I realize that this is not directly Perl related but I've
seen the topic bounce around several times in both
the CB and SOPW. I enjoyed reading the following article
by Peter Coffee, and thought that others here in the
monastery might enjoy it as well. He makes some good
points, although I'm sure it applies more to advanced
programmers rather than newbies (but then they stand to
gain much from the experience if nothing else).
I asked for his permission to include the entire text of
his article, since there is no direct URL to it and it is
distributed via e-mail newsletter. Here is his response:
Subject: It's not my copyright, but...
Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2001 18:33:10 -0400
If you include the hyperlink for subscribing to the newsletter, I can't
imagine my publisher having a problem with your sharing the (attributed)
content. Thanks for asking.
So here is the link to subscribe, as per his request:
eNewsletters from Ziff Davis Media
and here is the article, enjoy!:
REUSING CODE IS GOOD; REINVENTION MIGHT BE BETTER
-- By Peter Coffee --
Have you ever heard someone use the phrase, "reinventing the
wheel," in a positive sense? In my experience, no one likes
the idea: the implication is always either (1) "we didn't
know we could have just cloned that" or (2) "these people
were either too proud, or too stupid, to use what was
In the case of software development, though, I wonder if
there's something to be said for starting over from time to
time, instead of falling victim to viral programming: that
is, to the rapid spread of the first solution good enough to
work at all.
Sorting algorithms are perhaps the canonical example: There
are so many of them, and the good ones all trend toward the
same limit of O(n log n) performance for a list of n items,
but their performance in specific situations (partially
ordered input list, for example) can vary greatly. Some
require much more memory than others; some lend themselves
to parallel-processing environments; some can approach O(n)
performance if you know enough about the data going in (see
If you think, "Well, we have a sort routine in the library,"
you can cripple an application's performance. Some wheels
are worth reinventing.
Software defect trend analysis, for example in the reports
produced by Reasoning Inc.'s automated source code
inspection tools (see link below), has sometimes found odd
concentrations of similar errors in long-lived projects.
When the history of those errors is traced, it sometimes
turns out that copying and pasting from an early source code
module has proliferated a subtle conceptual error throughout
other code. When code is going to be reused, it needs to be
evaluated at least for correctness, but better still for
whether it's good enough to reuse instead of reinventing.
Critics of the C and C++ programming languages have been
known to apply the "viral" description to their rapid spread
and continued popularity: The first compiler written for a
new platform, they opine, will be used to write its first
decent operating system and will become the lingua franca
for its mainstream applications, even if other languages
(whose compilers take longer to port) might have yielded
higher productivity in writing more reliable code--if only
people had been willing to wait a little longer to get
started. (See links below.)
The next time someone asks, "Are we reinventing the wheel
here?" don't assume that you must prove you are not. "The
wheel we have now is square," may be the more appropriate
"Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what
happens to you." -- Aldous Huxley
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