Review : Holub on Patterns

In order to read Allen Holub’s new book, you’ll certainly need some programming skills (Java, OOP and patterns to be more specific). On the back of the book, there’s specified ‘Intermediate to Advanced’. It certainly depends on what you mean by ‘Intermediate’… because the book is not exactly a light read. But then again, we don’t expect that from Allen Holub. We want interesting, insightful books from him, and ‘Holub on Patterns’ falls nicely into that cathegory. However, some ‘intermediates’ should prepare themselves for a harsh ride.

The volume is structured in 4 chapters. The first one contains some ‘preliminaries’. Meaning : short explanations about why OOP is still incorrectly used, design patterns are not fully understood, plus a bonus of controversial statements like ‘getters and setters are evil’ and ‘Swing is an over-engineered piece of junk’ [well, maybe not exactly these words]. As a direct consequence of reading this chapter, the ‘intermediates’ will start banging their heads on the closest wall available : “My code sucks ! I swear I’ll never blindly copy/paste again !”.

In the second chapter things really start to heat up. Allen explains why ‘extends is evil’ and interfaces are not evil. In case we needed an example of fragile-base-class problem, here we go with some MFC bashing (usual stuff). The chapter focuses also on some creational patterns such as Factory and (at great lenghts) Singleton. I especially liked the cool explanations of how to shut down a Singleton.

The third chapter discusses an [overly complex, on purpose] implementation of the ‘Game of Life’. Between huge chunks of code (a bit much for my taste) scattered throughout the chapter, the author explains all the implementation choices: from Visitor to Flyweight. Some 60% of the GoF patterns are encountered in this chapter’s code.

The fourth and last chapter contains ‘production code’, as the author declares. It’s a small in-memory database, with and embedded SQL interpreter and a JDBC driver. Very solid example, but it’ll probably scare away a few ‘intermediates’.

It all ends with an Appendix containing a great ‘Design-Pattern Quick Reference’, presenting the most used patterns in a very pragmatic format. Each pattern is explained via a diagram, some Java code snippets, its motivation, pros and cons, and a very original ‘Often Confused With’ paragraph.

Unlike all the other pattern books you’ve read before, this is not a reference. It’s a real programming book that you’ll have to read from cover to cover. You’ll also need solid programming skills in order to understand the last two chapters (and especially the last one).

My gripes:

- too much code. Probably more than 1/3 of the pages are just printed code. - typos. There is a slightly disturbing amount of typos in the book, even in some code snippets [like for instance ‘Sting’ instead of ‘String’].

However, these problems should not scare away any potential readers. Because of its original pragmatic approach, ‘Holub on Patterns’ is surely in the Top 10 Java books for 2005.