Programming isn't an exact science (at least not yet), so you have a lot of leeway which you should use to apply common sense and do the sensible thing.
Every object is responsible for itself
There is a concept more fundamental than object-oriented programming, and this is encapsulation. Encapsulation could be paraphrased as “every conceptual unit is responsible for itself”, where conceptual units can be of any scale (such as libraries, classes, methods, or even simple code blocks). Encapsulation is achieved by separating inner workings and implementation details from a public interface. It is really important to carefully choose what is part of the public interface, and what should be internal.
That part about methods and blocks also being eligible for encapsulation may be confusing, and I don't cover it in the rest of the post. It ends up meaning “declare variables in the narrowest possible scope, and don't use global variables”. This is not hypothetical. I have seen people return values from functions via global variables, and it was not pretty.
You shouldn't be able to reach invalid states
Object oriented programming is one popular strategy to make data responsible for themselves, by combining behaviour with these data. One crucially important responsibility is maintaining data consistency. That means a properly encapsulated object cannot be brought into an invalid state via the public interface, or conversely: everything that can be done via the public interface is valid. There are a number of steps to maintain consistency:
- Don't allow inconsistent objects to be created in the first place. If necessary, use the builder pattern to describe temporarily inconsistent objects.
- Don't allow data to be mutated in a way that makes them inconsistent.
- Suggestion: Don't allow data to be mutated, at all.
- Use static typing to prove consistency properties.
- Use run-time validation to ensure consistency properties you cannot prove via the type system.
Static typing may seem like a no-brainer, but it's really important. When you declare fields or properties of an object, these usually have a specific type. If a certain field must contain a string, you can't put an integer there instead. The compiler then proves that your program is consistent with this requirement. However, all type systems are inherently limited, and cannot prove all properties of your program. E.g. in many languages
null is a value of any reference type, and the type system often can't prove that a given variable, field, or return value will always be non-
null. Furthermore, most type system lack means to statically describe types such as “a list with at least two elements” or “a floating-point number larger than or equal to zero”.
Such requirements should be described as far as possible using static typing; anything else has to be worked around via run-time validation. This validation is still the responsibility of any conceptual unit that wants to remain consistent.
Relaxing validation in trusted environments
In some cases, a component is only expected to be used from another trusted component (in C++ parlance: a friend). Then, defensive programming suggests that each conceptual unit should still be fully encapsulated. In practice, encapsulation is often relaxed for individual components and validation is skipped for “trused” data. If done so completely, this means that you only validate at the borders of your system. That system can still be encapsulated if and only if these privileged conceptual units are only reachable via a validation layer. In mainstream OOP languages this is done by making anything that doesn't have validation private or package-private, depending on where the validation border is.
Encapsulation vs. your scenario
Now we have learned a bit about maintaining consistency. How can we apply it to the scenario you outlined in your question? The basis is some object with two fields
EndDate with the constraint
StartDate <= EndDate.
Shoot, I forgot StartDate/EndDate could be equal too and my code errors on half the data it tries to load from the database
This is great!
- You were enforcing encapsulation.
- You tested your code, which caught a mistake in your validation code. Thank God you tested it before using the code on a production database!
Ok so apparently the StartDate has to be set before the EndDate or my EndDate validation fails. Seems odd that I can't set properties like these in any order but ok.
This sounds like a problem with your validation code and not with validation in general. How could this problem be fixed? If
StartDate == null is an illegal state, don't allow the object to get into that state. Think about using the builder pattern, proper validation in the constructor, and proper validation in the
StartDate setter to enforce it's non-null. You could also disallow changing
EndDate once the object has been created.
But wait, unless I force the user to use a constructor with 10 parameters I can't absolutely ensure that there won't be any uninitialized properties because my validation logic will never get hit if they don't call the properties in the first place!
- If your constructor has too many parameters, your object may be violating the Single Responsibility Principle. Otherwise, look into the builder pattern.
- The constructor should always return an instance which is in a valid state. There is no excuse for doing otherwise.
Poop, I tried forcing the consumer to use ridiculously verbose constructors but now I'm having serialization headaches. The DataContractSerializer that WCF uses totally ignores my constructor. I'm sure there's a way around this though, I'll figure it out.
I am not familiar with the
DataContractSerializer, but serializers generally bypass encapsulation. A solution is not serializing the object itself, but instead a dumb record that represents permanent state (memento pattern).
Uh oh, bad data has been imported into the database without going through my perfectly crafted domain model. Now my domain model prevents me from displaying this invalid data to the user so I have to correct it all myself. It would be great if I could jut allow them to correct it, but my domain model doesn't know how to do anything but crash when it reads invalid data.
The database is responsible itself for maintaining its data consistency (where “consistency” is meant in a slightly broader sense than in ACID). I previously talked about relaxing validation in a trusted context. It seems that here validation was relaxed without making sure that the database could only be reached through a validation layer, and therefore an unencapsulated system was created. The invalid data should have never been stored in the DB, and the user should have never been able to enter invalid data in the first place.
Anyway, isn't it great that you run tests with invalid data?