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The observer pattern is a software design pattern in which an object, called the subject, maintains a list of its dependents, called observers, and notifies them automatically of any state changes, usually by calling one of their methods.

It is mainly used to implement distributed event handling systems, in "event driven" software. In those systems, the subject is usually called a "stream of events" or "stream source of events", while the observers are called "sink of events". The stream nomenclature simulates or adapts to a physical setup where the observers are physically separated and have no control over the emitted events of the subject/stream-source. This pattern then perfectly suits any process where data arrives through I/O, that is, where data is not available to the CPU at startup, but can arrive "randomly" (HTTP requests, GPIO data, user input from keyboard/mouse/..., distributed databases and blockchains, ...). Most modern languages have built-in "event" constructs which implement the observer pattern components. While not mandatory most 'observers' implementations will use background threads listening for subject events and other support mechanism from the kernel (Linux epoll, ...)


OverviewEdit

The Observer [1] design pattern is one of the twenty-three well-known "Gang of Four" design patterns that describe how to solve recurring design problems to design flexible and reusable object-oriented software, that is, objects that are easier to implement, change, test, and reuse.

What problems can the Observer design pattern solve?Edit

The Observer pattern addresses the following problems:[2]

  • A one-to-many dependency between objects should be defined without making the objects tightly coupled.
  • It should be ensured that when one object changes state an open-ended number of dependent objects are updated automatically.
  • It should be possible that one object can notify an open-ended number of other objects.

Defining a one-to-many dependency between objects by defining one object (subject) that updates the state of dependent objects directly is inflexible because it couples the subject to particular dependent objects. Still it can make sense from a performance point of view or if the object implementation is tightly coupled (think of low level kernel structures that execute thousands of times a second). Tightly coupled objects can be hard to implement in some scenarios, and reuse because they refer to and know about (how to update) many different objects with different interfaces. In other scenarios tightly coupled objects can be a better option since the compiler will be able to detect errors at compile time and optimize the code at CPU instruction level.

What solution does the Observer design pattern describe?Edit

  • Define Subject and Observer objects.
  • so that when a subject changes state, all registered observers are notified and updated automatically (and probably asynchronously).

The sole responsibility of a subject is to maintain a list of observers and to notify them of state changes by calling their update() operation.
The responsibility of observers is to register (and unregister) themselves on a subject (to get notified of state changes) and to update their state (synchronize their state with subject's state) when they are notified.
This makes subject and observers loosely coupled. Subject and observers have no explicit knowledge of each other. Observers can be added and removed independently at run-time.
This notification-registration interaction is also known as publish-subscribe.

See also the UML class and sequence diagram below.

Strong vs. Weak referenceEdit

The observer pattern can cause memory leaks, known as the lapsed listener problem, because in basic implementation it requires both explicit registration and explicit deregistration, as in the dispose pattern, because the subject holds strong references to the observers, keeping them alive. This can be prevented by the subject holding weak references to the observers.

Coupling and typical pub-sub implementationsEdit

Typically, the observer pattern is implemented so the "subject" being "observed" is part of the object for which state changes are being observed (and communicated to the observers). This type of implementation is considered "tightly coupled", forcing both the observers and the subject to be aware of each other and have access to their internal parts, creating possible issues of scalability, speed, message recovery and maintenance (also called event or notification loss), the lack of flexibility in conditional dispersion, and possible hindrance to desired security measures. In some (non-polling) implementations of the publish-subscribe pattern (aka the pub-sub pattern), this is solved by creating a dedicated "message queue" server (and sometimes an extra "message handler" object) as an extra stage between the observer and the object being observed, thus decoupling the components. In these cases, the message queue server is accessed by the observers with the observer pattern, "subscribing to certain messages" knowing only about the expected message (or not, in some cases), while knowing nothing about the message sender itself; the sender also may know nothing about the observers. Other implementations of the publish-subscribe pattern, which achieve a similar effect of notification and communication to interested parties, do not use the observer pattern at all.[3][4]

In early implementations of multi-window operating systems like OS/2 and Windows, the terms "publish-subscribe pattern" and "event driven software development" were used as a synonym for the observer pattern.[5]

The observer pattern, as described in the GoF book, is a very basic concept and does not address removing interest in changes to the observed "subject" or special logic to be done by the observed "subject" before or after notifying the observers. The pattern also does not deal with recording when change notifications are sent or guaranteeing that they are being received. These concerns are typically handled in message queueing systems of which the observer pattern is only a small part.

Related patterns: Publish–subscribe pattern, mediator, singleton.

UncoupledEdit

The observer pattern may be used in the absence of publish-subscribe, as in the case where model status is frequently updated. Frequent updates may cause the view to become unresponsive (e.g by invoking many repaint calls); such observers should instead use a timer. Thus instead of being overloaded by change message, the observer will cause the view to represent the approximate state of the model at a regular interval. This mode of observer is particularly useful for progress bars, where the underlying operation's progress changes with several times per second.

StructureEdit

UML class and sequence diagramEdit

 
A sample UML class and sequence diagram for the Observer design pattern. [6]

In the above UML class diagram, the Subject class doesn't update the state of dependent objects directly. Instead, Subject refers to the Observer interface (update()) for updating state, which makes the Subject independent of how the state of dependent objects is updated. The Observer1 and Observer2 classes implement the Observer interface by synchronizing their state with subject's state.

The UML sequence diagram shows the run-time interactions: The Observer1 and Observer2 objects call attach(this) on Subject1 to register themselves. Assuming that the state of Subject1 changes, Subject1 calls notify() on itself.
notify() calls update() on the registered Observer1 and Observer2 objects, which request the changed data (getState()) from Subject1 to update (synchronize) their state.

UML class diagramEdit

 
UML class diagram of Observer pattern

ExampleEdit

While the library classes java.util.Observer and java.util.Observable exist, they have been deprecated in Java 9 because the model implemented was quite limited.

Below is an example written in Java that takes keyboard input and treats each input line as an event. When a string is supplied from System.in, the method notifyObservers is then called, in order to notify all observers of the event's occurrence, in the form of an invocation of their 'update' methods.

JavaEdit

import java.util.ArrayList;
import java.util.Scanner;

class EventSource {
    public interface Observer {
        void update(String event);
    }
  
    private final List<Observer> observers = new ArrayList<>();
  
    private void notifyObservers(String event) {
        observers.forEach(observer -> observer.update(event));
    }
  
    public void addObserver(Observer observer) {
        observers.add(observer);
    }
  
    public void scanSystemIn() {
        Scanner scanner = new Scanner(System.in);
        while (scanner.hasNextLine()) {
            String line = scanner.nextLine();
            notifyObservers(line);
        }
    }
}
public class ObserverDemo {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        System.out.println("Enter Text: ");
        EventSource eventSource = new EventSource();
        
        eventSource.addObserver(event -> {
            System.out.println("Received response: " + event);
        });

        eventSource.scanSystemIn();
    }
}

DelphiEdit

uses
  System.Generics.Collections
  , System.SysUtils
  ;

type
  IObserver = interface
    ['{0C8F4C5D-1898-4F24-91DA-63F1DD66A692}']
    procedure Update(const AValue: string);
  end;

type
  TEdijsObserverManager = class
  strict private
    FObservers: TList<IObserver>;
  public
    constructor Create; overload;
    destructor Destroy; override;
    procedure NotifyObservers(const AValue: string);
    procedure AddObserver(const AObserver: IObserver);
    procedure UnregisterObsrver(const AObserver: IObserver);
  end;

type
  TListener = class(TInterfacedObject, IObserver)
  strict private
    FName: string;
  public
    constructor Create(const AName: string); reintroduce;
    procedure Update(const AValue: string);
  end;

procedure TEdijsObserverManager.AddObserver(const AObserver: IObserver);
begin
  if not FObservers.Contains(AObserver) then
    FObservers.Add(AObserver);
end;

constructor TEdijsObserverManager.Create;
begin
  inherited Create;
  FObservers := TList<IObserver>.Create;
end;

destructor TEdijsObserverManager.Destroy;
begin
  FreeAndNil(FObservers);
  inherited;
end;

procedure TEdijsObserverManager.NotifyObservers(const AValue: string);
var
  i: Integer;
begin
  for i := 0 to FObservers.Count - 1 do
    FObservers[i].Update(AValue);
end;

procedure TEdijsObserverManager.UnregisterObsrver(const AObserver: IObserver);
begin
  if FObservers.Contains(AObserver) then
    FObservers.Remove(AObserver);
end;

constructor TListener.Create(const AName: string);
begin
  inherited Create;
  FName := AName;
end;

procedure TListener.Update(const AValue: string);
begin
  WriteLn(FName + ' listener received notification: ' + AValue);
end;

procedure TEdijsForm.ObserverExampleButtonClick(Sender: TObject);
var
  _DoorNotify: TEdijsObserverManager;
  _ListenerHusband: IObserver;
  _ListenerWife: IObserver;
begin
  _DoorNotify := TEdijsObserverManager.Create;
  try
    _ListenerHusband := TListener.Create('Husband');
    _DoorNotify.AddObserver(_ListenerHusband);

    _ListenerWife := TListener.Create('Wife');
    _DoorNotify.AddObserver(_ListenerWife);

    _DoorNotify.NotifyObservers('Someone is knocking on the door');
  finally
    FreeAndNil(_DoorNotify);
  end;
end;

Output

Husband listener received notification: Someone is knocking on the door
Wife listener received notification: Someone is knocking on the door

PythonEdit

A similar example in Python:

class Observable:
    def __init__(self):
        self._observers = []
    
    def register_observer(self, observer):
        self._observers.append(observer)
    
    def notify_observers(self, *args, **kwargs):
        for observer in self._observers:
            observer.notify(self, *args, **kwargs)

class Observer:
    def __init__(self, observable):
        observable.register_observer(self)
    
    def notify(self, observable, *args, **kwargs):
        print('Got', args, kwargs, 'From', observable)


subject = Observable()
observer = Observer(subject)
subject.notify_observers('test')

C#Edit

    public class Payload
    {
        public string Message { get; set; }
    }
    public class Subject : IObservable<Payload>
    {
        public IList<IObserver<Payload>> Observers { get; set; }

        public Subject()
        {
            Observers = new List<IObserver<Payload>>();
        }

        public IDisposable Subscribe(IObserver<Payload> observer)
        {         
            if (!Observers.Contains(observer))
            {
                Observers.Add(observer);
            }
            return new Unsubscriber(Observers, observer);
        }

        public void SendMessage(string message)
        {
            foreach (var observer in Observers)
            {
                observer.OnNext(new Payload { Message = message });
            }
        }
    }
    public class Unsubscriber : IDisposable
    {
        private IObserver<Payload> observer;
        private IList<IObserver<Payload>> observers;
        public Unsubscriber(IList<IObserver<Payload>> observers, IObserver<Payload> observer)
        {
            this.observers = observers;
            this.observer = observer;
        }

        public void Dispose()
        {
            if (observer != null && observers.Contains(observer))
            {
                observers.Remove(observer);
            }
        }
    }


    public class Observer : IObserver<Payload>
    {
        public string Message { get; set; }

        public void OnCompleted()
        {
        }

        public void OnError(Exception error)
        {
        }

        public void OnNext(Payload value)
        {
            Message = value.Message;
        }

        public IDisposable Register(Subject subject)
        {
            return subject.Subscribe(this);
        }
    }

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, John Vlissides (1994). Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software. Addison Wesley. pp. 293ff. ISBN 0-201-63361-2.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "The Observer design pattern - Problem, Solution, and Applicability". w3sDesign.com. Retrieved 2017-08-12.
  3. ^ Comparison between different observer pattern implementations Moshe Bindler, 2015 (Github)
  4. ^ Differences between pub/sub and observer pattern The Observer Pattern by Adi Osmani (Safari books online)
  5. ^ The Windows Programming Experience Charles Petzold, Nov 10, 1992, PC Magazine (Google Books)
  6. ^ "The Observer design pattern - Structure and Collaboration". w3sDesign.com. Retrieved 2017-08-12.

External linksEdit