Difference between Composition and Aggregation


As we know, inheritance gives us an ‘is-a’ relationship. To make the understanding of composition easier, we can say that composition gives us a ‘part-of’ relationship. Composition is shown on a UML diagram as a filled diamond (see Figure 1).


If we were going to model a car, it would make sense to say that an engine is part-of a car. Within composition, the lifetime of the part (Engine) is managed by the whole (Car), in other words, when Car is destroyed, Engine is destroyed along with it. So how do we express this in C#?

public class Engine
. . .

public class Car


Engine e = new Engine();



As you can see in the example code above, Car manages the lifetime of Engine.


If inheritance gives us ‘is-a’ and composition gives us ‘part-of’, we could argue that aggregation gives us a ‘has-a’ relationship. Within aggregation, the lifetime of the part is not managed by the whole. To make this clearer, we need an example.

The CRM system has a database of customers and a separate database that holds all addresses within a geographic area. Aggregation would make sense in this situation, as a Customer ‘has-a’ Address. It wouldn’t make sense to say that an Address is ‘part-of’ the Customer, because it isn’t. Consider it this way, if the customer ceases to exist, does the address? I would argue that it does not cease to exist. Aggregation is shown on a UML diagram as an unfilled diamond (see Figure 2).


So how do we express the concept of aggregation in C#? Well, it’s a little different to composition. Consider the following code:
public class Address
. . .
public class Person
private Address address;
public Person(Address address)


this.address = address;


. . .


Person would then be used as follows:

Address address = new Address();
Person person = new Person(address);


Person person = new Person( new Address() );

As you can see, Person does not manage the lifetime of Address. If Person is destroyed, the Address still exists. This scenario does map quite nicely to the real world.

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