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Convention over Configuration – The Next Generation?

Saturday, August 15th, 2009.

Convention over configuration describes a style of development made popular by Ruby on Rails which has gained a great deal of traction in the .net ecosystem. After using frameworks designed in this way, I can say that the popularity is justified – it is much more pleasurable developing this way.

The thing is, when looking at this in light of the full software development lifecycle, there are signs that the waters run deeper than we might have originally thought.

Let’s take things one step at a time though…

What is it?

Wikipedia tells us:

“Convention over Configuration (aka Coding by convention) is a software design paradigm which seeks to decrease the number of decisions that developers need to make, gaining simplicity, but not necessarily losing flexibility. The phrase essentially means a developer only needs to specify unconventional aspects of the application.”

What this means is that frameworks built in this way have default implementations that can be swapped out if needed. So far so good.

For example…

In NServiceBus, there is an abstraction for how subscription data is stored and multiple implementations – one in-memory, another using a durable MSMQ queue, and a third which uses a database. The convention for that part of the system is that the MSMQ implementation will be used, unless something else is specified.

Developers wishing to specify a different implementation can specify the desired implementation in the container – either one that comes out of the box, or their own implementation of ISubscriptionStorage.

Things get more interesting when we consider the full lifecycle.

Lifecycle effects

When developers are in the early phases of writing a new service, they want to focus primarily on what the service does – its logic. They don’t want to muck around with MSMQ queues for storing subscriptions and would much rather use the in-memory storage.

As the service takes shape and the developers want to run the full service on their machine, possibly testing basic fault-tolerance behaviors – kill one service, see that the others get a timeout, bring the service back up, wanting it to maintain all the previous subscriptions.

Moving on from there, our developers want to take the same system they just tested on their machine and move it into a staging environment. There, they don’t want to use the MSMQ implementation for subscription storage, but rather the database implementation – as will be used in the production environment.

While it may not sound like a big deal – changing the code which specifies which implementation to use when moving from one environment to another, consider that on top of just subscription storage, there is logging (output to console, file, db?), saga persistence (in-memory, file-based DB, relational DB), and more.

It’s actually quite likely that something will get missed as we move the system between environments. Can there be a better way?

What if…

What if there was some way for the developer to express their intent to the system, and the system could change its conventions, without the developer having to change any code or configuration files?

You might compare this (in concept) to debug builds and release builds. Same code, same config, but the runtime behaves different between the two.

As I mulled over how we could capture that intent without any code or config changes, the solution that I kept coming to seemed too trivial at first, so I dismissed it. Yet, it was the simplest one that would work for console and WinForms applications, as well as windows services – command line arguments. The only thing is that I don’t think those are available for web applications.

But since we’re still in “what if” land, and I’m more thinking out loud here than providing workable solutions for tomorrow morning, let’s “what if” command line arguments worked for web apps too.

Command-Line Intent

Going back to our original scenario, when developers are working on the logic of the service, they run it using the generic NServiceBus host process, passing it the command line parameter /lite (or whatever). The host then automatically configures all the in-memory implementations.

As the system progresses, when the developer wants to run everything on their machine, they run the processes with /integration. The host then configures the appropriate implementations (MSMQ for subscription storage, SQLite for saga persistence, etc.

When the developers want to run the system in production, they could specify /production (or maybe that could be the default?), and the database backed implementations would be configured.


Imagine being able to move that fluidly from one environment to another. Not needing to pore over configuration files or startup script code which configures a zillion implementation details. Not needing to worry that as you moved the system to staging something would break.

Imagine short, frictionless iterations even for large scale systems.

Imagine – lifecycle-aware frameworks making all this imagination a reality.

In Closing

We’re not there yet – but we’re not that far either. The generic host we’re providing with NServiceBus 2.0 is now being extended to support exactly these scenarios.

It’s my hope that as more of us think about this challenge, we’ll come up with better solutions and more intelligent frameworks. Just as convention came to our rescue before, breaking us out of the pain of endless XML configuration, I hope this new family of lifecycle-aware frameworks will make the friction of moving a system through dev, test, staging, and production a thing of the past.

A worthy problem for us all to solve, don’t you think?

Any ideas on how to make it a reality?
Send them in – leave a comment below.

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  1. Chris Patterson Says:

    A lot of these changes seem to be a bit more involved than a simple command-line switch. For example, we have a lot of different settings that are dependent upon the environment in which the system is running.

    We’ve recently started using UppercuT for our builds. With the Settings folder in Uppercut, you can build templates of configuration files (mostly some dynamic IoC settings, some app.config settings, etc.). We then create a Settings file for each target environment (local, dev, staging, qa, beta, production) allowing us to xcopy deploy the services (well, using Nant) and apply the transforms to the templates for that environment. It likely takes just a few seconds to deploy to each environment, and we do it using TeamCity and a build agent on each target server.

    To me, this is painless and friction free once it is setup.

  2. Michael Hart Says:

    The problem will always boil down to one of control though.

    The more control you wish to exert over your systems, the more need you’ll have for configuration of some sort – whether this is in code, config files, or command line args – if it’s something you want to be able to tweak, you’ll need a switch for it.

    So I’m all for simpler configuration – and possibly even just reducing it down to one command line switch if you can possibly anticipate all scenarios – but I just don’t know how realistic it is to anticipate all scenarios.

  3. Brad Says:

    I wrap my NServiceBus configuration up in it’s own class. I have a method (ConfigureBus) that is an implementation of an interface method that returns an IStartableBus. I then use IoC to resolve the configuration at run time and then start the bus. If the bus configuration needs to be changed for different environments, I can IoC a new config in.

  4. udidahan Says:


    Once we find a simple way to capture intent, then we may find ways to simplify configuration off of the back of that. And that’s really the crux of it, developers don’t have millions of intents – maybe 7 plus/minus 2 :-)

  5. udidahan Says:


    I’m not saying we should take control away from developers and put it in the hands of the framework, but that we add some context to the conventions we’ve already put in place.

    We don’t even have to anticipate all scenarios if we leave the door to configuration open. Anything we can simplify incrementally is a nice win and we should take what we can get as we figure out what steps to take next.

    Thanks for your comments.

  6. udidahan Says:


    That’s a solution I see many people using so I’m glad to hear it’s working for you too. I hope that when you see the steps that we’ve taken that you’ll enjoy that we were able to whittle away a little bit of complexity.

    Do let me know if you have any ideas on how we can make things simpler for you and the rest of the NServiceBus community.

  7. Michael Hart Says:

    So when I’m talking about anticipating all scenarios, I’m imagining something like this:

    Developer chooses the integration config. The framework has all sorts of smarts to figure out if MSMQ is installed, if not maybe choose a different messaging system, check if SQLite is installed, etc, etc – so this is the goal you’re talking about, right? Which would require us/the-framework-developers to have already thought about all these scenarios and configured these checks and choices.

    So if you find yourself in a situation that the framework setup hasn’t anticipated or you want to point to a different system than what the framework wants to point to, then you’ll need a config for that.

    So what this boils down to is… ummm… I can’t quite figure out what you’re advocating :-) Is it just a more comprehensive set of steps that the framework takes so that the chances of you needing to tweak something is reduced? Or is there something deeper I’m not quite getting?

  8. Julian Birch Says:

    I’ve spent a fair bit of time on the question of reducing deployment friction on a wide variety of apps. What you’re advocating is significantly far in advance of what I’ve actually got implemented. However, I’ll make a few observations:

    Being able to store environmental deltas in files like nServiceBus does is incredibly useful. Extending these to be standardized would obviously help e.g. “This is the standard production delta”.

    More sophisticated tweaks require a proper programming language/DSL. I think that IronPython and IronRuby look like better candidates for a workable format than XML. This also allows you to just write your configuration API the once.

    The fewer admin settings there are, the better. Sooner or later, someone’s going to have to enter the connect strings, the queue names and so on.

    Finally, different firms have different workflows. The “Dev/Integration/Production” split is only appropriate for those with that workflow. I think, ultimately, this is a function of the installer. There isn’t really a workflow-aware install framework for .NET, though.

  9. Jørn Wildt Says:

    I remember my previous project where we started using IoC for the first time. A great great improvement over our previous solutions. But we decided to configure dependencies in the web.config file – and that was a deployment mess, because everytime we upgraded the system, we had to copy some new lines from the development file to the release file – without modifying the existing real configurations.

    Later on we got the advice that config files should only include stuff that the sysadmin wants to configure – never internal static unchangeable stuff like the typical IoC setup.

    What is needed is some way to split the stuff that changes from development to release and keep that separate from all the more static stuff. Doing this helps deployment a lot: you can always copy the static config files, and only need to modify the dynamic file.

    So I am all for splitting dynamic and static stuff. But doing it through command line parameters? Nah, not really – then I would probably write a batch file for starting the servers so I wouldn’t have to remember all the command line parameters when installing the system … and I would actually rather edit a config file than a batch file – the intent of the config file is, of course, *configuration* – whereas you never know what a batch file does.


  10. DotNetShoutout Says:

    Convention over Configuration – The Next Generation? – Udi Dahan…

    Thank you for submitting this cool story – Trackback from DotNetShoutout…

  11. max Says:

    Udi, your solution is called “environment variables”. You can have as many of them as you want, and even web apps can access the values. Come up with the right convention, set them up once on all machines, and then it’s all gravy. :)

  12. Reflective Perspective - Chris Alcock » The Morning Brew #413 Says:

    […] Convention over Configuration – The Next Generation? – Udi Dahan talks about the next steps in the Convention over Configuration movement, dreaming of an ideal where we don’t have to read over configuration files, startup code, an implementation details to get going on a project […]

  13. Martin Rue Says:

    I’m hoping convention over configuration is the next generation of how we create our projects. I see having a convention as simply using a default configuration.

    Of course, flexibility to change the convention is also needed, but an initial and sensible convention makes the barrier to entry much smaller for a particular technology – ASP.NET MVC comes to mind.

    Developers have a smaller barrier to entry as they become familiar with the technology and if they out grow the default convention, they can dig into configuation to learn how to change it.

    Nice post Udi.

  14. Gilligan Says:

    I love the vision you have looking toward the future of our craft!
    I think this would be awesome but would require the popular development environments, like Microsoft, to build these conventions into their frameworks. Just have a set of conventions for how each app should run and then let the developer override those as needed, maybe similar to what the Web Deployment Project tool tried to do with config files but deeper.

  15. Chris Cyvas Says:

    Seems to me Chris’s comments above capture what we do with dashCommerce, where we have a Web.Debug.config, Web.Release.config, etc. Then a post-build event copies the file over as Web.config based on your solution build configuration. It would be easy enough to take either a command line switch or grab the setting from a configuration file. But, you need the convention to backup the configuration in this case. :)

    Good stuff!


  16. udidahan Says:


    I think you’ve got it, just you might not have internalized the result. We’re looking at raising the level of abstraction that developers work at, say what you want – not how it should be done. As frameworks get more and more features, configuration options, etc – we need a way to say “you see this combination here? use that in this scenario”.

    Does that make sense?

  17. udidahan Says:


    Hmm – that’s an interesting perspective. I guess that as long as we attempt to improve, we’ll learn something along the way, better preparing ourselves to understand and take the next step.

    Thanks for sharing your opinions.

  18. udidahan Says:


    I fully understand where you’re coming from – I felt that pain myself. What I can say is that even the stuff that seems static may need to flex a bit now and again, and it may need to do that in coordinated ways that we’d like to give a name to.

    I’m not saying that command line parameters are the ultimate solution, I’m just trying to get deeper clarity on what the problem we’ve all been feeling actually is.

    Best regards.

  19. udidahan Says:


    I had thought of environment variables, it just that they’re not particularly convenient to change though that may be more easily solvable than trying to making web apps accept parameters some other way…

    Will definitely keep thinking this one through.

  20. udidahan Says:


    Always nice hearing encouragement – thanks :)

  21. udidahan Says:


    The more there are of us interested in this, the more likely Microsoft will be to come along for the ride :)

    Spread the word.

  22. udidahan Says:

    Chris (15),

    You’ve got it – it’s convention *over* configuration, not *instead of*. We’ll probably always need both. The thing is, as more developers use more frameworks – an ORM, MVC, message bus, etc – we’d serve them well by formalizing which combinations work best together and under which circumstances those combinations should be used.


  23. Adam D. Says:


    The current place where I’m contracting is about to roll out a staging environment for the first time along with the rest of a development department’s processes. So far, we will be leveraging Castle Windsor for IoC. We are looking at the possibility of dropping in configuration to parts /should it be necessary/. Can we expect a follow up to this article that touch on the various comments made here?



  24. udidahan Says:


    I may get another post up on this topic as we progress with its implementation in NServiceBus. It probably won’t be coming in the next day or two, though :-)

  25. RT Says:

    Hi Udi,

    Over the last 2 yrs I’ve built a custom solution(Mysql/.NET based) to solve a complex (domain boundary crossing)problem in distributing custom Datasets between Domain apps(different kinds of Db’s in different departments with different “business rules being handled by the Event-handlers at the endpoints(message subscribers)”) at a certain domain event occurence, a so called: “Domain Event Service Bus”, if you could call it that way. A pain at first but with many benefits, I keep trying to make it better or move to a more proven solution, perhaps NServiceBus as one of the components to make it more robust.

    Been reading your blogs and tips on how to make things simpler and to be able to make an easy/simple solution(possibly with NService Bus) to easily deploy in production on different platforms(windows/linux etc)
    I am currently evaluating NserviceBUS and learning.
    We are all still learning as we go along and NserviceBus is a great tool in simplifying complex solutions I think.

    Any advice or pointers to gather more info on these technologies and implementations and to point me in the right direction?

    Keep up the good work!

  26. udidahan Says:


    I’d suggest joining the NServiceBus discussion group for getting your questions answered:


    Thanks for your kind words.

  27. David Nelson Says:

    I think this is taking convention over configuration way too far. The entire concept of choosing sensible defaults only makes sense in cases where you can safely make a default choice without negative consequences. MSMQ or the database can never be safe default choices because they require extra information that cannot be defaulted (i.e. the queue name or connection string). If you are going to make the developer supply the connection string anyway, there is little or no value in “choosing” the database option for him in the first place.

    Add to that the fact that convention over configuration is really creating silent choices. If the configuration is stated, you can see plainly what it is. If the configuration is not stated (i.e. uses the convention) then you have to know what the convention is, or go look it up, which reduces maintainability. That means that the convention has to be as simple and obvious as possible, or it is going to make the system less maintainable, not more. Now you want to change the convention depending on the circumstances, essentially magnifying the complexity of the convention and making it even less likely that anyone will be able to keep track of it. In my opinion this is just creating a nightmare for developers and administrators. I would rather see the configuration stated plainly than have to guess what it is while I am trying to solve a problem.

  28. udidahan Says:


    I respect your point of view. This is more of a wondering-out-loud than a “do it like this” blog post.

    I myself am still feeling out this style to see whether I like it or not.

    Thanks for your comments.

  29. Server Naming and Configuration Conflicts Says:

    […] I wrote about related multi-environment configuration issues in this earlier post: Convention over Configuration – The Next Generation […]

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I was very impressed, as Udi demonstrated a broad understanding of the sorts of problems we would face. His advice was honest and unbiased and very pragmatic. Whenever I questioned him on particular points, he was able to backup his opinion with real life examples. I was also impressed with his clarity and precision. He was very careful to untangle the meaning of words that might be overloaded or otherwise confusing. While Udi's hourly rate may not be the cheapest, the ROI is undoubtedly a deal. I would highly recommend consulting with Udi.”

Robert Lewkovich, Product / Development Manager at Eggs Overnight
“Udi's advice and consulting were a huge time saver for the project I'm responsible for. The $ spent were well worth it and provided me with a more complete understanding of nServiceBus and most importantly in helping make the correct architectural decisions earlier thereby reducing later, and more expensive, rework.”

Ray Houston Ray Houston, Director of Development at TOPAZ Technologies
“Udi's SOA class made me smart - it was awesome.

The class was very well put together. The materials were clear and concise and Udi did a fantastic job presenting it. It was a good mixture of lecture, coding, and question and answer. I fully expected that I would be taking notes like crazy, but it was so well laid out that the only thing I wrote down the entire course was what I wanted for lunch. Udi provided us with all the lecture materials and everyone has access to all of the samples which are in the nServiceBus trunk.

Now I know why Udi is the "Software Simplist." I was amazed to find that all the code and solutions were indeed very simple. The patterns that Udi presented keep things simple by isolating complexity so that it doesn't creep into your day to day code. The domain code looks the same if it's running in a single process or if it's running in 100 processes.”

Ian Cooper Ian Cooper, Team Lead at Beazley
“Udi is one of the leaders in the .Net development community, one of the truly smart guys who do not just get best architectural practice well enough to educate others but drives innovation. Udi consistently challenges my thinking in ways that make me better at what I do.”

Liron Levy, Team Leader at Rafael
“I've met Udi when I worked as a team leader in Rafael. One of the most senior managers there knew Udi because he was doing superb architecture job in another Rafael project and he recommended bringing him on board to help the project I was leading.
Udi brought with him fresh solutions and invaluable deep architecture insights. He is an authority on SOA (service oriented architecture) and this was a tremendous help in our project.
On the personal level - Udi is a great communicator and can persuade even the most difficult audiences (I was part of such an audience myself..) by bringing sound explanations that draw on his extensive knowledge in the software business. Working with Udi was a great learning experience for me, and I'll be happy to work with him again in the future.”

Adam Dymitruk Adam Dymitruk, Director of IT at Apara Systems
“I met Udi for the first time at DevTeach in Montreal back in early 2007. While Udi is usually involved in SOA subjects, his knowledge spans all of a software development company's concerns. I would not hesitate to recommend Udi for any company that needs excellent leadership, mentoring, problem solving, application of patterns, implementation of methodologies and straight out solution development.
There are very few people in the world that are as dedicated to their craft as Udi is to his. At ALT.NET Seattle, Udi explained many core ideas about SOA. The team that I brought with me found his workshop and other talks the highlight of the event and provided the most value to us and our organization. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to recommend him.”

Eytan Michaeli Eytan Michaeli, CTO Korentec
“Udi was responsible for a major project in the company, and as a chief architect designed a complex multi server C4I system with many innovations and excellent performance.”

Carl Kenne Carl Kenne, .Net Consultant at Dotway AB
“Udi's session "DDD in Enterprise apps" was truly an eye opener. Udi has a great ability to explain complex enterprise designs in a very comprehensive and inspiring way. I've seen several sessions on both DDD and SOA in the past, but Udi puts it in a completly new perspective and makes us understand what it's all really about. If you ever have a chance to see any of Udi's sessions in the future, take it!”

Avi Nehama, R&D Project Manager at Retalix
“Not only that Udi is a briliant software architecture consultant, he also has remarkable abilities to present complex ideas in a simple and concise manner, and...
always with a smile. Udi is indeed a top-league professional!”

Ben Scheirman Ben Scheirman, Lead Developer at CenterPoint Energy
“Udi is one of those rare people who not only deeply understands SOA and domain driven design, but also eloquently conveys that in an easy to grasp way. He is patient, polite, and easy to talk to. I'm extremely glad I came to his workshop on SOA.”

Scott C. Reynolds Scott C. Reynolds, Director of Software Engineering at CBLPath
“Udi is consistently advancing the state of thought in software architecture, service orientation, and domain modeling.
His mastery of the technologies and techniques is second to none, but he pairs that with a singular ability to listen and communicate effectively with all parties, technical and non, to help people arrive at context-appropriate solutions. Every time I have worked with Udi, or attended a talk of his, or just had a conversation with him I have come away from it enriched with new understanding about the ideas discussed.”

Evgeny-Hen Osipow, Head of R&D at PCLine
“Udi has helped PCLine on projects by implementing architectural blueprints demonstrating the value of simple design and code.”

Rhys Campbell Rhys Campbell, Owner at Artemis West
“For many years I have been following the works of Udi. His explanation of often complex design and architectural concepts are so cleanly broken down that even the most junior of architects can begin to understand these concepts. These concepts however tend to typify the "real world" problems we face daily so even the most experienced software expert will find himself in an "Aha!" moment when following Udi teachings.
It was a pleasure to finally meet Udi in Seattle Alt.Net OpenSpaces 2008, where I was pleasantly surprised at how down-to-earth and approachable he was. His depth and breadth of software knowledge also became apparent when discussion with his peers quickly dove deep in to the problems we current face. If given the opportunity to work with or recommend Udi I would quickly take that chance. When I think .Net Architecture, I think Udi.”

Sverre Hundeide Sverre Hundeide, Senior Consultant at Objectware
“Udi had been hired to present the third LEAP master class in Oslo. He is an well known international expert on enterprise software architecture and design, and is the author of the open source messaging framework nServiceBus. The entire class was based on discussion and interaction with the audience, and the only Power Point slide used was the one showing the agenda.
He started out with sketching a naive traditional n-tier application (big ball of mud), and based on suggestions from the audience we explored different solutions which might improve the solution. Whatever suggestions we threw at him, he always had a thoroughly considered answer describing pros and cons with the suggested solution. He obviously has a lot of experience with real world enterprise SOA applications.”

Raphaël Wouters Raphaël Wouters, Owner/Managing Partner at Medinternals
“I attended Udi's excellent course 'Advanced Distributed System Design with SOA and DDD' at Skillsmatter. Few people can truly claim such a high skill and expertise level, present it using a pragmatic, concrete no-nonsense approach and still stay reachable.”

Nimrod Peleg Nimrod Peleg, Lab Engineer at Technion IIT
“One of the best programmers and software engineer I've ever met, creative, knows how to design and implemet, very collaborative and finally - the applications he designed implemeted work for many years without any problems!

Jose Manuel Beas
“When I attended Udi's SOA Workshop, then it suddenly changed my view of what Service Oriented Architectures were all about. Udi explained complex concepts very clearly and created a very productive discussion environment where all the attendees could learn a lot. I strongly recommend hiring Udi.”

Daniel Jin Daniel Jin, Senior Lead Developer at PJM Interconnection
“Udi is one of the top SOA guru in the .NET space. He is always eager to help others by sharing his knowledge and experiences. His blog articles often offer deep insights and is a invaluable resource. I highly recommend him.”

Pasi Taive Pasi Taive, Chief Architect at Tieto
“I attended both of Udi's "UI Composition Key to SOA Success" and "DDD in Enterprise Apps" sessions and they were exceptionally good. I will definitely participate in his sessions again. Udi is a great presenter and has the ability to explain complex issues in a manner that everyone understands.”

Eran Sagi, Software Architect at HP
“So far, I heard about Service Oriented architecture all over. Everyone mentions it – the big buzz word. But, when I actually asked someone for what does it really mean, no one managed to give me a complete satisfied answer. Finally in his excellent course “Advanced Distributed Systems”, I got the answers I was looking for. Udi went over the different motivations (principles) of Services Oriented, explained them well one by one, and showed how each one could be technically addressed using NService bus. In his course, Udi also explain the way of thinking when coming to design a Service Oriented system. What are the questions you need to ask yourself in order to shape your system, place the logic in the right places for best Service Oriented system.

I would recommend this course for any architect or developer who deals with distributed system, but not only. In my work we do not have a real distributed system, but one PC which host both the UI application and the different services inside, all communicating via WCF. I found that many of the architecture principles and motivations of SOA apply for our system as well. Enough that you have SW partitioned into components and most of the principles becomes relevant to you as well. Bottom line – an excellent course recommended to any SW Architect, or any developer dealing with distributed system.”

Consult with Udi

Guest Authored Books
Chapter: Introduction to SOA    Article: The Enterprise Service Bus and Your SOA

97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know

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