Thin Air

Not Messages

In my last post, I speculated that a hypothetical "good modelling language" wouldn't revolve around message-sending, but rather focus on the relationships between objects and making explicit the patterns of cooperating objects that we see in good OO design. I shouldn't have imagined that I could get away with being that vague; Vincent Foley quickly asked the pertinent question:

I have a little question: I quite like Smalltalk (though I'm more a Ruby
guy), but I was wondering what you meant by a language that is not
message-oriented? What would that look like?

One of the first things I do when modelling is to identify some of the objects that will be in the model: the nouns in the domain language. These would be objects. I also want to classify objects, so they should have classes or types attached to them.

I also want to describe relationships between objects. I'm imagining a way to build up complex relationships from simpler ones, in the same way that "high level" methods can call "low level" methods. Perhaps the language or libraries would provide basic relationships such as is-a and has-a. By combining several of these I could build complexity. For example, I might define the relationship between an invoice and line items like this:

Now, this sort of declarative definition of relationships is great in the abstract, but I still need a way of causing computation to occur. The state of the program has to change over time, so I need a way to describe the changes that might happen in the relationships of objects at runtime. By defining a transformation, I provide a transition from one state to another. For example, I might say that given an invoice and a line item, the line item can be added to the invoice's collection.

Finally, all this needs to be hooked up to input and output. With the right hooks, input would create new objects, whose existence would trigger a cascade of transformations, state changes in the model, and ultimately, a result going to output.

I'm still doing a lot of hand-waving here, but one can at least imagine that such a language could exist, and perhaps what programming it might feel like. This notion of input triggering a cascade of transformations sounds a bit like monads, which makes me wonder if this is maybe a lazy functional language in disguise. I should probably take a cue from Blaine and learn Haskell.

Posted in design