Saturday, June 27, 2009

What, Not How & Why, Not When

It occurred to me this morning that many software development principles seem to emerge from the rigorous application of the following principle:

Your architecture and code should make What & Why explicit without specifying How & When.
What, Not How

It is well known that we should prefer declarative over imperative code. By observing the Law of Demeter, we are in fact forced to create declarative, What, semantics in our interfaces since we can't get at the How, the imperative constructs. The Single-Responsibility Principle tends to force us to factor out the How into other classes, leaving us to consume other classes with What semantics. Further, the Interface Segregation Principle requires us to explicity segregate the interfaces our clients consume based on What they are trying to accomplish; if our focus was How, such segregation would be less of a concern.

Event-Driven Architectures (EDA) are another example of What, Not How. Whereas the SOLID principles operate at the class design level of abstraction, EDA is concerned with system-level architecture. In an Event-Drive Architecture, we explicitly model happenings in the domain. Rather than coupling the site of the happening to a specific party designating for dealing with that happening, we create an Event and use reliabile messaging and subscription schemes to allow one or many services to handle it. In other words, instead of specifying How to deal with a happening at the site that generates it, we explicitly model What happened and let other parties worry about How to deal with it.

Why, Not When

This maxim is both more subtle and more prosaic than What, Not How. It is probably pretty obvious that when given a requirement stated, "if the purchase order acknowledgement is not received within two hours, notify someone in fulfillment," we should model an Event "POAckIsLate" as opposed to "TwoHoursHaveElapsedWithoutReceivingPOAck". We will have different SLAs with different vendors; those SLAs will change, etc. So we can say, when modeling Events in our domain, we should prefer specifying Why, Not When.

Perhaps more subtle is the implications for communication semantics between modules. If we model our communications with Why in mind, we don't get mired in the concurrency problems of specifying When. Consider a workflow. If we specify When to go to a particular step, the underlying reason may have changed unless we take some sort of explicit lock on shared state. If we instead specify Why a particular state transition takes place, we can avoid inconsistent states through continuous evaluation. If we make Why explicit and consequently create semantics to evaluate Why independently of "current" state, it becomes possible to evaluate the state consistently without any shared state, i.e. without a notion of When.

As an example, if we had the requirement, "when a PO is received with a quantity for part X above a twenty units, move the order to the top of the work queue," we should model a "BulkProductionRequest" Event and an "ExpediteProduction"; we should not implement a "Reprioritize Production Queue For Order of PartX Over Twenty Units". Begin with the end in mind and ask What do we want to do (expedite production) not How (re-prioritize production queue). Ask Why are we expediting this order? Because it is Bulk. What is Bulk? Bulk is a quality determined by a CapacityPlanning service and implies that the quantity exceeds some production capacity threshold.