Removing Cyclic Dependencies, Java vs Go (2023-05-28)
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I just came across a cyclic package dependency case in Java. It’s important to address the role of graphs in visualizing abstract concepts like cyclic dependencies in software design to reduce complexity and build simple systems. The benefits of using Go as a more modern and opinionated language are also emphasized.
Addressing cyclic dependencies is an important design concern as it increases the complexity of our software, and the job of a software engineer is to reduce that complexity to build simple systems.
This is an interesting effect, and there’s a lot to talk about in graph cycles.
Today, I was refactoring a Java project a bit and found that a
package was a
data package requires the
ui package when the dependency would normally
consist of a “client” package (i.e.,
ui) that requires a more-universal or
abstract one (i.e.,
data). This way the dependencies keep simple or linear.
D depends on
U depends on
D, you’re saying that
D depends on
D (itself), so this is a kind of sink1 that strikes me as
As a philosopher, I see this as a design flaw since you’re building a sink in that dependency graph, but everything is relative (i.e., everything is connected to everything). If one part of the system is cyclic like that, I can see it as something absolute or disconnected from the rest, hence flawed.
Let’s see what Go says if I build a dummy PoC project that resembles this flaw:
I’ve used Go in my job experiences and for other projects as well.
Go is a more modern language, and its opinionated system makes it a decent choice, unlike legacy languages like Java, with many flaws out of the box.
You can write good Java, but you need to know what you’re doing, or even worse, you have to hire expensive practitioners increasing the technical debt.
That’s why Go is usually used at large organizations where developers come in, and out: if compiles then it shouldn’t be that crazy.
Circular dependencies require complex algorithms to resolve. Routers disallow cycles, for example. I implemented a minimum-spanning-tree algorithm for my game “Dungeon MST” written in Go when I took the “Computer Networks” course for my math major.
Many concepts in CS, like “modules,” are vague. In this case, Java/Go
are considered a kind of module, so they shouldn’t have circular dependencies.
If the circular dependencies come from more homogeneous sources like normal source files, that shouldn’t be a problem, as they’re actually the same. So, here we wouldn’t have the “sink” concept I mentioned earlier if you operate on the same package:
In Go, source files under the
data (or any
package) belong to the
data. So, circular requirements among files in the same
package or “module” should be valid. Circular dependencies among different
packages are generally discouraged and disallowed by Go.
As I said before, everything is connected to everything in the end. You have to see the level of abstraction to avoid falling out of relativism into absolutism or “sinks,” as said above.
Identifying the homogeneous and heterogeneous elements within a system is necessary to apply these universally abstract principles. I mean, everything is relative, so this depends on the level of abstraction.
For example, if your dependencies are packages, and you have different packages, then it’s heterogeneous, so don’t be recursive as your context is imperative. If both abstractions are the same, then you can apply math techniques like FP or recursion as your context is declarative.
You can see this idea I’m talking about, like recursion, which is natural and good in FP and mathematics, but seen as dangerous in imperative setups.
I know recursion can become a “sink” (infinite loop) used imperatively (absolutist), but that won’t happen when used in pure math or (declarative) FP as it belongs to the correct level of abstraction.
This shows one more time how fundamental principles like homogeneity will tell you whether you’re doing well. Also recall that top practitioners employ fundamental or universal principles while bad ones only use generic marketable tricks like OOP “principles.”
Another way you can create “sinks,” or “infinite loops” by design, is through Java inheritance. Inheritance is, by design, inherently coupled (pun intended). So, if a supertype depends on a subtype, and vice-versa, you got it 💥.
I encounter various instances where one can identify this problem.
For example, when calling a method implemented2 above. In imperative settings, I follow the rule to call methods arranged below the caller. That is, only call methods below the current one, or you can build a mess otherwise. For example, you can fall into an infinite recursive loop of imperative nature.
Another example is the usage of
this in the constructor anti-pattern: you pass
a reference of an object (i.e.,
this) that is not in a consistent state yet,
because it hasn’t been constructed.
Another example is the old-fashioned MVC “architectures” for GUI apps. The “model” updates the “view,” then the “view” updates the “model,” and so on. This leads to complicated solutions, but recall that your goal as a software engineer is to build simple ones.
Nowadays, languages try to pose problems in a simpler approach, and Go has showed how it’s possible.
Contrary to what common sense would say, being simple is quite hard.
A good engineer will not usually apply “clever” designs but simple ones that adhere to computer science and domain facts.
Regarding what I said above when the context can either be declarative or imperative what you have to do is to simplify those imperative designs into homogeneous ones.
So, you can see that FP is like math: it must satisfy the principle of closure. You have to go fully functional to get the benefits of a closed system like math or FP.
In a practical “enterprise” setup, you better be mediocre to settle down to use mundane paradigm approaches instead of simplifying a lot. That is, you’ll have to face stupidly complicated systems, including cyclic dependencies of several kinds. Someone like me doesn’t want to work in such an environment 😁.
Thus, systems have to be simplified3, but some won’t want to be simplified.
Neither Java nor (even worse) Go are functional. But, you have to become a better engineer from the math principles since you’ll find math everywhere, even in mediocre heterogeneous and fragmented systems like imperative or OO.
In this case, you can see how graphs are ubiquitous, making them an essential component of your abstract memory to visualize such phenomena.
This also happens in mathematics. If you’re proving a statement \(p\), the proof can be really tough and reviewed by many experts. In the middle of the “proof,” you unconsciously may assume \(p\), so your “proof” is invalid because the situation was too hard to see (like big software can be), and you committed a circular reasoning fallacy.
Finally, I was reading Cyclic Dependency - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics which provides great insights as well related to these designs.
To avoid complicated designs or flaws like cyclic module dependencies, one has to keep simplicity in the systems and visualize the abstract concepts to understand what you’re doing. Regarding Go and Java, we can see how the opinionated design of Go makes it easier to write simpler systems with bounded complexity, while Java is a legacy language that won’t help with this unless you’re well-versed in the language and enforce it manually, which turns in more technical debt.
As a mathematician, this relates to me as dynamical systems or automata theory ↩
Again, the heterogeneity of imperative is here, so I use the word “implement” instead of “define” as definitions are pure while methods are “actions” or “verbs” ↩
Simplifying systems or code is like the mathematical simplification of expressions like polynomials you learned in basic courses ↩