Dependency Inversion Principle (SOLID) vs Encapsulation (Pillars of OOP)


I was recently having a debate about the Dependency Inversion Principle, Inversion of Control and Dependency Injection. In relation to this topic we were debating whether these principles violate one of the pillars of OOP, namely Encapsulation.

My understanding of these things is:

  • The Dependency Inversion Principle implies that objects should depend upon abstractions, not concretions – this is the fundamental principle upon which the Inversion of Control pattern and Dependency Injection are implemented.
  • Inversion of Control is a pattern implementation of the Dependency Inversion Principle, where abstract dependencies replace concrete dependencies, allowing concretions of the dependency to be specified outside of the object.
  • Dependency Injection is a design pattern that implements Inversion of Control and provides dependency resolution. Injection occurs when a dependency is passed to a dependent component. In essence, the Dependency Injection pattern provides a mechanism for coupling dependency abstractions with concrete implementations.
  • Encapsulation is the process whereby data and functionality that is required by a higher level object is insulated away and inaccessible, thus, the programmer is unaware of how an object is implemented.

The debate got to a sticking point with the following statement:

IoC isn't OOP because it breaks Encapsulation

Personally, I think that the Dependency Inversion Principle and the Inversion of Control pattern should be observed religiously by all OOP developers – and I live by the following quote:

If there is (potentially) more than one way to skin a cat, then do not
behave like there is only one.

Example 1:

class Program {
    void Main() {
        SkinCatWithKnife skinner = new SkinCatWithKnife ();

Here we see an example of encapsulation. The programmer only has to call Main() and the cat will be skinned, but what if he wanted to skin the cat with, say a set of razor sharp teeth?

Example 2:

class Program {
    // Encapsulation
    ICatSkinner skinner;

    public Program(ICatSkinner skinner) {
        // Inversion of control
        this.skinner = skinner;

    void Main() {

... new Program(new SkinCatWithTeeth());
    // Dependency Injection

Here we observe the Dependency Inversion Principle and Inversion of Control since an abstract (ICatSkinner) is provided in order to allow concrete dependencies to be passed in by the programmer. At last, there is more than one way to skin a cat!

The quarrel here is; does this break encapsulation? technically one could argue that .SkinTheCat(); is still encapsulated away within the Main() method call, so the programmer is unaware of the behavior of this method, so I do not think this breaks encapsulation.

Delving a little deeper, I think that IoC containers break OOP because they use reflection, but I am not convinced that IoC breaks OOP, nor am I convinced that IoC breaks encapsulation. In fact I'd go as far as to say that:

Encapsulation and Inversion of Control coincide with each other
happily, allowing programmers to pass in only the concretions of a
dependency, whilst hiding away the overall implementation via


  • Is IoC a direct implementation of the Dependency Inversion Principle?
  • Does IoC always break encapsulation, and therefore OOP?
  • Should IoC be used sparingly, religiously or appropriately?
  • What is the difference between IoC and an IoC container?

Best Solution

Does IoC always break encapsulation, and therefore OOP?

No, these are hierarchically related concerns. Encapsulation is one of the most misunderstood concepts in OOP, but I think the relationship is best described via Abstract Data Types (ADTs). Essentially, an ADT is a general description of data and associated behaviour. This description is abstract; it omits implementation details. Instead, it describes an ADT in terms of pre- and post-conditions.

This is what Bertrand Meyer calls design by contract. You can read more about this seminal description of OOD in Object-Oriented Software Construction.

Objects are often described as data with behaviour. This means that an object without data isn't really an object. Thus, you have to get data into the object in some way.

You could, for example, pass data into an object via its constructor:

public class Foo
    private readonly int bar;

    public Foo(int bar)
    { = bar;

    // Other members may use in various ways.

Another option is to use a setter function or property. I hope we can agree that so far, encapsulation is not violated.

What happens if we change bar from an integer to another concrete class?

public class Foo
    private readonly Bar bar;

    public Foo(Bar bar)
    { = bar;

    // Other members may use in various ways.

The only difference compared to before is that bar is now an object, instead of a primitive. However, that's a false distinction, because in object-oriented design, an integer is also an object. It's only because of performance optimisations in various programming languages (Java, C#, etc.) that there's an actual difference between primitives (strings, integers, bools, etc.) and 'real' objects. From an OOD perspective, they're all alike. Strings have behaviours as well: you can turn them into all-upper-case, reverse them, etc.

Is encapsulation violated if Bar is a sealed/final, concrete class with only non-virtual members?

bar is only data with behaviour, just like an integer, but apart from that, there's no difference. So far, encapsulation isn't violated.

What happens if we allow Bar to have a single virtual member?

Is encapsulation broken by that?

Can we still express pre- and post-conditions about Foo, given that Bar has a single virtual member?

If Bar adheres to the Liskov Substitution Principle (LSP), it wouldn't make a difference. The LSP explicitly states that changing the behaviour mustn't change the correctness of the system. As long as that contract is fulfilled, encapsulation is still intact.

Thus, the LSP (one of the SOLID principles, of which the Dependency Inversion Principle is another) doesn't violate encapsulation; it describes a principle for maintaining encapsulation in the presence of polymorphism.

Does the conclusion change if Bar is an abstract base class? An interface?

No, it doesn't: those are just different degrees of polymorphism. Thus we could rename Bar to IBar (in order to suggest that it's an interface) and pass it into Foo as its data:

public class Foo
    private readonly IBar bar;

    public Foo(IBar bar)
    { = bar;

    // Other members may use in various ways.

bar is just another polymorphic object, and as long as the LSP holds, encapsulation holds.


There's a reason SOLID is also known as the Principles of OOD. Encapsulation (i.e. design-by-contract) defines the ground rules. SOLID describes guidelines for following those rules.

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