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Observer Design Pattern



In the vast realm of software architecture, design patterns serve as the foundational blueprints that enable the creation of flexible, robust, and efficient systems. Among these, the Observer Design Pattern is a beacon, renowned for its ability to adeptly manage changes and relay updates. This guide seeks to illuminate the depths of this pattern, offering insights into its structure, benefits, and applications in modern contexts.

History of the Observer Pattern

The Observer Pattern is one of the fundamental design patterns that has its roots in the early days of object-oriented software design. It is primarily attributed to the “Gang of Four” (GoF), a group consisting of Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, and John Vlissides. These authors collectively wrote the seminal book on design patterns titled “Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software” 1 in 1994. This book systematically presented a collection of design patterns, with the Observer Pattern being one of them.

In the book, the Observer Pattern is described as a behavioral pattern that defines a dependency between objects, where a change in one object (the subject) results in the automatic notification and update of its dependent objects (observers). The pattern promotes a decoupled design where subjects and observers interact without having strong references to each other, leading to a more modular and maintainable software system.

Over the years, the Observer Pattern has been employed in countless software systems and platforms, from GUI libraries to reactive programming frameworks, testifying to its timeless relevance and utility.

Delving into the Core of the Observer Design Pattern

At its heart, the Observer Pattern tackles scenarios where a central entity, often referred to as the ‘subject’, maintains a roster of dependent entities, known as ‘observers’. When the subject undergoes a transformation, all linked observers receive timely notifications. This architecture fosters a one-to-many dependency, assuring that all associated entities mirror alterations in the subject.

Pivotal Characteristics:

Architectural Blueprint

To adeptly maneuver the Observer Pattern, a deep understanding of its architectural pillars is paramount:

  1. Subject: Acting as the focal point of observation, the subject manages its cadre of observers, overseeing their attachment, detachment, and timely notifications.
  2. Observer: These are the entities poised to receive updates on the subject’s state changes. A subject typically oversees multiple observers.
  3. Client: This component interlinks observers with subjects and sets the system in motion.

Class Diagram: Observer Pattern Key Components

This diagram illustrates the relationship between the Subject, Observer, concrete implementations of the Observer (like ConcreteObserverA and ConcreteObserverB), and the Client. The Subject has the ability to attach, detach, and notify its observers. Each observer has an update method, which gets called when the subject’s state changes. The Client is responsible for creating instances of the subject and the observers and establishing their relationships.

Observer Class Diagram

Also available in: SVG | PlantText

Crafting the Observer Pattern: A Methodical Blueprint

Step 1: Laying Down the Subject

At the Observer Pattern’s core lies the subject, tasked with orchestrating its observers. In a language like Java, constructs such as ArrayList prove invaluable for housing observers, alongside methods that cater to state oversight and observer alerts.

Step 2: Observer Blueprint

Each observer is typically equipped with a method, say update(), designed to process alerts from the subject. By architecting an abstract Observer entity, it paves the way for deriving concrete observer classes, each honed for distinct roles.

Step 3: Detailed Observer Implementations

Post the abstract Observer class foundation, it’s time to craft specific observer renditions. These might cater to diverse representations of the subject’s state, encompassing formats like binary, octal, or hexadecimal.

Step 4: Pattern Realization

With the subject and observers in place, the subsequent phase involves sculpting a demo or client module to display the pattern in action. This module ideally breathes life into the subject, associates it with concrete observers, and instigates state shifts to initiate notifications.

Step 5: Validation and Assurance

Following the implementation, it becomes imperative to validate the pattern’s operational accuracy. By inducing state shifts in the subject and gauging observer reactions, the system’s integrity can be ascertained.

Observer Design Pattern’s Merits

Observer Design Pattern in Modern Programming Languages

In contemporary programming ecosystems, the Observer Design Pattern has found resonance, particularly within frameworks like Spring. The Spring Framework, a behemoth in the Java world, often harnesses the observer pattern, albeit implicitly. Event listeners in Spring, for instance, echo the observer pattern’s essence, where events (akin to subjects) are monitored by listeners (observers), ensuring real-time updates and system-wide consistency.

Tangible Implementations

Far from being a mere theoretical construct, the Observer Pattern’s utility spans a plethora of real-world systems:

Observer Design Pattern in Java Swing UI

Java Swing, a part of the Java Foundation Classes (JFC), provides a rich set of GUI components. The architecture of Swing inherently incorporates the Observer Design Pattern, especially when dealing with user interface components and the underlying data models. A classic example of this pattern in Swing is the relationship between Table (a UI component) and TableModel (the data representation).

How Swing Implements Observer Pattern with JTable and TableModel

In Swing, JTable is the UI component that displays tabular data, while TableModel is the interface defining methods to access and modify this data. The JTable acts as an observer to the TableModel. Whenever the data in the TableModel changes, the associated JTable is automatically notified and updated, thanks to the Observer Design Pattern.

Let’s walk through a simple example to demonstrate this:

Class Diagram: Observer Pattern in Java Swing Tables

Here’s a PlantUML class diagram illustrating the Observer Design Pattern in the context of Java Swing UI’s JTable and TableModel mechanism:

Observer Design Pattern in Java Swing Tables

In this diagram:

Defining the TableModel

First, we’ll define a custom TableModel:

import javax.swing.table.AbstractTableModel;

public class CustomTableModel extends AbstractTableModel {
    private String[] columnNames = {"Name", "Age", "Role"};
    private Object[][] data = {
        {"Alice", 25, "Engineer"},
        {"Bob", 30, "Designer"},
        {"Charlie", 35, "Manager"}

    public int getColumnCount() {
        return columnNames.length;

    public int getRowCount() {
        return data.length;

    public String getColumnName(int col) {
        return columnNames[col];

    public Object getValueAt(int row, int col) {
        return data[row][col];

Creating a JTable with the Custom TableModel

Now, we’ll create a JTable using the above TableModel and add it to a JFrame:

import javax.swing.JFrame;
import javax.swing.JScrollPane;
import javax.swing.JTable;

public class TableExample {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        JFrame frame = new JFrame("Observer Pattern in Swing");
        frame.setSize(300, 150);

        JTable table = new JTable(new CustomTableModel());
        JScrollPane scrollPane = new JScrollPane(table);


In this setup, any changes made to the CustomTableModel will automatically reflect in the JTable without any additional listeners or update calls. This is because the JTable observes its associated TableModel for changes, and when a change occurs (for instance, a row is added, modified, or deleted), the JTable is notified and updates itself accordingly.

The Observer Design Pattern plays a pivotal role in Java Swing, ensuring that UI components like JTable remain in sync with their underlying data models. By leveraging this pattern, Swing provides developers with a seamless mechanism to build responsive and data-driven UI components. Whether you’re designing complex data-driven applications or simple GUI tools, understanding the Observer Pattern’s implementation in Swing can significantly elevate your development process.

Observer Design Pattern in Spring Framework

The Spring Framework, renowned for its comprehensive toolset for building robust Java applications, employs various design patterns, including the Observer Design Pattern. One of the most pronounced applications of this pattern in Spring is the Spring Events mechanism.

Spring Events and the Observer Design Pattern

In the Spring Framework, the events mechanism is a built-in feature that promotes loose coupling between application components. It allows one component to produce events and another component to process these events, without them having a direct reference to each other.

Key Components:

Let’s illustrate the Observer Pattern in the Spring Framework with a simple event-driven example:

Class Diagram: Observer Pattern in Spring Events

Here’s a PlantUML class diagram illustrating the Observer Design Pattern in the context of Spring Framework’s event mechanism:

Observer Design Pattern in Spring Events

Also available in: SVG | PlantText

In this diagram:

Defining a Custom Event

First, we’ll define a custom event named UserRegistrationEvent:

import org.springframework.context.ApplicationEvent;

public class UserRegistrationEvent extends ApplicationEvent {
    private String username;

    public UserRegistrationEvent(Object source, String username) {
        this.username = username;

    public String getUsername() {
        return username;

Creating an Event Listener

Now, we’ll create an event listener to handle the UserRegistrationEvent:

import org.springframework.context.ApplicationListener;
import org.springframework.stereotype.Component;

public class UserRegistrationEventListener implements ApplicationListener<UserRegistrationEvent> {

    public void onApplicationEvent(UserRegistrationEvent event) {
        System.out.println("User registered with username: " + event.getUsername());

Publishing the Event

In order to publish the event, we’ll use the ApplicationEventPublisher:

import org.springframework.beans.factory.annotation.Autowired;
import org.springframework.context.ApplicationEventPublisher;
import org.springframework.stereotype.Component;

public class UserRegistrationService {

    private ApplicationEventPublisher eventPublisher;

    public void registerUser(String username) {
        // ... Registration logic ...

        // Publish the event
        UserRegistrationEvent event = new UserRegistrationEvent(this, username);

In the above setup, when the registerUser method is invoked, it will publish a UserRegistrationEvent. The UserRegistrationEventListener will then automatically detect and process this event, thereby demonstrating the Observer Pattern. The UserRegistrationService (event publisher) is decoupled from the UserRegistrationEventListener (event listener), promoting modularity and flexibility in the application.

The Observer Design Pattern is deeply ingrained in the Spring Framework’s DNA, especially evident in its event-driven architecture. By harnessing the power of Spring Events, developers can craft highly modular, event-driven, and loosely coupled applications, enhancing scalability and maintainability. Whether building enterprise solutions or microservices, understanding the Observer Pattern’s implementation in Spring is essential for modern Java developers.

In Conclusion

The Observer Design Pattern emerges as a linchpin in the developer’s toolkit, especially when crafting systems that necessitate component synchronization. By championing decoupling, enhancing reusability, and refining code maintainability, this pattern solidifies its stature in contemporary software architecture. For both seasoned developers and novices, mastering the Observer Pattern can significantly amplify the caliber and efficacy of software endeavors.


  1. E. Gamma, R. Helm, R. Johnson, and J. Vlissides, Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software. Addison-Wesley, 1994. 

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