This is part two of a five part series about SOLID class design principles by Robert C. Martin. The SOLID principles focus on achieving code that is maintainable, robust, and reusable. In this post, I will discuss the Open Closed Principle.

The Open Closed Principle (OCP): You should be able to extend a classes behavior, without modifying it.

The OCP is sometimes alternatively defined as:

A class should be open to extension, but closed to modification.

Robert Martin sums up the rationale for the OCP like this:

"When a single change to a program results in a cascade of changes to dependent modules, that program exhibits the undesirable attributes that we have come to associate with 'bad' design. The program becomes fragile, rigid, unpredictable and unreusable. The open-closed principle attacks this in a very straightforward way. It says that you should design modules that never change. When requirements change, you extend the behavior of such modules by adding new code, not by changing old code that already works." — Robert Martin

At first, the OCP can sound contradictory. How can you change the behavior of a class without modifying it? In a nutshell, the answer is the cornerstone of object oriented design: polymorphism. The example later in the article will show how polymorphism is used to achieve classes that are "closed" to changes.

The Benefits

As stated by Robert Martin, classes that must be modified to accommodate new changes are fragile, rigid, unpredictable and unreusable. By insulating the class from changes, the class becomes robust, flexible, and reusable. Also as no modifications are made to the code no bugs can be introduced, leading to code that only becomes more stable over time through testing. The ability to reuse a class that has been working for years without modification is clearly preferable to modifying the class every time requirements change.

An Example

Continuing on from the example in the previous post about the Single Responsibility Principle, I'm going to modify the code to allow for multiple export file formats.

/********* XMLConverter ************/
class XMLConverter {
public:
    String convertDocumentToXML(Document doc);
}
 
// ... (code ommitted)

/********* BinaryConverter *********/
class BinaryConverter {
public:
    Data convertDocumentToBinary(Document doc);
}

// ... (code ommitted)
 
/********* DocumentExporter ************/

enum ConverterType {
    XMLConverterType,
    BinaryConverterType
};

class DocumentExporter {
private:
    URL _runSaveDialog();
    void _showSuccessDialog;
    ConverterType _converterType;
public:
    void setConverterType(ConverterType converterType);
    void exportDocument(Document doc);
};
 
void DocumentExporter::exportDocument(Document doc)
{
    URL fileURL = _runSaveDialog();
    
    switch(_converterType){
        case XMLConverterType:{
            XMLConverter xmlConverter;
            String xmlFileContent = xmlConverter.convertDocumentToXML(doc);
            xmlFileContent.writeToURL(fileURL);
            break;
        }
            
        case BinaryConverterType:{
            BinaryConverter binaryConverter;
            Data binaryFileContent = binaryConverter.convertDocumentToBinary(doc);
            binaryFileContent.writeToURL(fileURL);
            break;
        }
        
        default:
            LogError("Unrecognised converter type");
            return;
    }
    
    _showSuccessDialog();
}

// ... (code ommitted)

The DocumentExporter class is not closed to change. Every time a new export format must be supported, the DocumentExporter class must be modified. Enums and switch statements are strong indicators that a class is not closed to changes. If the enum changes, then every related switch statement must also be changed.

The way to close DocumentExporter to changes, in this case, is to make an abstract base class for all the converters. Then, the converter can be supplied to DocumentExporter via a technique called dependency injection. The solution is as follows:

/********* Converter ************/

class Converter {
public:
    virtual Data convertDocumentToData(Document doc) = 0;
};

/********* XMLConverter ************/

class XMLConverter : public Converter {
public:
    Data convertDocumentToData(Document doc);
};

Data XMLConverter::convertDocumentToData(Document doc)
{
    //convert to xml here
}

/********* BinaryConverter ************/

class BinaryConverter : public Converter {
public:
    Data convertDocumentToData(Document doc);
};

Data BinaryConverter::convertDocumentToData(Document doc)
{
    //convert to binary here
}
 
/********* DocumentExporter ************/

class DocumentExporter {
private:
    URL _runSaveDialog();
    void _showSuccessDialog;
    Converter* _converter;
public:
    void setConverter(Converter* converter); //Here is the dependency injection function
    void exportDocument(Document doc);
};
 
void DocumentExporter::exportDocument(Document doc)
{
    URL fileURL = _runSaveDialog();
    Data fileContent = _converter.convertDocumentToData(doc);
    fileContent.writeToURL(fileURL);
    _showSuccessDialog();
}

// ... (code ommitted)

In the above example, DocumentExporter is closed to change in respect to new export formats. To support a new export format, a new class is created that inherits from Converter. The new converter is injected into DocumentExporter via the setConverter method, and DocumentExporter is not modified in any way.

Note that a class can never be completely closed. There will always be unforeseen changes that require a class to be modified. However, if changes can be foreseen, such as different export formats, then you have a perfect opportunity to apply the OCP to make your life easier when those change requests come rolling in.