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 (For a more complete discussion of the ownership chain, see the author's Chains Required, Whips Optional, an unpublished, and indeed unwritten, article.)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
$112.94
Apple Inc.
+1.16
MSFT
$47.98
Microsoft Corpora
+0.32
GOOG
$524.87
Google Inc.
+8.52

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

NeoOffice 2014.6 - Mac-tailored, OpenOff...
NeoOffice is a complete office suite for OS X. With NeoOffice, users can view, edit, and save OpenOffice documents, PDF files, and most Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. NeoOffice 3.x... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.5.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
CleanApp 5.0.0 Beta 5 - Application dein...
CleanApp is an application deinstaller and archiver.... Your hard drive gets fuller day by day, but do you know why? CleanApp 5 provides you with insights how to reclaim disk space. There are... Read more
Monolingual 1.6.2 - Remove unwanted OS X...
Monolingual is a program for removing unnecesary language resources from OS X, in order to reclaim several hundred megabytes of disk space. It requires a 64-bit capable Intel-based Mac and at least... Read more
NetShade 6.1 - Browse privately using an...
NetShade is an Internet security tool that conceals your IP address on the web. NetShade routes your Web connection through either a public anonymous proxy server, or one of NetShade's own dedicated... Read more
calibre 2.13 - Complete e-library manage...
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 librarian... Read more
Mellel 3.3.7 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
ScreenFlow 5.0.1 - Create screen recordi...
Save 10% with the exclusive MacUpdate coupon code: AFMacUpdate10 Buy now! ScreenFlow is powerful, easy-to-use screencasting software for the Mac. With ScreenFlow you can record the contents of your... Read more
Simon 4.0 - Monitor changes and crashes...
Simon monitors websites and alerts you of crashes and changes. Select pages to monitor, choose your alert options, and customize your settings. Simon does the rest. Keep a watchful eye on your... Read more
BBEdit 11.0.2 - Powerful text and HTML e...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

New Version of Tempo Smart Calendar Help...
New Version of Tempo Smart Calendar Helps You Plan Your Day Without Opening the App Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Sparkle - Advanced Cross-Synthesis (Mus...
Sparkle - Advanced Cross-Synthesis 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $6.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Sparkle is a tool for advanced spectral hybridizations made of several algorithms that operate on frequency... | Read more »
DICETINY is coming to iOS in 2015
DICETINY is coming to iOS in 2015 Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] Fakedice has announced that they’re bringing their digital board game DICETINY to iOS. | Read more »
It Came From Canada: The Witcher Battle...
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt may still be a few months away, but very soon players will be able to get a new taste of the acclaimed Polish RPG on their mobile devices with The Witcher Battle Arena. While it trades open-world exploration for compact... | Read more »
The Babies Get Lost Again in the New Azt...
The Babies Get Lost Again in the New Aztec Ruins Update for Light in the Dark Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Living Room 3D for IKEA Makes All In-App...
Living Room 3D for IKEA Makes All In-App Purchases Free Until 2015 Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Crossbow Warrior – The Legend of William...
Crossbow Warrior – The Legend of William Tell Review By Lee Hamlet on December 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: MISSES THE MARKUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Crossbow Warrior details the entertaining adventures of legendary... | Read more »
A New Update Races onto Asphalt 8: Airbo...
A New Update Races onto Asphalt 8: Airborne Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 22nd, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Workflow: Powerful Automation Made Simpl...
Workflow: Powerful Automation Made Simple Review By Campbell Bird on December 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: GO WITH THE FLOWUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad This powerful app lets users accomplish multiple tasks at touch of... | Read more »
My Little Monster Review
My Little Monster Review By Jordan Minor on December 22nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: IT'S ALIVE!Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad What’s it worth to make your own monster?   | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

13-inch 2.4GHz Retina MacBook Pro (Apple refu...
The Apple Store has previous-generation Apple Certified Refurbished 13″ 2.4GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pros available for $999. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.4GHz/... Read more
Apple resellers offer free overnight shipping
The Apple Store is now offering free next-day shipping on all in stock items if ordered before 12/23/14 at 10:00am PT. Local store pickup is also available within an hour of ordering for any in stock... Read more
Holiday sales continue: MacBook Airs for up t...
 B&H Photo has 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP, for a limited time, for the Thanksgiving/Christmas Holiday shopping season. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax... Read more
Holiday sale continues: 13-inch Retina MacBoo...
 B&H Photo has new 13″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $150 off MSRP as part of their Holiday pricing. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro: $979 save... Read more
Holiday sale continues: 15-inch Retina MacBoo...
 B&H Photo has the new 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP for a limited time. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $... Read more
Holiday sale: 13-inch 128GB MacBook Air for $...
 Best Buy has the 2014 13-inch 1.4GHz 128GB MacBook Air on sale for $849.99, or $150 off MSRP, on their online store. Choose free home shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Price valid... Read more
13-inch 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
Best Buy has lowered their price on the 2014 13″ 2.6GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro to $1149.99 on their online store for a limited time. That’s $150 off MSRP and the lowest price available for this... Read more
Kodak Returns to CES With New Consumer Produ...
Former photography colossus Kodak is returning to CES for the first time in three years where the Kodak booth (#21818 South Hall 1) will showcase a wide range of innovative, imaging-related products... Read more
Invaluable Launches New Eponymously -Named A...
Invaluable, the world’s largest online live auction marketplace, hhas announced the official launch of the Invaluable app for iPad, now available for download in the iTunes App Store. Invaluable... Read more
IDC Reveals Worldwide Mobile Enterprise Appli...
International Data Corporation (IDC) last week hosted the IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Mobile Enterprise Applications and Solutions 2015 Predictions Web conference. The session provided organizations... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Store Leader Program (US) - Apple, I...
…Summary Learn and grow as you explore the art of leadership at the Apple Store. You'll master our retail business inside and out through training, hands-on experience, Read more
Project Manager, *Apple* Financial Services...
**Job Summary** Apple Financial Services (AFS) offers consumers, businesses and educational institutions ways to finance Apple purchases. We work with national and 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
*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...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.