The Object Teams Blog

Adding team spirit to your objects.

Posts Tagged ‘views

Object Teams with Null Annotations

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The recent release of Juno M4 brought an interesting combination: The Object Teams Development Tooling now natively supports annotation-based null analysis for Object Teams (OT/J). How about that? 🙂

The path behind us

Annotation-based null analysis has been added to Eclipse in several stages:

Using OT/J for prototyping
As discussed in this post, OT/J excelled once more in a complex development challenge: it solved the conflict between extremely tight integration and separate development without double maintenance. That part was real fun.
Applying the prototype to numerous platforms
Next I reported that only one binary deployment of the OT/J-based prototype sufficed to upgrade any of 12 different versions of the JDT to support null annotations — looks like a cool product line
Pushing the prototype into the JDT/Core
Next all of the JDT team (Core and UI) invested efforts to make the new feature an integral part of the JDT. Thanks to all for this great collaboration!
Merging the changes into the OTDT
Now, that the new stuff was mixed back into the plain-Java implementation of the JDT, it was no longer applicable to other variants, but the routine merge between JDT/Core HEAD and Object Teams automatically brought it back for us. With the OTDT 2.1 M4, annotation-based null analysis is integral part of the OTDT.

Where we are now

Regarding the JDT, others like Andrey, Deepak and Aysush have beaten me in blogging about the new coolness. It seems the feature even made it to become a top mention of the Eclipse SDK Juno M4. Thanks for spreading the word!

Ah, and thanks to FOSSLC you can now watch my ECE 2011 presentation on this topic.

Two problems of OOP, and their solutions

Now, OT/J with null annotations is indeed an interesting mix, because it solves two inherent problems of object-oriented programming, which couldn’t differ more:

1.: NullPointerException is the most widespread and most embarrassing bug that we produce day after day, again and again. Pushing support for null annotations into the JDT has one major motivation: if you use the JDT but don’t use null annotations you’ll no longer have an excuse. For no good reasons your code will retain these miserable properties:

  • It will throw those embarrassing NPEs.
  • It doesn’t tell the reader about fundamental design decisions: which part of the code is responsible for handling which potential problems?

Why is this problem inherent to OOP? The dangerous operator that causes the exception is this:

right, the tiny little dot. And that happens to be the least dispensable operator in OOP.

2.: Objectivity seems to be a central property on any approach that is based just on Objects. While so many other activities in software engineering are based on the insight that complex problems with many stakeholders involved can best be addressed using perspectives and views etc., OOP forces you to abandon all that: an object is an object is an object. Think of a very simple object: a File. Some part of the application will be interested in the content so it can decode the bytes and do s.t. meaningful with it, another part of the application (maybe an underlying framework) will mainly be interested in the path in the filesystem and how it can be protected against concurrent writing, still other parts don’t care about either but only let you send the thing over the net. By representing the “File” as an object, that object must have all properties that are relevant to any part of the application. It must be openable, lockable and sendable and whatnot. This yields
bloated objects and unnecessary, sometimes daunting dependencies. Inside the object all those different use cases it is involved in can not be separated!

With roles objectivity is replaced by a disciplined form of subjectivity: each part of the application will see the object with exactly those properties it needs, mediated by a specific role. New parts can add new properties to existing objects — but not in the unsafe style of dynamic languages, but strictly typed and checked. What does it mean for practical design challenges? E.g, direct support for feature oriented designs – the direct path to painless product lines etc.

Just like the dot, objectivity seems to be hardcoded into OOP. While null annotations make the dot safe(r), the roles and teams of OT/J add a new dimension to OOP where perspectives can be used directly in the implementation. Maybe it does make sense, to have both capabilities in one language 🙂 although one of them cleans up what should have been sorted out many decades ago while the other opens new doors towards the future of sustainable software designs.

The road ahead

The work on null annotations goes on. What we have in M4 is usable and I can only encourage adopters to start using it right now, but we still have an ambitious goal: eventually, the null analysis shall not only find some NPEs in your program, but eventually the absense of null related errors and warnings shall give the developer the guarantee that this piece of code will never throw NPE at runtime.

What’s missing towards that goal:

  1. Fields: we don’t yet support null annotations for fields. This is next on our plan, but one particular issue will require experimentation and feedback: how do we handle the initialization phase of an object, where fields start as being null? More on that soon.
  2. Libraries: we want to support null specifications for libraries that have no null annotations in their source code.
  3. JSR 308: only with JSR 308 will we be able to annotate all occurrences of types, like, e.g., the element type of a collection (think of List)

Please stay tuned as the feature evolves. Feedback including bug reports is very welcome!

Ah, and one more thing in the future: I finally have the opportunity to work out a cool tutorial with a fellow JDT committer: How To Train the JDT Dragon with Ayushman. Hope to see y’all in Reston!


Written by Stephan Herrmann

December 20, 2011 at 22:32

The Essence of Object Teams

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When I write about Object Teams and OT/J I easily get carried away indulging in cool technical details. Recently in the Object Teams forum we were asked about the essence of OT/J which made me realize that I had neglected the high-level picture for a while. Plus: this picture looks a bit different every time I look at it, so here is today’s answer in two steps: short and extended.

Short version:

OT/J adds to OO the capability to define a program in terms of multiple perspectives.

Extended version:

In software design, e.g., we are used to describing a system from multiple perspectives or views, like: structural vs. behavioral views, architectural vs. implementation views, views focusing on distribution vs. business logic, or just: one perspective per use case.

A collage of UML diagrams

© 2009, Kishorekumar 62, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

In regular OO programming this is not well supported, an object is defined by exactly one class and no matter from which perspective you look at it, it always has the exact same properties. The best we can do here is controlling the visibility of methods by means of interfaces.

A person is a person is a person!?

By contrast, in OT/J you start with a set of lean base objects and then you may attach specific roles for each perspective. Different use cases and their scenarios can be implemented by different roles. Visualization in the UI may be implemented by another independent set of roles, etc.

A base seen from multiple perspectives via roles.

Code-level comparison?

I’ve been asked to compare standard OO and OT/J by direct comparison of code examples, but I’m not sure if it is a good idea to do, because OT/J is not intended to just provide a nicer syntax for things you can do in the same way using OO. OT/J – as any serious new programming language should do IMHO – wants you to think differently about your design. For example, we can give an educational implementation of the Observer pattern using OT/J, but once you “think Object Teams” you may not be interested in the Observer pattern any more, because you can achieve basically the same effect using a single callin binding as shown in our Stopwatch example.

So, positively speaking, OT/J wants you to think in terms of perspectives and make the perspectives you would naturally use for describing the system explicit by means of roles.

OTOH, a new language is of course only worth the effort if you have a problem with existing approaches. The problems OT/J addresses are inherently difficult to discuss in small examples, because they are:

  1. software complexity, e.g., with standard OO finding a suitable decomposition where different concerns are not badly tangled with each other becomes notoriously difficult.
  2. software evolution, e.g., the initial design will be challenged with change requests that no-one can foresee up-front.

(Plus all the other concerns addressed)

Both, theory and experience, tell me that OT/J excels in both fields. If anyone wants to challenge this claim using your own example, please do so and post your findings, or lets discuss possible designs together.

One more essential concept

I should also mention the second essence in OT/J: after slicing elements of your program into roles and base objects we also support to re-group the pieces in a meaningful way: as roles are contained in teams, those teams enable you to raise the level of abstraction such that each user-relevant feature, e.g., can be captured in exactly one team, hiding all the details inside. As a result, for a high-level design view you no longer have to look at diagrams of hundreds of classes but maybe just a few tens of teams.

Hope this helps seeing the big picture. Enough hand-waving for today, back to the code! 🙂

Written by Stephan Herrmann

September 20, 2011 at 15:39

Combination of Concerns

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If you are interested in more than two of these …

… you’ll surely enjoy this:

Hands-on introduction to Object Teams

See you at

Written by Stephan Herrmann

March 17, 2011 at 16:52