Tavish Armstrong


Phergie refactoring idea

Thu 29 Nov 2012 14:14:00

I’m taking a course this semester on software architecture — the high level design principles that go into building high-quality, maintainable software. The class is generally pretty decent, but the best part of it is the project. Over the course of the semester, teams have to learn and describe the architecture of an open source project; analyze how design patterns and design principles are applied; critique parts of the project that could benefit from refactoring; and then actually refactor the code – and if you’re feeling brave – submit the change back to the project.

My group is studying Phergie, an IRC bot that can moderate and perform administrative tasks on IRC channels. It can also do a few other fun things like pretend to “serve beer” to channel users, look up documentation for PHP code, etc.

We’re encouraged to get on project mailing lists and bug trackers and introduce ourselves to the developers. I did so and Matthew Turland was kind enough to give us suggestions on how to contribute back to the project — and even give me feedback on my homework!

I’ll post that homework here with some context. The goal is to find a “code smell” or some other kind of architectural defect; describe it; and then suggest a fix (a “refactoring”). We’re given points for ambition and we don’t actually have to implement the change — so we’re not limited by our ability to actually refactor the code.

Refactoring a large class in Phergie

Most often changed files. The blue line is the mean and the red line
is one standard deviation above the

Figure 1. Most often changed files. The blue line is the mean and the red line is one standard deviation above the mean.

I began my search for code smells by ranking the files by the number of commits in the git log that touched each file (see Figure 1.) (Edit: This idea comes from Michael Feathers’s talk here and if you think this sort of thing is cool, you should read his blog here.) The most committed-to file is also one of the largest at 740 lines of code — Phergie/Driver/Streams.php, which contains the Phergie_Driver_Streams class. Ostensibly, this class is for handling the TCP connection to the IRC server. I noticed two things immediately:

  1. Phergie_Driver_Streams is the sole child class of Phergie_Driver_Abstract. In my opinion, this is an over-generalization: there appears to be no reason (nor a plan) to have a non-streams-based implementation.
  2. Phergie_Driver_Streams is not only responsible for handling the connection to the server; it is also responsible for parsing and formatting IRC commands. The class is so large because it contains methods pertaining to both responsibilities, and methods that are (arguably) too large because they perform both duties as well.

For 1), the obvious solution is to flatten the hierarchy and use only the Streams class. For 2), my proposed solution is (see the provided UML diagrams):

  1. Move the parsing logic from getEvent() to its own method called parseEvent()
  2. Move the parseEvent() method to a new class called Phergie_IRC_Command_Handler.
  3. Move the formatting logic from send() to its own method called formatCommand().
  4. Move the formatCommand() method and all methods starting with do to Phergie_IRC_Command_Handler.

My best estimate is that this would split the class into two files with lengths of approximately 400 lines of code. This is closer to the mean (227 LOC) and in my opinion much more manageable and understandable — each class has more clearly defined responsibility.

Current architecture of the IRC/TCP subsystem in

Figure 2. Current architecture of the IRC/TCP subsystem in Phergie

Proposed refactoring of the IRC/TCP subsystem in

Figure 3. Proposed refactoring of the IRC/TCP subsystem in Phergie

What did the lead Phergie developer think of it?

I posted an earlier draft of this to the mailing list and Matthew Turland, the lead developer responded:

I agree that Phergie_Driver_Streams handling parsing and generation of IRC commands is part of why it’s so large, which is why I’m moving those into separate classes (and even libraries) in Phergie 3. See https://github.com/phergie/phergie-irc-parser and https://github.com/phergie/phergie-irc-generator. (These also use a Phergie\Irc subnamespace, in anticipation of one or more Jabber drivers also being developed.) See also https://github.com/phergie/phergie-irc-client-react, which is still very much in development but is an example of a driver implementation that still makes use of streams, but in a somewhat different way (because it uses the React library).

So, that’s cool: I accidentally anticipated a change that he had already made for Phergie 3 (which I didn’t realize existed). He decided to split the new class into a parser and a generator — something I chose not to do in my report for the sake of simplicity.

I’m also really pleased at how welcoming Matt’s been so far; he’s getting practically nothing in return except a bug fix or two (maybe) and he’s still more than willing to take the time to coddle newcomers like us. What a nice guy!

What a cool project!

This is a really great idea for a project; although not everyone is going to feel like sticking their neck out and embarrassing themselves on the internet like I did, it’s still a great opportunity to learn from more experienced developers and think about theory in the context of actual software. I certainly learned a lot and had a blast doing it.

Now if only the course also spent some time looking at more systems, as described by their developers…