Model-View-ViewModel (MVVM for short) is usually described as:

a design pattern that is a variation of Martin Fowler's Presentation Model pattern which abstracts a view's state and behavior making view independent of any specific UI framework.

Since you are reading this document, chances are that above explanation is not all that helpful. So, let us start again.

Model-View-ViewModel is a way to structure your application. It is an idea which helps you organize your classes and interactions between them. Note that MVVM is not a specific library or an API. Instead, it can be described as a way to define the architecture of an application.

There are lots of libraries and frameworks which use MVVM, or help you shape your program architecture in a MVVM manner. One of them is of course ReactiveUI. There are others, like for instance MvvmCross, MvvmLight, Caliburn.Micro as well as tons of others. All those libraries have one common goal - their purpose is to help you to split your UI and business code into maintainable pieces.

The name of the Model-View-ViewModel pattern comes from three layers of an application. You can imagine them as a three separate bags, containing the bits of code from your application. In practice, this would mean the bits of code belonging to these layers are being stored inside different folders, namespaces, or even projects.


Let's start with the most obvious one of the three. What belongs to the View? The answer is pretty simple - everything that is given to you by the specific UI framework you work with.

All the user interface controls belong to the View layer. That includes buttons, input boxes, alert pop-ups, and that fancy calendar widget you hacked around recently.

Note that in MVVM world, the word View has two meanings. We already mentioned the first one, which is a layer of your application. But View can also mean a class that groups several logically connected user controls.

This could be for example a Page class, if you develop in Xamarin. In WPF, this would be a Window class. For WinForms the class is called Form. You usually inherit from these classes and fill them with buttons, inputs and other useful elements. View classes' names usually correspond to their functionality - like LoginView or OrderCheckoutView.

The important attribute of the View class is the fact that usually it cannot be unit tested.

Most UI frameworks have applied almost zero thought to unit testing when they were designed, or those concerns were deemed as out-of-scope. As a result, UI objects are often very difficult to test in unit test runners, as they are not just plain objects. They may have dependencies on a runloop existing, or often expect static classes / globals to be initialized in a certain way.

So, since UI classes are untestable, our new goal is to put as much of our interesting code into a class that represents the View, but is just a regular class we can create. Then, we want the actual code in the View to be as boring, mechanical, and as short as possible, because it is inherently untestable.

This helpful class is called a ViewModel.


The somewhat confusing name of the ViewModel class comes from a fact that it is a Model of a View. This means, that you usually have one ViewModel per View. This doesn't have to be strictly true, but it is generally the case. For example, you will have a LoginViewModel for your LoginView etc.

ViewModel classes expose data and actions that can be executed using UI of an application. Data is exposed to the View via public properties. The actions are simply methods of a ViewModel, wrapped in a so-called Command classes. Generally, commands allow you to enforce when the associated method of a ViewModel can be executed.

The data and the commands are used by a View class associated with the ViewModel. Properties are read and written (e.g. in a textbox), while commands are usually executed when a user pushes a button. The mechanism that helps keep View and ViewModel state in sync is called data binding.

Another important aspect of ViewModels is that they are an abstraction to separate policy from mechanism. ViewModels do not deal in the specifics of Buttons and Menus and TextBoxes, they only describe how the data in these elements are related. For example, the Copy command has no direct knowledge of the MenuItem or the Button that it is connected to, it only models the Action of Copying. The View has the responsibility of mapping the Copy command to the controls that invoke it.

Note that it is the View class which holds a reference to the ViewModel, not the other way round. In fact, the View is free to be very tightly bound to the ViewModel.

The fact that the ViewModel does not reference the View has profound consequences. Because ViewModels do not explicitly reference UI frameworks or controls, they can be reused across platforms. For instance, you can use the same ViewModels for your Xamarin and WPF application.

All the ViewModel classes combined constitute a ViewModel layer of you application.


The last layer of you application is called a Model. Once you know what View and ViewModel is all about, this one is simple to define. Basically, it is all that is left. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • configuration classes
  • REST API wrappers
  • database repositiories
  • etc.

Model classes usually serve as a source of data for your ViewModels. They are often injected in the constructor.

Additional reading

There are lots of good introductory material to the MVVM pattern around the web. If you need more information, check out the great introductory article written by qmatteoq. You will also enjoy this entertaining piece by Jeremiah Morrill .

Sure, here you go.

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