Design Smell: Primitive Obsession by Mark Seemann
This post is the second in a series about Poka-yoke Design - also known as encapsulation.
Many classes have a tendency to consume or expose primitive values like integers and strings. While such primitive types exist on any platform, they tend to lead to procedural code. Furthermore they often break encapsulation by allowing invalid values to be assigned.
This problem has been addressed many times before. Years ago Jimmy Bogard provided an excellent treatment of the issue, as well as guidance on how to resolve it. In relation to AutoFixture I also touched upon the subject some time ago. As such, the current post is mostly a placeholder.
However, it's worth noting that both Jimmy's and my own post address the concern that strings and integers do not sufficiently encapsulate the concepts of Zip codes and phone numbers.
- When a Zip code is represented as a string it's possible to assign values such as null, string.Emtpy, “foo”, very long strings, etc. Jimmy's ZipCode class encapsulates the concept by guaranteeing that an instance can only be successfully created with a correct value.
- When a Danish phone number is represented as an integer it's possible to assign values such as - 98, 0, int.MaxValue, etc. Once again the DanishPhoneNumber class from the above example encapsulates the concept by guaranteeing that an instance can only be successfully created with a correct value.
Encapsulation is broken unless the concept represented by a primitive value can truly take any of the possible values of the primitive type. This is rarely the case.
Design Smell #
A class consumes a primitive type. However, further analysis shows that not all possible values of the type are legal values.
Improved Design #
Encapsulate the primitive value in a Value Object that contains appropriate Guard Clauses etc. to guarantee that only valid instances are possible.
Primitives tend to not be fail-safe, but encapsulated Value Objects are.