Hugh Winkler holding forth on computing and the Web

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Patterns Problem

Peter Seibel's book has a nice analysis of the "patterns problem":

The reason both these functions start the same way is because they're both test functions. The duplication arises because, at the moment, test function is only half an abstraction. The abstraction exists in your mind, but in the code there's no way to express "this is a test function" other than to write code that follows a particular pattern.

Unfortunately, partial abstractions are a crummy tool for building software. Because a half abstraction is expressed in code by a manifestation of the pattern, you're guaranteed to have massive code duplication with all the normal bad consequences that implies for maintainability. More subtly, because the abstraction exists only in the minds of programmers, there's no mechanism to make sure different programmers (or even the same programmer working at different times) actually understand the abstraction the same way. To make a complete abstraction, you need a way to express "this is a test function" and have all the code required by the pattern be generated for you. In other words, you need a macro.

Lisp, again.

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