Those of us who have been putting together websites for a long while will remember back when everything was included in the .html (or even .htm) file. Eventually this was replaced by a separation of concerns – content in the .html file, behavior in the .js file, appearance in the .css file.

We can see a similar separation for a web application, where we keep the data itself in one file and behaviors that interact with that data in another file (or several files). This makes the application easier to test and maintain.

For example, suppose that we are writing an application which deals with customers. Using the MVVM (Model-View-View Model) or MVC (Model-View-Controller) pattern, the model itself holds information about the customer – name, address, and so forth. It may optionally contain methods for manipulating and validating the properties it holds. This is the back end of the website; the structure of the data can be developed without needing to know anything about the user interface.

The view is the user interface – in a web application this is the .ascx page that the user interacts with. In MVVM, the view knows about the model and view model; it may have bindings to properties on the model and may call functionality on the view model to manipulate the model. Given information about what data will be available in the model, the UI can be designed independently.

The View Model (in MVVM) or Controller (in MVC) is what ties the view and the model together. When the user attempts to do something in the view, it will actually call functionality on the view model or controller rather than manipulating the model directly.

In MVC, the controller sends commands to the model to update the state of the data and also sends commands to the view to change the presentation. In MVVM, the view model is essentially an abstraction of the view through which the view is bound to the model. Rather than using a reference to the view to communicate with it, as a controller does, the view model updates properties which the view is bound to. A view will be paired with exactly one view model.

A single model may have multiple views that display and (through the view model or controller) manipulate the model in different ways. The model doesn’t know about any of the views; it simply exposes the appropriate properties (possibly setting limits on how they can be manipulated).

Understanding these patterns makes it easier to see where a given property or method should be located. Something which is always loaded from the database in the same way regardless of which view is in use will be found on the model, as will (usually) the validators for that information. Methods which are view-specific – for example, security checks to verify whether the user of the view has the right to manipulate a given piece of data – are found on the view model. The view itself doesn’t contain data, but displays the contents of the model (and possibly additional content from the view model) to the user.