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Designing software by naming things

2022-03-12 // I proofread this article.

There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.

Phil Karlton

Naming things is hard, that’s right, but finding the right names is even harder!

When I start the process of creating a new application, the first step is often to rely on some sort of specifications, e.g., UML diagrams. This forces me to think before to code, what a nice idea!

A class diagram is probably the most useful UML diagram. A first step could be to find package names and see how I can connect them. This will give me the main components of the application like the controllers, services or models for example. At this level, separating concerns is usually straightforward. The Model-View-Controller (MVC) design pattern is a great example.

Once the main packages have been defined, I need to find class names. To help me find the right names, I tend to identify interfaces first. An interface describes a contract between two components. Thinking in terms of interfaces forces me to think about the interactions between components. Interface-based programming is a nice way to design an application.

My rule of thumb is: when I am not able to find a name for a class, I ask myself whether this class makes sense, or if I can decouple things a bit more. A “wrong” or “obscure” name often leads to errors. When I am not satisfied with some naming, it is usually because something is not quite right and I try to understand why.

To get better at naming things, I take inspiration by reading good code. Thanks to GitHub, it’s easy to find and read code written by talented folks. As a PHP developer, I often use Symfony naming in my own projects.

This is how I design software by naming things :)

Feel free to fork and edit this post if you find a typo, thank you so much! This post is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) license.

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