Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Singleton and Request scope considered harmful? No! Scopelessness considered harmful.

I watched an e-mail thread discuss how Singleton and Request scope in Guice were harmful, because Singletons can only depend on Singletons (without magic) and that Request Scoped items can only depend on Request Scoped and Singletons... followed by the idea that because "we're stateless" with minimal global state, so we shouldn't need global things.  And because it's cheap to build things so we can build them all the time.

I feel that this perspective comes from a lot of fighting with scopes and scoping problems and probably is an honest attempt at resolving them - if you're stateless, then scope IS somewhat irrelevant... but it also turns out that if you're not stateless (by accident) and you go scope-less, then you have state accidentally scattered all around your object graph without realizing you've copied it.  Leave aside entirely that you're going to thrash garbage collection because your dependencies are stored in ivars which will go on the heap...

So what should happen here?

Other than Guice, all other dependency-injection containers of any substantial distribution use "Singleton" as the default scope, not "scopeless" (or what spring calls prototype scope).  This is because Singleton is actually cleaner and easier to understand.  There is one copy of this in the system... so it needs to either be stateless or carefully guard its state for multi-threaded access.  But also the lifecycle is clearer - app starts up, component starts up, component shuts down, app shuts down.  Scopeless (Guice "default" scope) actually have an arbitrary lifecycle based on who asks for them.  

If you have Foo -> Bar (where ->  means depends-on), and Foo is any real scope (singleton, session, request, per-thread, whatever), but Bar is scopeless (meaning a new one is created on every demand), then Bar's lifecycle is different if Foo depends on it than if Bash depends on it because it attaches to the lifecycle (lifetime... or scope, if you will <ahem>) of the dependent component.

This is freaky because it means it's sort of indeterminate until used (I call it the Heisenberg scope).  And each time it's used it could be different.

Again, if it's stateless, no problem... but if it's stateless, Singleton is no problem... and cleaner... because you'll uncover scoping problems more quickly with more restrictive scope policies.  But moving everything to no-scope means no clear lifecycle... or rather, whatever lifecycle and lifetime you happen to have in whatever calls it. 

I think people look at scope as "magical" - especially in the Guice community. I don't see this kind of thrash in Picocontainer, Tapestry-IOC, or Spring user communities.  And I think it's because "prototype" scope (scopeless) is seen as a quasi-factory behaviour, not a dependency/collaborator injection behaviour.  The two are subtly different, and I think the distinction is lost in the Guice user community.  I have ideas as to why this distinction arose between the Guice community's thinking and others', but I'll leave that for another post.  

The point is, Scope implies a validity within a lifetime, and if something is stateless, there's no reason it shouldn't be the one and only copy with a lifetime of the entire application's lifetime. I've long posited that "games with scopes" is a dangerous thing in dependency injection, but this is solving the problem by dropping a 16 ton weight on your own head.  It uses the most magical quasi-scope to create a fan of instances where a very small set of collaborators are required.  

I'm getting close to believing that Fowler, Martin, and others were wrong, and that Dependency Injection (heck, occasionally O-O) are just too dangerous. Seriously.  I can't imagine not using them, personally, but I find so many teams and projects where they just think about the problem so unhelpfully and then their clean-up efforts are worse than the mess they created. <sigh>


Thursday, 11 February 2010

Shu-Ha-Ri not harmful... it's misunderstood and mis-applied.

Rachel Davies, for whom I have incredible respect, posted this post called "Shu-Ha-Ri considered harmful". In it she points out that the basic notion of Shu-Ha-Ri from Aikido of graduated styles of learning - the novice, the advanced student, the master should learn in different ways, the novice learning more by rote, and more importantly, from a single master, the advanced student trying the techniques in varying ways and comparing styles, then the master innovating new combinations and techniques. Cockburn, often cited in the Agile community somewhat gets this, but his adaptation varies from this concept just a bit.

Rachel has an important critique, which I accept. She points out that agile boot-camps and other styles of training for organizations and groups and teams in Agile practices often cite Shu-Ha-Ri, and require that teams do "just the scrum by the book" (or whichever method is to be used), at least initially. Then, as they master these techniques as they are put forth, they can adapt. She, however, sees a disrespect for the unique circumstance of the student in this. In her words, "I'm uncomfortable with approaches that force students to follow agile practices without questioning." I agree. But this is not what Shu-Ha-Ri implies. Shu should always include questioning... but the student should test the technique as presented, and part of the discovery is finding out its limits - how it works, and how it does not. But it's an experiment. It requires a control... and the control is the basic form, attempted as instructed, to get a baseline. Teaching any technique, physical or mental has a similarity in that respect. Is the metaphor limited - yes, and I argue that it is the agile-boot-camp folks who often mis-apply the martial arts concept.

I understand the concern she raises, especially the respect for context and unique character of the teams and the flexible nature of knowledge work... but this betrays a misunderstanding, or mis-application of Shu-Ha-Ri. Shu doesn't imply that the students are fungible. Technique is still taught in the context of the student (team). Sutherland has it wrong when he days "only when you have mastered the basic practices are you allowed to improvise." In Aikido, the students who are in a "Shu" mode are not improvising with "different" techniques, but they are applying them in different situations, and seeing how they fit. One adapts HOW to do the technique for a tall person, for a short person, a heavy person, and advanced Aikidoka, an unranked novice, etc. Likewise with Scrum, you apply the technique, but the coach helps the team use the technique in context. That's Shu. Ha then is where a team combines the techniques in unique ways. They may remove a practice, or replace it and see how that fits. Ri (mastery), they are inventing new techniques, or altering the basic forms in different ways. This is all quite reasonable, even in an agile coaching context.

In Aikido, especially, students practice the techniques in multiple contexts, so they can get a sense of the suppleness. Students are asked not to innovate initially, nor combine techniques before they have at least mastered the basic technique itself - so they're not thinking through each step of a move while they're doing it - they "get" it. They they can move closer to innovation.

Rachel's post, while understandably compassionate, confuses two separate things... models of instruction, training, and practice with notions of respect, oppression, and dominance. Telling a student to try the basic move and get it better before expanding isn't disrespectful, it's understanding the learning models of the student. In practice, it is quite possible for a student to grok the technique more quickly, and if Sensei observes this, he will show the student something slightly more advanced, and have him practice this. Or, Sensei may see the student struggling to apply the move, and may change the context to let the student appreciate what's happening. The point of Shu-Ha-Ri is, as Rachel points out, to ensure that one doesn't miss the basics while playing with the innovative and the expansive. If it's being used to hold a student back, or somehow contains a disrespect for the student - that's a failing of the teacher (coach). Student-sensei relationships are adaptive to the needs of the student, else they become a mere posture of dominance and submission, without the deeper communication that's supposed to occur within a relationship of trust.

I feel Rachel is (unintentionally and understandably) mischaracterizing Aikido and Shu-Ha-Ri based on mis-perceptions prevalent in the community on how its concepts can be applied. Aikido is taught in many forms, but Agile is not looser, nor is Aikido tighter a discipline. Aikido is, in any good Dojo, taught with great sensitivity to the needs, the capacities and readiness of the student. It is taught to groups, individually - that is to say, it is demonstrated to the group, then practiced in pairs, with Sensei observing, correcting... coaching. If anything, rolling Agile out in a large organization, and taking large groups through paces in boot-camps which do one-size-fits-all is UNLIKE Aikido training.

Bootcamps fail to do Shu-Ha-Ri if they insist that all steps of Shu are learned at equal pace by all learners. This is not Shu-Ha-Ri being harmful - this is Shu-Ha-Ri being ignored.