Kijana Woodard

Software Minimalism


Seeking Density in Architectural Abstractions

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I've found myself making mental leaps about coding more quickly by cross pollinating the input data.

Take architectural abstractions. They've always grated on me. The better I got at writing code, the more I thought they were a waste of time...most of the time.

Yesterday I was reading the latest in a series of Ayende posts about Limiting your abstractions.

Today I had time to kill during jury duty and read a Ribbon Farm post about Dense Writing.

Click.

What's always bothered my architectural abstractions is that tend to become brain-off copy/paste best practices that are adding more noise than value to the code base.

I like the idea that you should limit your abstractions in your code base. Oren says "you get a dozen" - tops!

The point is that you cannot abstract everything. You actually need to make fact-informed decisions and iterate to new decisions.

Simply declaring IDataAbstraction<T> doesn't make it so.

If you try to hide EF and NHibernate behind your abstraction you will be unable to optimize. For example, should you Eager load complex properties of an entity or not. Sometimes you should, sometimes you should not. The only code that knows when to do the right thing, is the calling code. Your abstraction prevents you from optimizing when and where necessary.

Finding yourself in this predicament, you have a few options.

  1. Write your IFetchingStrategy<T> and map that against EF and NHibernate. You're wasting your life. You've got an app to build.
  2. Put a method on your abstraction that maps precisely to your current concrete O/RM. Your abstraction is now garbage. Your implementations become littered with "throw not implemented exceptions" or worse, will simply do nothing creating very subtle bugs. You can no longer swap implementations.
  3. Accept reality and use the O/RM you chose. Doing string replace on ISession to DBContext will be trivial compared to reworking the code around the subtleties of the new O/RM.

Similarly, swapping out SQL Server for CouchDB for RavenDB for HyperGraphDB is not going to be trivial simply because you whipped together some IDataBase<T>. These technologies have subtle, and not so subtle, differences that contribute to a decision about whether or not to use them in your project. You can't hide them behind an abstraction "in case you were wrong".

Either you are castrating the tool, meaning you might as well have chosen something else, or your abstraction is an illusion and you're wasting time with Empty Calorie Abstractions.

Now all that sounds awful unless you get the odd idea in your head that you can have more than one database in your system. Then all these decisions are much less important. But that's another story.

An aside, the writing on RibbonFarm demonstrates that I need to work on my writing. The entire site is worth reading if only for the mind-expanding properties of the dense writing.



If you see a mistake in the post *or* you want to make a comment, please submit an edit.

You can also contact me and I'll post the comment.

5 Comments...
Casey Watson
Casey Watson • 6 years ago

Abstraction is critical for building highly cohesive software but I've seen many FactoryProviders and ProviderFactories that seemed completely unnecessary. I always liken it to the states of matter and, more specifically, that of water. You don't want ice or tightly coupled code. You don't want a gas because it's too difficult (unnecessarily difficult) to grasp. You should strive to make your code liquid and strike a balance based on the nature of the project at hand.

Casey Watson
Casey Watson • 6 years ago

By the way... I'm so stealing "Empty Calorie Abstractions." I couldn't have described it better myself.

Landon Poch
Landon Poch • 5 years ago

There are a couple of great posts about this same thing being applied to the Entity Framework and other persistence technologies.

http://www.nogginbox.co.uk/blo...
http://ayende.com/blog/3955/re...

Much worth the read in my opinion. I also like the follow up on not protecting your developers.

http://davybrion.com/blog/2009...

Afif Mohammed
Afif Mohammed • 4 years ago

You seem to have back tracked on your opinion on not abstracting RavenDB, given your most recent stance on the RavenDB forum. Doesn't the following still apply? (well said though)

---
These technologies have subtle, and not so subtle, differences that contribute to a decision about whether or not to use them in your project. You can't hide them behind an abstraction "in case you were wrong".

Either you are castrating the tool, meaning you might as well have chosen something else, or your abstraction is an illusion and you're wasting time with Empty Calorie Abstractions.

Kijana Woodard
Kijana Woodard • 4 years ago

Quite the opposite. I think I've doubled down. Questions I've received from several sources tell me that my posts about mediation (Liaison) are not clear enough to demonstrate the application of this principle. I will write a more concrete follow up post as soon as I can.