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The Capability Pattern: Future-Proof Your APIs

08.29.2008
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Now, what can you do with it? Here's an example. In my previous blog I introduced an alternative design for how you could do something like SwingWorker. It contains a class called TaskStatus, which abstracts the task status data from the task-performing object itself. It is a simple interface with setters that allow a background thread to inform another object (presumably a UI) about the progress of a task.

In light of what we just discussed, TaskStatus really ought to be a final class. So let's rewrite it a little, to look like this. We will use a mirror-class for the SPI.

public final class TaskStatus {
private final StatusImpl impl;
TaskStatus (StatusImpl impl) {
this.impl = impl;
}

public void setTitle (String title) {
impl.setTitle (title);
}

public void setProgress (String msg, long progress, long min, long max) {
//We could do argument sanity checks here and make life
//simpler for anyone implementing StatusImpl
impl.setProgress (msg, progress, min, max);
}

public void setProgress (String msg) {
//...you get the idea
//...
}

public abstract class StatusImpl {
public abstract void setTitle (String title);
public abstract void setProgress (String msg, long progress, long min, long max);
public abstract void setProgress (String msg); //indeterminate mode
public abstract void done();
public abstract void failed (Exception e);
}

So we have an API that handles basic status display. But people are going to invent new aspects to status display. We can't save the world and solve everybody's task-status problems before they even think of them - and we shouldn't try. We don't want to set things up so that it's up to us to implement everything the world will ever want. Luckily, it doesn't have to be that way.

Since we've designed our API so that it can be compatibly added to, we let the rest of the world come up with things they need for displaying task status, and the ones that a lot of people need can be added to our API in the future. The capability pattern lets us do that. We add two methods to our API and SPI classes:

public abstract class StatusImpl {
//...
public <T> T getCapability (Class<T> type);
}
public final class TaskStatus {
//...
public <T> T getCapability (Class<T> type) {
return impl.getCapability (type);
}
}

Let's put that to practical use. Someone might want to display how much time remains before the task is done. Our API doesn't handle that. Through the capability pattern, we can add that. We (or anyone implementing StatusImpl) can create the following interface:

public interface StatusTime {
public void setTimeRemaining (long milliseconds);
}
A task that wants to provide this information to the UI, if the UI supports it, simply does this:
public T runInBackground (TaskStatus status) {
StatusTime time = status.getCapability (StatusTime.class);
for (...) {
//do some slow work...
if (time != null) {
long remaining = //estimate the time remaining
time.setTimeRemaining (remaining);
}
}
}

Even better, our Task API is, right now, not tied specifically to Swing or AWT - it could be used for anything that needs to follow the pattern of computing something on a background thread and then doing work on another one. Why not keep it un-tied to UI toolkits? All we have to do is make the code that actually handles the threading pluggable (I'll talk about how you do this simply using the Java classpath for dependency injection in my next blog). Then the result could be used with SWT or Thinlet as well, or even in a server-side application. Instead of a SwingWorker, we have an AnythingWorker!

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Tim Boudreau.

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