Standalone Classes

Standalone Classes

Interdependencies make models and designs hard to understand. They also make them hard to test and maintain. And interdependencies pile up easily.

Every association is, of course, a dependency, and understanding a class requires understanding what it is attached to. Those attached things will be attached to still more things, and they have to be understood too. The type of every argument of every method is also a dependency. So is every return value.

With one dependency, you have to think about two classes at the same time, and the nature of their relationship. With two dependencies, you have to think about each of the three classes, the nature of the class's relationship to each of them, and any relationship they might have to each other. If they in turn have dependencies, you have to be wary of those also. With three dependencies . . . it snowballs.

Both MODULES and AGGREGATES are aimed at limiting the web of interdependencies. When a highly cohesive subdomain is carved out into a MODULE, a set of objects are decoupled from the rest of the system, so there are a finite number of interrelated concepts. But even a MODULE can be a lot to think about without an almost fanatical commitment to controlling dependencies within it.

Even within a MODULE, the difficulty of interpreting a design increases wildly as dependencies are added. This adds to mental overload, limiting the design complexity a developer can handle. Implicit concepts contribute to this load even more than explicit references.

Refined models are distilled until every remaining connection between concepts represents something fundamental to the meaning of those concepts. In an important subset, the number of dependencies can be reduced to zero, resulting in a class that can be fully understood all by itself, along with a few primitives and basic library concepts.

In every programming environment, a few basics are so pervasive that they are always in mind. For example, in Java development, primitives and a few standard libraries provide basics like numbers, strings, and collections. Practically speaking, "integers" don't add to the intellectual load. Beyond that, every additional concept that has to be held in mind in order to understand an object contributes to mental overload.

Implicit concepts, recognized or unrecognized, count just as much as explicit references. Although we can generally ignore dependencies on primitive values such as integers and strings, we can't ignore what they represent. For example, in the first paint mixing examples, the Paint object held three public integers representing red, yellow, and blue color values. The creation of the Pigment Color object did not increase the number of concepts involved or the dependencies. It did make the ones that were already there more explicit and easier to understand. On the other hand, the Collection size() operation returns an int that is simply a count, the basic meaning of an integer, so no new concept is implied.

Every dependency is suspect until proven basic to the concept behind the object. This scrutiny starts with the factoring of the model concepts themselves. Then it requires attention to each individual association and operation. Model and design choices can chip away at dependencies—often to zero.

Low coupling is fundamental to object design. When you can, go all the way. Eliminate all other concepts from the picture. Then the class will be completely self-contained and can be studied and understood alone. Every such self-contained class significantly eases the burden of understanding a MODULE.

Dependencies on other classes within the same module are less harmful than those outside. Likewise, when two objects are naturally tightly coupled, multiple operations involving the same pair can actually clarify the nature of the relationship. The goal is not to eliminate all dependencies, but to eliminate all nonessential ones. If every dependency can't be eliminated, each one that is removed frees the developer to concentrate on the remaining conceptual dependencies.

Try to factor the most intricate computations into STANDALONE CLASSES, perhaps by modeling VALUE OBJECTS held by the more connected classes.

The concept of paint is fundamentally related to the concept of color. But color, even of pigment, can be considered without paint. By making these two concepts explicit and distilling the relationship, the remaining one-way association says something important, and the Pigment Color class, where most of the computational complexity lies, can be studied and tested alone.

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Low coupling is a basic way to reduce conceptual overload. A STANDALONE CLASS is an extreme of low coupling.

Eliminating dependencies should not mean dumbing down the model by arbitrarily reducing everything to primitives. The final pattern of this chapter, CLOSURE OF OPERATIONS, is an example of a technique for reducing dependency while keeping a rich interface. . . .

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