Software has two ingredients: opinions and logic (=programming). The second ingredient is rare and is typically replaced by the first.
I blog about code correctness, maintainability, testability, and functional programming.
This blog does not represent views or opinions of my employer.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Imperative curlies 4: shorten the distance.

Continuation of my previous bashing of curlies.
My previous posts can be summarized by stating the following rule: Look at curly brackets surrounding imperative code and redesign your code so they disappear. There are obviously various tricks for disappearing the curlies and I will write more as I keep discovering them.

Here is a somewhat relaxed version of this rule:  If you cannot get rid of curlies, redesign your code so the distance between curlies is as short as possible. (Redesign your code so the imperative part between curly brackets does as little as possible). Let me clarify my postion: It is not about squeezing as much as possible into one line, the goal is to simply isolate reusable code, create reusable utilities, and keep the client imperative code to minimum. If you cannot be declarative, at least make sure that the imperative code is reduced to minimum. The distance between curlies is simply a guide to measure the progress.

We have seen in the previous post that SCALA let’s you treat one-liner functions in declarative fashion by removing curly brackets. This allows you to define functions in a math formula-like style. Examples without type inference and without much syntactic sugar of using ‘_’:
1:  def doubleIt(d: Double): Double = 2*d  
2:  def halfIt(d: Double): Double = 0.5 *d  
3:  def sortOfIdentity(d: Double): Double = halfIt _ andThen doubleIt 
//Note current SCALA compiler needs ugly _ with andThen  
Language like Groovy will not let you be as elegant. Here are the Groovy equivalents (also without using much syntax sugar):
1:  def composition = {f, g, x -> return f(g(x))}//composition helper  
2:  Closure doubleIt = {Double d -> 2* d}  
3:  Closure half = {Double d -> 0.5 * d}  
4:  Closure sortOfIdentity = composition.curry(halfIt, doubleIt)     
(I am repeating myself here , but note that the term curry in not used correctly in Groovy.)
The point is that the above code snapshots are equivalent. What is important is that the benefits on testablility and maintainability are the same.

Example of Java code from an open source ArrayUtil found here:
1:  public class ArrayUtils {  
2:  ...  
3:   public static long sum(  
4:     int[] source  
5:    )  
6:    {  
7:     int iReturn = 0;  
9:     if ((source != null) && (source.length > 0))  
10:     {    
11:       int iIndex;  
13:       for (iIndex = 0; iIndex < source.length; iIndex++)  
14:       {  
15:        iReturn += source[iIndex];  
16:       }  
17:     }  
18:     return iReturn;  
19:    }  
20:  }       
Big distance between curlies in the implementation of the sum method. How reusable is this method code? What if we wanted to create ArrayUtil.multiply(int[] source) or ArrayUtil.max(int[] source), or ArrayUtil.min(…)?

So how can I shorten the distance between the curlies? Let us move to Groovy to get some ideas. The fact that we have a for loop suggests that we can try use one of the reusable pieces of logic available to us as a replacement for explicit for loops (see my previous post).

(Note: Functional programming uses the term folding, for some reason Groovy calls the equivalent method inject.)   Compare reusability of the above Java code with the following code in Groovy:
1:  def myInts = [1,2,3,4,5];  
3:  def multipliedInts = myInts.inject(1) {acc, val-> acc * val}  
4:  def addedInts = myInts.inject(0) {acc, val -> acc + val}  
5:  def minFromInts = myInts.inject(Integer.MAX_VALUE) {acc, val ->
6.                                    Math.min(acc, val) }  
7:  def maxFromInts = myInts.inject(Integer.MIN_VALUE) {acc, val ->
8.                                    Math.max(acc, val) }  
(Side Note: There is a problem here: what is the value of minFromInts if myInts was an empty array?  Functional programming introduces concepts of monads, SCALA has Option Some and Option None concepts, but these are not in the scope for this post.)

Note that the distance between curlies in the above Groovy example is as close as one can get to defining functions using plain math like formulas. However, personally I tend to prefer a more declarative style shown below:
>1:  class MathFormulas {  
2:   def add = {acc, val -> acc + val}  
3:   def multiply = {acc, val -> acc + val}  
4:  }   
6:  def multipliedInts = myInts.inject(1, MathFormulas.multiply)  
7:  def addedInts = myInts.inject(0, MathFormulas.add)   
8:  def minFromInts = myInts.inject(Integer.MAX_VALUE, Math.&min)  
9:  def maxFromInts = myInts.inject(Integer.MIN_VALUE, Math.&max)  
You can find specialized methods in Groovy for all of these tasks, however, the point here is the code reuse aspect. The Groovy's inject method is clearly reusable, while the for loop in Java is clearly not. How would you change the Java code above following these Groovy examples?

Is this Groovy magic? Not really, sure having closures helps, in Java we can work with reusable interfaces (similar to some that can be found in Functional Java ). We can write simple Collection Utility with fold method (it will be more verbose) :
1:  //direct from Functional Java project ...  
2:  public interface F2<A, B, R> {  
3:    R f(A a, B b);  
4:  }  
6:  //our own utility to see what needs to be done ...  
7:  public class MyCollectionUtils {  
8:   static <T, L> T fold(Iterable<L> list, 
9:                       T iniValue, 
10:                      F2<? super L, ? super T, ? extends T> fun){  
11:    T res = iniValue;   
12:    for(L l: list){  
13:       res = fun.f(l, res);  
14:    }   
15:    return res;   
16:   }  
17:  }  
19:  F2<Integer, Long, Long> multiply = new F2<Integer, Long, Long>() {  
20:   public Long f(Integer a, Long b) {  
21:     return b * a;  
22:   }  
23:  };  
15:  List<Integer> list = ...  
26:  long multipliedInts = MyCollectionUtils.
27.                <Long, Integer>fold(list, 1l, multiply);    
The difference is largely in how programmers think. New book title idea: Unlearn Java in 24 days?

Let me sum up what happened to Java code: we went from no code reuse to high code reuse. The measure of distance between culries is about 10 lines for the original code and 1 line for a function interface F2 we would need to implement in the final code:  
return a + b;

I hope to continue the curlies bashing soon.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Imperative curlies 3: for comprehensions and powder skiing

Continuation of Previous Bashing of Curlies
Over the many year of my involvement in Java I have seen very little code reuse around loops. For loops (and other loops) in Java are yet another category of hard to test, hard to maintain code. By now we know they are no good: they are surrounded by the curlies ; ).

Functional programmers have for loops too, only they call them comprehensions! Functional programming often deals with collections of data so loops are unavoidable. So what is the difference?

The difference is really in the attitude. It is like powder skiing. I am a developer and a ski bum. I am very much into safe (inbounds) powder skiing. Like many other skiers I had hard time to learn how to ski powder at first. Frustrated, I decided that what I need to do is to start pretending. So I started pretending that I am really good: with posture and everything else making sure it appears to look like I know what I am doing. (Side note: this technique is very effective in a very deep powder because no one will see what I am doing anyway ; ) Obviously I sucked big time, I only appeared to be a good powder skier. (Think of this as writing a for loop which looks very pretty.) After some years of pretending I learned that my skiing consists of simple reusable elements such as tipping, retracting, pulling back my feet, etc . So for typical everyday tasks on the snow I now can stop pretending and just do these elemental tasks and ski! (Think of this as not using for loops any more: code reuse). When I need to do something new on skis (like trying teles), I will go back to pretending (or to writing a for loop).

The first step is the acknowledgement that what my for loop is doing should have a single purpose: comprehending a collection. (I also think of this step as admittance of being guilty of using the curlies.) The second step is the code reuse for the tasks we perform often, what kind of comprehensions will we be typically doing?: how about: joining, reducing, folding, mapping, finding (any), finding all, etc.

Assume that we need to produce a custom version of toString().  Let’s look at some old Java first:
1:  public class PackRat { 
2:    private List<String> stuff = new ArrayList<String>(); 

3:    public void addToStuff() { ... }
4:    public String toString() { 
5:     StringBuffer res = new StringBuffer(); 
6:     res.append("PackRat: "); 
7:     for(int i=0; i<stuff.size(); i++) { 
8:       res.append(stuff.get(i); 
9:       if(i<stuff.size() -1) { 
10:        res.append(";"); 
11:       }  
12:     } 
13:     return res.toString(); 
14:    } 
15:  } 
Same thing done in Groovy, which adds some reusable methods to avoid writing explicit for loops:
1:  class ParckRat { 
2:    List stuff = [] 
3:    def addToStuff … 
4:    String toString() { 
5:     "PackRat "+ stuff.join(";") 
6:    } 
7:  } 
Note: Libraries like Guava or Apache Commons provide you with join() method as external utility, sadly Java List interface does not have a join method.

The Groovy code looks much better . But still 2 curlies we should be able to get rid of. Unfortunately, we are trying to override a Java method in Groovy so we are stuck with the limitations the methods have (methods are not closures). So what could we do if method where closures? Let’s look as SCALA where functions are functions, not methods or closures: I want to my code to simply state that my toString function is really the same as a prefixed stuff.join(“;”). I should be able to declare it, not implement it!

So here is the more declarative and curlyless version done in SCALA:
1:  class PackRat {  
2:    private var stuff: List[String] = List[String]() 
3:    def addToStuff = … 
4:    override def toString = "PackRat: " + stuff.mkString(";") 
5:  } 
(SCALA glossary: var makes stuff a mutable instance variable, def keyword indicates function definition. List[String] is somewhat different than java List, for example, it is immutable: Note that Java/Groovy code above is not thread safe, SCALAs version does not have such problem.)

Here is yet another proof of the curly count being a good measure of code quality. On one end of the spectrum there is the imperative code with loop spelled out in Java (please count curlies in that code), on the other end there is SCALAs beautiful code where a particular kind of comprehension logic is simply declared!

Many developers think of the fact that SCALA allows you to drop curly brackets from one-liner functions as just a syntactic sugar and find the syntax iffy. My view is the opposite. The curlyless functions support the declarative style of coding and allows developer to define functions using expressions supported by SCALA language (contrast this with implementing all the methods in Java).

Obviously, there are other kinds of reusable comprehensions. For example reducing is far more general than joining. Here is SCALAs version of the above toString function using reduce:

override def toString = "PackRat: " + stuff.reduceLeft(_ + ";" + _)

Might look like compiler sugar (and again conceptually a deep stuff not iffy stuff), here is a spelled out version which is still purely declarative with no curlies:

def myConcatenateStrings(s1: String, s2: String):  String = s1 + ";" + s2
override def toString = "PackRat: " + stuff.reduceLeft(myConcatenateStrings)

Groovy code can be designed with more closures and fewer methods. This could facilitate much more declarative type of coding than methods allow. We have seen some of it in our previous post (Post on Curlies and GORM). The same declarative approach can be used to get rid of many for loops and make Groovy code closer to SCALA.

So what is the point of all of this? First, the obvious, code reuse and testability should be a good thing no matter what is the language; using reusable for loop logic can be done in Java too. It will look like someone is trying hard to be functional in Java (you can always say you are doing fluent coding and no one will know ;) Second, the idea of one-liners being closer to declarative programming warrants more thought and is more that a coding style no matter what is your language.

I hope to write more about it in the future.

Side Note: To all Java programmers (that would include me) I want to point out the obvious big difference between imperative for loops and functional comprehensions:  Imperative for loop is really a sequence of side-effects executed in order,  pure functional programming cannot have side-effects so comprehensions always return a new collection. 

Next Bashing of Curlies.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Imperative curlies 2: GRAILS/GORM

Continuation of Previous Curlies bashing
GRAILS Domain Classes and GRAILS plugins can provide phenomenal examples of declarative programming where a simple declaration adds lots of functionality without any coding. Still the programmer is faced with choices, for example, custom domain class validation can be either done by hand (with curlies) or in a nice reusable way using more functional and declarative programming.

Here is a simple domain class to start:
1:  class Meeting {
2:    Date start
3:    Date end
4:    String title
5:  }

Looks like little ventured, little gained, but these looks are very deceiving. The above domain class is a feature rich hibernate DAO. You can do with it things like:
Meeting.findAllByStartBetween(new Date() -7, new Date())
On a side note: this is a true Groovy magic. These methods do not really exists, in Groovy a class responds to a method, it does not necessarily have a method.

Add the following plugins to your grails project: audit-trail, spring security core, and searchable. Add simple declarative changes to the Meeting class:
1:  @gorm.AuditStamp
2:  class Meeting {
3:    Date start
4:    Date end
5:    String title
7:    static searchable = true
8:  }
New magic has happened: Meeting class has new fields representing (these names are configurable) whoCreated, createdDate, whoUpdated, updatedDate and obviously finding all Meetings that I have created in last 7 days is as simple as calling

The searchable plugin allows you to do things like or easily search across different domain classes with a similar declarative configuration. GRAILS/GORM provides you with a phenomenal declarative power!

The list of plugins that can be added goes on and on and the functionality you can add to your domains in this declarative fashion is boundless.

GOING BACK TO EARTH: By default all fields are not nullable and GRAILS has no way of knowing that some data does not make sense, for example start Date should be always before end Date! So lets make the corrections:
1:  class Meeting {
2:    Date start
3:    Date end
4:    String title
6:    static constraints = {
7:     end nullable: false, validator: {value, record ->
8:         if (value && record.start && value < record.start) {
9:               'endDateNotAfterStart'
10:        }
11:      }
12:    }
13:  }
The new version provides a custom validation for the end date. The logic simply returns a message string (to be translated by GRAILS i18n infrastructure) if the end date was entered, start date was entered, and end date is not after start date.
(Side note on Groovy: notice that not all paths return a value in the validating closure, this seems to be Groovy’s take on partial functions. As I understand this, Groovy allows this type of coding to support less verbose code and the concept of partial functions is not fully supported as such.)

It is imperative to have curlies. The alarm bell starts ringing: I have imperative logic which now is a part of my domain class, yuck! Can I make code improvements and get rid of these curlies?
Note that each time I have a domain class with start and end timestamps I will probably need to write a similar closure on that domain class and I will have to write separate unit test for it, I will have to maintain the code in many places. So yes, if I could 'declare' endAfterStart validation on my domain class the code would benefit:
1:  class Meeting {
2:    Date start
3:    Date end
4:    String title
6:    static constraints = {
7:       end nullable: false, validator: ValidationUtil.endAfterStart.curry('start')
8:     }
9:    }
10:  }
12:  class ValidationUtil {
13:    static def endAfterStart={String startDateFieldName, Date endDate, record ->
14:     if (endDate && record."$startDateFieldName" &&
15:                endDate < record."$startDateFieldName") {
16:      'endDateNotAfterStart'
17:     }
18:    }
19:  }  
Note that Groovy is clunky with functional programming terms, ‘curry’ should be really called ‘partial’. But the logic is clear, I am declaring my validation by using a function (Groovy closure) declared in a reusable (hopefully unit tested) utility class. Expected signature of validating closure is:
 {value, record -> . . .}
The declared reusable validation needs additional information so its signature is:
{startTimestampFieldName,  value,  record -> . . .}
So I need to convert one signature to another in functional terms this is called partial application. Groovy calls it (incorrectly) curry.

Now my domain class is purely declarative. Is it better for it? I believe so!
I think you should see a benefits of this declarative improvement! I hope to write more about curlie evil in future posts.

Next bashing of curlies

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

It is imperative to have many curlies

For the life of me, I could not memorize the term imperative programming (opposite of declarative and functional; the staple of traditional Java). I tried everything and nothing worked. In my brain, the word imperative did not want to associate itself with the whole concept. I guess I get it, the term is derived from commanding the computer to do something, but I just could not remember it! That is until I came up with the pun phrase: “It is imperative to have many curlies”.

Everyone is laughing when I tell them that a good programming is about removing curly brackets. Still, I have persisted in my determination and counting the curlies became a new way for me to measure my code.

Obviously, a simple way to achieve code perfection would be to change the language to one that does not have curly brackets, but that is not the point, the curlies may be still there only they would not look like curly brackets… For the sake of this argument, anything that defines a block of code, indentation in Python/CoffeeScript or Ruby’s end keyword is a curly.
The concept is simple, if I implement stuff, I use curlies, if I declare the behavior or use things like functional composition, then I don’t.
Languages like JavaScript and Groovy (GRAILS) are a good to showcase curly evil. Both are hybrid languages in the sense that you can do very imperative style Java like coding or do something else.

Let me start with a JS example. I am using Ext JS 4 in my current project. Ext comes with methods like: AbstractComponent.setDisabled(boolean disabled).

So if you want to add logic to disable/enable buttons, you can write it commending the browser to do your bidding and that would be with curlies. The code would look like somewhat similar to this:
1:  Ext.define('myView' ,{ 
2:   extend: 'Ext.form.Panel’, 
3:   ..., 
5:   items: [ 
6:      ..., 
7:      { 
8:        xtype: 'button', 
9:        label: 'save', 
10:       ... 
11:     },{ 
12:       xtype: 'button', 
13:       label: 'refresh', 
14:       ... 
15:     }, 
16:     ... 
17:   ], 
19:   enableDisableControls: function() { //curly! 
20:    //lots of if statements (curlies galore) defining when each button is 
21:    //enabled and when is disabled ... 
22:   } //another curly! 
23:  });

//  remember to add calls to enableDisableControls() each time:
//   -view is opened,
//   -refreshed,
//   -user makes changes to the data, etc, etc. (that is lots of additional curlies!)
//   -repeat the process for next 35 views you need to write...

Instead of this Object Oriented spaghetti, how about this code: (Note Ext JS adds a concepts of mixin to JS.)
1:  Ext.define('myView' ,{ 
2:   extend: '...’, 
3:   mixins: { 
4:    disableEnableOnDirtyState: '...', 
5:    disableEnableOnSecurity: '...', 
6:    disableEnableOnEditMode: '...', 
7:    ... 
8:   }, 
10:  items: [ 
11:    ..., 
12:    { 
13:       xtype: 'button', 
14:       label: 'save', 
15:       disableIfDirtystate: 'clean', 
16:       disableIfNotSecurityrole: '..._CAN_MODIFY', 
17:       ... 
18:    },{ 
19:       xtype: 'button', 
20:       label: 'refresh', 
21:       disableIfEditmode: 'new' 
22:       ... 
23:    }, 
24:    ... 
25:   ] 
26: });

The declarative definitions of buttons tell the reusable logic in the mixins that the save button should be disabled unless changes have been made to the form (dirtystate=’dirty’) and unless I have a security role allowing me to make changes or create new entries. The refresh button makes no sense for a new entry before it is saved on the backend so it stays disabled until that happens (editmode) … And I can be adding more and more orthogonal declarative conditions for enabling/disabling buttons!

Note the new version of myView is declarative, it does not implement the functionality it needs, it declares it. Also think of testability. Traditional Java code can try to place some disabling/enabling logic in the ancestor creating hard to test fat ancestors. Unit testing enable/disable mixins is very straightforward. (Note to declarative purists: this code has clear side-effects. It has to. The point is, however, that they are clear. ;)

Also note that some logical decoupling needs to happen since all of these orthogonal conditions compete for one boolean (component.disabled) (see Sencha Discussion Forum Post).

Finally a note for Ext programmers: some tweaking to Ext mixin preprocessor might be in order. Unlike SCALA Traits (or even Groovy mixins), constructor (yes, Ext adds constructor concept to JavaScript as well) is not automatically invoked for mixins so if mixin needs to, say, listen to dirtychange event it has problem arming itself.

To me, this approach is clearly a better code reuse, better code maintenance, it is also clearly better for TDD.

There are many other examples that come to mind:
GRAILS/GORM: GRAILS Domain Classes and GRAILS plugins can provide phenomenal examples of declarative programming where simple declarations load lots of functionality without any coding.

SCALA provides a great way of controlling the curlies in the code. If you coding style is very declarative and functional you will be able to code with very few curlies in SCALA.

So are curlies a measure of code quality? I hope to write more posts about my take on curlies soon.

This post continues here: Next Curlies Bashing

Where are my previous blogs?

I have blogged about my dislike of Seam framework. Then I decided that what I really did not like was not Seam but JSF, so I decided to delete all the posts and start over.
Seam has some great ideas so all my frustration with it was somewhat unfair.

Time has passed and I learned new things, my new fascination is with functional programming and SCALA. My other favorites are JavaScript and Groovy.
My new posts will focus on these areas.