Sometimes, you are forced to use libraries written by other developers. Needless to say, these libraries often have annoying flaws such as:

  • bad encapsulation
  • poorly designed interfaces and classes
  • missing or poorly written (even idiotic) javadocs

In other words, you have no idea how to use them properly and if you somehow manage to get them running, there’s a big risk that, gradually, your own code will turn into an unmaintainable pile of garbage.

I was working recently with AWS and, to my surprise, aws-java-sdk-core is quite a mess. I solved the issue using a flavor of decorators. Read on.

Jerry and Jumbo
Tom & Jerry - Jerry and Jumbo, by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera

Here is the code necessary to make a signed HTTP request to an AWS web service. Do you like it? I don’t:

    //Instantiate the request
    Request<Void> request = new DefaultRequest<Void>("es"); //?!?

    //Sign it...
    AWS4Signer signer = new AWS4Signer(); //?!?
    signer.sign(request, new AwsCredentialsFromSystem());

    //Execute it and get the response...?!?
    Response<String> rsp = new AmazonHttpClient(new ClientConfiguration())
        .executionContext(new ExecutionContext(true)) //?!?
        .errorResponseHandler(new SimpleAwsErrorHandler())
        .execute(new SimpleResponseHandler<String>());

Marked with //?!? above is what’s wrong with the API:

  • setters over setters
  • why is the Request parameterized?
  • lack of default ctors (why do you have to specify new ClientConfiguration()?)
  • encapsulation flaws (why do you have to even see the class ExecutionContext? What is it and what does it do? Its javadoc reads the following: "For testing purposes." - I’m not joking)

After I figured out the code above, at some point, I woke up with quite a few methods in my code, which were all doing pretty much the same thing: building and executing different requests. The above mess was duplicated through-out my application. Time for refactoring!

I wanted the different types of HTTP requests to be decoupled, composable and easy to unit test, so I wrote the following abstract class:

public abstract class AwsHttpRequest<T> {

    public abstract T perform();

    abstract Request<Void> request();

There is a base implementation, which actually builds that ugly HTTP client and executes the request, while other implementations (decorators) use that request() method to get the base request and configure it (call setters on it or sign it).

This is one example of how I used those decorators (makes a signed search request to the ElasticSearch AWS service):

AwsHttpRequest<SearchResultsPage> search =
    new SignedRequest<>( //it is signed
        new AwsHttpHeaders<>( //it has some headers
            new AwsPost<>( //it is a POST
                new EsHttpRequest<>( //base request
                    new SearchResponseHandler(),
                    new SimpleAwsErrorHandler(false)
                new ByteArrayInputStream(query.getBytes())
SearchResultsPage results = search.perform();

You can find all those classes here.

Let me explain why I called them “tunnel decorators”. It’s because the main method is perform(), but we do not touch its result - that’s not what we decorate. Instead, before calling base.perform(), we call base.request() to get the underlying com.amazonaws.Request, which is the object that we want to decorate. I personally see this request() method as a tunnel beneath all those decorators.

Furthermore, AwsHttpRequest is an abstract class, not an interface, because method request() has to have the default access modifier. It should be visible only to these decorators, in their own package. Otherwise, there would be a “leak” in the tunnel, clients could do something like:

    Request<Void> req = search.request()

and, of course, we do not want that.

If you study the classes, you’ll notice most of the decorators perform the decoration within the constructors, not inside perform(), as it would be the most correct. See for the explanation.

In the end, I found this approach to be an elegant way of isolating ugly and configurable code, while keeping the decoupling, maintainability and testability of my classes. What do you think? How would you have done it?