Sunday, January 18, 2009

Semantic Noise

Martin Fowler and Gilad Bracha write about Syntactic Noise, making similar points and using similar typographical techniques as I did in my HOM paper.
By Syntactic Noise, what people mean is extraneous characters that aren't part of what we really need to say, but are there to satisfy the language definition. Noise characters are bad because they obscure the meaning of our program, forcing us to puzzle out what it's doing.
Couldn't have said it better myself, so I'll just quote Martin Fowler. Syntactic noise is one of the reasons I think neither the for(each) statement nor the blocks added to Objective-C are particularly good replacements for Higher Order Messaging.
newArray = [existingArray map:^(id obj){ return [obj  stringByAppendingString:@"suffix"]; }];
newArray = [[existingArray map] stringByAppendingString:@"suffix"]];

To me, that extra syntax is quite noisy, though the noise isn't, in fact, just syntactic. We also have to introduce, name and even correctly type a completely redundant stand-in (obj) that we don't really care about. Introducing extra entities is semantic noise. Apart from having to puzzle out what that extra entity is (and that it is, in fact, redundant) every time we read the code, it also brings us back to "element at a time" programming and thinking.

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