Frameworks Make Reading New Code Hard
In an effort to increase my knowledge of both Ruby and Rails, I have been keeping my eyes open for interesting Ruby/Rails apps to peek at the source code of. Whilst looking at @j_stirk’s website, I noticed it was running on Radiant CMS, a Ruby CMS. So, I grabbed a copy of the source code.
Whilst I was having a peek at the source, I began to think that I was in a little over my head. I managed to muddle my way through the config/routes.rb file and figure out (with judicious use of Google) what requests were being directed to what controllers. The problems started happening when I hit the controller, and started seeing filters and symbols and statements that I didn’t know where to go next to find out about.
At first I thought it was to do with the fact that I don’t really know Ruby. I know enough to recognise it, and muddle through basic syntax, but I don’t know any tricks, any coding conventions and the nuances of Ruby programming. However, upon reflecting on my dilemma, I realised this isn’t something that was restricted to Ruby, Rails and Radiant CMS.
I remember last year looking into Symfony, before deciding that PHP was too god-awful ugly to waste my time on. I recall that too had a fairly high learning curve, and looking through an existing Symfony app, it was very hard to figure out what exactly was going on. There was much API browsing.
A few years ago when I first learnt ASP.NET, I was in a similar situation. Server tags and user controls and page events and assemblies were all very new and very confusing to this ex-PHP & ASP 3.0 developer. I stormed through a book on ASP.NET and was thrown head first into a contracting gig before catching my stride again.
I love frameworks. Ever since I heard about this thing called “Rails” a few years back, and realised there were a few similar frameworks written in PHP, I’ve been in love with frameworks. And I’ve always learnt them from the ground up, creating my own application. Last night was the first time I’ve ever tried to learn a framework from an application.
And it’s hard.
While frameworks increase programmer productivity and make maintenance easier for programmers who already are in the know, they make things really hard for a new maintainer who is not familiar with the code to dive in and figure out what’s going on. Not only do they have to learn the individual nuances of the programmer who wrote the application, they also have to figure out how the framework works.