Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Repeating a point

The other day I mentioned the principle "Don't repeat yourself". I think it may have inspired Andy Clarke to write this up, and he's quite right. It comes from the Pragmatic Programmers.

APC's spot on in his description as it relates to writing code, but he doesn't go far enough.

DRY relates to every part of software development, not just the bit where you're knocking out code.

If, in any part of the process, you find you have a duplication of knowledge then you have a potential problem.

Anyone ever read that comment at the top of a procedure and found its description doesn't match the code that follows?

Watched that demonstration video and found that it's showing you an utterly different version of the system to that which you've just installed?

Looked at that definitive ER diagram and found it's missing half the tables?

Well, don't put a comment at the top of the procedure, instead document the behaviour by writing an easy to read unit test for it. Whilst the knowledge might be duplicated (the test duplicates the knowledge inside the procedure), at least those pieces of knowledge are validated against each other (if you have to repeat, put in some validation)

Don't have a team writing automated functional tests and another producing videos, write your video scripts as automated tests and have them generated with every build.

Instead of manually creating a set of ER diagrams and documentation on what the system will be like, write some documentation generation software and have it generated from the current state of the database instead.

You might notice that there's a running theme here... generation. Well yup. One of the best ways of reducing the chances of discrepancies between sources of knowledge is by ensuring there is only one representation of that knowledge and generating the others.

It's one of the reasons why I've been working on the new Open Source library 'P-dd' (Php Database Documentor). It's intended be a simple library for the production of database documentation from a number of different sources - the ultimate aim is to be able to read from any of the major RDBMS systems, Wikis, XML files and suchlike and be able to simply output many different forms, HTML, GIF, PDF, XML, Open Office Doc. Over the next week I intend on letting people know where they can find it, in its early form...

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