StaticSubstitution

testing · application architecture · refactoring

tags:

As I listen to our development teams talk about their work, one common theme is their dislike of things held in statics. Typically we see common services or components held in static variables with static initializers. One of the big problems with statics (in most languages) is you can't use polymorphism to substitute one implementation with another. This bits us a lot because we are great fans of testing - and to test well it's important to be able to replace services with a Service Stub.

Here's an example of this kind of static.

public class AddressBook {
  private static String connectionString, username, password;

  static {
    Properties props = getProperties();
    connectionString =(String) props.get("db.connectionString");
    password = (String) props.get("db.password");
    username = (String) props.get("db.username");
  }

  public static Person findByLastName(String s) {
    String query = 
      "SELECT lastname, firstname FROM PEOPLE where lastname = ?";
    Connection conn = null;
    PreparedStatement st = null;
    ResultSet rs = null;
    try {
      conn = DriverManager.getConnection(connectionString, 
                                         username, 
                                         password);
      st = conn.prepareStatement(query);
      st.setString(1, s);
      rs = st.executeQuery();
      rs.next();
      Person result = new Person (rs.getString(2), rs.getString(1));
      return result;
    } catch (Exception e) {
      throw new RuntimeException(e);
    } finally {
      cleanUp(conn, st, rs);
    }
    }

So what we have here is a bunch of configuration stuff initialized in the static initializer, and then a static method to run a query against the database.

Some changes are easy with this. By altering a properties file we can easily change which database this program runs against. But for testing we might not want to run it against a database at all - a simple stub would just return canned data.

To allow simple substitution we need do a little refactoring. The first step is to turn the statics into a singleton.


public class AddressBook {

    private static AddressBook soleInstance = new AddressBook();

    private String connectionString, username, password;

    public AddressBook() {
        Properties props = getProperties();
        connectionString =(String) props.get("db.connectionString");
        password = (String) props.get("db.password");
        username = (String) props.get("db.username");
    }

    public static Person findByLastName(String s) {
        return  soleInstance.findByLastNameImpl(s);
    }

    public Person findByLastNameImpl(String s) {
        String query = "SELECT lastname, firstname FROM PEOPLE where lastname = ?";
        Connection conn = null;
        PreparedStatement st = null;
        ResultSet rs = null;
        try {
            conn = DriverManager.getConnection(connectionString, username, password);
            st = conn.prepareStatement(query);
            st.setString(1, s);
            rs = st.executeQuery();
            rs.next();
            Person result = new Person (rs.getString(2), rs.getString(1));
            return result;
        } catch (Exception e) {
            throw new RuntimeException(e);
        } finally {
            cleanUp(conn, st, rs);
        }
    }

This is a pretty straightforward refactoring.

I don't have this refactoring in the catalog - perhaps I should call it Replace Statics With Singleton. As it stands this doesn't change anything, but it is a step towards supporting substitution. The next step is to introduce a method to load the sole instance.

    public static void loadInstance(AddressBook arg) {
        soleInstance = arg;
    }

This now prepares us to do substitution for testing (or other) purposes. Now in a test case we can add a suitable call in a test setUp method: AddressBook.loadInstance(new StubAddressBook());. As long as the stub subclasses the AddressBook, we can now test against a stub instead of the real thing.

This isn't the end of the story. In particular with this code we have to create an instance of the actual service even if we never use it - because the sole instance is initialized in a static initializer. This forces a dependency upon the service access code which can cause its own pain. To deal with this we need to move any such initialization out of static initializers and into a separate initializer class that is itself substitutable. (see Chris for more on this.) But at least this provides a useful first step.

This also brings out some problems that singletons can store up. In particular if you use a singleton (or other form of Registry) make sure that they can be easily substituted and that their initialization can also be easily replaced.

I just got a copy of Michael Feathers's new book Working Effectively With Legacy Code. He talks more (and better) about many of these kinds of issues.

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