Best Practices For Mapping DTO to Domain Object?

I’ve seen a lot of questions related to mapping DTOs to Domain Objects, but I didn’t feel they answered my question. I’ve used many methods before and have my own opinions but I’m looking for something a little more concrete.

The Situation:

We have many domain objects. We are using a CSLA model so our domain objects can be pretty complex and they contain their own data access. You do not want to pass these around on the wire. We are going to be writing some new services that will return data in a number of formats (.Net, JSON, etc.). For this (and other reasons) we are also creating a lean, data transfer object to pass around on the wire.

My question is: How should the DTO and Domain object be connected?

My first reaction is to use a Fowler, DTO pattern-type solution. I’ve seen this done many times and it feels right to me. The domain object contains no reference to the DTO. An outside entity (a “mapper” or “assembler”) is called to create a DTO from a Domain Object. Normally there is an ORM on the domain object side. The downside of this is that the “mapper” tends to get extremely complex for any real situation and can be very fragile.

Another idea put forth is for the Domain Object to “contain” the DTO, since it’s just a lean data object. The Domain Object properties would internally reference the DTO properties and could just return the DTO if asked for. I can see no problems with this but it feels wrong. I have seen some articles where people using NHibernate appeared to use this method.

Are there other ways? Is one of the ways above worth using? If so or if not, why?


Thank you for visiting the Q&A section on Magenaut. Please note that all the answers may not help you solve the issue immediately. So please treat them as advisements. If you found the post helpful (or not), leave a comment & I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Method 1

A benefit of having a mapper that sits between your domain and your DTO is not as appearent when you are only supporting a single mapping, but as the number of mappings increases, having that code isolated from the domain helps keep the domain simpler and leaner. You won’t be cluttering your domain with a lot of extra weight.

Personally, I try and keep the mapping out of my domain entities and put the responsibility in what I call “Manager / Service layer”. This is a layer that sits between the application and the respository(ies), and provides business logic such as workflow coordination (If you modify A, you might have to also modify B so service A will work with Service B).

If I had a lot of possible ending formats, I might look at creating a plugable formatter that could use the Visitor pattern, for example to transform my entities, but I’ve not found a need yet for anything this complex.

Method 2

You could use an automapper such as the one written by Jimmy Bogard which has no connection between the objects and relies on naming conventions being adhered to.

Method 3

Keeping the mapping logic inside of your entity means that your Domain Object is now aware of an “implementation detail” that it doesn’t need to know about. Generally, a DTO is your gateway to the outside world (either from an incoming request or via a read from an external service/database). Since the entity is part of your Business Logic, it’s probably best to keep those details outside of the entity.

Keeping the mapping somewhere else would be the only alternative – but where should it go? I’ve tried introducing mapping objects/services but, after all was said and done, it seemed like overengineering (and probably was). I’ve had some success using Automapper and such for smaller projects but tools like Automapper come with their own pitfalls. I’ve had some pretty hard to find issues related to mappings because Automapper’s mappings are implicit and completely decoupled from the rest of your code (not like “separation of concerns” but more like a “where does the godforsaken mapping live”) so they can sometimes be hard to track down. Not to say that Automapper doesn’t have its uses, because it does. I just think mapping should be something that is as obvious and transparent as possible to avoid issues.

Instead of creating a mapping service layer, I’ve had a lot of success keeping my mappings inside of my DTOs. Since DTOs always sit at the boundary of the application, they can be made aware of the Business Object and figure out how to map from/to them. Even when the number of mappings scale to a reasonable amount it works cleanly. All the mappings are in one place and you don’t have to manage a bunch of mapping services inside your Data Layer, Anticorruption Layer, or Presentation Layer. Instead, the mapping is just an implementation detail delegated to the DTO involved with the request/response. Since serializers generally only serialize properties and fields when you’re sending it across the wire, you shouldn’t run into any issues. Personally, I’ve found this the cleanest option and I can say, in my experience, it scales well on a large code base.

Method 4

We use T4 templates to create the mapping classes.

Pro’s – human readable code available at compile time, faster than a runtime mapper. 100% control over the code (can use partial methods/template pattern to extend functionality on an ad-hoc basis)

Con’s – excluding certain properties, collections of domain objects etc., learning T4 syntax.

Method 5

How do you see to implement a constructor inside the DTO class that takes as a parameter a domain object?

Say… Something like this

class DTO {

     // attributes 

     public DTO (DomainObject domainObject) {
          this.prop = domainObject.getProp();

     // methods

Method 6

Another possible solution:


  • Bidirectional mapping
  • Automatic mapping
  • Mapping between different types
  • Nested mapping and Flattening
  • Lists and Arrays
  • Verification of relations
  • Testing the mapping
  • Properties, Fields and Methods

Method 7

You can also try Otis, an Object-to-object mapper. Concepts are similar to NHibernate mapping (attribute or XML).

Method 8

I can suggest a tool I created and is open source hosted at CodePlex: EntitiesToDTOs.

Mapping from DTO to Entity and vice-versa is implemented by extension methods, these compose the Assembler side of each end.

You end with code like:

Foo entity = new Foo();
FooDTO dto = entity.ToDTO();
entity = dto.ToEntity();

List<Foo> entityList = new List<Foo>();
List<FooDTO> dtoList = entityList.ToDTOs();
entityList = dtoList.ToEntities();

Method 9

Another option would be to use ModelProjector. It supports all possible scenarios and is very easy to use with minimal footprint.

Method 10

We can use Factory, Memento, and Builder pattern for that. Factory hide the details on how to create instance of domain model from DTO. Memento will take care the serialization/deserialization of the domain model to/from DTO and can even access private members. The Builder will allows mapping from DTO to domain with fluent interface.

All methods was sourced from or, is licensed under cc by-sa 2.5, cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0

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