Rees Re: OO

(Jonathan Rees had a really interesting response to Why Arc isn't Especially Object-Oriented, which he has allowed me to reproduce here.)

Here is an a la carte menu of features or properties that are related to these terms; I have heard OO defined to be many different subsets of this list.

  1. Encapsulation - the ability to syntactically hide the implementation of a type. E.g. in C or Pascal you always know whether something is a struct or an array, but in CLU and Java you can hide the difference.

  2. Protection - the inability of the client of a type to detect its implementation. This guarantees that a behavior-preserving change to an implementation will not break its clients, and also makes sure that things like passwords don't leak out.

  3. Ad hoc polymorphism - functions and data structures with parameters that can take on values of many different types.

  4. Parametric polymorphism - functions and data structures that parameterize over arbitrary values (e.g. list of anything). ML and Lisp both have this. Java doesn't quite because of its non-Object types.

  5. Everything is an object - all values are objects. True in Smalltalk (?) but not in Java (because of int and friends).

  6. All you can do is send a message (AYCDISAM) = Actors model - there is no direct manipulation of objects, only communication with (or invocation of) them. The presence of fields in Java violates this.

  7. Specification inheritance = subtyping - there are distinct types known to the language with the property that a value of one type is as good as a value of another for the purposes of type correctness. (E.g. Java interface inheritance.)

  8. Implementation inheritance/reuse - having written one pile of code, a similar pile (e.g. a superset) can be generated in a controlled manner, i.e. the code doesn't have to be copied and edited. A limited and peculiar kind of abstraction. (E.g. Java class inheritance.)

  9. Sum-of-product-of-function pattern - objects are (in effect) restricted to be functions that take as first argument a distinguished method key argument that is drawn from a finite set of simple names.

So OO is not a well defined concept. Some people (eg. Abelson and Sussman?) say Lisp is OO, by which they mean {3,4,5,7} (with the proviso that all types are in the programmers' heads). Java is supposed to be OO because of {1,2,3,7,8,9}. E is supposed to be more OO than Java because it has {1,2,3,4,5,7,9} and almost has 6; 8 (subclassing) is seen as antagonistic to E's goals and not necessary for OO.

The conventional Simula 67-like pattern of class and instance will get you {1,3,7,9}, and I think many people take this as a definition of OO.

Because OO is a moving target, OO zealots will choose some subset of this menu by whim and then use it to try to convince you that you are a loser.

Perhaps part of the confusion - and you say this in a different way in your little memo - is that the C/C++ folks see OO as a liberation from a world that has nothing resembling a first-class functions, while Lisp folks see OO as a prison since it limits their use of functions/objects to the style of (9.). In that case, the only way OO can be defended is in the same manner as any other game or discipline -- by arguing that by giving something up (e.g. the freedom to throw eggs at your neighbor's house) you gain something that you want (assurance that your neighbor won't put you in jail).

This is related to Lisp being oriented to the solitary hacker and discipline-imposing languages being oriented to social packs, another point you mention. In a pack you want to restrict everyone else's freedom as much as possible to reduce their ability to interfere with and take advantage of you, and the only way to do that is by either becoming chief (dangerous and unlikely) or by submitting to the same rules that they do. If you submit to rules, you then want the rules to be liberal so that you have a chance of doing most of what you want to do, but not so liberal that others nail you.

In such a pack-programming world, the language is a constitution or set of by-laws, and the interpreter/compiler/QA dept. acts in part as a rule checker/enforcer/police force. Co-programmers want to know: If I work with your code, will this help me or hurt me? Correctness is undecidable (and generally unenforceable), so managers go with whatever rule set (static type system, language restrictions, "lint" program, etc.) shows up at the door when the project starts.

I recently contributed to a discussion of anti-OO on the e-lang list. My main anti-OO message (actually it only attacks points 5/6) was The followups are interesting but I don't think they're all threaded properly.

(Here are the pet definitions of terms used above:

  • Value = something that can be passed to some function (abstraction). (I exclude exotic compile-time things like parameters to macros and to parameterized types and modules.)

  • Object = a value that has function-like behavior, i.e. you can invoke a method on it or call it or send it a message or something like that. Some people define object more strictly along the lines of 9. above, while others (e.g. CLTL) are more liberal. This is what makes "everything is an object" a vacuous statement in the absence of clear definitions.

    In some languages the "call" is curried and the key-to-method mapping can sometimes be done at compile time. This technicality can cloud discussions of OO in C++ and related languages.

  • Function = something that can be combined with particular parameter(s) to produce some result. Might or might not be the same as object depending on the language.

  • Type = a description of the space of values over which a function is meaningfully parameterized. I include both types known to the language and types that exist in the programmer's mind or in documentation.

Complete Exchange