When building large Flutter apps, one of the first things we should decide is how to structure our project.
This ensures that the entire team can follow a clear convention and add features in a consistent manner.
So in this article we'll explore two common approaches for structuring our project: feature-first and layer-first.
We'll learn about their tradeoffs and identify common pitfalls when trying to implement them on real-world apps. And we'll wrap up with a clear step-by-step guide for how you can structure your project, avoiding costly mistakes along the way.
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In practice, we can only choose a project structure once we have decided what app architecture to use.
This is because app architecture forces us to define separate layers with clear boundaries. And those layers will show up somewhere as folders in our project.
So for the rest of this article, we'll use my Riverpod App Architecture as a reference:
This architecture is made of four distinct layers, each containing the components that our app needs:
- presentation: widgets, states, and controllers
- application: services
- domain: models
- data: repositories, data sources, and DTOs (data transfer objects)
Of course, if we're building just a single-page app, we can put all files in one folder and call it a day. 😎
But as soon as we start adding more pages and have various data models to deal with, how can we organize all our files in a consistent way?
In practice, a feature-first or layer-first approach is often used.
So let's explore these two conventions in more detail and learn about their tradeoffs.
To keep things simple, suppose we have only two features in the app.
If we adopt the layer-first approach, our project structure may look like this:
‣ lib ‣ src ‣ presentation ‣ feature1 ‣ feature2 ‣ application ‣ feature1 ‣ feature2 ‣ domain ‣ feature1 ‣ feature2 ‣ data ‣ feature1 ‣ feature2
Strictly speaking, this is a "features inside layers" approach, as we don't put our Dart files directly inside each layer, but create folders inside them instead.
With this approach, we can add all the relevant Dart files inside each feature folder, ensuring that they belong to the correct layer (widgets and controllers inside
presentation, models inside
And if we want to add
feature3, we need to add a
feature3 folder inside each layer and repeat the process:
‣ lib ‣ src ‣ presentation ‣ feature1 ‣ feature2 ‣ feature3 <-- ‣ application ‣ feature1 ‣ feature2 ‣ feature3 <-- only create this when needed ‣ domain ‣ feature1 ‣ feature2 ‣ feature3 <-- ‣ data ‣ feature1 ‣ feature2 ‣ feature3 <--
This approach is easy to use in practice, but doesn't scale very well as the app grows.
For any given feature, files that belong to different layers are far away from each other. And this makes it harder to work on individual features because we have to keep jumping to different parts of the project.
And if we decide that we want to delete a feature, it's far too easy to forget certain files, because they are all organized by layer.
For these reasons, the feature-first approach is often a better choice when building medium/large apps.
The feature-first approach demands that we create a new folder for every new feature that we add to our app. And inside that folder, we can add the layers themselves as sub-folders.
Using the same example as above, we would organize our project like this:
‣ lib ‣ src ‣ features ‣ feature1 ‣ presentation ‣ application ‣ domain ‣ data ‣ feature2 ‣ presentation ‣ application ‣ domain ‣ data
I find this approach more logical because we can easily see all the files that belong to a certain feature, grouped by layer.
In comparison to the layer-first approach, there are some advantages:
- whenever we want to add a new feature or modify an existing one, we can focus on just one folder.
- if we want to delete a feature, there's only one folder to remove (two if we count the corresponding
So it would appear that the feature-first approach wins hands down! 🙌
However, things are not so easy in the real world.
Of course, when building real apps you'll find that your code doesn't always fit neatly into specific folders as you intended.
What if two or more separate features need to share some widgets or model classes?
In these cases, it's easy to end up with folders called
But how should these folders themselves be organized? And how do you prevent them from becoming a dumping ground for all sorts of files?
If your app has 20 features and has some code that needs to be shared by only two of them, should it really belong to a top-level
What if it's shared among 5 features? Or 10?
In this scenario, there is no right or wrong answer, and you have to use your best judgement on a case-by-case basis.
Aside from this, there is a very common mistake that we should avoid.
When we focus on the UI, we're likely to think of a feature as a single page or screen in the app.
I made this mistake myself while building the eCommerce app for my upcoming Flutter course.
And I ended up with was a project structure that looked a bit like this:
‣ lib ‣ src ‣ features ‣ account ‣ admin ‣ checkout ‣ leave_review_page ‣ orders_list ‣ product_page ‣ products_list ‣ shopping_cart ‣ sign_in
All the features above represented actual screens in the eCommerce app.
But when it came to putting the presentation, application, domain, and data layers inside them, I ran into trouble because some models and repositories were shared by multiple pages (such as the
As a result, I ended up creating top-level folders for services, models, and repositories:
‣ lib ‣ src ‣ features ‣ account ‣ admin ‣ checkout ‣ leave_review_page ‣ orders_list ‣ product_page ‣ products_list ‣ shopping_cart ‣ sign_in ‣ models <-- should this go here? ‣ repositories <-- should this go here? ‣ services <-- should this go here?
In other words, I had applied a feature-first approach to the
features folder, which represented my entire presentation layer. But I cornered myself into a layer-first approach for the remaining layers, and this influenced my project structure in an unintended way.
Do not attempt to apply a feature-first approach by looking at the UI. This will result in an "unbalanced" project structure that will bite you later on.
So I took a step back and asked myself: "what is a feature"?
And I realized it's not about what the user sees, but what the user does:
- manage the shopping cart
- view all past orders
- leave a review
In other words, a feature is a functional requirement that helps the user complete a given task.
And taking some hints from domain-driven design, I decided to organize the project structure around the domain layer.
Once I figured that out, everything fell into place. And I ended up with seven functional areas:
‣ lib ‣ src ‣ features ‣ address ‣ application ‣ data ‣ domain ‣ presentation ‣ authentication ... ‣ cart ... ‣ checkout ... ‣ orders ... ‣ products ‣ application ‣ data ‣ domain ‣ presentation ‣ admin ‣ product_screen ‣ products_list ‣ reviews ...
Note that with this approach is still possible for code inside a given feature to depend on code from a different feature. For example:
- the product page shows a list of reviews
- the orders page shows some product information
- the checkout flow requires the user to authenticate first
But we end up with far fewer files that are shared across all features, and the entire structure is much more balanced.
In summary, the feature-first approach lets us structure our project around the functional requirements of our app.
So here's how to use this correctly in your own apps:
- start from the domain layer and identify the model classes and business logic for manipulating them
- create a folder for each model (or group of models) that belong together
- within that folder, create the
datasub-folders as needed
- inside each sub-folder, add all the files you need
When building Flutter apps, it's very common to have a ratio of 5:1 (or more) between UI code and business logic. If your
presentationfolder ends up with many files, don't be afraid to group them into sub-folders that represent smaller "sub-features".
For reference, here's how my final project structure ended up:
‣ lib ‣ src ‣ common_widgets ‣ constants ‣ exceptions ‣ features ‣ address ‣ authentication ‣ cart ‣ checkout ‣ orders ‣ products ‣ reviews ‣ localization ‣ routing ‣ utils
Without even looking inside folders such as
utils, we can guess that they all contain code that is truly shared across features, or needs to be centralized for a good reason (such as localization and routing).
And these folders all contain relatively little code.
I haven't talked about this until now. But it makes a lot of sense for the
test folder to follow the same project structure as the
And this is very easy to do by using the "Go to Tests" option in VSCode:
For any given file inside
lib, this will create a
_test.dart file in the corresponding location inside
When done right, going feature-first has many benefits over layer-first.
Having built a medium-sized eCommerce app of 10K LOC with it, I'm confident that this is a scalable approach that should work well for bigger codebases.
Of course, when building very large apps we will face additional constraints. And at some point, we may need to mix and match different approaches, or even break up the codebase into multiple packages that live in a single monorepo.
But if we apply domain-driven design from the start, we'll end up with clear boundaries between the different layers and components of our app. And this will make dependencies more manageable later on.
And if you want to learn more about app architecture and the role of each individual layer, check the other articles in this series:
- Flutter App Architecture with Riverpod: An Introduction
- Flutter App Architecture: The Repository Pattern
- Flutter App Architecture: The Domain Model
- Flutter App Architecture: The Application Layer
- Flutter App Architecture: The Presentation Layer
I launched a brand new course that covers Flutter app architecture in great depth, along with other important topics like state management, navigation & routing, testing, and much more: