My problems with East

James Ladd’s East principle - I still don’t get it

All this started a while ago (in July) and I always wanted to put my thoughts into a blog post - so here it is. I was a bit worried, that I might look a little dumb by just not getting it, but I think can explain my problems and I hope to get some advice.

I was first pointed to James Ladd’s East principle by a tweet from Robert C. Martin.

unclebobmartin Go East, young developer, go East.

East oriented code follows three principles as James refined them in his follow up post More East…:

  1. All public methods should be void, boolean or return a reference to the current object (this in Java).
  2. Objects that implement the Factory or Builder pattern or similar are an exception.
  3. East is better suited to composite objects, not primitive objects. Personally I don’t make this distinction.

I think rules 2 and 3 were not that explicit in the first article and evolved as consequences. When you use a dependency injection framework, you do not have to deal much with creational patterns and if an object only consists of simple values, there is not that much that it can act upon.

I run into some troubles with the first rule.

So how do I get information about the object out of the object? In East oriented code you don’t want to do that. In accordance with the Tell don’t Ask principle, you do not extract information and deal with that, but you let the object decide what to do according to its internal state.

So I looked at the first examples. Instead of fetching the balance from an account object and printing it from the outside, you push some Writer object into the account object and let the account object push its own balance value into the Writer object. It reminds me a bit of the Visitor Pattern, the account object has to provide a putBalance() / accept() method that accepts some Writer / Visitor object on that it calls the write() / visit() method, just that the argument for write() is already some formatted string, whereas the argument for visit() would be the account object itself and the visitor would act westish by fetching information from the account ojbect.

In the second part of the examples James starts with a MovieLister class that has a method to return the movies directed by a given director. Actually he says, you never need this filtered list, unless you want to do something with these movies. So he creates a method applyToTheMoviesDirectedBy(final MovieAction movieAction, final String director) on the MovieLister and in order to do something with the right movies, he passes those arguments to a new method ifDirectedByDo(director, movieAction) of the Movie class.

In the More East… post, he gives a simpler example changing a getDateOfBirth() method to a boolean method isBirthday(Date today).

Some days after I read about East the first time, Uncle Bob tweeted

unclebobmartin The latest Clean Code Tip: “Output Arguments re Counterintuitive”

I read the article, and I thought, but James pushes these objects (like the Writer or the MovieAction) that accept information, isn’t that an output argument? - Well the MovieAction somehow isn’t, it has the final keyword in the method signature. I am not that deep into Java, but the final keyword does not seem to mean, that the inner state of MovieAction cannot be changed through method calls on the MovieAction object. In his example the MovieAction consists of a Writer-like object (that writes to the console or a file) and in my eyes, this makes the MovieAction an output argument again.

So I wrote

grgramlich @unclebobmartin Doesn’t @jamesladd ‘s East principle make heavy use of output arguments? Very confused!

and I got these answers by Uncle Bob

unclebobmartin @grgramlich going east is all about coding with no side effects. You can do that without output arcs.

and by James Ladd

jamesladd @grgramlich East doesn’t rely on output arguments. Lets discuss more.

So I am not sure, whether these Writer objects do not count as output arguments or James examples are just chosen badly.

I still have the feeling, that there must be some way to get information out of objects in some way. How would I test that my objects store the right information? By using mock objects and concentrating on the interactions. But how can I test my code with the Slim Testrunner for FitNesse? Slim relies on the fact that you can get results out of objects. So to act eastish, do I need to pass in visitor objects (output arguments) into my domain objects that can collect the data? This approach also means that I have to implement new methods on the domain objects.

And this is where I get to my second major concern. SRP violations. Uncle Bob states the Single Responsibility Principle as

A class should have one, and only one, reason to change.

So for example if I have some object that contains data and I want a report about that data, I will not put a report method into the data class, but create a new report class, so if the format of the report changes, I do not have to touch the data class. But this is exactly what happens in James’ first example, where he formats the account balance with a decimal dot. In Germany, we use a decimal comma, for the German report, James needs to change the account class.

Again, this might be a badly chosen example and the Writer might be a smarter Reporter class, but James really likes to add new (boolean) methods to the domain objects, if he needs a new filter specification. In his More East… post, it becomes easy to find out, whether a person is born at a given date, but in order to find out, whether the person is of legal age or which zodiac sign the person belongs to, you need to add new methods to the person class.

I find the East principles very interesting and I see many benefits, but as I said, there are some parts which I just don’t get.

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