Sunday Mar 23, 2014

Don't Create Brittle Software

Every developer is a software user/consumer at various levels, and I'm sure that every one of us has run into a dev tool, library, or component that left us cringing. Why is it so difficult to bend to our will? Why does it seem so broken? WHY DID IT STOP WORKING WITH THE LAST UPDATE???

User-facing software shouldn't break or perform in ways that are "ugly", and if your software is a library/component, neither should your API. Whoever your user is, updates shouldn't break things, and failures (of whatever kind) should be handled gracefully. For example...

If your software doesn't facilitate the user's activity, i.e. make it easier, it is at best sub-optimal and may even be unusable. If your library's API doesn't deprecate and migrate changes clearly and gradually, other developers may find it difficult or impossible to use as well.

User Experience (UX) is about so much more than a User Interface (UI). Whatever you develop should be clean, as intuitive as possible to use, and work in expected ways. Highly self-configurable (to the extent possible) is a huge plus as well. If you are developing a library or custom control, its value can be measured by two things:

  1. The ease with which it can be applied to and cover "default" applications (simplicity)
  2. The mechanisms you provide to cover edge cases or "the other 20%" (versatility/extensibility)

These two guidelines apply whether you publish your code as open source or not; after all, the goal of open source software is not to taunt other developers with what could have been and force them to do it themselves.

Keeping these things in mind can help a developer craft better software that is more useful to more people.

Just something that has been on my mind for awhile now...

Cheers,
Mark

Have a horror story you'd like to share? Please don't post names - no need for public floggings (!) - but if you have a particularly bad example that you use as a reminder to write better code, please share it in the comments so we can shudder with you. Misery loves company. :)

About

The Java Jungle addresses topics from mobile to enterprise Java, tech news to techniques, and anything even remotely related. The goal is to help us all do our work better with Java, however we use it.

Your Java Jungle guide is Mark Heckler, an Oracle Senior Java/Middleware/Core Engineer with development experience in numerous environments. Mark's current work pursuits and passions all revolve around Java and leave little time to blog or tweet - but somehow, he finds time to do both anyway.

Mark lives with his very understanding wife & kids in the St. Louis, MO area.



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