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From Evan Ward <>
Subject Re: [Math] Fluent API, inheritance and immutability
Date Thu, 08 Aug 2013 14:02:36 GMT
Hi again,

Sorry for the confusion my code sample caused; it made sense in my mind.
:) I was speaking from the perspective that an abstract class is a
skeletal implementation of an interface, created so that implementing
the interface is easier. For the non-linear least squares (NLLS) package
I was thinking something like:

To address a few concerns I saw,

Gilles wrote:
> In this way, it does not; what I inferred from the partial code above was
> that there would only be _one_ "create" method. But:
> 1. All "create" methods must be overridden at the next level of the class
> hierarchy (this is the duplication I was referring to in the first
> post).

True, but concrete classes should not be extended. Adding another
abstract class to the hierarchy would mean implementing the create
method form the superclass and delegating to a new abstract create
method that includes the new parameters. The abstract class hierarchy
would have to parallel the interface hierarchy.

> 2. When a parameter is added somewhere in the hierarchy, all the classes
> below must be touched too.

True, but since abstract classes are just skeletal implementations of
interfaces you can't add any methods without breaking compatibility
anyway. (You would have to add the same method to the public interface
too.) This does make it important to decide on a well written and
complete API before releasing it.

> And, we must note, that the duplication still does not ensure "real"
> immutability unless all the passed arguments are themselves immutable.
> But:
> 1. We do not have control over them; e.g. in the case of the optimizers
> the "ConvergenceChecker" interface could possibly be implemented by a
> non-thread-safe class (I gave one example of such a thing a few weeks
> ago when a user wanted to track the optimizer's search path)

True. Thread safety is a tricky beast. I think we agree that the only
way to guarantee thread safety is to only depend on final concrete
classes that are thread safe themselves. This is directly at odds with
the inversion of control/dependency injection paradigm. I think a
reasonable compromise is to depend on interfaces and make sure all the
provided implementations are thread safe. A simple sequential user won't
need to care about thread safety. A concurrent user will need to
understand the implications of Java threading to begin with. Accurate
documentation of which interfaces and methods are assumed to be thread
safe goes a long way here.

> 2. Some users _complained_ (among other things :-) that we should not
> force immutability of some input (model function and Jacobian IIRC)
> because in some use-cases, it would be unnecessarily costly.

I agree that copying any large matrices or arrays is prohibitively
expensive. For the NLLS package we would be copying a pointer to a
function that can generate a large matrix. I think adding some
documentation that functions should be thread safe if you want to use
them from multiple threads would be sufficient.

> Consequently, if (when creating a new instance) we assign a reference
> passed to the fluent method, we cannot warrant thread-safety anymore;
> which in turn poses the question of whether this false sense of security
> warrants the increased code duplication and complexity (compare your code
> below with the same but without the constructors and "create" methods:
> even a toy example is already cut by more than half).

 Agreed that thread safety can only be guaranteed with the help of the
user. The immutable+fluent combination does add an additional layer of
indirection. On the other hand it is much simpler to debug and analyze,
especially in a concurrent environment.

> Then if we really want to aim at thread-safety, I think that the approach
> of mandating a "copy()" interface to all participating classes, would be
> a serious contender to just making all fields "final". Let's also recall
> that immutability is not a goal but a means (the goal being
> thread-safety).
> I still think that the three "tools" mentioned in the subject line do not
> play along very well, unfortunately.
> I was, and still am, a proponent of immutability but IMO this discussion
> indicates that it should not be enforced at all cost. In particular, in
> small and non-layered objects, it is easy to ensure thread-safety
> (through
> "final") but the objects that most benefit from a fluent API are big
> (with
> many configuration combinations), and their primary usage does not
> necessarily benefit from transparent instantiation.
> Given all these considerations, in the first steps for moving some CM
> codes
> to fluent APIs, I would aim for simplicity and _less_ code (if just to be
> able to make adjustments more quickly).
> Then, from "simple" code, we can more easily experiment (and compare,
> with
> "diff") the merits and drawbacks of various routes towards thread-safety.
> OK?

Agreed on the goal of thread safety. Is the copy a shallow copy? If it
is, then copy is a complete punt of thread-safety to the user, forcing
them to them to determine when and what they need to copy. I think the
mutable+copy option would make it harder to understand client code and
understand where copying is necessary. Ultimately the decision is up to
the maintainers and I think both options under discussion are a big
improvement over the current API. :)

Thanks for the great library.


> Gilles

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