Modeling passing time with events

Modeling passing time with events

Learning new ideas can be a real struggle. Getting familiar with new concepts, nomenclature and understanding the context in which this new skills can be applied takes time. When it finally clicks and you’ve connected all the dots — the joy is tremendous.

I remember a nice discussion we had over burgers during wroc_love.rb conference in 2015. Folks shared their experiences of getting through The Blue and The Red books — what was the most difficult to grasp and what made a breakthrough for them. For me the turning point was a chapter on Domain Events. This is when it all made sense. When I shared this experience, Alberto Brandolini who was sitting next to me silently nodded.

Eventstorming is a technique for collaborative exploration of complex business domains. I was lucky to participate in a few of such workshops, including the one Alberto facilitated after his wroc_love.rb talk. Events, as the name suggests, play a key role in this discovery process. An event, in this context, represents a fact. Something that has had already happened in the domain. Thus we name it in past tense and in the language of the business (Ubiquitous Language).

The other day my coworker Robert shared a technique he picked from a DDDx talk. In this video (with a completely non-searchable title) Greg Young presents how to model time in CQRS/ES system by sending your future self messages. And it turns out events are great for that purpose.

The concept is a bit tricky at first. You schedule an event to be delivered to you at some time in the future. An event is described in past tense but it did not happen yet. When the time comes, a message in form of this event is received notifying you that something just happened. You cannot reject it, as it belongs to the past and represents a fact. Yet you sent it into the future. It can be mind boggling.

An application we worked on with Robert allowed requesting invoices. As a customer you were allowed to make a delayed payment in such scenario. When due date was missed and payment still wasn’t there, a credit note was sent.

At the time we were implementing this, ActiveJob and Sidekiq were out of our sight. With Resque at hand that led us to:

scheduled = Payments::CreditNoteScheduled.new(
  scheduled_at: invoice.credit_note,
  invoice_id: invoice.id,
  order_id: transaction.order_id,
)

Resque.enqueue_at(invoice.credit_note.utc, Payments::SendCreditNote, YAML.dump(scheduled))
event_store.append(scheduled)

A credit note is sent after given time has passed. In our business that was two weeks since invoice was requested (invoice.credit_note.utc).

We enqueue an event Payments::CreditNoteScheduled to be delivered at that time to the receiver, Payments::SendCreditNote. Finally that event is appended to the event store log as a confirmation of scheduling in Resque/Redis.

class Payments::SendCreditNote  
  @queue = :payment

  def self.perform(payload, **)
    new.call(YAML.load(payload))
  end

  def call(event)
    invoice_id = event.data.fetch(:invoice_id)
    Payments::InvoicesService.new.credit_note_scheduled(invoice_id)  
  end
end

class Payments::InvoicesService
  def credit_note_scheduled(invoice_id)
    ActiveRecord::Base.transaction do
      invoice = Payments::Invoice.find(invoice_id)
      OrderTransaction.lock.find(invoice.order_transaction_id).tap do |ot|
        return if ot.successful?

        invoice.credit_note_issued_at = Time.now
        invoice.save!
        event_store.publish(Payments::CreditNoteIssued.new(
          invoice_id: invoice.id,
          order_id: invoice.order_id,
        ))
      end
    end
  end
end

A true receiver and an event handler is credit_note_scheduled method of a Payments::InvoicesService. The glue of Payments::SendCreditNote background job is to make this idea possible in the given infrastructure.

The code above is no longer in that application. The feature of invoices in that shape has been completely removed. Yet when digging through git history and restoring it for the purpose of this post, it struck me that something wasn’t quite right.

It wasn’t about the infrastructure, although it can be much improved and overall less distracting. Something wasn’t compiling in my head when looking at the events and their relation to time:

  • Payments::CreditNoteIssued is okay at the time we we’ve issued the note
  • I cannot object much to Payments::CreditNoteScheduled when interpreting it as fact stating we’ve planned issuing a note in future. Although it seems a bit irrelevant and too “technical” from the domain perspective.
  • I have a trouble receiving and handling Payments::CreditNoteScheduled in the future. It screams that what I got happened not just now, but two weeks ago.

It doesn’t indicate passing time! Today I would name this event differently. TimeToPayForInvoiceExpired already conveys the message better for me.

Naming is hard and all models are wrong. But some are useful and this technique comes useful in one more aspect.

Imagine organizing a commercial workshop. For such to happen you need participants and a venue. All is fine when you’re fully booked. But with not enough people attending you might not be even able to cover the costs. So a decision is made that workshops will be conducted only when enough (let’s say 16) people register. You also sign a deal with a venue that a cancellation can be made two weeks prior to the workshop date.

How would you design a cancellation process for that one usecase? How would it look like in a design tool that is a test-driven design flow?

Let’s say we’re past an eventstorming session exploring this workshops domain. Here are some of the domain events we’ve discovered:

  • ParticipantRegisteredForEdition
  • EditionCancelled

And some commands than can be triggered:

  • RegisterParticipantForEdition
  • CancelEdition

This is a stub of our process:

class CancellationPolicy
  def initialize(command_bus)
    @command_bus = command_bus
  end

  def call(event)
    # we want to cancel after a some sequences of events
    # but when exactly?
    #
    # @command_bus.(CancelEdition.new(...))
  end
end

And a first test case for a cancellation:

it 'cancels edition when minimum limit not reached 2 weeks before start' do
  command_bus = FakeCommandBus.new
  policy      = CancellationPolicy.new(command_bus)

  10.times.each do
    policy.call(register_participant_for_edition)
  end

  # simulate passing time here so we end two weeks before start
  # before asserting on commands being dispatched

  expect_dispatched(CancelEdition, command_bus)
end

def register_participant_for_edition
  ParticipantRegisteredForEdition.new(data: {
    edition_id: 'f4d8f432-8cb1-4f54-a7d4-155e1247b3af',
    participant_id: SecureRandom.uuid
  })
end

That is already a good looking test. But how do we simulate time in a way that the infrastructure doesn’t interfere with a domain? I think you already know where this is going…

def two_weeks_before_start_date_reached
  TwoWeeksBeforeEditionReached.new(data: {
   edition_id: 'f4d8f432-8cb1-4f54-a7d4-155e1247b3af'
  })
end

it 'cancels edition when minimum limit not reached 2 weeks before start' do
  command_bus = FakeCommandBus.new
  policy      = CancellationPolicy.new(command_bus)

  10.times.each do
    policy.call(register_participant_for_edition)
  end
  policy(command_bus).call(two_weeks_before_start_date_reached)

  expect_dispatched(CancelEdition, command_bus)
end

With this technique we can model the process completely with just events and commands. No scheduling infrastructure nor time mocking is required. For correctness we’d like to add an integration test later that verifies no drift with infrastructure. That one however serves different purpose than being a driver for design.

What amazes me the most in learning is that how others can influence us and expand what we already know. Take it further on a foundation we have. I had a pleasure to participate in RESCON conference where Szymon Pobiega in a self-describing talk Sending Messages Into The Future explored the ideas I wrote about even more with great examples and a proposition of a RabbitMQ scheduling infrastructure. And just a day after, on a RailsEventStore hackathon, David Saitta presented his take on Metronome — a calendar-like bounded context.

I hope this post can someday be a turning point for you!

Btw. If you like the idea of modeling time with events and would like help bring this into broader audience with RailsEventStore, there as issue related to this topic you could help us with.