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The Story of None: Part 4 - Guard Clauses

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Last time...

Last time in the Story of None we ended up with this validation function:

def validate_end_date_later_than_start(start_date, end_date):
    if start_date is None and end_date is None:
        return
    if start_date is None:
        return
    if end_date is None:
        return
    if end_date <= start_date:
        raise ValidationError(
            "The end date should be later than the start date.")

So let's apply some boolean logic and rewrite all this to be slightly shorter (but still readable):

def validate_end_date_later_than_start(start_date, end_date):
    if start_date is None or end_date is None:
        return
    if end_date <= start_date:
        raise ValidationError(
            "The end date should be later than the start date.")

Guard Clauses

What we've written above with the if ... return statement is a guard clause: a check at the beginning of a function that returns early from the function if the condition is true.

Instead we could have written the function without guard clauses, like this:

def validate_end_date_later_than_start(start_date, end_date):
    if start_date is not None and end_date is not None:
        if end_date <= start_date:
           raise ValidationError(
              "The end date should be later than the start date.")

or like this:

def validate_end_date_later_than_start(start_date, end_date):
    if (start_date is not None and
        end_date is not None and
        end_date <= start_date):
           raise ValidationError(
              "The end date should be later than the start date.")

I think both alternatives are a lot less clear than the one with the guard clause in it.

With a function it's better if the main thing that it is doing, in this case comparing end_date with start_date, is also the main unindented block. This makes the function easier to read. If you make the main behavior of the function be inside some other if clause, it becomes slightly harder to read.

The second alternative doesn't create this second level of indentation, but still makes the comparison between start and end date rather hidden among the is not None clauses. This makes the expression a bit harder to think about compared to the version of the function that uses the guard clause.

Guard and Stop Worrying

The great advantage of a guard clause is that you can forget about the stuff you're guarding against in the code you write after the guard clause. So once we have passed the guards, we can entirely stop worrying about start_date or end_date being None; we've already guarded against those cases and handled them.

This is great! We can compare start_date and end_date freely. We can call methods on start_date and end_date safely. We can pass start_date and end_date to other functions and they don't need to worry about them being None either, unless of course such functions can be called from somewhere else where it could be None.

We worry about None so we can stop worrying about None when it matters. Ah, such a relief! Thank you guard clauses!

We'll talk a bit more about guard clauses next.

part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6

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