Recently, I had the opportunity to teach an introductory course in programming in C#, including topics on dependency injection, IoC containers, and test-driven development.
When I introduced the concept of dependency injection, and I suggested that this seemingly pretty simple and trivial task be accomplished by putting an IoC container to use, some of the attendees reacted with scepticism and doubt – would this thing, configured with either endless fluent spells or – shudder! – tonnes of XML, not make everything even more complex?
At the time, I tried to convince them that an IoC container was cool, and that learning its ins and outs could be considered some kind of investment that – over time – would actually reduce complexity. This is not something new, and everybody who has ever used an IoC container will probably agree with me that this investment pays off. But still, I think I needed some words that would support my argument better.
So, here goes a few random thought about complexity…
Right now, I want to focus on the kind of complexity that is inherent in non-trivial programs. That is, the complexity can not be removed from the program. The complexity can be anything, really, and it is there in some form or another, and we need to deal with it.
Immediate vs. deferred complexity
Assuming we need to deal with it, how do we do it then? Which strategy do we follow? Well, acknowledging its existence is not the same as dealing with it, but it’s definitely a first step. Thereafter, we should probably consider either A) solving the complexity on a case-to-case ad hoc kind of basis, or B) building some kind of mechanism, that abstracts the identified complexity away, thus dealing with the complexity right now.
Localized vs. dispersed complexity
Definitely coupled to the above somehow, but not inseparable, is the localized vs. dispersed complexity question: When you identify some kind of complexity, do you A) solve the problem in all the little places where the complexity surfaces, or B) build some kind of framework that makes all the other code oblivious of the complexity?
My opinion, and how it relates to IoC containers
I don’t know about you, but I prefer B & B: the abstraction and the framework. It might leak, and it might take some time for other developers to grok if they have never seen that particular problem solved like that before, but if the abstraction holds, it will probably assume some kind of pattern status that will be used, re-used, and recognized from then on.
The force of IoC containers is that they take control over object creation, thus providing hooks around whenever objects are created, and object creation is an incredibly important event in a running program. Having a hook in that proves to be infinitely useful (almost).
The IoC container solves the complexity of deciding when and how to create (which) objects. This would otherwise be a severely dispersed (spatially as well as temporally) complexity, or cross-cutting concern if you will, in that it is a really common thing to instantiate stuff and/or use existing instances of stuff, and the alternative would be to
new up objects, maybe pulling from a cache somewhere, all around the place – thus infiltrating our program with our solution to that particular problem.
Use an IoC container. Learn to use its features. Allow the container to take responsibility. This will make you happy.
(seriously, do it! )