What am I missing here?

If you’re in a startup and have a full-time job a the same moment as I do, that’s a post for you.

The initial startup pressure and tempo is huge. Focused on the features you can bring to life more and more of them. How often do you load your project, collapse it’s whole structure and ask questions:

  • What am I doing now?
  • How does it influence the rest of the system?
  • Is everything I need expressible in the current infrastructure and/or design?
  • Is it something, which I know from other projects missing?

It might seem that those opened questions are unneeded, to silly to ask, but from last time I asked them, they became a weekly routine. To show you, I’ll give you an example.

I write tests. As you already know, not always unit tests, but… During one of my write test/run/fix error cycles I noticed that it was quite hard to get all the information I needed. There was an assert failing and without debugging, only by viewing logs I had no idea what might have gone wrong. I reopened the project and did ‘what am I missing here?’ After global review of the whole solution I did found a thing. During all the feature based design I did a silly mistake not providing any logging in the application. You know, these _if_log_isDebugEnabled_ stuff (take a look in the NHibernate code). It took me no more than 10 minutes to spike it with some console appender and I rerun my tests. Ha! Some components did not log one or two operations and that was it.

It’s worth not to loose the (overused phrase) big picture and from time to time, stop providing features and ask these silly, ordinary questions.

Idempotence, pt. 2

In the previous post a few operations were taken into consideration, whether there are (not) idempotent. For the sake of reference, here there are:

  • Marked as default
  • Money transfer ’500$’ ordered to ‘x’ account
  • Label ‘leave sth for the future month’ added

If we consider ‘idempotent’ as an operation which can be applied multiple times in a row, then all the operations overriding previous values of some properties are idempotent. Having some entity marked as default 5 times does not change the fact that it is default. That’s for sure. What about provisioning ‘x’ account with 500$? Can this type of operation can be reapplied multiple times? Of course not, because it does not override any property, it changes the state, by interacting with a previous one. The same goes for ‘labeling’, of course if there is no compensation introduced (select only unique labels before saving, which would allow reapplying).

What if you want your system to be resistant to operations resend multiple times? The simplest solution is to add unique identifier for each operation and storing them is a lookup (hashtable). Each time the operation arrives, the lookup is checked whether there this operation was already processed. If so, skip it.

There is one additional condition is to have the lookup transactional with a storage you save the states. This condition is a simple ‘all-or-none’ for storing the result of operation with the fact, that this specific operation was already applied. Otherwise, if lookup would be updated in the first place and storing the state after the operation failed, there would be no change saved. The same applies to a situation, where the lookup is updated at the very end. The operation result is saved, adding info about operation to lookup fails and the next time the same operation arrives it is applied one more time. Having that said, lookup must be transactional with the medium where state is saved.

Composition vs derivation

Assume you’re writing some reports in your application. You’ve just created the third controller covering some kind of reporting and it seems to be, that all the three controllers have a very similar code, modulo type passed as the entity type to your NH ISession.QueryOver() or another data source. It seems that, if the method creating report base was generic, it could be used in all the cases. You want to extract it, make it clearer and to stop repeating yourself. What would you do?

Derivation
The very first thing is to extract method in each of the controllers. Now they seem almost the same. A place is needed where the method can be easily moved. How about a super type? Let’s create a controller, call it in a fashionable way, for instance: ReportControllerBase, and move the method in there. Now you can easily remove the methods in the deriving controllers. Yeah! It’s reusable, everyone writing his/her report can derive from the ReportControllerBase and use its methods to speed up his/her task.

Composition
The very first step is exactly the same: the extract method must be done, to see the common code. Once it’s done, you notice that the whole method has only a few dependencies which can be easily pushed to parameters, for instance: isession, the entity type passed to query, the value used in some complex where clause, etc. You change all the field and properties usages to parameters which allows this method to be static. You create a static method and turn it into an extension method of a session. The refactorization is done, you can easily call this method in all the controllers, by simply calling an extension onto a session.

What’s the difference and why composition should be preferred
If you use C# or Java you should always be aware of one limitation: you can derive from only one type. Spending this ‘once in a lifetime’ for a simple functionality extraction, for me – that’s the wrong way. Using composition, and deriving only when you truly see that one type is another type, that’s the right way to go. In the next post I’ll write about ASP MVC Detached Actions, a simple mechanism you can use, to derive your controllers only, when it is needed and delegating common actions, without it.