Long Method

The object programs that live best and longest are those with short methods. Programmers new to objects often feel that no computation ever takes place, that object programs are endless sequences of delegation. When you have lived with such a program for a few years, however, you learn just how valuable all those little methods are. All of the payoffs of indirection—explanation, sharing, and choosing—are supported by little methods.

Since the early days of programming people have realized that the longer a procedure is, the more difficult it is to understand. Older languages carried an overhead in subroutine calls, which deterred people from small methods. Modern OO languages have pretty much eliminated that overhead for in-process calls. There is still an overhead to the reader of the code because you have to switch context to see what the subprocedure does. Development environments that allow you to see two methods at once help to eliminate this step, but the real key to making it easy to understand small methods is good naming. If you have a good name for a method you don't need to look at the body.

The net effect is that you should be much more aggressive about decomposing methods. A heuristic we follow is that whenever we feel the need to comment something, we write a method instead. Such a method contains the code that was commented but is named after the intention of the code rather than how it does it. We may do this on a group of lines or on as little as a single line of code. We do this even if the method call is longer than the code it replaces, provided the method name explains the purpose of the code. The key here is not method length but the semantic distance between what the method does and how it does it.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, all you have to do to shorten a method is Extract Method. Find parts of the method that seem to go nicely together and make a new method.

If you have a method with lots of parameters and temporary variables, these elements get in the way of extracting methods. If you try to use Extract Method, you end up passing so many of the parameters and temporary variables as parameters to the extracted method that the result is scarcely more readable than the original. You can often use Replace Temp with Query to eliminate the temps. Long lists of parameters can be slimmed down with Introduce Parameter Object and Preserve Whole Object.

If you've tried that, and you still have too many temps and parameters, it's time to get out the heavy artillery: Replace Method with Method Object.

How do you identify the clumps of code to extract? A good technique is to look for comments. They often signal this kind of semantic distance. A block of code with a comment that tells you what it is doing can be replaced by a method whose name is based on the comment. Even a single line is worth extracting if it needs explanation.

Conditionals and loops also give signs for extractions. Use Decompose Conditional to deal with conditional expressions. With loops, extract the loop and the code within the loop into its own method.