TweetFollow Us on Twitter

September 90 - Meta-spaghetti

Meta-spaghetti

Donald E. Carlile

(BILL: I FORGOT TO GET A COMPANY NAME FROM DON. WANT TO GIVE IT A SHOP?)

I'm a fairly conscientious programmer-I like to think I write good clean code; I take the trouble to use modular techniques; I even stood on my head to learn object-oriented techniques. But in spite of all this, I found out I was writing spaghetti.

Spaghetti code! Someone still uses GOTO!?

Well, possibly I exagerrate: I don't mean spaghetti code in the old BASIC GOTO sense-```I mean spaghetti code that is only possible when you are writing in an OOP language. Maybe we'd better call it meta-spaghetti.

I found I was writing meta-spaghetti when I was asked by someone if I would let him use some of my objects. I had known I had only one unit, but I hadn't realized how tangled it was. It was then that I developed the term meta-spaghetti to define the condition of my code.

What I mean by meta-spaghetti is objects which refer to each other recursively. That is, objects which in their definitions include fields of each other's type, as in

TMyDocument = OBJECT(TDocument)
	
	fStar : TStar;
	…

	TStar = OBJECT(TObject)

		fMyDocument : TMyDocument;
	…

This leads to strange loops and to units which cannot easily be decomposed into simpler entities.

As anyone who has read even part of Hofstader's Gödel, Escher, Bach knows, it is impossible to entirely banish strange loops: you made that reference in the object definition for some reason, and it cannot be easily abandoned without some thought and work. That being said, you might still want to introduce some measure of isolation between your objects.

I can tell you from experience that it is difficult to undo the damage once it's done. As I was unraveling my code, however, I developed some guidelines for avoiding and dealing with meta-spaghetti. Perhaps they will prove helpful to you as well, as you design your code from the beginning to avoid this condition.

1. References should only to be to objects down the ownership chain.

As I was defining my set of rules, this is the first one that became apparent: when defining an object, references can be made to the internals of the objects it owns. This is what I mean by references down the ownership chain. (For a more complete discussion of the ownership chain, see the author's Chains Required, Whips Optional, an unpublished, and indeed unwritten, article.)

As an example, in my Trek-style game I had a method to add text to a textedit window. This method belonged to my document object. In order for my ship objects to add text about their status to the window, they had to have a reference to my document object. This caused a problem when I wanted my ship objects in a separate unit so that others could use them.

I solved this problem by changing the way I added text to the window. Instead of calling the document method, I added a text handle field to the ship object. I then changed my document DoIdle to check the texthandle of each ship object. In this way I followed the rule of having only references down the ownership chain.

If this rule is followed, the separation of objects into units becomes very clear and simple. There is no confusing interdependence of objects, and it is clear what the unit dependencies should be.

There is only one problem with this rule: it's not always possible or desirable to follow it. Some objects need to be interrelated; when this is the case, they probably should not be separated. This brings us to the next rule:

2. When it is impossible to remove references between objects, include them in the same unit.

The universe of my game is defined by two object types, TGalaxy and TQuadrant. These two object types refer to each other quite a lot, and it makes a great deal of sense for them to both be in the same unit. It is also unlikely that they would need to be separated to be reused. Therefore, I have put them into their own unit.

3. When it is impossible to untangle references and they must be in separate units, define a new object to make the references and push it down the ownership chain.

Don't be afraid to revise your structure. Although it will save you work to think out your structure ahead of time, sometimes this proves impossible. When you find you have painted yourself into a corner, cut a new doorway.

In my original design, my TMyDocument object owned all the lists of quadrants and other data containers. Thus, all my data objects referred back to it in order to refer to each other. When I wanted to separate out my ships, stars and quadrants into other units to make them usable elsewhere and to decrease compile time, I found the task impossible.

I then defined a new object, a TGalaxy, to contain all the objectionable fields and methods (no pun intended) and made a new field in the revised TMyDocument object to refer to an instantiation of TGalaxy. This made it possible to cleanly make the separation.

Make vanilla references when Rule 1 is impossible.

Another strategy for avoiding meta-spaghetti is to make references to the parent type rather than the type that is giving you trouble. This is not always possible, but sometimes the method or field you need to reference is contained in the object's parent or ancestor.

In my game, I call the draw method of my TQuadView object type from one of the methods of TQuadrant. I do this to avoid the flicker introduced when I use the invalid rectangle methods of MacApp. Originally TQuadrant included a field fMyDocument of type TMyDocument. TMyDocument, of course, had a reference to an fQuadView, of type TQuadView. TQuadView was a specialized descendant of TView. When I needed to do a drawing, I called fMyDocument.fQuadView.Draw. In this way, TQuadrant absolutely needed to be in the same unit as TQuadView. It was also specifically geared to my application only.

To untangle this particular mess, I added a field fQuadView, of type TView, to my TGalaxy object. Since variables of an ancestor type can contain any descendent, this field can contain an object of the specialized type TQuadView. The only limitation is that specialized fields and methods may not be called using this reference.

At the time an object of type TQuadView is made, it is passed to fGalaxy of the TMyDocument. Then I can call Draw, since Draw is one of the methods of the ancestor TView class.

5. Define proto-objects for objects up the chain when Rule 1 is impossible.

Sometimes all the above rules fail: you still want to break up objects into different units but they can't come completely apart. When this happens, it is important to remember that it is permissible to define objects or abstract classes which have no instantiation. You can define these "proto-objects" to contain those fields and methods which are necessary for the objects lower down the ownership chain and can include these classes in the same unit with those objects. Then USE that unit in the unit which defines the real objects and make them descendants.

As I mentioned earlier, TGalaxy and TQuadrant define the universe of my game. I found it impossible to completely divorce these objects from the objects I refer to, i.e., my ships, stars, bases,and torpedoes. I reasoned further that any structure which made use of my entities would also need some kind of quadrant and galaxy. I then defined a TProtoGalaxy and TProtoQuadrant, which had references for the fields and methods necessary for my entity unit, while not burdening the unit with the heavy details and the bulk of the fields and methods. I then defined TGalaxy as a descendant of TProtoGalaxy and TQuadrant as a descendant of TProtoQuadrant.

This one might be just a bit tricky to follow. Let me try and restate it thusly: the Galaxy and Quadrant objects have several fields and methods which ships and things need to reference. Two examples of such fields are the galaxy array and the list of other entities in the quad. An example of a referenced method is the one which detects when collisions occur. I therefore defined objects, which I call proto-objects, which contain references to these things. I don't define the methods-e.g., the collision procedure in the protoQuad consists of a Begin and an End, as do the rest of the methods in my proto-objects. In a different unit I then create descendants of the proto-objects with all the fields and fleshed-out methods fully defined.

I don't claim that these rules are the simple once-and-for-all solution to the problem of meta-spaghetti, but they are a start. You can probably come up with a few rules and methods of your own. Good luck!

Rules for avoiding meta-spaghetti:

  1. References should only to be to objects down the ownership chain.
  2. When it is impossible to remove references between objects, include them in the same unit.
  3. When it is impossible to untangle references, and they must be in separate units, feel free to define a new object.
  4. Make vanilla references when Rule 1 is impossible.
  5. Define proto-objects for objects up the chain when Rule 1 is impossible.

If you have any questions or comments for Don, he can be reached on AppleLink at N0231.

 
AAPL
$94.72
Apple Inc.
+0.78
MSFT
$44.83
Microsoft Corpora
-0.01
GOOG
$594.74
Google Inc.
+5.27

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Airmail 1.4 - Powerful, minimal email cl...
Airmail is a powerful, minimal mail client.It was designed to retain the same experience with a single or multiple accounts and provide a quick, modern and easy-to-use user experience. Airmail... Read more
Macs Fan Control 1.1.12 - Monitor and co...
Macs Fan Control allows you to monitor and control almost any aspect of your computer's fans, with support for controlling fan speed, temperature sensors pane, menu-bar icon, and autostart with... Read more
A Better Finder Rename 9.37 - File, phot...
A Better Finder Rename is the most complete renaming solution available on the market today. That's why, since 1996, tens of thousands of hobbyists, professionals and businesses depend on A Better... Read more
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update 2.9 - Fo...
MacBook Air EFI Firmware Update is recommended for MacBook Air (Mid 2011) models. This update addresses an issue where systems may take longer to wake from sleep than expected and fixes a rare issue... Read more
FileZilla 3.9.0.1 - Fast and reliable FT...
FileZilla (ported from Windows) is a fast and reliable FTP client and server with lots of useful features and an intuitive interface.Version 3.9.0.1: MSW: Fix installation issue with locked DLLs... Read more
OS X Yosemite 10.10 DP4 - Developer Prev...
Note: This is a Developer Preview. You must be a registered Apple Mac Developer to download this update. OS X Yosemite is Apple's newest operating system for Mac. An elegant design that feels... Read more
FinderPop 2.5.6 - Classic Mac utility, n...
FinderPop is a Universal preference pane that extends OS X's contextual menus using a FinderPop Items folder much as the Apple Menu Items folder used to do for the Apple menu. It has other features... Read more
SpiderOak 5.1.7 - Secure cloud backup, s...
SpiderOak is a multi-platform secure online backup, storage, access, and sharing solution engineered for the consumer and small businesses. You must first sign up to use SpiderOak. Running natively... Read more
Espionage 3.6 - Simple, state of the art...
Espionage offers state-of-the-art encryption and plausible deniability for your confidential data. Sometimes, encrypting your data isn't enough to protect it. That's why Espionage 3 goes beyond data... Read more
calibre 1.45.0 - Complete e-library mana...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Celebrate Summer With a Cat in the Hat L...
Celebrate Summer With a Cat in the Hat Learning Library Sale Posted by Ellis Spice on July 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
MyTaskList Review
MyTaskList Review By Jennifer Allen on July 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: EFFECTIVE IF PLAINUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It’s not the most stylish of task management apps, but MyTaskList has all the features you could... | Read more »
FlyCraft Herbie: Crazy Machines Review
FlyCraft Herbie: Crazy Machines Review By Jennifer Allen on July 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: TRICKY FLYINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A tough game of careful thrusting and navigation, FlyCraft Herbie: Crazy Machines... | Read more »
MTN Review
MTN Review By Jessica Fisher on July 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: ADORABLE, SERENE, AND AMUSINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad MTN is an adorable, talking pet mountain that is less game and more zen garden.   | Read more »
Fly High with Ninja UP! Now Available o...
Fly High with Ninja UP! Now Available on the App Store Posted by Jessica Fisher on July 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Bio Inc. Review
Bio Inc. Review By Nadia Oxford on July 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: SICKENING - IN A COMPELLING WAYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Bio Inc is about orchestrating the medical destruction of a single person. If that doesn’... | Read more »
HELMUT Review
HELMUT Review By Andrew Fisher on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: TRUNDLE SIMULATOR 2014Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad HELMUT is a fun, fleeting time-sink that offers a momentary distraction and nothing else.   | Read more »
Walkr Review
Walkr Review By Jennifer Allen on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: ORIGINAL WALKINGiPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad Walking is a bit more exciting thanks to this planet building/discovering sim reliant... | Read more »
Zombie Commando Review
Zombie Commando Review By Jennifer Allen on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: MINDLESS SLAUGHTERUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Briefly fun but ultimately forgettable, Zombie Commando will scratch an itch then be... | Read more »
Swords & Poker Adventures Review
Swords & Poker Adventures Review By Jennifer Allen on July 21st, 2014 Our Rating: :: SOULLESS POKER PLAYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Swords & Poker Adventures is a mishmash of Poker and RPGing, but it lacks... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

15-inch 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Retina on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 15″ 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1829 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $170 off MSRP. B&H will also include free copies of Parallels... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished Mac minis for up t...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished Mac minis for up to $150 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 2.5GHz Mac... Read more
Twelve South HiRise For MacBook – Height-Adju...
If you use your MacBook as a workhorse desktop substitute, as many of us do, a laptop stand combined with an external keyboard and pointing device are pretty much obligatory if you want to avoid... Read more
Why The Mac Was Not Included In The Apple/IBM...
TUAW’s Yoni Heisler cites Fredrick Paul of Network World whoi blogged last week that the Mac’s conspicuous absence from Apple and IBM’s landmark partnership agreement represents a huge squandered... Read more
Save $100 on 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros, plu...
Adorama has 13″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: - 13″ 2.4GHz/128GB MacBook Pro with Retina Display: $1199 - 13″ 2.... Read more
Blurr it 2.3 for iOS – Quickly Blurs Selected...
Hyderabad, India based TouchLabs has announced a new update of Blurr it 2.3, their photography app for iOS users. Blurr it allows you to blur part of the image to hide potentially sensitive or... Read more
MacBook Airs on sale for $100 off MSRP, start...
Best Buy has the new 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP on their online store. Choose free home shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Prices valid for online orders only... Read more
Amazon Announces Kindle Unlimited: Unlimited...
Amazon.com has introduced Kindle Unlimited — a new subscription service which allows customers to freely read as much as they want from over 600,000 Kindle books, and listen as much as they want to... Read more
New Linksys Wireless Range Extenders Boost Wi...
Linksys has announced its new lineup of Linksys Wi-Fi Range Extenders. Consumers often experience a weak wireless signal in some parts of their house or apartment caused by blocking elements such as... Read more
MacBook Airs available starting at $719
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2013 & 2012 MacBook Airs in stock today starting at $719. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free: 2013... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Sr *Apple* Engineer - IT - Requisition #: -...
For more information about TIAA-CREF, visit our website . The Apple Engineer will provide engineering and third-level incident support for 300- 500 MacOS desktop/laptop Read more
*Apple* Systems Administrator - DISH (United...
…satellite service provider, and Dish is currently looking for an experienced Apple /Mac Systems Administrator. Apple systems administrator will be responsible for Read more
*Apple* Systems Administrator - DISH (United...
…satellite service provider, and Dish is currently looking for an experienced Apple /Mac Systems Administrator. Apple systems administrator will be responsible for Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.