Category Archives: Refactoring

Coupling: The factory method

One of the challenges we face with coding is dealing with coupling. Coupling is an important aspect of programming, it tells us how much our code is tangled. When coupling is too high, we can’t easily re-use code. When the coupling is too low it does little. You can measure coupling, there are several metrics for it even (for instance “Coupling between Objects, CBO”).

In this blog post I’d like to talk about a subtle introduction of coupling: when you introduce a factory method.

Consider you have an interesting piece of code, and this piece of code has quite a lot of properties:

[sourcecode language=”java”]
class Person {
private String firstName;
private String lastName;
// .. more properties here

public void subcribeTo(Subscription subscription) {
// do something interesting here
}

}
[/sourcecode]

The problem is, because of the amount of properties and other dependencies, we’d like to simplify its creation by introducing a Factory method. In this case we are building a web application, so we take the Request as input to read the parameters:

[sourcecode language=”java”]
class Person {
private String firstName;
private String lastName;
// .. more properties here

public static Person create(HttpServletRequest request, .. more arguments here .. ) {
this.firstName = request.getParameter("firstName");
// .. read more properties
// .. set up dependencies, etc.
}

public void subcribeTo(Subscription subscription) {
// do something interesting here
}

}
[/sourcecode]

In the code that uses Person, it becomes easier to construct the Person and we’re happy with that. However, we have introduced coupling on several levels:

  • We construct the object with specific parameters in the create method. If we want to create from different parameters, we cannot use it. There is a coupling between the parameters and the properties.
  • The object is constructed using a Request object. We cannot now move the class to an application that does not use the web. A person has nothing to do with a request, it is just convenience that we put the factory method in the Person class. There is a coupling between the code of Person and the dependency delivering the Request object.

There are several ways to deal with this. But lets start with the last reason of coupling. It is easy to fix this coupling by creating a Factory class within your web application. From there you can generate the Person object out of a request. The Person class has no create method anymore, and thus is not tightly coupled to a Request class. The newly created Factory however is coupled to the Request, which is fine as it is meant to convert Requests into Person objects. Hence we could even name it that way:

[sourcecode language=”Java”]
class Person {
private String firstName;
private String lastName;
// .. more properties here

Person(String firstName, String lastName, …) {
this.firstName = firstName;
this.lastName = lastName;
// …
}

public void subcribeTo(Subscription subscription) {
// do something interesting here
}

}

class PersonFromRequestFactory {

// .. dependencies here

public Person create(HttpServletRequest request) {
Person person = new Person(request.getParameter("firstName"), )
// .. read more properties
// .. set up dependencies in Person, etc.
}

}
[/sourcecode]

Once we have this Factory, you can take it a step further:
If you have different kind of request parameters to create the same object you could create different methods in the new Factory:

[sourcecode language=”Java”]
class PersonFromRequestFactory {

// .. dependencies here

public Person createFromRegistrationForm(HttpServletRequest request) {
Person person = new Person(request.getParameter("firstName"), )
// .. read more properties
// .. set up dependencies in Person, etc.
}

public Person createFromSubscriptionForm(HttpServletRequest request) {
Person person = new Person(request.getParameter("givenName"), )
// .. read more properties
// .. set up dependencies in Person, etc.
}

}
[/sourcecode]

You could also create a Parameter object and go from there. For instance, if your web application uses Spring, you could wire your request parameters to an object (called “Form binding“) automagically and use that object as input in your Factory. This way it is type safe:

[sourcecode language=”Java”]
class PersonFromRequestFactory {

// .. dependencies here

public Person create(RegistrationForm form) {
Person person = new Person(form.getFirstName(), …)
// .. read more properties
// .. set up dependencies in Person, etc.
}

public Person createFromSubscriptionForm(SubscriptionForm form) {
Person person = new Person(form.getGivenName(), )
// .. read more properties
// .. set up dependencies in Person, etc.
}

}
[/sourcecode]

But how do you test all this?
Did you notice the Person has private fields, and no get/set methods? The only way to set the fields is using the Person constructor. How do you test the correct construction of this Person class from the request? Since we are not able to read the properties, we have to use other ways to test that code. I’ll cover that in the next blog post.

My answer for – What is wrong with this code #02

A lot of things can be found in the snippet at “What is wrong with this code #02″. Here it is again:

[sourcecode language=”java”]
public MyObject {

private String myField;

… (imagine multiple fields) …

public GenericObject toGenericObject() {
GenericObjectFactory genericObjectFactory = GenericObjectFactory.getInstance();
GenericObject genericObject = genericObjectFactory.create("myObject");
genericObject.setField("myField", myField);
// imagine multiple lines using genericObject.setField("field", field)
return genericObject;
}

}
[/sourcecode]

Already many things are pointed out in the comments of the initial post.

One thing that immediately struck me is this line:
[sourcecode language=”java”]
GenericObjectFactory genericObjectFactory = GenericObjectFactory.getInstance();
[/sourcecode]

Don’t do this.

GenericObjectFactory implies with the getInstance to be a Singleton. Even though it is a singleton, never retrieve and instance inside your method like that.

Even though there “should be only one instance” of the GenericObjectFactory, it still is a dependency for serializing MyObject. Never hide your dependencies. It makes your code hide its intent, it’s hard to decouple, test, refactor, in short hard to maintain. The code should clearly communicate its intent and usage(s).

In my opinion, there are three (well four sort-off) options to deal with this:

1. Deliver GenericObjectFactory as a parameter (invasive in method signature, but automated refactoring tools (i.e. IntelliJ) handle this perfectly):
[sourcecode language=”java”]
public GenericObject toGenericObject(GenericObjectFactory genericObjectFactory ) {
GenericObject genericObject = genericObjectFactory.create("myObject");
[/sourcecode]

2. Inject GenericObjectFactory as a property of MyObject (invasive in constructor)
[sourcecode language=”java”]
public MyObject {

private final GenericObjectFactory genericObjectFactory;

public MyObject(final GenericObjectFactory genericObjectFactory) {
this.genericObjectFactory = genericObjectFactory;
}

private String myField;

… (imagine multiple fields) …

public GenericObject toGenericObject() {
GenericObject genericObject = genericObjectFactory.create("myObject");

[/sourcecode]

2B. If you find option two too invasive, add the default constructor again but let it call the new constructor (makes point 2 less invasive, remove this default constructor after period of time).
[sourcecode language=”java”]
public MyObject {

private final GenericObjectFactory genericObjectFactory;

public MyObject(final GenericObjectFactory genericObjectFactory) {
this.genericObjectFactory = genericObjectFactory;
}

// add this default constructor
public MyObject() {
this(GenericObjectFactory.getInstance());
}

private String myField;

… (imagine multiple fields) …

public GenericObject toGenericObject() {
GenericObject genericObject = genericObjectFactory.create("myObject");

[/sourcecode]

3. Introduce protected getInstance method in MyObject (least invasive, increases testability)
[sourcecode language=”java”]
public MyObject {

… snip …

protected GenericObjectFactory getInstance() {
return GenericObjectFactory.getInstance();
}

public GenericObject toGenericObject() {
GenericObjectFactory genericObjectFactory = getInstance();
GenericObject genericObject = genericObjectFactory.create("myObject");

}

[/sourcecode]
This is sorted by my personal preference. Although option one and option two trade places from time to time. The third option is less favorable, as you still do not expose the need for dependencies, but it does make it more testable. It is also the least invasive way to refactor, which is sometimes beneficial in legacy projects with lots of untested code.

To conclude, never hide your dependencies, if you ever do see some class using getInstance, please, refactor it. It will make your, and your fellow-programmers, life a lot easier.

Thank you!

Working with legacy code – how to start & reveal intent

Recently I posted my opinion about regression. Regression bugs are likely to occur on projects with a lot of legacy code. I consider legacy code as untested code.

At the legacy coderetreat we used a small codebase (you can find it here). With that codebase we exercised in sessions to improve the code. The nice thing is that this is very similar with your daily job. You open up a project and you have to make changes in code you haven’t seen before and do not understand.

In order to get a better understanding you can use various techniques. I have practiced them with the legacy coderetreat and also applied this at work. In this blog post I’d like to share my experiences. Btw: If you haven’t experienced a coderetreat yet, join one. Just like kata’s, they are really worth your time (and more fun)!

Step 1: Get a sense of what is happening
Before we can do anything, we have to understand what we need to change and how it has impact on the system. One way to find out is to simply execute the code. You could just run the application, or… you could try to write a simple unit test executing the ‘main method’ you think that should be ran. Poke around with the parameters, and see what happens.

I prefer writing Characterization tests. The benefit is that while I am trying to understand what is happening, I am also building a safety net. Writing a Characterization test goes like this:
– create new test
– do some setup
– run specific piece of code (method) you want to try out
– check outcome / read state
– create assertion to make it pass with the outcome

When I don’t know what it actually does, I call my tests ‘monkey‘. Once I know the behavior with the given input, I rename the test to what the behavior is. Example:

[sourcecode language=”java”]
package com.adaptionsoft.games.uglytrivia;

import org.junit.Assert;
import org.junit.Test;

import static org.hamcrest.core.Is.*;
import static org.junit.Assert.*;

public class GameTest {

@Test
public void isPlayableReturnsFalseWhenInitialized() {
Game game = new Game();
assertThat(game.isPlayable(), is(false));
}

@Test
public void isPlayableReturnsTrueWithTwoPlayers() {
Game game = new Game();
game.add("Stefan");
game.add("Niels");
assertThat(game.isPlayable(), is(true));
}

@Test
public void monkey() {
Game game = new Game();
game.add("Stefan");
game.add("Niels");
game.roll(5);
// no idea yet what happens, need to look into roll method to get a clue
}

}
[/sourcecode]

So this gives me a rough idea what is happening, and it gives me a suite of tests.

It is important that you focus on black box tests. Try not to bother about the internals. If you are deep-stubbing in your test setup then try to think of a different way to approach the problem. Sometimes it is not possible to do black box testing, only then you need to do white box testing. In these cases deep-stubbing is often needed. Deep stubbing indicates a design problem: your class is bothered with internal states of other objects. You can reduce this by applying Tell Don’t Ask.

Step 2: Reveal intent.
This is even less invasive (actually it is not invasive at all if done well) than the small refactorings I have blogged about in the past.

To reveal intent:
– go through the code, find magic numbers and strings. Introduce constants for them with descriptive names
– find method names that do not describe well their behavior, and rename them. Try to keep the name about behavior, and if it does more then one thing, concate these behaviors with “And”.
– do the same for variables

This may sound trivial, but it really enhances the understandability of the code. As a bonus your understanding of the code is increased a lot, and all you did was renaming things and perhaps introduced a few constants. Let me show you how much it matters:

Can you find things to improve in this code?
[sourcecode language=”java”]
if (roll % 2 != 0) {
isGettingOutOfPenaltyBox = true;

System.out.println(players.get(currentPlayer) + " is getting out of the penalty box");
places[currentPlayer] = places[currentPlayer] + roll;
if (places[currentPlayer] > 11) places[currentPlayer] = places[currentPlayer] – 12;

System.out.println(players.get(currentPlayer)
+ "’s new location is "
+ places[currentPlayer]);
System.out.println("The category is " + currentCategory());
askQuestion();
} else {
[/sourcecode]

What about this?
[sourcecode language=”java”]
if (roll % 2 != 0) {
isGettingOutOfPenaltyBox = true;

System.out.println(players.get(currentPlayer) + " is getting out of the penalty box");
places[currentPlayer] = places[currentPlayer] + roll;
if (places[currentPlayer] > PLACE_BEFORE_STARTING_PLACE) places[currentPlayer] = places[currentPlayer] – MAX_PLACES;

System.out.println(players.get(currentPlayer)
+ "’s new location is "
+ places[currentPlayer]);
System.out.println("The category is " + getCurrentCategoryForCurrentPlayerOnPlace());
askQuestionAndRemoveFromQuestionFromDeck();
} else {
[/sourcecode]

This method name is called “roll” initially. If you would sum up all its behavior it would be more like:

[sourcecode language=”java”]
public void movePlayerAmountRolledAndAskQuestionOrWhenInPenaltyBoxIfUnevenRolledGetOutOfPenaltyBox(int roll) {
[/sourcecode]

Who would ever accept such a long method name? I would, but it should trigger something. This method name tells you there is way too much going on in one place. And, since the method is public, we communicate to other classes what this thing is doing.

It is ok to rename multiple times. The longer you work with the code, the better you understand it. When the method names do not reflect their real intent, make it clearer and improve their names. Communicating what the code actually *does* is important, make it explicit. especially if the method name violates conventions (ie, a getSomething() method that is not getting a property, but does more than that.)

It is very tempting to extract expressions and methods
Before you do this. Make sure you have the Characterization tests and integration tests in place. The tests will tell you if you have broken something while refactoring using extract method or extract conditions into variables. Yes, even such small refactoring’s could cause bugs.

Here an example, take this expression:
[sourcecode language=”java”]
if (rolled % 2 != 0) {
[/sourcecode]

Which you could turn into (extract into variable):

[sourcecode language=”java”]
boolean isUnevenRoll = roll % 2 != 0;
if (isUnevenRoll) {
[/sourcecode]

Or extract method:

[sourcecode language=”java”]
if (isUneven(roll)) {
[/sourcecode]

I prefer (automated!) extract method over extracting into variables. The main reason is that extracting into methods introduce very small pieces of code that you can re-use. You could eventually even find that the methods are not particularly bound to the current class’ behavior and move them out of this class into a new class. With variables this is much harder to see and refactor.

With these two steps, we could have brought the code we had earlier into a state like this:

[sourcecode language=”java”]
if (isUneven(roll)) {
isGettingOutOfPenaltyBox = true;

System.out.println(getCurrentPlayer() + " is getting out of the penalty box");
moveCurrentPlayer(roll);

System.out.println(getCurrentPlayer()
+ "’s new location is "
+ places[currentPlayer]);
System.out.println("The category is " + getCurrentCategoryForCurrentPlayerOnPlace());
askQuestionAndRemoveFromQuestionFromDeck();
} else {
[/sourcecode]

Conclusion
When working with legacy code, it is of importance to understand the code before making changes. In order to understand the code we can use introduce constants or rename methods to make the code reveal its intent. Using Characterization tests we can fixate the current behavior and label it in our tests names. Then, once we have this test suite, we can start using small refactoring’s like extract method or extract variable to make conditionals reveal their intent.

When creating a test suite, creating mostly black box tests will help us in the future when refactoring opposed to white box tests. Sometimes white box tests cannot be avoided.

Without any tests we can already have more insight in what is happening. With a test suite we can more safely start refactoring.

More about coderetreats
I have been greatly inspired by the legacy code retreat day, where we could experiment more in our spare time. Just like the previous time I have learned a lot, and I am convinced that others will benefit from this as well. Therefor I have decided to lend a hand and offer to organize and facilitate a coderetreat myself at the end of this year. Stay tuned!

Regression – Lets stop it!

I hate it.

You change something and you can’t tell if your change broke something in the system.

If you’re lucky, you did not break anything. Or nobody noticed it.
Next to that, on the same scale of luck, the potential bugs are found in the manual testing phase.

But often there is no time to do all the regression testing by hand. It will take days and days, and the change you made looked so insignificant. It should go live. What could possibly go wrong?.

Then it happens. You’re live, your changes work, but the inevitable happens. Regression!

Of course, this has to be fixed. We can’t let our customers have a product with new features while the features of the previous version(s) are broken.

And so the patching process begins.

I call it patching, because often you are not done with one patch. While you were working hard to get the first patch live, other regression bugs are found and need to be patched asap as well! And so you end up with a few patches. You could be done with with a few patch releases. But it could easily extend ten-fold.

This process is very stressful for the customer and the development team. As the team is working to get these patches out soon, the customer is unhappy with his ‘broken system’. Even worse, once a few bugs are found, more testing is done on the live system to make sure everything still works, and more regression bugs poor in, adding up to the stress. To the development team it begins to look like…

From the customer’s point of view, it looks like the team working on the product is not in control. It is as if the team does not seem to know what they are doing. To them their product, which seemed rock solid at start, is degrading to a house of cards.

You can debate about high and low impact issues, and the matter of urgency to fix these issues. The perception of the customer is likely to be the same, regardless.

This is how I see it:

It is us developers who are responsible for letting regression happen.

Not testers.
Not project managers.
Not stakeholders.
Not the customer.

It is us and us alone.

We write the code, we change the code, we are in control of the code (at least we should be!).

Even if you happened to be depending on a third-party system, it is your job to keep an eye out on that system. Verify that it behaves as you would expect it to. Why? Your system depends on the behaviour of another system, trusting that this behaviour does not change is not enough. You have to be *sure*.

Its all about attitude
Do you always deal with regression bugs after each release?

Stop accepting it, it is not normal.

Rather, start thinking about how you can prevent this. Don’t look how other people could prevent this. Think of what you could do right now. There are many ways to reduce the amount of regression bugs. For instance: add tests before changing any code. Fixate the behavior with black box tests. When you refactor, keep running your tests so you know you did not break existing behaviour. Add new tests for new features you introduce. Create a test suite that you can trust. Make integration tests. Is it hard to write tests? Make it easier. Don’t back away from the code, it is your code and you should be in control.

Besides the code, improve your own skills. Start reading about how to deal with legacy code. Attend a legacy code retreat to hone your skills. Practice, practice, practice! Get better.

Reap what you sow in your daily work.

But isn’t the whole team responsible?
Ah, of course! But does that mean that you, as a developer can now do less? Would it be okay in a team to not test, because you have testers? (“its their job right?”).

In a team we all have our strengths and weaknesses.

We understand code, and we can change code. No other role in your team is responsible for understanding the code then you. Being in a team does not make you less responsible.

Again, it is all about attitude. Stand for your craft, deliver high quality work and make sure the system is in check. It should be you who controls the system.

Attitude, again
There are developers out there who really think they know everything of the system. And to be honest, I once had a time where I always knew what changes had impact and what I could do. And even though I was right about the impact on changes…

…I was at least wrong as many times as I was right.

But sometimes it is not just being over-confident. Sometimes it is being ignorant, or even arrogant.

Please, don’t be like this guy…

Just because it is hard, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it
Regression is a pain. It can be dealt with.

It is not easy.

You will not completely eliminate regression bugs. But with the correct mindset, tools and safety-net(s), you will greatly reduce the amount of regression bugs.

It is necessary. Just do it. For the love of our (your!) craft, do it, for everyone who depends on us:

The customer.
The stakeholders.
The project managers.
Yes, even the testers.

First coderetreat of 2012 in Amsterdam – Retrospective

At the end of 2011 I started organizing a coderetreat. It started on twitter around October. I’ve also posted about it in my last mini blog. The original event can be found here.

If anyone was interested, they could sign up (max 25 people) for free. All you needed to do was bring your best humor and if possible a laptop with your preferred dev environment set up. (Its not hard to organize one, check here if you’re interested)

If you want to know more about what a coderetreat is, click here. Even better: join a coderetreat somewhere near you and experience it. It is way better than just reading about it 🙂

Honing the craft together

Coderetreat

Lets start with a management summary:

It was awesome!

It reminded me of my experience with the bowling game kata last year. Since you’re repeating the exercise over and over again, you will find different approaches. Even better, because you’re switching pairs, you will have a different mindset literally to approach the problem presented by the coderetreat. Instead of writing a bowling game, you will be working on Conway’s Game Of Life.

The most notable things of that day where:

  • In the very first session we where let ‘free’. We could approach this problem how we wanted. Me and my pair where able to implement the first three rules. However we where not able to implement the fourth rule. Our design was not easy enough to revive dead cells. (gosh, this reminds me of the bowling game code kata first attempt…)
  • The second session we got to choose from different constraints. I picked the “no conditionals” one, because I can get my methods under 4 lines without pain. Programming without no conditions is a whole different story though.
  • The third session with ‘only check in within 2 minutes, else revert everything’ was an eye opener! It really forced you into thinking how to make all (baby) steps. Hence, I am using this at work now and it really works. I commit 10 times more often. Although I don’t make the 2 minute mark yet at work (5 minutes is easy though now).
  • The fourth session was fun, as we where able to implement *all rules* (opposed to the first session), but without the code we had implemented in the first session! We totally isolated the behaviour (this session was called “tdd as if you meant it”) and it blew our minds.

Will I attend more coderetreats? You bet! Just need to take a look at the list of events and pick an appropiate one. If I attend one, I will let you know (on twitter surely, perhaps on this blog).

If you want to know how it looked like, click here to see som pictures of the coderetreat.

I loved the coderetreat, and I’ll surely organize one again in the future. I would recommend anyone who loves his profession to join a coderetreat and practice. You’ll learn new things for sure!

How hard can it be, right? 😉