Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Alan Kay's Metaphor for OO

Alan Kay, one of the creators of SmallTalk has this to say about Object Oriented Programming

The most obvious parallel is the human body, which is divided into
trillions of cells, each performing its own specialized task.

Like objects in software produced with object-oriented programming,
human cells do not know what goes on inside one another, but they can
communicate nevertheless, working together to perform more complex
tasks. "This is an almost foolproof way of operating", Kay says.

By mimicking biology in this way, we can minimize many of the problems
inherent to the construction of a complex computing system. A developer
can focus on one simple module at a time, making sure it works
properly, and move on to the next. Not only is building a system this
way easier, but the system will be much more reliable. And when it does
break down, it is simpler to fix, because problems are typical
contained within individual modules, which can be repaired and replaced
quickly. By contrast, a monolithic system is like a massive mechanical
clock containing innumerable turning gears, none of which has its own
internal logic or communicates information. Each gear functions
unintelligently and only in relation to other gears. The design is
hopelessly flawed. When building gear clocks, eventually it
will reach a certain level of complexity and it falls in on itself.

Great crisp description. No cludgy words like blacboxes, blueprints etc. It clearly highlights the pitfalls in a procedural style of development.

I like the way in which he weaves in the concepts of Encapsulation(Info Hiding) and Message Passing.

Encapsulation is drilled into everyone doing OO. But most of the developers have still not got the subtle difference between message passing and method invocation. Can't say I blame anyone (i too did'nt know till recently), since you dont need to know about something they can't see/use when using java, c++ etc.

A message is a signal from one object to another that requests the receiving object to carry out one of its methods. The message consists of the name of the receiving object and its arguments, that is, the method it is to carry out and any parameters the method may require to fulfill its charge. Hence the end state of a message is "method invocation".

Ideally every object will get a message, check if it can respond to this message. If it can, the appropriate method for this message is invoked. Else the object can respond in whatever way it seems fit. When using Java this is not evident and not exposed at all. In Ruby atleast you have some access to this using the method_missing feature.

I digress. Coming back, I still remember my first OO concepts course, and the convuluted/over-simplified examples that were presented. I just wish I had come across stuff like this at that time.

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1 comment:

Cihat AltuntaƟ said...

What a great description.Thanks for sharing.

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