«

Interface Segregation Principle

ISP, not Internet Service Provider, but Interface Segregation Principle is the last of the famous principles of SOLID object-oriented software design. It was introduced by Robert C. Martin in his series of articles in 1996. Intention of this principle is to avoid creation of “fat” interfaces.

A fat (or polluted) interface comes from extending current interface with some functionality that is useful only to a subset of entities that depends on it. This phenomenon leads eventually to creation of dummy methods just to be able to use the interface. And that’s bad. Dummy methods are dangerous and also violate the LSP. The ISP as wrote the author declares that

Clients should not be forced to depend upon interfaces that they do not use.

Each interface should have clearly defined purpose and make reasonable abstraction of a part of the current problem. The best practice (in my opinion) is to use multiple inheritance when implementing the interfaces. This method will separate things that don’t logically belong together on the abstraction level and clean wrong dependencies in our code. But it also allow us to couple them back together in objects, that cover multiple things and work on the same data.

Let me show an example of how it should not look like. This is an interface for a car.

/* Bad example */
class CarOperation
{
    public:
        virtual void steer(int degrees) = 0;
        virtual void pullHandbrake() = 0;
        virtual void accelerate() = 0;

        virtual void shift(int gear) = 0;

        virtual void toggleAirConditioning() = 0;
};

There are a couple common things you can do with a car. Every car usually has a steering wheel, an acceleration pedal and possibly even a handbrake. But what about those cars with automatic transmission? They don’t allow the driver to shift gears, so what should they do with the shift method? The interface enforces it’s implementaion. And again with air conditioning. Some cars don’t have an air conditioner. The way here is to split CarOperation interface into a couple smaller ones.

class BasicCarOperation
{
    public:
        virtual void steer(int degrees) = 0;
        virtual void pullHandbrake() = 0;
        virtual void accelerate() = 0;
};

class GearboxCarOperation
{
    public:
        virtual void shift(int gear) = 0;
};

class AirConditioningCarOperation
{
    public:
        virtual void toggleAirConditioning() = 0;
};

class AlfaRomeo166 : public BasicCarOperation, GearboxCarOperation, AirConditioningCarOperation
{
    /* Implementation of all the interfaces. */
};

class SkodaFavorit136L : public BasicCarOperation, GearboxCarOperation
{
    /* No air conditioning for old cars. */
};

The clients that will use the concrete cars won’t look at them directly as AlfaRomeo166 or SkodaFavorit136L . They will operate them through the interfaces. If some client function wants to turn on a air-conditioning it will look like this

void beCool(AirConditioningCarOperation* vehicle)
{
    vehicle->toggleAirConditioning();
}

That’s the beauty of interface segregation principle. You get exactly what you need, nothing more and nothing less, which makes the code easier to maintain, reuse and saves you from a cascade of unpredictable errors, when you decide to modify existing code.

Sources