The evolution of how I code common objects

November 20, 2011

I always try to make my code as small as possible, as long as it is understandable to a degree – and simple code is for me often that. DRY is a good rule, sometimes hard to figure out how to not repeat myself, but sometimes I discover good techniques.

In my early programming days, in the case of objects, I always made every object like this:

class Student {
   private $name;
   private $address;
   
   public function __construct($name, $address){
      $this->setName($name);
      $this->setAddress($address);
   }
   
   public function setName($name){
      $this->name = $name;
   }
   public function getName(){
      return $this->name;
   }
   public function setAddress($address){
      $this->address = $address;
   }
   public function getAddress(){
      return $this->address;
   }
}

$student = new Student();
$student->SetName('John');
echo $student->GetName();

Then I discovered that I don’t need to have a getter and setter for every property, I wanted to get rid of them and it could be done like this:

class Student {
   private $name;
   private $address;
   
   public function __construct($name, $address){
      $this->Name($name);
      $this->Address($address);
   }
   
   public function Name($name=null){
      if($name===null){
         return $this->name;
      }
      $this->name = $name;
   }
   public function Address($address=null){
      if($address===null){
         return $this->address;
      }
      $this->address = $address;
   }
}

$student = new Student();
$student->Name('John');
echo $student->Name();

Notice, that the use of null here do that you cannot use null as a value to a property, but the properties are null if you get them and they are not set. Anyways, this became all too much code when you got like 10+ objects with 10+ properties each, repeating the syntax for every property. So I turned into something like this:

class Student {
   private $name;
   private $address;
   
   public function __construct($name, $address){
      $this->Name($name);
      $this->Address($address);
   }
   
   public function set_get($property, $value=null){
      if($value===null){
         return $this->$property;
      }
      $this->$property = $value;
   }
   
   public function Name($name=null){
      $this->set_get('name', $name);
   }
   public function Address($address=null){
      $this->set_get('address', $address);
   }
}

$student = new Student();
$student->Name('John');
echo $student->Name();

But why do one have to go through a method for each property? we can easily get rid of all that by simply using the set & get and then use an array as the property holder.

class Student {
   private $properties = array();
   
   public function set($property, $value){
      $this->properties[$property] = $value;
   }
   public function get($property){
      return (isset($this->properties[$property])
              ?$this->properties[$property]
              :false;
   }
}

$student = new Student();
$student->set('name', 'John');
echo $student->get('name');

Less code, easy to maintain, only drawback is to make som additional actions in every set/get, something that I seldom do anyways. Also, every set/get does not turn up in the list of methods that Eclipse/NetBeans find. If needed those can get own methods. Still, this is all too much for every single class when the code is the same on many – it is better to extend a class that has that code:

class Master {
   private $properties = array();
      
   public function set($property, $value){
      $this->properties[$property] = $value;
   }
   public function get($property){
      return (isset($this->properties[$property])
              ?$this->properties[$property]
              :false;
   }
}

class Student extends Master {}

$student = new Student();
$student->set('name', 'John');
echo $student->get('name');

This way every object get the same functionality and only one line is required to make one object. But why not go even further. Both in how values are set and get, and how classes are created. PHP has this magic function called __autoload(), and including this inside it make it so that any class can be created even if it does not exist:

class Master {
   private $properties = array();
   public function val($prop, $val=null){
      if($val===null){
         return (isset($this->properties[$prop])
                 ?$this->properties[$prop]
                 :false);
      } 
      $this->properties[$prop] = $val;
   }
}
function __autoload($class) {
   eval('class '.$class.' extends Master {}');
}

$student = new Student();
$student->val('name', 'John');
echo $student->val('name');

Now I can create any object with any name on the fly. It is like a stdClass, but with functionality and not anonymous. But isn’t the use of eval like… evil? Well, typically it should be avoided, especially if the content you put in is user-generated from a form. If this is the case, you have to strip away everything from the class name that does not belong in a class name before you evaluate it. Don’t do it if you don’t know what you are doing. There are some more stuff I want to do with this:

class Master {
   private $props = array();
   public function val($prop, $val=null){
      if($val===null){
         return (isset($this->props[$prop])
                 ?$this->props[$prop]
                 :false);
      } 
      $this->props[$prop] = $val;
      return $this;
   }
}
function __autoload($class) {
   eval('class '.$class.' extends Master {}');
}
function obj($name){
   return new $name();
}

echo obj('Student')->val('name', 'John')->val('name');

Like that! Now I don’t have to initiate a new object every time I want to make one, and I added chaining so that every value can be set more fluid. All of the code above is only a starting point, and need additional stuff to make them robust, secure, and stuff like that. I hope you get the idea, because in many projects it is unnecessary and dull to create bloated objects for every simple type of class you want to use. In more complex projects you may need to skip some of the simplifications, to get more flexibility in functionality for each class.

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