What is the difference between MVC and MVVM? [closed] – Dev

The best answers to the question “What is the difference between MVC and MVVM? [closed]” in the category Dev.


Is there a difference between the standard “Model View Controller” pattern and Microsoft’s Model/View/ViewModel pattern?


I think the easiest way to understand what these acronyms are supposed to mean is to forget about them for a moment. Instead, think about the software they originated with, each one of them. It really boils down to just the difference between the early web and the desktop.

As they grew in complexity in the mid-2000s, the MVC software design pattern – which was first described in the 1970s – began to be applied to web applications. Think database, HTML pages, and code inbetween. Let’s refine this just a little bit to arrive at MVC: For »database«, let’s assume database plus interface code. For »HTML pages«, let’s assume HTML templates plus template processing code. For »code inbetween«, let’s assume code mapping user clicks to actions, possibly affecting the database, definitely causing another view to be displayed. That’s it, at least for the purpose of this comparison.

Let’s retain one feature of this web stuff, not as it is today, but as it existed ten years ago, when JavaScript was a lowly, despicable annoyance, which real programmers did well to steer clear of: The HTML page is essentially dumb and passive. The browser is a thin client, or if you will, a poor client. There is no intelligence in the browser. Full page reloads rule. The »view« is generated anew each time around.

Let’s remember that this web way, despite being all the rage, was horribly backward compared to the desktop. Desktop apps are fat clients, or rich clients, if you will. (Even a program like Microsoft Word can be thought of as some kind of client, a client for documents.) They’re clients full of intelligence, full of knowledge about their data. They’re stateful. They cache data they’re handling in memory. No such crap as a full page reload.

And this rich desktop way is probably where the second acronym originated, MVVM. Don’t be fooled by the letters, by the omission of the C. Controllers are still there. They need to be. Nothing gets removed. We just add one thing: statefulness, data cached on the client (and along with it intelligence to handle that data). That data, essentially a cache on the client, now gets called »ViewModel«. It’s what allows rich interactivity. And that’s it.

  • MVC = model, controller, view = essentially one-way communication = poor interactivity
  • MVVM = model, controller, cache, view = two-way communication = rich interactivity

We can see that with Flash, Silverlight, and – most importantly – JavaScript, the web has embraced MVVM. Browsers can no longer be legitimately called thin clients. Look at their programmability. Look at their memory consumption. Look at all the Javascript interactivity on modern web pages.

Personally, I find this theory and acronym business easier to understand by looking at what it’s referring to in concrete reality. Abstract concepts are useful, especially when demonstrated on concrete matter, so understanding may come full circle.



MVC/MVVM is not an either/or choice.

The two patterns crop up, in different ways, in both ASP.Net and Silverlight/WPF development.

For ASP.Net, MVVM is used to two-way bind data within views. This is usually a client-side implementation (e.g. using Knockout.js). MVC on the other hand is a way of separating concerns on the server-side.

For Silverlight and WPF, the MVVM pattern is more encompassing and can appear to act as a replacement for MVC (or other patterns of organising software into separate responsibilities). One assumption, that frequently came out of this pattern, was that the ViewModel simply replaced the controller in MVC (as if you could just substitute VM for C in the acronym and all would be forgiven)…

The ViewModel does not necessarily replace the need for separate Controllers.

The problem is: that to be independently testable*, and especially reusable when needed, a view-model has no idea what view is displaying it, but more importantly no idea where its data is coming from.

*Note: in practice Controllers remove most of the logic, from the ViewModel, that requires unit testing. The VM then becomes a dumb container that requires little, if any, testing. This is a good thing as the VM is just a bridge, between the designer and the coder, so should be kept simple.

Even in MVVM, controllers will typically contain all processing logic and decide what data to display in which views using which view models.

From what we have seen so far the main benefit of the ViewModel pattern to remove code from XAML code-behind to make XAML editing a more independent task. We still create controllers, as and when needed, to control (no pun intended) the overall logic of our applications.

The basic MVCVM guidelines we follow are:

  • Views display a certain shape of data. They have no idea where the data comes from.
  • ViewModels hold a certain shape of data and commands, they do not know where the data, or code, comes from or how it is displayed.
  • Models hold the actual data (various context, store or other methods)
  • Controllers listen for, and publish, events. Controllers provide the logic that controls what data is seen and where. Controllers provide the command code to the ViewModel so that the ViewModel is actually reusable.

We also noted that the Sculpture code-gen framework implements MVVM and a pattern similar to Prism AND it also makes extensive use of controllers to separate all use-case logic.

Don’t assume controllers are made obsolete by View-models.

I have started a blog on this topic which I will add to as and when I can (archive only as hosting was lost). There are issues with combining MVCVM with the common navigation systems, as most navigation systems just use Views and VMs, but I will go into that in later articles.

An additional benefit of using an MVCVM model is that only the controller objects need to exist in memory for the life of the application and the controllers contain mainly code and little state data (i.e. tiny memory overhead). This makes for much less memory-intensive apps than solutions where view-models have to be retained and it is ideal for certain types of mobile development (e.g. Windows Mobile using Silverlight/Prism/MEF). This does of course depend on the type of application as you may still need to retain the occasional cached VMs for responsiveness.

Note: This post has been edited numerous times, and did not specifically target the narrow question asked, so I have updated the first part to now cover that too. Much of the discussion, in comments below, relates only to ASP.Net and not the broader picture. This post was intended to cover the broader use of MVVM in Silverlight, WPF and ASP.Net and try to discourage people from replacing controllers with ViewModels.


For one thing, MVVM is a progression of the MVC pattern which uses XAML to handle the display. This article outlines some of the facets of the two.

The main thrust of the Model/View/ViewModel architecture seems to be that on top of the data (”the Model”), there’s another layer of non-visual components (”the ViewModel”) that map the concepts of the data more closely to the concepts of the view of the data (”the View”). It’s the ViewModel that the View binds to, not the Model directly.


MVVM Model-View ViewModel is similar to MVC, Model-View Controller

The controller is replaced with a ViewModel. The ViewModel sits below the UI layer. The ViewModel exposes the data and command objects that the view needs. You could think of this as a container object that view goes to get its data and actions from. The ViewModel pulls its data from the model.

Russel East does a blog discussing more in detail Why is MVVM is different from MVC