Perks of Life in the Kingdom of Nouns

Execution in the Kingdom of Nouns is one of Steve Yegge’s most entertaining posts about the verbosity and noun-centricity of Java (and other strongly typed languages without first-class functions). His post paints a picture of life outside JavaLand, where things are simpler and more straightforward:

There’s rarely any need in these kingdoms to create wrapper nouns to swaddle the verbs. They don’t have GarbageDisposalStrategy nouns, nor GarbageDisposalDestinationLocator nouns for finding your way to the garage, nor PostGarbageActionCallback nouns for putting you back on your couch. They just write the verbs to operate on the nouns lying around, and then have a master verb, take_out_garbage(), that springs the subtasks to action in just the right order.

With simplicity, there’s always a tradeoff. How does one test that take_out_garbage() actually works? You’ll need a full environment with real nouns lying around and all you can do is check the environment after completion. In the Kingdom of Nouns, you can pass in mock nouns and carefully watch what the function does with them. Maybe it’s important that the recycling gets separated, but if you only check the end environment, you won’t be able to tell it wasn’t.

What if trash day is moved to a different day? You might need a new take_out_garbage_wednesday(). As ridiculous as it seems, passing in a GarbageDestination makes the chore more flexible and testable. During testing I can pass in a destination of “right here”, saving me the hassle of creating an environment that includes the walkway out to the curb.

Whether you’re executing global/static functions or class methods, being able to pass dependencies in (where to find the trash, where it goes, when is it supposed to be there) not only makes your function more flexible, but more testable to boot.

This is not to suggest that Steve’s post was anti-dependency injection. I get the impression it was more a frustration of the expressive limitations of Java (when he wrote it—I think it has lambdas now). You can do dependency injection just fine without concrete classes, of course, but you wouldn’t want someone to pass in an array of GPS coordinates when you really need an object that you could call getStreetAddress() on. Type hinting an AddressProvider in the argument would let end users know exactly what to pass in and let the compiler/runtime know not to even bother executing the function, because we don’t have what we need. Also type hinted arguments allow good IDEs to prevent you from making mistakes, or to autocomplete existing variables in scope matching that type.

One thought on “Perks of Life in the Kingdom of Nouns

  1. qwerty says:

    Languages like Lisp, Python and Ruby, which are all considerably more flexible than Java disproves your argument. Injecting methods into an object at runtime is flexible, wrapping classes around methods is not.

    Java is as stiff as a board.

    The reason IDE’s are required with Java is to overcome the limitations and lack of flexibility that is Java. Better languages offer high productivity in a simple text editor.

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