Tag Archives: programming

A Subway Metaphor

Many years ago I read a science fiction story which has always stayed with me – although I’m buggered if I can remember the title or the author.

It was set in the not too distant future. Another new line was about to be opened on the New York City Subway [In the comments Rozallin points out that it was, in fact, probably Boston and not NYC]. Mathematicians were warning that the line shouldn’t be opened as every new line increased the complexity of the network and they had calculated that opening this particular line would push the network over some limit and would make it theoretically unsolvable. They worried that the safety of passengers couldn’t be guaranteed if they were travelling on an unsolvable graph.

Of course, the mathematicians were ignored. And, of course, trains started going missing soon after the line was opened. And that’s where our hero (a kind of topological Indiana Jones, if I recall correctly) came in.

For some reason, that’s the image that sometimes pops into my head when I’m working on large application that has had random pieces of code added to it by various people over long periods of time. I worry that the system will eventually become so complex that any train (or, more likely, CPU) that is set running on it will vanish into the depths of complexity, never to be seen again.

I had that feeling particularly strongly this afternoon. This system really needs to be brought under control.

Moose or No Moose

I’ve known about Moose for some time.The first time I talked about it in a training course was at the Teach-In back in the summer of 2007. It’s been part of my training courses ever since.

But even though I was telling people about Moose in my training courses, I wasn’t really making use of it in my own code. Obviously as a freelancer, in my day-job I’m constrained to using whatever technologies my clients are using and I have yet to be paid to work on a project that is already using Moose (although I’ve suggested that a few clients switch to it).

That leaves my own code. Which is largely my CPAN modules. Until recently I hadn’t used Moose for any of them. The first one I released that used Moose was Guardian::OpenPlatform::API. That was a new module which used Moose right from the start. But I knew that eventually I’d want to go back and refactor my existing modules to use Moose wherever it was appropriate.

Having gone to YAPC::Europe this year, I was subjected to another week of people telling me face to face just how cool Moose was. So I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and start refactoring.

The next module I tried was Parse::RPM::Spec. I chose this for two reasons. Firstly, it’s very much an attribute-driven module. Apart from the initial parsing of the spec file, objects of this class exist simply to return the values of their attributes. This makes it a great match for Moose. In fact converting it to use Moose was largely a case of removing code. The second reason for choosing it was more pragmatic – as far as I know no-one is using the module so if I broke anything I wouldn’t have hordes of angry users on my back.

Impressed by how easily that conversion was I moved on to Array::Compare. This module holds a special place in my heart as it was my very first CPAN module. I don’t think it’s a particularly useful module. It’s algorithm is pretty basic and other than the project that I originally wrote it for I’ve never used it in any production code. I often use it to try out new techniques. I released version 2.00 on August 9th (the change of implementation seemed to justify bumping the major version number).

Yesterday I got an RT ticket asking me to stop using Moose. The ticket is pretty clear that for several uses (it specifically mentions command line usage) the extra overhead added by Moose leads to an unacceptable performance hit.

I’m not sure which way to go on this. As a developer I like using Moose. Moose makes it much easier to write object oriented code in Perl. And I think that over the next year or so more and more CPAN developers will be using Moose in their code. Already if you’re writing something reasonably complex in Perl there’s a good chance that you’ll be using a module that uses Moose. As time goes on the percentage of Perl code that relies on Moose will increase. But if it really imposes an unacceptable performance hit for smaller applications, do I really want to force developers into using Moose sooner than they want to?

I think I’m going to put on hold my plans to move stuff to Moose until I’ve thought this through a bit more. But I’d be interested in hearing other people’s opinions. If you’re a CPAN author, are you planning to move your modules to Moose. And if you’re an application developer, have you started to avoid CPAN modules which force you to use Moose?

Let me know what you think.

Update: Well, didn’t this entry start a lot of discussion? As well as the comments here, there have been a number of other posts that reference my post. Here are the ones I’ve seen (in no particular order):

I’ll add more as I come across them. Of course, the more discussion I see, the more unclear my decision becomes.

But thanks for the interest. The discussion has been fascinating.

What is Wrong With this Picture?

I’ve just found a number of subroutines defined this way in the code that I’m working on.

I discovered the problem because I started getting errors about “too many parameters”. I knew what the problem was (the empty prototype) but it took a couple of minutes of head-scratching before I realised why it had been working before my changes.

Then I realised.

I have a dislike of “unnecessary” &s on subroutine calls. So almost without realising, I had removed them from the calls to these functions.

A few lessons have been learned.

Lesson 1 (for the original author of this code): Prototypes will trip you up. Do not use them.

Lesson 2 (for me): Ampersands aren’t always as pointless as they appear. They may be masking bugs in the code.