Using Frameworks Doesn't Mean You Don't Have To Know What You're Doing

I came across a good post yesterday titled "Are frameworks making developers dumb?". I wouldn't say frameworks make developers dumb, but I have noticed on way too many occasions that many developers don't really have a clue about what the frameworks they're using are actually doing. And it's not just within one specific developer community. I've seen it in the .NET, Java and Ruby camps and I'd expect it to be common in every single platform that becomes big enough to no longer be considered a niche.

People develop frameworks so other people don't have to deal with certain details all the time. People use frameworks so they can focus on what matters to what they're trying to do, without having to focus on lower-level stuff that's not really relevant to them. I mean, that sounds great, right? Just use the right framework to do what you want to do and you instantly become more productive! Even if you picked a good framework to use (and we all know there are plenty of bad/horrible ones to go around), you still need to know what the framework is doing. Abstraction purely for the sake of not having to know what's going on is hardly ever a good thing when it comes to software development. Does that mean you have to know every single detail? Of course not, but you should be aware of the things that might end up hurting you.

In software development, nothing is free and when something suddenly becomes easy due to a framework, you ought to figure out why it becomes easier and how that is achieved. If you get the answer to those 2 questions, you're much more likely to use the framework more responsibly instead of following blind faith or not caring about things that you simply can not just ignore. Like it or not, memory management matters. The cost of complex database operations (leaving in the middle whether you're using an RDBMS or a NoSQL solution) or the frequency of them matters. Bandwidth matters. Remote calls matter.

And there's a lot more to it than possible performance issues. Unwise usage of frameworks can also have a detrimental effect on the maintainability of your code. What might look like an improvement at first could very well lead to serious inflexibility and/or fragility in the long run.

Simply put: a lot of the things that frameworks try to hide under the carpet matter. Every benefit you get from them has a potential cost. If you want to keep enjoying those benefits, you better learn how to avoid the costs.

Written by Davy Brion, published on 2011-08-23 22:23:46
Categories: opinions

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