Turning the Big Ball of Mud into Modular Code

What Konrad Gadzinowski describes in the opening paragraphs of his post on “Creating Truly Modular Code with No Dependencies,” the “emotional rollercoaster” of developing software, is something that I’m sure anyone who has ever written a program has experienced. I certainly encounter this each time that I’m writing code for a project, whether it is an academic project or a professional one. Eager to begin a project, I often dive in and begin completing the simpler parts first. During this time, it seems that progress moves very quickly. After all of these easy, simple pieces are done, however, progress seems to slow or stall. As the requirements become more complex, I often find myself going back to previous code and rewriting things so that they integrate more seamlessly with the new element that I am adding. This problem is what Gadzinowski describes as the “big ball of mud.” Gadzinowski provides Apache Hadoop as an example of a program with the ball of mud interdependencies that slows further development and makes tracing the source of bugs more difficult. In the image below, each class is represented as a point on the outside of the circle, and the lines between the points are representative of a dependency.

(Image source: https://www.toptal.com/software/creating-modular-code-with-no-dependencies)

With so many interdependent classes, I imagine that untangling the web to trace bugs in Apache Hadoop would be a nightmarish task. Gadzinowski offers a solution to the problem of the ball of mud, however, that seems like sound advice. His suggestion is to use the element design pattern when developing software. This modular pattern aims to create reusable pieces of code that are independent of other classes. This is done through the use of element classes and element listener interfaces. In this way, all of the required dependencies for an element are encapsulated within that element. Outside classes that wish to utilize the element are not concerned with the underlying design of the element, they interact with the element’s listener. Gadzinowski presents this as a way to increase the flexibility of the element, allowing it to, for example, output to any number of different external environments through an identical listener call.

While I was immediately willing to listen to the post’s advice after it described a miserable situation that I’ve encountered countless times, I think that reading Gadzinowski’s explanations and examples of the element design pattern has certainly made me a believer. I think that what makes him so credible is his willingness to acknowledge the value in initially jumping into design without worrying too much about the big ball of mud that you may be creating. While this may not be the solution for a final release, it can get the ball rolling and allow for the element pattern to make your code more reusable and stable for production releases later on. I will keep Gadzinowski’s advice in mind the next time that I begin to worry that I have too many interdependent classes to make my classes reusable or easily maintainable.

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