A few thoughts about Practical Object-Oriented Design In Ruby

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Object-Oriented Design is a big part of the debate the Ruby community has had in the latest couple of years. People are writing blog posts, giving talks at conferences and writing books on the subject. OOD is nothing new, let’s say it, but I think the status of many Rails projects is the reason why there is all this attention to the topic in the Ruby community. Be careful I’m not blaming the framework, I’m making a living by using it. I’m just saying that if you’re writing non trivial applications with Rails you generally end up asking yourself why everything looks so messed-up and is hard to maintain. The first question I ask myself when I consider reading a technical book is: is this book worth my reading time? Well, I think “Practical Object-Oriented Design In Ruby” finally fills the gap for a need that was pretty clear to me: explaining simple OOD that feels like Ruby using proper examples. So yes, the answer is yes. The book is worth reading, definitely. And I think the community will benefit from it a lot since there are still a lot of doubts about OOD.

The book

OK, let me focus on the book itself now. It explains simple OOD that feels like Ruby using proper examples. I divide my short review in three paragraphs as I think the winning in this book is in the words I put in italics.

Simple

@sandimetz writes in a dead simple way. Every sentence is clear and well crafted. She uses a lot of metaphors in the book and most of them are just perfect. I’ll give you an example of a concept that I find crucial for basic understanding of OOD. I think messages are the key concept of OOD; sending messages is the way we make things work in OO languages. It’s the way our objects interact and get their job done. But the problem is that most of the time we keep thinking about the classes. We write classes with methods and not objects that send messages. And the author, while discussing how to find the public interface, came up with a paragraph that I love:

Changing the fundamental design question from “I know I need this class, what should it do?” to “I need to send this message, who should respond to it?” is the first step in that direction.

Where the direction is moving from class-based design to message-based design. Then the dead simple masterpiece:

You don’t send messages because you have objects, you have objects because you send messages.

Well, that’s the kind of awesomeness you’ll find in the book. It’s completely full of sentences so dense and simple at the same time. I think it’s the first technical Ruby book in which I was actually highlighting sentences.

Feels like Ruby

The techniques she presents throughout the book will always feel like Ruby code and not something ported from a different language. I don’t want to show you any example because it would probably be out of context and won’t make any difference. But what I can tell you is the feeling I had while reading the code in the book. Generally, the code presented is simple and readable. It’s exactly the Ruby code that made me crazy about the language some years ago.

And this is great for two reasons:

  • It’s the first time that I read code samples in Ruby on the subject that can help you shaping the API of your objects in a way they become polite citizens of the Ruby world. Well, with the exception of Eloquent Ruby that is perfect for writing code that looks like Ruby even though it helps to improve code not from a design technique perspective, but from the language perspective. So it doesn’t count.

  • @sandimetz repeats it many times in the book that the aim of OOD is reducing costs. I can’t agree more and this is the second reason why I think the code samples are great. While reading articles about OOD techniques in Ruby, most of the time I had some difficulties reading the code. since there were too many levels of indirection or maybe just too many things. This felt wrong because Ruby has a clean and simple syntax and it has to be simple to read. In this book the examples are always very readable. We spend a lot of time reading code at work, so writing readable code reduces costs because we’ll read code more often than we’ll write new one.

Proper examples

The author did a great job here. In a certain way this point is connected with the previous one since most of the examples involve code. But the real point about the examples is that they are abstract enough to let the author talk about the concepts behind OOD techniques and concrete enough to show you good pieces of code. And this is definitely a new thing in the world of Ruby books. There is another very good book out there about OOD in the Ruby community - Objects on Rails. The book is great and I recommend it heartily. But it has this small issue with the blog example. I talked to a lot of people about the book and I got this sad response from many of them: “Yeah, it’s cool but man it’s too much complicated for a blog”. Of course, that’s not book’s fault. It’s just that we keep fixating on the code. Because we’re programmers. And for this very reason, the code samples are crucial for the success of this kind of book.

My conclusion

If you’re interested in the topic, this book will be a joy to read. I have a very long queue of technical reading and I put this book in the middle of it since I want to re-read it soon. My suggestion is to read it. It’s really worth the time. It’s literally full of great thoughts on the topic. I already hope there will be another book by Sandi Metz in the future.

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