Saturday, April 14, 2012

fail fast - fundamental and practical principle

Fail-fast is one of those low-level coding habits that deserve its place among the valuable habits to be adopted by practicing app developers in industry. In contrast, library developers (including open-source authors) generally adopt fail-fast by default.

Principle -- prefer crashing the entire program. Don't keep going. Don't hope the dubious condition will be tolerated. Don't hope the corrupted data will be left alone and left untouched. Sooner or later what you fear will happen. In such a case it can be very hard to find the root cause. The crash site might be far away from the buggy code.

Example -- when dealing with DAM issues, there are specific tools to make the program crash as soon as detected. I think they intercept, replace or integrate with malloc/free.

Example -- if null pointer can cause problem then check as early as possible. In java and c#, a lot of error messages simply say null pointer (like "unknown exception") . It can take hours to find out the real cause.

Example -- fail-fast iterators.

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