February 03, 2006

The value of being explicit….

So I had to explain some code I wrote a year or so ago to the colleague who was maintaing it and it looked something like this:

  public CollaboratorA doSomething() {
    final Set data = new HashSet();
    // .. populate the data
    return new CollaboratorA {
      boolean isThisTrueForSomeCriteria(final Object o) {
        return data.contains(o);

which is all perfectly valid; but not at all intuitive. In particular; what was the lifetime of Set data?

I then rewrote this and moved the inner class into it's explicit class:

  public CollaboratorA doSomething() {
    final Set data = new HashSet();
    // .. populate the data
    return new SetBackedCollaboratorA(data);

  class SetBackedCollaboratorA implements CollaboratorA {
    private final Set data;

    SetBackedCollaboratorA(final Set theData) {
      this.data = theData;

    boolean isThisTrueForSomeCriteria(final Object o) {
      return data.contains(o);

and this was found to be much easier to understand even though under the hood there is absolutely no difference. I am not entirely sure whether the byte code would even be any different, but the intuitiveness or readability was improved; so it was a win :)

To be clear; it was not the use an an inner class that was confusing; it was the fact that an inner class was referencing a variable defined in the method, outside of the method that created the inner class and the data.

Lesson for the day (because I keep needing to learn it again ;)); code that is functional is not as valuable as code that is intuitively functional.

- 2 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Chris May

    Steve McConnel (In 'writing solid code' I think) makes the point that he'd rather have comprehensible-but-broken code than incomprehensible-but-working, because the former can be fixed and subsequently changed, whereas the latter will probably have to be re-written when a change is required.

    03 Feb 2006, 12:49

  2. The interesting point is that "comprehensible" is relative :)

    03 Feb 2006, 13:30

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