Java, Programming

Java Library Silver Bullet/Golden Hammer Syndrome

One thing I notice a lot with Java projects is that there is this strong desire to just have One Thing in the code base. One web framework, one testing framework, one mocking library, one logging library, one templating engine and so on and so on.

There is the understandable desire to reduce the complexity required to comprehend the codebase but that often flows over into One True Way-ism. There is One Library because it is The Library that we should all use to Fix Our Problems.

One reason why Java developers argue so fiercely and nervously at the outset of a project is that when they are defining the application stack there is the unspoken assumption that these choices of framework are fixed forever once made. Once we chose Spring then we will use Spring forever with no chance of introducing Guice or PicoContainer. If we make the wrong choice then we will Cripple Our Project Forever.

I actually like Slutty Architectures because they take away this anxiety. If we start out using JUnit 4 and we suddenly get to this point where TestNG has a feature that JUnit doesn’t and having that feature will really help us and save a lot of time; well, let’s use TestNG and JUnit4 and let’s use each where they are strongest.

Similarly if we are using Wicket and we suddenly want some REST-ful Web APIs should we warp our use of Wicket so we get those features? Probably not; let’s chose a framework like JAX-RS that is going to do a lot of the work for us in the feature we want to create.

Of course Slutty Architecture introduces problems too. Instead of the One True Way and hideous API abuse we do have an issue around communication. If we have two test frameworks then when someone joins the team then we are going to have to explain what we test with JUnit 4 and what we test with Test NG. There is a level of complexity but we are going to deal with it explicitly instead of giving a simple statement like “we use JUnit4”  but which has been poisoned by all these unspoken caveats (“but we write all our tests like JUnit3 and you have to extend the right base test class or it won’t work”).

We also need to review our choices: when a new version of a library gets released. Does it include functionality that was previously missing? Perhaps in the light of the new release we should migrate the entire test code to TestNG for example. That kind of continual reassessment takes time but also stops an early technology choice becoming a millstone for everyone involved.

But please, let’s get over the idea that there has to be one thing that is both floor polish and desert topping. It’s making us ill.

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