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Primitive Obsession & Exceptional Values

I’ve been working through Avdi Grimes’ Mastering the Object Oriented Mindset course.

One of the topics was using “whole values”, instead of being “primative obsessed”. The example Avdi gave was clear as day.

He used a course with a duration attribute to show the problem.

course.duration 
=> 3

3 what? weeks? days? months?

Of course, you could write a method like:

course.duration_in_weeks
=> 3

But now you’ll have trouble rendering this all over the place. You’d have conditionals every time you wanted to render courses in weeks (if it makes sense), or in months (if appropriate), or of course, days.

So, the solution is to use “Whole values”. This means an attribute should be a complete unit, in and of itself, and should need no further refining to be usable.

So, you should be able to do something like this:

course.duration
=> Months[3]
shorter_course.duration
=> Weeks[5]

mind blown

So, here’s the basics of this Duration class, that your units (like Days, Weeks, and Months) inherit from:

class Duration
  attr_reader :magnitude
  
  def initialize(magnitude)
    @magnitude = magnitude
    freeze
  end
  
  def inspect
    "#{self.class}[#{magnitude}]"
  end
  
  def to_s
    "#{magnitude} #{self.class.name.downcase}"
  end
  
  alias_method :to_i, :magnitude
end


class Days < Duration; end
class Weeks < Duration; end
class Months < Duration; end

And it delivers pretty cool stuff:

main:0> Days.new(3)
=> Days[3]
main:0> Days.new(3).to_s
=> "3 days"
main:0> length = Weeks.new(3)
=> Weeks[3]

But having the option to call course.duration and get Weeks[3] as a response is… amazing. Or course.length.to_s and get 3 weeks. Super cool.

Avdi walked through the example code, but I was partial to having it available for playing around myself. So, I built a very simple test file.

Check out the full test suite, if you’re interested

The above gist also has the code that makes it all pass. I’m going to highlight just a few of the tests below:

def test_duration_is_months_object
  assert_instance_of Months, @math.duration
end

This test (and a few others) make it explicit that when you call @math.duration you don’t expect a primitive back - you expect an instance of the Months class. Super cool.

def test_duration_inspect
  assert_equal "Months[4]", @math.duration.inspect
end

We can “convert” our Duration value into a primitive (a string) by calling #inspect on it. Other than this, though, the duration value lives as its own object.

The tests test some helper methods that Avidi mentioned, to make it a bit easier to render the course.duration in a view:

def render_course_info(course)
  "#{course.name} (#{render_value(course.duration)})"
end

def render_value(value)
  case value
  when Months
    "#{value.to_i} gruling months"
  when Weeks
    "#{value.to_i} delightful weeks"
  when Days
    "a paultry #{value.to_i} days"
  end
end

Exceptional Values

So, we’ve got this method that takes input as a string, like “12 months”, and tries to convert it to Months[12].

If you are accepting data from a user, you’ll need to plan on invalid input, like “99 blinks”.

Here’s the first take of the conversion method:

def Duration(raw_value)
  case raw_value
  when Duration
    raw_value
  when /\A(\d+)\s+months\z/i
    Months[$1.to_i]
  when /\A(\d+)\s+weeks\z/i
    Weeks[$1.to_i]
  when /\A(\d+)\s+days\z/i
    Days[$1.to_i]
  else 
    nil
  end
end

This kind of works, but nil isn’t a great place-holder. Now your view logic needs to do all sorts of special work to handle if there are nil values, which of course there will be all the time, because if you call:

course = Course.new
course.name = "math"
course.duration = "12 days"
course.save

The course will have nil values auto-assigned simply because the user has not filled it in yet.

Anyway, so, as you might expect from someone talking about “whole values”, there’s a “whole value” implementation of an exception:

def Duration(raw_value)
  case raw_value
  when Duration
    raw_value
  when /\A(\d+)\s+months\z/i
    Months[$1.to_i]
  when /\A(\d+)\s+weeks\z/i
    Weeks[$1.to_i]
  when /\A(\d+)\s+days\z/i
    Days[$1.to_i]
  else 
    ExceptionalValue.new(raw_value, reason: "unrecognized format")
    # we create a new Exceptional Value object if we get unrecognized input
  end
end

Here’s what that object might look like, using this exceptional value:

math = Course.new("Math")
math.duration = "a blink of an eye"
=> <struct Course
 name="Math",
 duration=<ExceptionalValue:0x00007fca79021188 @raw_value="a blink of an eye", @reason="unrecognized format">>

pretty cool, huh?

check out the gist for tests and class code. Don’t judge me for sticking like 40 classes in the same file…

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