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Chapter 1 of API Design
The Object
Guideline 1. Design objects for people, not for computers
by Bill Venners

Part 3 of 21

Managing Change

Besides complexity, another fundamental challenge of software development is change. If a software project doesn't fail initially, the resulting code base tends to have a long life. With each new release comes new requirements. Existing code is tweaked and enhanced to fix bugs and add functionality. Objects, in addition to helping programmers manage complexity, help programmers manage change.

One ideal of object-oriented programming is a strong separation of interface and implementation. The primary enemy of change in a software system is coupling, the interdependencies between various system parts. The aim of separating interface and implementation is to help programmers minimize coupling in their systems. At a keynote address I saw Bill Joy give at the Software Developer conference in Washington, D.C., Joy described coupling by saying, "You slap your hand on this table in Washington and a building falls down in San Francisco." In other words, you make a small, seemingly innocuous change in one part of your system, and you inadvertently cause a disaster in a remote and unrelated part of your system. In an object-oriented system, object interfaces are the point of coupling between different system parts. Because interfaces are the only point of coupling between the parts, you can make many kinds of changes to implementations without breaking the expectations of client code. When you slap the implementation of a Table object in Washington, all the Building objects in San Francisco continue to stand tall.

Objects also help programmers deal with change by being replaceable modules. Polymorphism and dynamic binding enable you to unplug one implementation of an object interface and plug in a different implementation of that interface. This makes it easy to change a system by defining a new class that extends an existing class or implements an existing interface. You can instantiate the new class and pass the resulting object to existing code that knows only of the supertype.

Lastly, objects help programmers manage change because object contracts can be very abstract. An object's contract, the human language description of what the object promises to do when you invoke its instance methods, is usually expressed in terms of behavior. Instance data is kept private. The structure of instance data and code of instance methods do not appear as part of the object's contract. Contracts expressed in terms of behavior can be very abstract, simply because you can be vague when you describe behavior without specifying particular data structures or code algorithms. The higher the level of abstraction in a contract, the more options programmers have when changing an implementation, or plugging in a new implementation, of a class.

Part 3 of 21

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Last Updated: Friday, April 26, 2002
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