An Exploration of JavaScript Builders


Builders seems to be a popular topic for me, as I’ve blogged about the builder pattern before. This time, however, I look at builders through a JavaScript lens. In this post I’ll explore three techniques for modeling builders in JavaScript, specifically ES6, utilizing some of the interesting features of the modern language.

All the examples I show in this post show builders that are only for testing purposes. While the builder pattern can be used in production code, the builders shown below are not appropriate for production code because they contain pre-canned default values. Leave these in your test suite.

The Classic

I start with a simple, recognizable builder that uses “withers” to build up the object’s state. Returning this from each “wither” enables chaining. The build method will return the final plain JavaScript object.

class ProductBuilder {
constructor() {
this.name = 'A Product';
this.price = 9.99;
this.category = 'other';
}
withName(name) {
this.name = name;
return this;
}
withPrice(price) {
this.price = price;
return this;
}
withCategory(category) {
this.category = category;
return this;
}
build() {
return {
name: this.name,
price: this.price,
category: this.category
};
}
}
console.log( // =>
new ProductBuilder() // {
.withName('Harry Potter') // name: 'Harry Potter',
.withCategory('book') // price: 9.99,
.build() // category: 'book'
); // }

Simple. Familiar. But wordy. With only three fields our builder is already quite large, and needs a lot of boilerplate. The size of the builder grows linearly with the number of fields.

While this technique is fine, it takes a very Java-esque approach, ignoring other powerful JavaScript features. Let’s investigate those.

Generate Builders with Metaprogramming

Let’s address some of the shortcomings of the previous example, namely the repetition of the “withers.” Rather than manually typing out each “wither” method, let’s generate them automatically.

class ProductBuilder {
constructor() {
this.name = 'A metaprogrammed product';
this.price = 9.99;
this.category = 'other';
// Generate "wither" methods for each property
Object.keys(this).forEach((key) => {
const witherName = `with${key.substring(0,1).toUpperCase()}${key.substring(1)}`;
this[witherName] = (value) => {
this[key] = value;
return this;
};
});
}
build() {
// Get an array of all non-function properties of this builder
const keysNoWithers = Object.keys(this).filter((key) => (
typeof this[key] !== 'function'
));
// Transform the array of keys into an object
return keysNoWithers.reduce((returnValue, key) => {
return {
...returnValue,
[key]: this[key]
};
}, {});
}
}
console.log( // =>
new ProductBuilder() // {
.withName('Harry Potter') // name: 'Harry Potter',
.withCategory('book') // price: 9.99,
.build() // category: 'book'
); // }

This pattern produces an equivalent result as the first example. In the constructor, we automatically generate all the “wither” methods from the properties of the object. Then, in the build method, we use the properties of the object again to produce the resulting object. Some of the cool JavaScript features we use are Object.keys, reduce, and the proposed object rest spread.

While at first this may seem overly complicated (for a single builder, yes, it is), the real power is truly recognized when you have many builders. We can easily extract the generalized parts of this into a common superclass, making it extremely easy to create new builders.

class BaseBuilder {
init() {
Object.keys(this).forEach((key) => {
const witherName = `with${key.substring(0,1).toUpperCase()}${key.substring(1)}`;
this[witherName] = (value) => {
this[key] = value;
return this;
};
});
}
build() {
const keysNoWithers = Object.keys(this).filter((key) => (
typeof this[key] !== 'function'
));
return keysNoWithers.reduce((returnValue, key) => {
return {
...returnValue,
[key]: this[key]
};
}, {});
}
}
class ProductBuilder extends BaseBuilder {
constructor() {
super();
this.name = 'A metaprogrammed product';
this.price = 9.99;
this.category = 'other';
super.init();
}
}
class SandwichBuilder extends BaseBuilder {
constructor() {
super();
this.meat = 'ham';
this.cheese = 'swiss';
super.init();
}
}
console.log( // =>
new ProductBuilder() // {
.withName('Harry Potter') // name: 'Harry Potter',
.withCategory('book') // price: 9.99,
.build() // category: 'book'
); // }
console.log(
new SandwichBuilder() // =>
.withMeat('Roast Beef') // {
.withCheese('Havarti') // meat: 'Roast Beef',
.build() // cheese: 'Havarti'
); // }

By adopting this standard structure built on top of ES6 inheritance, we benefit from the predictability of the common interface and from the simplicity in creating new builders. Our builders are also still open for extension, as we can easily insert additional methods to add custom functionality as needed.

But, we are still following the verbose “wither” syntax. This approach is inherently object oriented. While there is nothing wrong with OOP, JavaScript is flexible and adopts multiple paradigms. What if we approach builders using a more functional programming technique?

Just Use Functions

Let’s get rid of the classes. Let’s get rid of the “withers”. Let’s model our builder as a function instead.

const buildProduct = (overrides = {}) => {
const defaults = {
name: 'A functional product',
price: 9.99,
category: 'other'
};
return {...defaults, ...overrides};
};
console.log( // =>
buildProduct({ // {
name: 'Harry Potter', // name: 'Harry Potter',
category: 'book' // price: 9.99,
}) // category: 'book'
); // }

That’s it! Here, we rely heavily on the awesome object rest spread proposal to perform merging of two objects.

While elegant, the most obvious deficiency is that there is no control over the contents of the overrides object, which could lead to mistakes. In the above example, if I were to do buildProduct({nme: 'Harry Potter'}) I would end up with a product with the default name, and an additional property “nme.” This is not ideal and could be frustrating at the least. Let’s fix that.

import {difference} from 'lodash';
const buildProduct = (overrides = {}) => {
const defaults =
name: 'A functional product',
price: 9.99,
category: 'other'
};
// Prevent extra keys from being introduced by the overrides
const extraOverrides = difference(
Object.keys(overrides),
Object.keys(defaults)
);
if (extraOverrides.length > 0) {
throw new Error(`Invalid builder! ${extraOverrides}`);
}
return {...defaults, ...overrides};
};
console.log( // => Error: Invalid builder! keyThatDoesNotExist
buildProduct({
name: 'Harry Potter',
category: 'book',
keyThatDoesNotExist: 'oops'
})
);

By using the lodash library’s array diffing utility, we can prevent this problem. And, as with other bits of reusable code, we could extract this into a function used by many builders.

In all of these examples the product object is a toy. With a larger, more complex object containing multiple levels of nested objects, this functional technique could get out of control is not properly modeled. While you could go for deep merging, I would shy away from that as it will hard to reason about. Instead, I recommend composing many builders together.

import {difference} from 'lodash';
const preventExtraOverrides = (defaults, overrides) => {
const extraOverrides = difference(
Object.keys(overrides),
Object.keys(defaults)
);
if (extraOverrides.length > 0) {
throw new Error(`Invalid builder! ${extraOverrides}`);
}
};
const buildProductName = (overrides = {}) => {
const defaults = {
name: 'A product',
description: 'A product description',
};
preventExtraOverrides(defaults, overrides);
return {...defaults, ...overrides};
};
const buildProductPrice = (overrides = {}) => {
const defaults = {
price: 50,
taxRate: 0.08,
};
preventExtraOverrides(defaults, overrides);
return {...defaults, ...overrides};
};
const buildProduct = (overrides = {}) => {
const defaults = {
name: buildProductName(),
price: buildProductPrice(),
category: 'other'
};
preventExtraOverrides(defaults, overrides);
return {...defaults, ...overrides};
};
console.log(
buildProduct({
name: buildProductName({name: 'Harry Potter'}),
price: buildProductPrice({price: 9.99})
})
);
// =>
// {
// name: {
// name: 'Harry Potter',
// description: 'A product description'
// },
// price: {
// price: 9.99,
// taxRate: 0.08
// },
// category: 'other'
// }

By composing builders we can easily reason about our object because we have broken it down into small, independent pieces. Each builder follows a similar pattern, but is self contained, which allows for customization in specific situations when needed.

So which one is best?

Well, it depends. Yep, not what you wanted to hear right? Of course it’s never that easy. Your unique situation may make some patterns more desirable than others. Are you on a team full of ex-Java devs who are not used to JavaScript semantics yet? Maybe starting with the classic approach and moving towards the metaprogramming technique eventually will suit you. Is your team ga-ga over functional paradigms? Reach for the functional approach.

Overall, remember that JavaScript is a multi-paradigm language, capable of flexing to suit many needs. Enjoy!