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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Abstract Factory

Also known as Kit, Toolkit

Pattern Properties

Type: Creational, Object
Level: Component


To provide a contract for creating families of related or dependent objects without having to specify their concrete classes.


Suppose you plan to manage address and telephone information as part of a personal information manager (PIM) application. The PIM will act as a combination address book, personal planner, and appointment and contact manager, and will use the address and phone number data extensively.

You can initially produce classes to represent your address and telephone number data. Code these classes so that they store the relevant information and enforce business rules about their format. For example, all phone numbers in North America are limited to ten digits and the postal code must be in a particular format.

Shortly after coding your classes, you realize that you have to manage address and phone information for another country, such as the Netherlands. The Netherlands has different rules governing what constitutes a valid phone number and address, so you modify your logic in the Address and PhoneNumber classes to take the new country into account.

Now, as your personal network expands, you need to manage information from another foreign country... and another... and another. With each additional set of business rules, the base Address and PhoneNumber classes become even more bloated with code and even more difficult to manage. What's more, this code is brittle—with every new country added, you need to modify and recompile the classes to manage contact information.

It's better to flexibly add these paired classes to the system; to take the general rules that apply to address and phone number data, and allow any number of possible foreign variations to be "loaded" into a system.

The Abstract Factory solves this problem. Using this pattern, you define an AddressFactory—a generic framework for producing objects that follow the general pattern for an Address and PhoneNumber. At runtime, this factory is paired with any number of concrete factories for different countries, and each country has its own version of Address and PhoneNumber classes.

Instead of going through the nightmare of adding functional logic to the classes, extend the Address to a DutchAddress and the PhoneNumber to a DutchPhoneNumber. Instances of both classes are created by a DutchAddressFactory. This gives greater freedom to extend your code without having to make major structural modifications in the rest of the system.


Use the Abstract Factory pattern when:

  • The client should be independent of how the products are created.

  • The application should be configured with one of multiple families of products.

  • Objects need to be created as a set, in order to be compatible.

  • You want to provide a collection of classes and you want to reveal just their contracts and their relationships, not their implementations.


Sometimes an application needs to use a variety of different resources or operating environments. Some common examples include:

  • Windowing (an application's GUI)
  • A file system
  • Communication with other applications or systems

In this sort of application you want to make the application flexible enough to use a variety of these resources without having to recode the application each time a new resource is introduced.

An effective way to solve this problem is to define a generic resource creator, the Abstract Factory. The factory has one or more create methods, which can be called to produce generic resources or abstract products.

Java ("Java technology") runs on many platforms, each with many different implementations of a file system or windowing. The solution Java has taken is to abstract the concepts of files and windowing and not show the concrete implementation. You can develop the application using the generic capabilities of the resources as though they represented real functionality.

During runtime, ConcreteFactories and ConcreteProducts are created and used by the application. The concrete classes conform to the contract defined by the AbstractFactory and AbstractProducts, so the concrete classes can be directly used, without being recoded or recompiled.


The Abstract Factory class diagram is shown in Figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1 Abstract Factory class diagram

You typically use the following to implement the Abstract Factory pattern:

  • AbstractFactory – An abstract class or interface that defines the create methods for abstract products.

  • AbstractProduct – An abstract class or interface describing the general behavior of the resource that will be used by the application.

  • ConcreteFactory – A class derived from the abstract factory. It implements create methods for one or more concrete products.

  • ConcreteProduct – A class derived from the abstract product, providing an implementation for a specific resource or operating environment.

Benefits and Drawbacks

An Abstract Factory helps to increase the overall flexibility of an application. This flexibility manifests itself both during design time and runtime. During design, you do not have to predict all future uses for an application. Instead, you create the generic framework and then develop implementations independently from the rest of the application. At runtime, the application can easily integrate new features and resources.

A further benefit of this pattern is that it can simplify testing the rest of the application. Implementing a TestConcreteFactory and TestConcreteProduct is simple; it can simulate the expected resource behavior.

To realize the benefits of this pattern, carefully consider how to define a suitably generic interface for the abstract product. If the abstract product is improperly defined, producing some of the desired concrete products can be difficult or impossible.

Pattern Variants

As mentioned earlier, you can define the AbstractFactory and AbstractProduct as an interface or an abstract class, depending on the needs of the application and your preference.

Depending on how the factory is to be used, some variations of this pattern allow multiple ConcreteFactory objects to be produced, resulting in an application that can simultaneously use multiple families of ConcreteProducts.

Related Patterns

Related patterns include the following:

  • Factory Method (page 21) – Used to implement the Abstract Factory.

  • Singleton (page 34) – Often used in the Concrete Factory.

  • Data Access Object [CJ2EEP] – The Data Access Object pattern can use the Abstract Factory pattern to add flexibility in creating Database-specific factories.


"[CJ2EEP]" refers to J2EE patterns, listed in the bibliography (see page 559).


The following code shows how international addresses and phone numbers can be supported in the Personal Information Manager with the Abstract Factory pattern. The AddressFactory interface represents the factory itself:

Example 1.1 AddressFactory.java 0

1. public interface AddressFactory{
2.   public Address createAddress();
3.   public PhoneNumber createPhoneNumber();
4. }

Note that the AddressFactory defines two factory methods, createAddress and createPhoneNumber. The methods produce the abstract products Address and PhoneNumber, which define methods that these products support.

Example 1.2 Address.java 0

 1. public abstract class Address{
 2.   private String street;
 3.   private String city;
 4.   private String region;
 5.   private String postalCode;
 7.   public static final String EOL_STRING =
 8.     System.getProperty("line.separator");
 9.   public static final String SPACE = " ";
11.   public String getStreet(){ return street; }
12.   public String getCity(){ return city; }
13.   public String getPostalCode(){ return postalCode; }
14.   public String getRegion(){ return region; }
15.   public abstract String getCountry();
17.   public String getFullAddress(){
18.     return street + EOL_STRING +
19.       city + SPACE + postalCode + EOL_STRING;
20.   }
22.   public void setStreet(String newStreet){ street = newStreet; }
23.   public void setCity(String newCity){ city = newCity; }
24.   public void setRegion(String newRegion){ region = newRegion; }
25.   public void setPostalCode(String newPostalCode){ postalCode = newPostalCode; }
26. }

Example 1.3 PhoneNumber.java

 1. public abstract class PhoneNumber{
 2.   private String phoneNumber;
 3.   public abstract String getCountryCode();
 5.   public String getPhoneNumber(){ return phoneNumber; }
 7.   public void setPhoneNumber(String newNumber){
 8.     try{
 9.       Long.parseLong(newNumber);
10.       phoneNumber = newNumber;
11.     }
12.     catch (NumberFormatException exc){
13.     }
14.   }
15. }

Address and PhoneNumber are abstract classes in this example, but could easily be defined as interfaces if you did not need to define code to be used for all concrete products.

To provide concrete functionality for the system, you need to create Concrete Factory and Concrete Product classes. In this case, you define a class that implements AddressFactory, and subclass the Address and PhoneNumber classes. The three following classes show how to do this for U.S. address information.

Example 1.4 USAddressFactory.java 0

1. public class USAddressFactory implements AddressFactory{
2.   public Address createAddress(){
3.     return new USAddress();
4.   }
6.   public PhoneNumber createPhoneNumber(){
7.     return new USPhoneNumber();
8.   }
9. }

Example 1.5 USAddress.java 0

 1. public class USAddress extends Address{
 2.   private static final String COUNTRY = "UNITED STATES";
 3.   private static final String COMMA = ",";
 5.   public String getCountry(){ return COUNTRY; }
 7.   public String getFullAddress(){
 8.     return getStreet() + EOL_STRING +
 9.       getCity() + COMMA + SPACE + getRegion() +
10.       SPACE + getPostalCode() + EOL_STRING +
12.   }
13. }

Example 1.6 USPhoneNumber.java 0

 1. public class USPhoneNumber extends PhoneNumber{
 2.   private static final String COUNTRY_CODE = "01";
 3.   private static final int NUMBER_LENGTH = 10;
 5.   public String getCountryCode(){ return COUNTRY_CODE; }
 7.   public void setPhoneNumber(String newNumber){
 8.     if (newNumber.length() == NUMBER_LENGTH){
 9.       super.setPhoneNumber(newNumber);
10.     }
11.   }
12. }

The generic framework from AddressFactory, Address, and PhoneNumber makes it easy to extend the system to support additional countries. With each additional country, define an additional Concrete Factory class and a matching Concrete Product class. These are files for French address information.

Example 1.7 FrenchAddressFactory.java 0

1. public class FrenchAddressFactory implements AddressFactory{
2.   public Address createAddress(){
3.     return new FrenchAddress();
4.   }
6.   public PhoneNumber createPhoneNumber(){
7.     return new FrenchPhoneNumber();
8.   }
9. }

Example 1.8 FrenchAddress.java 0

 1. public class FrenchAddress extends Address{
 2.   private static final String COUNTRY = "FRANCE";
 4.   public String getCountry(){ return COUNTRY; }
 6.   public String getFullAddress(){
 7.     return getStreet() + EOL_STRING +
 8.       getPostalCode() + SPACE + getCity() +
10.   }
11. }

Example 1.9 FrenchPhoneNumber.java 0

 1. public class FrenchPhoneNumber extends PhoneNumber{
 2.   private static final String COUNTRY_CODE = "33";
 3.   private static final int NUMBER_LENGTH = 9;
 5.   public String getCountryCode(){ return COUNTRY_CODE; }
 7.   public void setPhoneNumber(String newNumber){
 8.     if (newNumber.length() == NUMBER_LENGTH){
 9.       super.setPhoneNumber(newNumber);
10.     }
11.   }
12. }
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