A ViewModel is one of the three parts that comprises the MVVM (Model View View-Model). This pattern is a variation of the Presentation Model (M. Fowler). In the Presentation Model, as opposed to Passive View, the "controller" doesn't hold any reference to the view - and it isn't called "controller" but "Presentation Model". The View is the one which references the Presentation Model. The Presentation Model communicates changes to the View through events and data-binding. The View handles GUI events (user interaction) and may invoke methods on the Presentation Model.
In 2005, John Gossman from Microsoft introduced the MVVM pattern which has been evolving since then. In this post Josh Smith explains the pattern as it's commonly used today with an example. According to this post, a ViewModel is an object which wraps a model (CustomerViewModel contains a Customer model inside). However the another ViewModel is the MainWindowsViewModel, an abstract representation of the MainWindow. So there you go, the same term is used for two different things. So what is a ViewModel?
In this other example by Jeremy Likness, there is a class called Contact which he says is a Model, a domain model. I bet that to some people Contact is rather a ViewModel - specially given its implementation of INotifyPropertyChanged. This is getting more and more confusing!
In our team, a ViewModel is the class handling all the logic related to the GUI. It acts as an Application Service, the entry point to the hexagon. I believe that in his book, Vaughn Vernon discourages the reader from using this kind of "controller" as an application service. But we haven't encounter any good reason not to use it as such. In fact, I find the definition of application service quite contradictory in that book. We never expose domain models directly to the GUI. We may wrap domain models into other objects which in turn are bounded to the GUI (data-binding) and implement interfaces like INotifyPropertyChanged. Although more often than not, our domain models are not even there. These objects are definitely a kind of "view" of the model, I was tempted to call them "ModelView". I understand they may be called ViewModels, it's reasonable. In some articles thew ViewModel is more model-ish than view-ish. Nonetheless to avoid the dilemma of calling these objects ViewModels, we decided not to add the suffix *ViewModel to them. We simply keep them under the *.ViewModel namespace but they are just objects - a Vehicle, a Customer...
What we definitely know is that they are not domain models. They are anemic models to support a particular view of the application. They should not hold references to other services. The application service (what we call ViewModel) holds the references to these data bounded objects in order to get the information from the user.
It's important is to remember the Presentation Model. It does not make calls to the view, it should not have references to any view component. If the GUI logic requires to pop up a confirmation dialog, the Presentation Model (ViewModel) should not make a direct call to some kind of "Dialog", it should rather trigger an event that the View can listen to show up the dialog.
What do you think? I appreciate your comments and thoughts 😉