Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book review: Growing Object Oriented Software Guided by Tests

I’m a curious kind of guy. It is with some surprise, then, that I catch myself re-reading a technical book: Nat Pryce and Steve Freeman’s Growing Object Oriented Software Guided By Tests. It’s a very practical book, stuffed with code and useful advice, but it’s also more than that.

The first section of the book gives an overview of the basic principles of object-oriented design and test-driven development; not much is new but everything is clearly explained. The third and final section is a potpourri of test-centric techniques to identify problems and improve code quality. But the meat of the book is in the second section, a long walkthrough the development of a sample program. It’s a much larger example than usually found on programming books, tackling thorny issues such as asynchornous inter-process communication and end-to-end testing of GUIs. And it reads like a real software project, there are missteps, refactorings are rolled-back, some of the work is almost clerical, but then there are the great design breakthoughs, the elegant ideas that simultaneously solve several difficulties, the joy in seeing the product grow. It felt like reading a good novel. And that’s kind of what it is, a programming book that is a narrative, not an exposition. Besides making for a good read, the narrative aspect of the book is important for showing how modern object-orientation practice takes place.

OO criticisms nowadays are a dime a dozen, and though they sometimes present good points, often many of the arguments are directed at practices that aren’t so common, or at least that shouldn’t be so common. For instance, inheritance hierarchies, rampant mutable state, and patternitis (the FactoryFactory syndrome), are not indictments of object orientation, just symptoms of bad programming practice. One of the great things about GOOS is that it provides a great example of actual non-trivial object-orientation. And the same goes for test-driven-development, any abstract discussion of the benefits of TDD is bound to seem hand-wavey; this book helps to ground the understanding in real coding, done step by step in front of the reader’s eyes.

Anyway, I've read some pretty good technical books this year, but this one was the best.