This is me Bressain's Blog

Don't Ask, Tell

I just read Michael Feathers' post Avoid Null Checks by Replacing Finders with Tellers and it really made me think about how I write code.

I am going to concur with Michael, null checking looks ugly. I hate null checking so much that often I will change a null check like in his example to a one or two liner return just so the ugly is minimized:

if (person == null)

So what he suggests is rather than ask the object for state, pass a message to the object that it can handle. I've been reading/hearing about the whole message passing idea in OOP languages lately (especially in Ruby) and although I understand the concept, it's nice to have it illustrated in the post in a useful way.

So there's a little bit of a love-fest going on in the post with Ruby. Or is it a hate-fest with Java? Either way, I looked at both versions and thought, this probably wouldn't look bad in C#.

Poor C# isn't even close to as hip as Ruby nor does it share the kind of heritage that Java has with 'nix OSs but it has had lambdas for several years now and the syntax is quite good. When I started replicating the code in question, I came up with this:

_dataSource.Person(id, person =>
person.PhoneNumber = phoneNumber;

I'd say that it's as readable as the Ruby counterpart:

data_source.person(id) do |person|
person.phone_number = phone_number
data_source.update_person person

Being pleased with myself, I decided to replicate what a common data source implementation would look like and came to Michael's sad conclusion that we usually ask for the null check pattern so much that most base/system code is infected with it:

public void Person(int id, Action<person> actionOnPerson)
var p = _database.Get<person>(id);
if (p != null)

This can be mitigated a bit by calling something that returned an IEnumerable or IList:

public void Person(int id, Action<person> actionOnPerson)
foreach (var p in _database.GetRows<person>(id))

It might not be as fancy a solution as in Ruby but it'll have to do for now.

There are a lot of interesting comments on Michael's post so if you're interested in more about this pattern, I suggest seeing what others have to say about it. One interesting comment mentions including a way to actually have an "else" clause in case the Person object didn't exist. I imagine you could do that with a second lambda but there may be a more intelligent way.

My whole C# solution is posted on GitHub for those that are interested. Thanks for reading.