Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fluent Interfaces a Beautiful Thing

Fluent programming interfaces when down right are an elegant thing to behold (for a programmer). They require no specialized learning verses what it would take to build and model the same sort of domain logic in an external DSL. While specialized DSL's have their place, they create a challenging ecosystem to support and impose the need for additional moving parts outside the core development of the application and system. When the dedicated long-term resources are applied to supporting a DSL, there is no doubt external DSLs can be a powerful thing. But in the absence of this, Fluent interfaces are a powerful software programming pattern.

Here is a good video presentation describing the pros and cons of fluent interfaces vs using external DSLs. The presentation provides a pragmatic perspective from a point of personal experience in the industry.

Like anything, fluent interfaces can be abused, but when used with good intentions they can create easier to build, read and maintain software. What are good examples of fluent interfaces? There are many examples and I have noticed more frameworks and APIs supporting. Cassandra's Java driver is one example (QueryBuilder) and frameworks like Apache Spark and other general map/reduce data flow processing APIs make great use of fluent interfaces.

Here is a snippet of code I borrowed from Martin Fowlers post on the subject that gives a before and after example of using a fluent API:

private void makeNormal(Customer customer) {
        Order o1 = new Order();
        OrderLine line1 = new OrderLine(6, Product.find("TAL"));
        OrderLine line2 = new OrderLine(5, Product.find("HPK"));
        OrderLine line3 = new OrderLine(3, Product.find("LGV"));

private void makeFluent(Customer customer) {
                .with(6, "TAL")
                .with(5, "HPK").skippable()
                .with(3, "LGV")

So, while fluent interfaces don't give you the power of a full fledged external DSL, they can be a productive boost to any API you are building. So give fluent interfaces a look at in your next framework, they can make your code easier to build and maintain.

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