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Re: var accessors

daemon@ATHENA.MIT.EDU (Fri Mar 25 14:47:07 1994 )

To: Lynxian Theologies <BRANDON@cc.usu.edu>
Cc: coldstuff@MIT.EDU
In-Reply-To: Your message of Fri, 25 Mar 94 11:54:19 -0600.
Date: Fri, 25 Mar 94 14:41:30 EST
From: Greg Hudson <ghudson@MIT.EDU>

Let me try to explain the philosophy behind Coldmud's encapsulation.

The phrase "object-oriented" has been corrupted since the days of its
inception, and it now has a different meaning for everyone.  However,
these days you can hear a lot about the "three pillars" of
object-oriented programming: encapsulation, inheritance, and

Polymorphism is the idea that a single operation (statement) can have
several different meanings, and that this meaning may not be selected
until runtime.  For instance, if I have a variable 'a' which is a
collection of things, and I want to sort it, I may not care what kind
of collection a is or what it contains; I just tell the language to
"sort a" and it's the job of the language to figure out what I mean
based on a's type.

Inheritance is the idea that a type can be a derivation of a
previously-defined type.  If I want a fancier version of a given type,
I shouldn't have to go to all the work of duplicating the existing
type; instead, I can inherit from it.  Generally, operations of a type
are called 'methods'.  Associated with every inheritance scheme is a
message dispatch algorithm, a procedure whereby the language decides,
given a type and a message name, which method to call.  A common
criticism of object-oriented languages is that method dispatch
algorithms are much more complicated than old-style function dispatch
algorithms, and therefore it's much easier for programmers to lose
track of the flow of control.

Encapsulation is the idea that you should define a type in terms of
its operations, not in terms of its state.  That way, if it becomes
convenient to reimplement the type using a different kind of state,
code that uses the type won't need to change.  The canonical example
is: you implement complex numbers in terms of a real part and an
imaginary part, but you find that you're spending a lot of your time
computing magnitudes.  If you've defined the 'complex number' type in
terms of abstract operations and not in terms of state, you can
reimplement complex numbers in terms of a radius and an angle without
changing any of the code that uses them.

How does MOO fit into this picture?  MOO evolved out of more
traditional, non-programmable muds, and the name "object-oriented"
makes more sense in that concept.  MOO took the old MUDs' conception
of the database and added inheritance (in a more organized manner
than, say, Muck).

I should emphasize that MOO's "object-orientation" is in the database,
and not in the language.  Also, MOO's inheritance is very nonstandard
(at least for its day), in that it has no separation between
operations and state: its database has one entity, the object, and you
can define both operations and state for that object.  Both operations
and state are inherited, in a way similar to CLOS.

The model of programming under MOO is not much different from
traditional programming: programmers view objects as a mishmash of
state and operations, and use whichever form of access is convenient.
If programmers want to change the state representations of their
objects, they wind up breaking a lot of code that uses it.  In order
to prevent programmers from stomping on the state of each others'
objects, MOO introduces a permissions system similar to that of the
Unix file system, and the idea of the 'owner' of a method.

Coldmud tries to enforce a simpler, more organized model of
programming, by encapsulating state.  Every object has an internal
representation and an external interface, and other objects can only
access the interface, not the representation.  If you find yourself
asking the question, "How can I change this variable on another
object?" then you're not thinking about the problem in the right way,
for it's none of your business what variables the other object has.
Thus, there are no built-in operations for changing state on other

Encapsulation in Coldmud runs across two axes: between an object and
other distinct objects, and between an object and its ancestors.
Although an object's representation contains the representation of its
ancestors as well as its own state, it has no special access to the
representation it inherits; it must go through the interface of its
parents.  For example, and object which derives from 'container'
cannot directly access its own 'contents', but must go through the
regular container abstraction.

Okay, that's a nice, pure model, but what happens if I screw up
programming somewhere and find that in order to fix it, I need to
change the variable foo belonging to the ancestor $bar on the object
$baz to 3?  Well, it's not very hard to provide a command which lets
you evaluate an arbitrary piece of code on an arbitrary object, if you
have the appropriate permissions.  I would often issue commands like:

	this $baz definer $bar eval foo = 3;

Note that this requires compiling a method, running it, and removing
it.  This is not the kind of operation you would perform automatically
in your code (at least, I would hope).

Coldmud's attempts at encapsulation do not change the fact that
Coldmud is derived from MOO, and that Coldmud's object-orientation is
in the database, not in the language.  Like MOO's language, Coldmud's
language has a set of basic data types which cannot be modified, and
beyond that there is only this idea of a persistent "object" which
doesn't act all that well as a type.

A sign that Coldmud is not sufficiently extensible (much like MOO is
not) is that you see programmers squabbling over the details of the
built-in functions: they want to change the interfaces not to make the
built-in functionality more powerful, but to make it more convenient
for their particular needs.  Sure, you can do it without a builtin,
but "that takes ticks."

MUDs need a complete rethink as dynamic, multi-programmer
environments.  The focus on the database level (persistent objects
which combine operations and state) makes it easier to develop a
dynamic system, but it also makes the system less flexible.  Going
back to a more traditional object-oriented system with classes and
instances would introduce all sorts of versioning problems, but it
might give programmers more flexibility to design robust, flexible