09 August 2008

Object State

Tim Boudreau's Blog: Where's the state?

Where's the state? This is a small but useful question when deciding how a problem domain gets carved up into objects: What things have state? What things have values that can change? When and how can they change? Can the changes be observed? Who needs to observe changes in state?
Any time you find yourself writing a setter (or more generally, mutator) method, it is worth asking yourself Who does this piece of state really belong to? Am I putting state in the right place? Blindly following the beans pattern (add a getter/setter to whatever type you happen to be editing) can result in state being distributed all over objects in an application. The result will be harder to maintain, and if it has any lifespan, less and less maintainable over time. Like entropy, or the no broken windows theory, the more state is distributed all over the place, the more that will masquerade as design and make it okay for a programmer to further diffuse state throughout objects in the application. Human beings can only hold so many things in their minds at a time. The more state is diffused, the more things someone must pay attention to simultaneously to solve a problem in that code.
Another question above was Who needs to observe changes in state? There are some corollaries: Where should those changes be published? and Does the thing observing the change need a reference to the thing that changed?
While rare, the listener pattern is prone to ordering bugs which are quite painful to reproduce and fix. Additionally, in my experience, listeners are the most potent source of memory leaks in Swing applications. So it is a pattern to avoid unless you know you really need it.

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