We are currently doing some domain driven design to understand our primary business domains and identify the appropriate core APIs required. This is an exciting yet daunting time – some domains look far too simple while others seem overly complex and almost impossible to model. One such domain is the payments domain.

A few weeks ago, during one of the payment domain workshops, one of my colleagues compared payments to a butterfly and challenged me with the question: “How do you model a butterfly?” My knee-jerk reaction was to rise to the challenge and prove it possible, but I soon ran into the problem. Butterflies are the end state of metamorphosis!

The butterfly has four stages to it’s lifecycle; egg, caterpillar, pupa, butterfly. Each stage is different and has a different goal. The challenging part is, while the creature is the same, its life stages are completely different. The egg is simply a sphere with something growing inside. The caterpillar is a long cylindrical creature with a lot of legs. The pupa is a mass of thread woven into a cocoon shape. The butterfly has wings, and six legs. How can the same creature be modeled if it is a completely different object during the stages of it’s life?

This stuck with me for a while as I consciously left it to percolate in the back of my mind. Yesterday, while on my way home on the metro, I had the “Aha” moment!

The answer is you can model a butterfly – by the individual stages of the creature at any moment. The question leads you to assume you need to model all stages of the creature as one model since it is one creature. This you cannot model. The relationship between metamorphosis and the butterfly is the same as payment to transaction. Both are a process, not an entity.

So, simply put, model the stages of the payment process as separate entities and serve these as core domain APIs. Next create process APIs that manage and orchestrate these core domain APIs to fulfil the payment process.

It’s just as important to phrase the question as it is to understand it.

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