Sharing my thoughts on software development

Monday, August 9, 2010

Premature Abstraction

Everyone knows that premature optimization is root of all evil and in extreme cases the programmer who does such thing will be stoned to death.

But not many people seem to be bothered with premature abstraction, or encapsulation or whatever people fancy it. Here is what I mean by premature abstraction: creating a train of complex framework to perform simple tasks to make them future proof.

This is a natural tendency after becoming more and more fluent in OO design, as one of the main advantage of OO is abstraction, to make code reusable and extensible. But like making a dish, if you put in too much of any sauce, it will ruin the taste. Abstraction is no exception.

Here is what will actually happen when you design something to be "future-proof": most of the anticipated requirements will be forgotten, and many new ones will show up from no where and on things you never thought of. When such thing happens, it'll be a painful experience to refactor that neatly designed and implemented framework to accommodate new requirements. If the project happen to be behind schedule at the time, which is always, guess what, you may not get the leisure and time to refactor the framework and hacks/workarounds will be applied to make it even harder to refactor. In fact once enough duct-tape is being applied to that originally neatly designed framework, nobody will dare to touch it any more.

Now I think about it, there is actually a proper name for it: it is called over-engineering. And it is quickly surpassing premature optimization to become the new root of all evil.

I will stone you next time I see you do that.


  1. emm, dynamic language might help to void unnecessary abstraction

  2. Good language definitely will help a lot, but I bet people will find ways to write over-engineered Ruby or Python programs too if given the chance.