Inherits from the ILimitedResultRequest (so it inherently has the MaxResultCount property) and defines a SkipCount (int) to declare the skip count while requesting a paged result from the server.
  • ISortedResultRequest: Defines a Sorting (string) property to request a sorted result from the server. Sorting value can be "Name", "Name DESC", "Name ASC, Age DESC"... etc.
  • IPagedAndSortedResultRequest inherits from both of the IPagedResultRequest and ISortedResultRequest, so has MaxResultCount, SkipCount and Sorting properties.

Instead of implementing the interfaces manually, it is suggested to inherit one of the following base DTO classes:

  • LimitedResultRequestDto implements ILimitedResultRequest.
  • PagedResultRequestDto implements IPagedResultRequest (and inherits from the LimitedResultRequestDto).
  • PagedAndSortedResultRequestDto implements IPagedAndSortedResultRequest (and inherit from the PagedResultRequestDto).
Max Result Count

LimitedResultRequestDto (and inherently the others) limits and validates the MaxResultCount by the following rules;

  • If the client doesn't set MaxResultCount, it is assumed as 10 (the default page size). This value can be changed by setting the LimitedResultRequestDto.DefaultMaxResultCount static property.
  • If the client sends MaxResultCount greater than 1,000, it produces a validation error. It is important to protect the server from abuse of the service. If you want, you can change this value by setting the LimitedResultRequestDto.MaxMaxResultCount static property.

Static properties suggested to be set on application startup since they are static (global).

Output (Response) Types

The following interfaces and classes is to standardize the output sent to the clients.

  • IHasTotalCount defines a TotalCount (long) property to return the total count of the records in case of paging.
  • IPagedResult<T> inherits from the IListResult<T> and IHasTotalCount, so it has the Items and TotalCount properties.

Instead of implementing the interfaces manually, it is suggested to inherit one of the following base DTO classes:

  • PagedResultDto<T> inherits from the ListResultDto<T> and also implements the IPagedResult<T>.

Example: Request a paged & sorted result from server and return a paged list

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Linq.Dynamic.Core;
using System.Threading.Tasks;
using Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore;
using Volo.Abp.Application.Dtos;
using Volo.Abp.Application.Services;
using Volo.Abp.Domain.Repositories;

namespace AbpDemo
{
    public class ProductAppService : ApplicationService, IProductAppService
    {
        private readonly IRepository<Product, Guid> _productRepository;

        public ProductAppService(IRepository<Product, Guid> productRepository)
        {
            _productRepository = productRepository;
        }

        public async Task<PagedResultDto<ProductDto>> GetListAsync(
            PagedAndSortedResultRequestDto input)
        {
            //Create the query
            var query = _productRepository
                .OrderBy(input.Sorting)
                .Skip(input.SkipCount)
                .Take(input.MaxResultCount);

            //Get total count from the repository
            var totalCount = await query.CountAsync();
            
            //Get entities from the repository
            List<Product> products = await query.ToListAsync();

            //Map entities to DTOs
            List<ProductDto> productDtos =
                ObjectMapper.Map<List<Product>, List<ProductDto>>(products);

            //Return the result
            return new PagedResultDto<ProductDto>(totalCount, productDtos);
        }
    }
}

ABP Framework also defines a PageBy extension method (that is compatible with the IPagedResultRequest) that can be used instead of Skip + Take calls:

var query = _productRepository
    .OrderBy(input.Sorting)
    .PageBy(input);

Notice that we added Volo.Abp.EntityFrameworkCore package to the project to be able to use the ToListAsync and CountAsync methods since they are not included in the standard LINQ, but defined by the Entity Framework Core.

See also the repository documentation to if you haven't understood the example code.

Related Topics

Validation

Inputs of application service methods, controller actions, page model inputs... are automatically validated. You can use the standard data annotation attributes or a custom validation method to perform the validation.

See the validation document for more.

Object to Object Mapping

When you create a DTO that is related to an entity, you generally need to map these objects. ABP provides an object to object mapping system to simplify the mapping process. See the following documents:

Best Practices

You are free to design your DTO classes. However, there are some best practices & suggestions that you may want to follow.

Common Principles

  • DTOs should be well serializable since they are generally serialized and deserialized (to JSON or other format). It is suggested to have an empty (parameterless) public constructor if you have another constructor with parameter(s).
  • DTOs should not contain any business logic, except some formal validation code.
  • Do not inherit DTOs from entities and do not reference to entities. The application startup template already prevents it by separating the projects.
  • If you use an auto object to object mapping library, like AutoMapper, enable the mapping configuration validation to prevent potential bugs.

Input DTO Principles

  • Define only the properties needed for the use case. Do not include properties not used for the use case, which confuses developers if you do so.

  • Don't reuse input DTOs among different application service methods. Because, different use cases will need to and use different properties of the DTO which results some properties are not used in some cases and that makes harder to understand and use the services and causes potential bugs in the future.

Output DTO Principles

  • You can reuse output DTOs if you fill all the properties on all the cases.
In this document