Monthly Archives: September 2013

Simplicity vs. Robustness – Demonstrated On Lock File Handling

Today we will discuss a conflict between the design values of keeping things simple, stupid (KISS) and robustness, between underdesign and overdesign.

We were writing a batch Java application and needed to ensure that at maximum one instance is running at a time on the server. A team member had the good idea of using lock files, which indeed worked and helped us a lot. However the original implementation wasn’t very robust, which has cost us valuable people time and expensive context switches due to troubleshooting the damn application rejecting to run and locating the lock file.

As Øyvind Bakksjø of Comoyo has recently explained, a software engineer is distinguished from a mere coder by thinking and caring not only the happy path through the code but also about the unhappy cases. Good engineers think about possible problems and try to handle them gracefuly so that code that depends on them and their users have easier time dealing with problematic situation. Robustness includes catching errors early, handling them in a good way, and providing useful and helpful error messages. On the other hand, simplicity [TBD: Hickey] is a crucial characteristic of systems. It is always too easy to spend too much time on making code bullet-proof instead of focusing the effort somewhere where it would be more valuable to the business.

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