Thursday, 17 November 2016

WTF does "vend" mean? A terminological journey with no clear ending.


So there I was, in the middle of a code review, adding a method which (in the language of dependency-injection) "provided" a value into a managed object graph with a different key, in advance of a migration.  Doesn't matter why.  But the word "provided" is so frequent that I went with a different word that (in my brain) seemed to mean the same thing: vend.

Now, the root of this little language odyssey is simply that I hate repeating words unnecessarily.  If you use dependency-injection, the word Provider is vastly overused thanks to Guice's Provider<T> interface, the JSR-330 which standardized it, and it's baby brother Dagger and other frameworks which adopted the standard terminology (Spring, J2EE, Tapestry, etc.)

Since the API involved was a method annotated with @Provides and the method was called provideBlah() (real method name changed to protect the innocent), and I just wanted some variety in my life. So I described the change this way:
Vends a [redacted] into the dagger graph, in advance of an API change where [redacted] will consume that in place of [redacted].  Part of a migration to make [redacted] require fewer assumptions (and fewer build deps) of its consumers.
Could have been "supplies" but I didn't want to imply the Supplier<T> interface, which is a thing.  I went with "to vend".

In that context, I got a drive-by comment.

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someuser
3:24 PM, Nov 16
What does "Vend" mean in the context of this change?

I was doing a cleanup using some of our awesome google-made bulk refactoring tools (notably Rosie), so this was one of those "dammit, why can't you just approve my change and let me get on with my life moments."

At first, I just went ahead and answered:

▾ 
cgruber
3:31 PM, Nov 16
> What does "Vend" mean in the context of this change?
Provide into the graph.

Not to be disuaded, "someuser" pressed on:

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someuser
3:56 PM, Nov 16
Normally, "vend" means to sell ...

Ok... gonna try again to avoid the digression and nerd-sniping...

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cgruber
3:59 PM, Nov 16
Vend also implies supplying, and I was trying not to overload the term "provide" because in this context, "provide and bind" are both apt terms. Regardless, I've updated the description.
And vend only means sell in a societal context of capitalist voluntary exchange. I can't imagine it would mean sell in the context of an API. :)

This last paragraph was a total indulgence on my part, and the result of my having mainlined (liked, literally injected into my arm) econ textbooks and treatises for the last few years.  And obviously my big mistake in the effort to avoid being nerd-sniped.

Not to be so easily dismissed... "someuser" decided to call me out.

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someuser
6:17 PM, Nov 16
<nit-picking-mode>
I agree that "vend" implies supplying something, but I have only seen it in the context of a sale. With all due respect, can you point to a definition of vend that means to supply or provide, that is not in a "societal context of capitalist voluntary exchange"? (I'm actually really curious, as in, I quite often read etymologies of words. :-) )
> I can't imagine it would mean sell in the context of an API.
That's why I was confused :-)
</nit-picking-mode>
Thanks for changing the description though :-)

Oh, it's on like the break of dawn, now.

I started looking. I couldn't find definitional resources (but I knew this was a particular inflection of use in the context of computer software and API design.

I started with a web-search of the terms: "api which vends a type" just for starters. I was not disappointed. Nine relevant examples in the first three pages.

Then I got philosophical, noticing that the code examples in which APIs which were described to "vend" things seemed to always be in Objective-C or Java sources. I started to think back, way into the early days of my career, steeped as they were in NeXTSTEP, and wondered whether there was a connection.

Here is what I replied.


▾ 

cgruber
9:29 AM
No, but I can find examples of its usage in tech, from which I apparently have picked it up over a couple of decades:
Some of these you have to ctrl-f/cmd-f and search for "vend" as they're not in the description but in comments. Also, in some cases it is synonymous with "supplies" (as in via the return type) and in other cases with "offers" in the sense of exposing an API):
https://github.com/attic-labs/noms/issues/2589
https://github.com/realm/realm-cocoa/issues/3981
http://stackoverflow.com/questions/37128296/rest-api-oauth2-type-authentication-using-aws-cognito/37141020
http://nlp.stanford.edu/nlp/javadoc/javanlp-3.5.0/edu/stanford/nlp/objectbank/DelimitRegExIterator.html
https://framework.zend.com/apidoc/1.12/packages/Zend_Pdf.Fonts.html
https://docs.oracle.com/javaee/7/api/javax/faces/render/package-summary.html
https://vaadin.com/api/7.5.7/com/google/web/bindery/requestfactory/shared/InstanceRequest.html
https://jeremywsherman.com/blog/2016/07/23/why-im-meh-about-json-api/ http://liftweb.net/api/25/api/net/liftweb/http/LiftRules.html
(sourced from the first few pages of the google query "api which vends a type")
I have a hypothesis: This language originated in the NeXTSTEP community (of which I was a part), and entered into the MacOS/iOS community lexicon from that source, and also into the Java community by way of a lot of NeXTSTEP folks joining Sun and related Java-oriented enterprises (at one point Javasoft was 25% populated by former Lighthouse Design people, of which I was one). So I suspect I picked it up early, but it is a very uncommon (as I find out in researching it) usage... but not purely in my head. :)
Small addendum... a straw poll of my team which includes iOS developers as well as android developers suggests that it is vastly less common than I would have imagined from my own biases. That doesn't discount the above links but provides a bit of a ratio, a denominator for the numerator of anecdotes I cited above. Seems like a fringe usage, and sadly, provides no insight into from whence this minority usage actually derives.

How common is this in use behind the walls of corporate secrecy? Doing an internal code-search I see a handful of examples with a cursory scan of initial results - all  in API docs with this usage of "supply".  It at least seems that I'm not entirely out of my mind, or at least others share my heterodox usage.

So now I'm damned curious. How did I pick this up?  I see these examples of the usage - is there a common source?  Did we all pick it up from one place, or did we independently start using it the same way?

If any of the three people left following this blog have a clue about this, I'd love to hear more insights.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Try "birth" next time.