Code Smells : Bloaters (Primitive Obsession, Long Parameter List, Data Clumps)

Primitive Obsession

If there is a code smell I often misses, then it has to be Primitive Obsession. Quite honestly, I have been guilty of falling for Primitive Obsession more than once. This particular type of Code Smell refers to the tendency of Developers to use primitive types instead of small objects for stimulating certain fields.  For example, one of the most common form of primitive obsession is usage of strings to represent Phone Numbers or Zip Codes.


Clearly, Phone Numbers and Zip Codes have their own formats and having primitive string to represent it would mean, you need to do additional checks (mostly repeated preconditions) in every method which utilizes it to ensure they hold the integrity needed by the stimulated object.  Instead, the Users could Replace Data Value With Object along with the associated behavior ( and validation checks).


Another possible technique associate itself when primitive fields are used in Method parameters. There might be cases when same group of parameters are used by more than one methods. Let’s consider the following code for example.
public IList GetBirthdays(DateTime startDate, DateTime endDate);
public IList GetAnniversaries(DateTime startDate, DateTime endDate);
public IList GetOtherLandmarks(DateTime startDate, DateTime endDate);
As seen in the above code,  two date time parameters, namely StartDate and EndDate are repeatedly used by 3 different methods. You could introduce a object here replacing the repeated parameters. The above code could be rewritten as following


public IList GetBirthdays(DateRange Dates);
public IList GetAnniversaries(DateRange Dates );
public IList GetOtherLandmarks(DateRange Dates );


This technique of Refactoring is known as Introduce Parameter Object as observed by Martin Fowler. Another technique related to primitive parameters being used as Method Parameters is called Preserve Whole Object. Consider the following code.


var employeeID = employeeInstance.GetEmployeeID();
var employeeDepartment = employeeInstance.GetDepartment();
var employeePaymentDetails = payment.GetPaymentDetails(employeeID, employeeDepartment);


Instead of calculating individual fields like employeeID and employeeDepartment, and then passing it to the GetPaymentDetails method, you could pass the employeeInstance object instead. This works in treating Long Methods  as  well.


The advantages of staying away from the Primitive Obsession include increased flexibility of code and well organized code. You have centralized place to maintain operations and conditions related to the particular data type. Also, it becomes easier for a future developer who doesn’t have to spend time guessing the limits/conditions related a particular data type.


Long Parameter List

How often have we ended up working with Methods which require more than 5 parameters ? Even harder would be existing code which utilizes a method which has many parameters. Remember, developers spend a better part of their development time reading existing code rather than creating a new one. So the implication of not writing easily readable code is quite large.  At least with .Net we do have Named Parameters which increases the readability a bit but at the end of the day, a method with 3 or 4 parameter is always easier to work with than one with 5-8 parameters. Ideally, anything more than 3 parameters for a method is a good candidate for refactoring.


So what are the effective refactoring techniques that could treat this particular kind of Code Smells.  We  have already discussed two earlier in this very blog post – Introduce Parameter Object and Preserve Whole Object. These two methods are effective in reducing the number of parameters used in a method.


A third technique, known as Replace Parameter with Method Call involves something similar. Consider the following code.


var employeeID = employeeInstance.GetEmployeeID();
var employeeDepartment = employeeInstance.GetDepartment();
var employeePaymentDetails = payment.GetPaymentDetails(employeeID, employeeDepartment);


Instead of the above code, where the daysWorked is calculated and passed to CalculateIncentive Method, we could have the CalculateIncentive method do the call to GetDaysWorked within itself, rather than being send as a Parameter. This would get rid of the parameter and simplify the method call.


Data Clumps

Another common bloater found in code is known as Data Clumps. Martin Fowler has coined the term as follows


“Whenever two or three values are gathered together, turn them into a $%#$%#^ object” – Martin Fowler


At times, you see a set of variables hanging around in groups in different part of the code. These are potential to be made into an object of their own.  If the group of variables are instance variable in class, then Extract Class is a good technique to apply. There might be other scenarios where the group of variables are as parameters of method, which gives us the option to employ Introduce Parameter Object and Preserve Whole Object.


Treating Data Clumps goes a long way in organizing code in a better way.