Explicit is better than implicit, and what it means for Grok

  • By Martijn Faassen
  •  • 
  • 2008-04-01
  •  • 
  • Tags: 
  • grok

This post was, of course, an April Fool's joke

Grok has been using patterns like "Don't repeat yourself" and "Convention over configuration" to make it more easy to work with Zope 3 code. It is now time to admit that this experiment has been a failure. Explicit is better than implicit, after all, and we'll put up with repeating ourselves a few times if we need to.

Consider the following example of Grok code in the module foo.py:

import grok

class MyModel(grok.Model):
    pass

class Index(grok.View):
    pass

You then place a template in the module foo_templates called index.pt and Grok will automatically associate the template. To add code that helps render the template, you simply add methods to Index and use them from the template.

All this looks nice and easy, but people do need to remember rules about base classes, and implicit association. Grok does offer more explicit directives to do so:

import grok

grok.templatedir('foo_templates')

class MyModel(grok.Model):
    pass

class Index(grok.View):
  grok.context(MyModel)
  grok.name('index')
  grok.template('foo')

This also seems like a nice approach at first. The problem with these directives is that they clutter up your Python code, and distract you from what is really going on. Instead of conveniently finding out (or modifying) how your view is hooked up to your model and your template in a separate XML file, you will have to look through the clutter of registrations mixed with your Python code.

Wouldn't it be much nicer to be able to write everything down explicitly and separately, like this:

import persistent
from zope.app.container.contained import Contained
from zope.publisher.browser import BrowserPage

class MyModel(Contained, persistent.Persistent):
   pass

class MyView(BrowserPage):
   pass

And then we have a separate configure.zcml file containing the following:

<configure
  xmlns:browser="http://namespaces.zope.org/browser"
  xmlns="http://namespaces.zope.org/zope">

  <browser:page>
    for=".foo.MyModel"
    name="index"
    class=".foo.MyView"
    template="foo_templates/index.pt"
    permission="zope.Public" />

</configure>

To encourage good security practices, we will make security pervasive. Whenever you have a method on a model that you want to be called, for instance bar on class MyModel, we should declare this in ZCML as well:

<class=".foo.MyModel">
  <require
    attributes="bar"
    permission="mypermission">
</class>

Programming against interface is a good thing. Instead of associating our view directly against MyModel, let's write a file interfaces.py that spells out the interface that MyModel implements:

from zope.interface import Interface

class IMyModel(Interface):
  def bar():
     "The famous bar method"

Now we change foo.py to use the interface:

import persistent
from zope.app.container.contained import Contained
from zope.publisher.browser import BrowserPage
from zope.interface import implements
from interfaces import IMyModel

class MyModel(Contained, persistent.Persistent):
  implements(IMyModel)

class MyView(BrowserPage):
  pass

And we change the ZCML to use that interface too:

<configure
  xmlns:browser="http://namespaces.zope.org/browser"
  xmlns="http://namespaces.zope.org/zope"

  <browser:page
    for=".interfaces.IMyModel"
    name="index"
    class=".foo.MyView"
    template="foo_templates/index.pt"
    permission="zope.Public"
</configure>

These abstractions are always a good thing as our application will undoubtedly grow. We have to refer to the name of the interface in a few extra places, but the code becomes more understandable as a result.

We can then also declare security against interface instead of implementation, which cuts down on the amount of writing we will have to do if we have more than one method or attribute we want to protect! Like this:

<class class=".foo.MyModel"
  <require
    interface=".interfaces.IMyModel"
    permission="mypermission" />
</class>

We will have to distinguish between a modification interface for MyModel and an access-only interface for MyModel so we can assign different permissions to different methods, though, for instance IReadModel and IWriteMyModel.

In conclusion, I think everybody can clearly see that being explicit is a good thing. The ZCML directives are separated out from the Python code, making both the Python code easier to understand and the way directives work very explicit and easier to remember. We make sure we keep control by having everything explicit. Security is also very explicit in the application, and as a result you can be secure from the start.

So, Grok the caveman can go back into his cave. In fact we are considering a next step very seriously: to get rid of the Python language and going for a more explicit language like, for instance, Java. It's only a small matter of rewriting our codebase. This April first, 2008, Grok unsmashes ZCML, giving it back its rightful, explicit, place in development.