4 July 2024

Encapsulation vs Business Rules

Business Men (licensed CC BY-NC-ND by Andreina Schoeberlein)No Naked Primitives is a Coderetreat constraint which trains our object orientation skills. No primitive values, e.g. booleans, numbers or strings, must be visible at object boundaries, i.e. public methods. Arrays and other containers like lists or hash-tables are primitives, too. I love this constraint, as it pushes people right out of their comfort zone. ;-) (I wrote about No Naked Primitives in combination with other constraints and included it in the expert level Brutal Coding Constraints.)

Value Objects
The usual designs to avoid naked primitives are Value Objects and First Class Collections. Value Objects, by design, expose the values they wrap with a getter because some other objects will want to use these values. What happens if I go extreme and do not allow any primitives at object boundaries? (Of course this is crazy, a clear case of Primitive Obsession Obsession. Still when Coderetreat facilitators get together to practice, things end up like that.) Let us take the Game of Life as an example. (If you do not know the Game of Life, read the description and implement it right away.) In the game, for evolving a generation, I need to count the living neighbours of each cell. The number of living neighbours is an integer and its value object in C# could look like
public class NeighbourCount {
    private int count;
    public NeighbourCount(int count) {
        this.count = count;

    // ... code to manage the count

Now any code which depends on the data (i.e. the count) will have to be moved into the value object to be able to access the data. Following the rules of the game, if there are two or three living neighbours, a living cell lives on. The method Apply​Rules​OnLiving​Cell implements this rule.
public class NeighbourCount {

    // ...

    public GridSpace ApplyRulesOnLivingCell() {
        if (this.count == 2 || this.count == 3) {
            return new AliveCell();   
        return new EmptySpace();

public interface GridSpace {}
public class EmptySpace : GridSpace {}
public class AliveCell : GridSpace {}
Grouping the data (count) and the logic which is based on the data, uses or modifies it (Apply​Rules​OnLiving​Cell) together is a core principle of object orientation. Further all data is strongly encapsulated.

The next method Apply​Rules​OnEmpty​Space is similar. The decision which of the two methods to call depends on the state of the cell, which is either alive or dead/non existing. This boolean state has to be encapsulated inside a class, e.g. class GridSpace. This class behaves differently for the values of the boolean state, which makes the boolean a simple type code. The object oriented way to work with type codes is to use polymorphism:
public interface GridSpace {
    public GridSpace ApplyRulesWith(NeighbourCount count);
public class AliveCell : GridSpace {
    public GridSpace ApplyRulesWith(NeighbourCount count) {
        return count.ApplyRulesOnLivingCell();
public class EmptySpace : GridSpace {
    public GridSpace ApplyRulesWith(NeighbourCount count) {
        return count.ApplyRulesOnEmptySpace();
The code looks weird and it is not my usual implementation of the game's rules. It has an issue: The rules of the game are distributed among three classes. This is Shotgun Surgery - when a single change is made to multiple classes simultaneously: If I need to change the rules, or even want to read and understand the logic of cell evolution, I have to go to three places.

Shot (licensed CC BY-NC-ND by Bart Maguire)Business Rules
On the other hand, a basic implementation of the rules using primitives (e.g. in Ruby because polyglot programming is cool),
def alive_in_next_generation(alive, living_neighbours)
  (alive and living_neighbours == 2) or 
  living_neighbours == 3
is one line of code and easy to understand. The game's rules - the business rules - are boolean expressions describing certain situations, which "the business" needs to act on. Typical examples of such situations are when an item is out of stock or a client qualifies for a discount. Business related conditions are called policies. (And there are predicates, which are boolean expressions, too. These have their origins in formal logic.) Boolean expression are functional in nature. So a functional design, i.e. functions operating on primitive data, could be more appropriate. Even in object oriented design there are use cases for objects containing only logic and no (mutable) data.

What is the point of my discussion? In the case of Game of Life, there is a tension between keeping data and its logic together versus keeping related logic together. This is particularly true for boolean expressions and code depending on them, as boolean values usually end up in conditionals. I like to keep "decisions" and the logic depending on them close together but I want to keep my business rules in one place even more. I am wondering if this is true for most design situations, besides Game of Life. Boolean logic is interesting because if allows variation in the automation. Code without any booleans is still useful, e.g. pure calculations or uniform transformations in a pipeline style of operations.

Taking it further?
While boolean is a primitive, it is different from other primitives. What happens if I do not allow any primitives besides boolean at object boundaries? The data of class NeighbourCount would still be encapsulated when I add relevant queries (in Python because I love programming languages):
class NeighbourCount:

  def __init__(self, count):
    self._count = count

  # ... code to manage the count

  def isTwoOrThree(self):
    return self._count == 2 or self._count == 3

  def isThree(self):
    return self._count == 3
Using these small methods, I get a concise implementation of the rules,
class Rules:
  def cellInNextGeneration(self, cell, count):
    if (cell.isAlive() and count.isTwoOrThree()) or count.isThree():
      return AliveCell()
    return EmptySpace()
Is this better? I am not sure. At least the (business) rules of the Game of Life are in one place now. They could be replaced with different rules if needed, making the design extensible. At the same time different rules would most likely require different queries in NeighbourCount. For example in Hex Life, I need a weighted sum of first and second tier living neighbours to decide the state of the next generation. This is not possible without adding new queries to NeighbourCount. The Open Closed Principle is not satisfied. (Then maybe Hex Life is too much of a change for any design to "survive".) My rules logic keeps calling into the encapsulated value object repeatedly, which looks much like Feature Envy. I feel like I am going in circles here ;-)

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