The Challenge of Naming

John Nunemaker wrote a very nice article on assorted tips that improved his code… One of which revolved around naming.

Regarding naming… I absolutely agree. It is worth arguing about. The more critical the class is to the system design, the more I might go to the mat and wrestle a good name to the ground. The decision on a name can be a fleeting event, but it will have everlasting impact. Think: Write Once, Read Many. Don’t screw it up for the rest of us!

For a C++ app for manufacturing (’95-98), I employed a very layered architecture. Portable business objects were sent to the thin client (no UI talking to DB crap allowed!). The paradigm of pick lists was commonplace… show me a list of parts. The list UI component merely needed a set of IDs and Names. So each domain class could basically implement the interface and they too could be tossed into a drop-down list. My clever name for this little device never grew past “IdString” — we kind of joked about it, because a better name never surfaced.

When I see something like “GaugeAttributeServiceWithCaching” in isolation, it is not as easy to unilaterally discuss a better name.

However, were this inside a basic system called “Gauge” and I saw a bunch of other classes prefixed with “Gauge” — I would throw a red flag.

BTW: My rules are strict for domain-y things, and less strict for utility classes, and lesser things.

I mostly dislike prefixes, postfixes, redundant things of any sort in a name — class or attribute. If I have to mentally strip off a prefix to get at the gist of what I am reading, then it should not be there in the first place.

For example (non-Ruby community, mostly):

  • column names prefixed by the table name (Table User; user_first, user_last)
  • public class attributes prefixed by an underscore (Class User; string _first, string _last)

I also raise an eyebrow and look more closely at any (domain) class ending in “er.” Yup. Try it. Look for some. They are usually “doing” things.

You can go too far in making “God” classes that have no properties of their own, are stuffed full of collaborators via the initializer, and wouldn’t know how to delegate if it hit them over the head. It’s the kind of “Manager” class (there’s that ‘er’) that — instead of asking (delegating) for it’s gauges to compute some stat, it gets all the data from the gauges and does the work for the gauges. Don’t be that guy!

Conversely, look for the boring data class. No methods, just accessor stuff. While it might be just fine, and there truly is no business logic for this class, I would look around just to be sure there are no over achiever “er” classes lurking in the dark alleys — ready to pimp the business logic for the data class.

Thanks for sharing, John!

Uncle Bob Challenges The Architecture of a Rails App

Uncle Bob has a very interesting keynote at the Ruby Midwest 2011 conference.

I developed apps with the fundamental architecture of the following (with dependencies only crossing one layer):

UI Layer
Business Object Layer
Data Mgt. Layer

Born from the one pattern that is king of the hill in my book: “Separation of Concerns.” The above was my architecture for all projects since the early 90s… C++, Java… but so far not so much in Rails.

I have thought about trying it, but not sure if it will pay off or not.

Essentially, it is about cleaving the rails model classes into two parts:

  1. Business Methods, attributes, business rules
  2. Persistence Methods, attributes, all knowledge of the DBMS details

In general, the UI deals with BOs, but sometimes we create dumb “Data Transfer Objects” that are lightweight versions of the business objects to be thrown about the system.

As a side note, in general, moving code to a more “object-oriented” state often ends up with the same lines of code. And often a bit more due to the boiler plate of creating additional classes.

In a current project, we have pulled out the business objects into a separate gem — but mostly because it needs to be used by our web app and by an eventmachine app.

The thing that shocked me the most about Rails, when Corey Haines introduced me to it in 2009, was that it was a lot like “Model Driven Architecture” that I had worked with for a few years. Given an architecture, a vertical slice thru the app, weave the model thru the architecture generator and out comes an application with a consistent architecture for the bulk of the app that is mostly the same (save for model/property names). Commercially, this MDA technology was a failure, last time I checked. Even though I thought it was the smartest way to develop apps, few others did. Except for Rails developers — largely because most rails devs probably have a very different mindset than other devs.

See blast from the past presentation here.

Though Bob pokes fun at Rails high-level directory structure as not revealing the business domain, I am totally fine with that. It’s a good thing. Yea, sure, it is revealing that it is an MVC style app designed to deliver web apps, so what? No matter which architecture is used, I look for the domain classes to tell me what the system is doing…

In my handful of rails apps to date, I have only used MongoDB and MongoMapper — and this is the closest I have gotten to the good old days of when I used the POET Object-oriented Database with C++ back in the late 90s. It is the closest I have been to nirvana. I basically *almost* don’t need to care that there even is a database…

One of these days, I’ll compare and contrast a Rails/MongoMapper app with and without Business Objects separated from Data Management classes.

Caught Using Inheritance!

don’t fall off your chairs…

re: ” I have in the past had long debates over whether or not the domain

object should know about persistence at all.” (Agile Modeling forum)

but i have *successfully abused inheritance* in the past to achieve an

interesting mix (for thin client/web apps).

  • Xyz Domain Class
    • can live on server or client
    • has the usual: properties and accessors
    • business methods
    • associations to other objects
    • often employs lazy loading
    • knows NOTHING about DBs
  • Xyz Business Class
    • INHERITS from the Domain Class
      • Gets all of the class properties that way 🙂
    • Knows about persistence classed (DGs/DAOs)
    • has the persistent ID
    • can get itself from the DB via an ID
    • can save() itself to DB
  • Xyz Transfer Object
    • small thing to meet some need of going between UI and server
    • used typically when the Domain Object is too big and you

      want specialized sets of properties filled in

  • Xyz Identifier Class
    • really tiny thing
    • usually just an ID and a string
    • sometimes a few other things
    • used for lightweight lists of associated classes
      • to drive drop-downs
      • typically used in conjunction with lazy loading

<gulp> there, i’ve confessed.

A layered approach with ColdFusion

currently working on a new project that is anchored in ColdFusion (CF). nonetheless, IMHO, the approach still should revolve around:

  • User Interface
  • Problem Domain
  • Data Management
  • Ext. System Integration

we have worked up some initial domain models as we built up the feature list. in the land of CF, we are able to build Value Objects to represent our domain. For persistence, we can use simple DAOs for CRUD, and Data Gateways for more complex SQL machinations.

from the services end of things, we’ll surface the business functionality as delegates/business facades to be invoked over the wire by the Flex clients.

just getting into it… but i’ll keep you posted on how well things get on with this approach.