Software Engineering for Self-Directed Learners
  • Design Fundamentals

    Abstraction

    What

    Can explain abstraction

    Abstraction is a technique for dealing with complexity. It works by establishing a level of complexity we are interested in, and suppressing the more complex details below that level.

    The guiding principle of abstraction is that only details that are relevant to the current perspective or the task at hand needs to be considered. As most programs are written to solve complex problems involving large amounts of intricate details, it is impossible to deal with all these details at the same time. That is where abstraction can help.

    Ignoring lower level data items and thinking in terms of bigger entities is called data abstraction.

    Within a certain software component, we might deal with a user data type, while ignoring the details contained in the user data item such as name, and date of birth. These details have been ‘abstracted away’ as they do not affect the task of that software component.

    Control abstraction abstracts away details of the actual control flow to focus on tasks at a simplified level.

    print(“Hello”) is an abstraction of the actual output mechanism within the computer.

    Abstraction can be applied repeatedly to obtain progressively higher levels of abstractions.

    An example of different levels of data abstraction: a File is a data item that is at a higher level than an array and an array is at a higher level than a bit.

    An example of different levels of control abstraction: execute(Game) is at a higher level than print(Char) which is at a higher than an Assembly language instruction MOV.

    Abstraction is a general concept that is not limited to just data or control abstractions.

    Some more general examples of abstraction:

    • An OOP class is an abstraction over related data and behaviors.
    • An architecture is a higher-level abstraction of the design of a software.
    • Models (e.g., UML models) are abstractions of some aspect of reality.

    Coupling

    What

    Can explain coupling

    Coupling is a measure of the degree of dependence between components, classes, methods, etc. Low coupling indicates that a component is less dependent on other components. High coupling (aka tight coupling or strong coupling) is discouraged due to the following disadvantages:

    • Maintenance is harder because a change in one module could cause changes in other modules coupled to it (i.e. a ripple effect).
    • Integration is harder because multiple components coupled with each other have to be integrated at the same time.
    • Testing and reuse of the module is harder due to its dependence on other modules.

    In the example below, design A appears to have a more coupling between the components than design B.

    Discuss the coupling levels of alternative designs x and y.

    Overall coupling levels in x and y seem to be similar (neither has more dependencies than the other). (Note that the number of dependency links is not a definitive measure of the level of coupling. Some links may be stronger than the others.). However, in x, A is highly-coupled to the rest of the system while B, C, D, and E are standalone (do not depend on anything else). In y, no component is as highly-coupled as A of x. However, only D and E are standalone.

    Explain the link (if any) between regressions and coupling.

    When the system is highly-coupled, the risk of regressions is higher too  e.g. when component A is modified, all components ‘coupled’ to component A risk ‘unintended behavioral changes’.

    Discuss the relationship between coupling and testability.

    Coupling decreases testability because if the SUT is coupled to many other components it becomes difficult to test the SUI in isolation of its dependencies.

    Choose the correct statements.

    • a. As coupling increases, testability decreases.
    • b. As coupling increases, the risk of regression increases.
    • c. As coupling increases, the value of automated regression testing increases.
    • d. As coupling increases, integration becomes easier as everything is connected together.
    • e. As coupling increases, maintainability decreases.

    (a)(b)(c)(d)(e)

    Explanation: High coupling means either more components require to be integrated at once in a big-bang fashion (increasing the risk of things going wrong) or more drivers and stubs are required when integrating incrementally.

    How

    Can reduce coupling

    X is coupled to Y if a change to Y can potentially require a change in X.

    If Foo class calls the method Bar#read(), Foo is coupled to Bar because a change to Bar can potentially (but not always) require a change in the Foo class  e.g. if the signature of the Bar#read() is changed, Foo needs to change as well, but a change to the Bar#write() method may not require a change in the Foo class because Foo does not call Bar#write().

    class Foo{
        ...
        new Bar().read();
        ...
    }
    
    class Bar{
        void read(){
            ...
        }
        
        void write(){
            ...
        }
    }
    

    Some examples of coupling: A is coupled to B if,

    • A has access to the internal structure of B (this results in a very high level of coupling)
    • A and B depend on the same global variable
    • A calls B
    • A receives an object of B as a parameter or a return value
    • A inherits from B
    • A and B are required to follow the same data format or communication protocol

    Which of these indicate a coupling between components A and B?

    • a. component A has access to internal structure of component B.
    • b. component A and B are written by the same developer.
    • c. component A calls component B.
    • d. component A receives an object of component B as a parameter.
    • e. component A inherits from component B.
    • f. components A and B have to follow the same data format or communication protocol.

    (a)(b)(c)(d)(e)(f)

    Explanation: Being written by the same developer does not imply a coupling.

    Types of Coupling

    Can identify types of coupling

    Some examples of different coupling types:

    • Content coupling: one module modifies or relies on the internal workings of another module  e.g., accessing local data of another module
    • Common/Global coupling: two modules share the same global data
    • Control coupling: one module controlling the flow of another, by passing it information on what to do  e.g., passing a flag
    • Data coupling: one module sharing data with another module  e.g. via passing parameters
    • External coupling: two modules share an externally imposed convention  e.g., data formats, communication protocols, device interfaces.
    • Subclass coupling: a class inherits from another class. Note that a child class is coupled to the parent class but not the other way around.
    • Temporal coupling: two actions are bundled together just because they happen to occur at the same time  e.g. extracting a contiguous block of code as a method although the code block contains statements unrelated to each other

    Cohesion

    What

    Can explain cohesion

    Cohesion is a measure of how strongly-related and focused the various responsibilities of a component are. A highly-cohesive component keeps related functionalities together while keeping out all other unrelated things.

    Higher cohesion is better. Disadvantages of low cohesion (aka weak cohesion):

    • Lowers the understandability of modules as it is difficult to express module functionalities at a higher level.
    • Lowers maintainability because a module can be modified due to unrelated causes  (reason: the module contains code unrelated to each other) or many many modules may need to be modified to achieve a small change in behavior  (reason: because the code realated to that change is not localized to a single module).
    • Lowers reusability of modules because they do not represent logical units of functionality.

    How

    Can increase cohesion

    Cohesion can be present in many forms. Some examples:

    • Code related to a single concept is kept together, e.g. the Student component handles everything related to students.
    • Code that is invoked close together in time is kept together, e.g. all code related to initializing the system is kept together.
    • Code that manipulates the same data structure is kept together, e.g. the GameArchive component handles everything related to the storage and retrieval of game sessions.

    Suppose a Payroll application contains a class that deals with writing data to the database. If the class include some code to show an error dialog to the user if the database is unreachable, that class is not cohesive because it seems to be interacting with the user as well as the database.

    Compare the cohesion of the following two versions of the EmailMessage class. Which one is more cohesive and why?

    // version-1
    class EmailMessage {
        private String sendTo;
     	  private String subject;
        private String message;
    
        public EmailMessage(String sendTo, String subject, String message) {
            this.sendTo = sendTo;
            this.subject = subject;
            this.message = message;
        }
    
        public void sendMessage() {
            // sends message using sendTo, subject and message
        }
    }
    
    // version-2
    class EmailMessage {
        private String sendTo;
        private String subject;
        private String message;
        private String username;
    
        public EmailMessage(String sendTo, String subject, String message) {
            this.sendTo = sendTo;
            this.subject = subject;
            this.message = message;
        }
    
        public void sendMessage() {
            // sends message using sendTo, subject and message
        }
    
        public void login(String username, String password) {
            this.username = username;
            // code to login
        }
    }
    

    Version 2 is less cohesive.

    Explanation: Version 2 is handling functionality related to login, which is not directly related to the concept of ‘email message’ that the class is supposed to represent. On a related note, we can improve the cohesion of both versions by removing the sendMessage functionality. Although sending message is related to emails, this class is supposed to represent an email message, not an email server.