alexis alexis - 2 months ago 8
PHP Question

Is the Visitor pattern useful for dynamically typed languages?

The Visitor pattern allows operations on objects to be written without extending the object class. Sure. But why not just write a global function, or a static class, that manipulates my object collection from the outside? Basically, in a language like java, an

accept()
method is needed for technical reasons; but in a language where I can implement the same design without an
accept()
method, does the Visitor pattern become trivial?

Explanation: In the Visitor pattern, visitable classes (entities) have a method
.accept()
whose job is to call the visitor's
.visit()
method on themselves. I can see the logic of the java examples: The visitor defines a different
.visit(n)
method for each visitable type
n
it supports, and the
.accept()
trick must be used to choose among them at runtime. But languages like python or php have dynamic typing and no method overloading. If I am a visitor I can call an entity method (e.g.,
.serialize()
) without knowing the entity's type or even the full signature of the method. (That's the "double dispatch" issue, right?)

I know an accept method could pass protected data to the visitor, but what's the point? If the data is exposed to the visitor classes, it is effectively part of the class interface since its details matter outside the class. Exposing private data never struck me as the point of the visitor pattern, anyway.

So it seems that in python, ruby or php I can implement a visitor-like class without an accept method in the visited object (and without reflection), right? If I can work with a family of heterogeneous objects and call their public methods without any cooperation from the "visited" class, does this still deserve to be called the "Visitor pattern"? Is there something to the essence of the pattern that I am missing, or does it just boil down to "write a new class that manipulates your objects from the outside to carry out an operation"?

PS. I've looked at plenty of discussion on SO and elsewhere, but could not find anything that addresses this question. Pointers welcome.

Answer

This answer is made with an ignorance of PHP etc but the Visitor needs typically to call more than just a single method (you mentioned "serialize") on the entities. When the Visit() method is called on the concrete Visitor, the Visitor is capable of running distictly different code for each entity subtype. I don't see how that is different from a dynamically-types language (though I'd love some feedback).

Another nice benefit of Visitor is it provides a clean seperation of the code that is getting run on each entity from the code that enumerates the entities. This has saved me some serious code duplication in at least one large project.

As an aside, I've used Visitor in languages that did not have method overloading. You just replace Visit(TypeN n) with VisitN(TypeN n).


Follow up from comments.

This is a visitor psuedo code, and I don't know how I would so it without the cooperation of the visited object (at least without a switch block):

abstract class ScriptCommand
{
   void Accept(Visitor v);
}

abstract class MoveFileCommand
{
   string TargetFile;
   string DestinationLocation;

   void Accept(Visitor v)
   {
      v.VisitMoveFileCmd(this);  // this line is important because it eliminates the switch on object type
   }
}

abstract class DeleteFileCommand
{
   string TargetFile;

   void Accept(Visitor v)
   {
      v.VisitDeleteFileCmd(this); // this line is important because it eliminates the switch on object type

   }
}

// etc, many more commands

abstract class CommandVisitor
{
   void VisitMoveFileCmd(MoveFileCommand cmd);
   void VisitDeleteFileCmd(DeleteFileCommand cmd);
   // etc
}

// concrete implementation

class PersistCommandVisitor() inherits CommandVisitor
{
   void VisitMoveFileCmd(MoveFileCommand cmd)
   {
      // save the MoveFileCommand instance to a file stream or xml doc
      // this code is type-specific because each cmd subtype has vastly
      // different properties
   }

   void VisitDeleteFileCmd(DeleteFileCommand cmd)
   { 
      // save the DeleteFileCommand instance to a file stream or xml doc
      // this code is type-specific because each cmd subtype has vastly
      // different properties
   }

}

The visitor infrastructure allows the handling of a wide array of command subtypes with no select case, swithc, if else.

In regards to the visitor handling the enumerating, I think you are limiting yourself like that. That's not to say a cooperating class (an abstract VisitorEnumerator) can't be involved.

For example, note this visitor is unaware of the order of enumeration:

class FindTextCommandVisitor() inherits CommandVisitor
{
   string TextToFind;
   boolean TextFound = false;

   void VisitMoveFileCmd(MoveFileCommand cmd)
   {
      if (cmd.TargetFile.Contains(TextToFind) Or cmd.DestinationLocation.Contains(TextToFind))
         TextFound = true;
   }


   void VisitDeleteFileCmd(DeleteFileCommand cmd)
   { 
      // search DeleteFileCommand's properties
   }

}

And this allows it to be reused like this:

ScriptCommand FindTextFromTop(string txt)
{
   FindTextCommandVisitor v = new FindTextCommandVisitor();
   v.TextToFind = txt;
   for (int cmdNdx = 0; cmdNdx < CommandList.Length; cmdNdx++)
   {
      CommandList[cmdNdx].Accept(v);
      if (v.TextFound)
         return CommandList[cmdNdx];  // return the first item matching
   }
}

and the enumerate the opposite way with the same visitor:

ScriptCommand FindTextFromBottom(string txt)
{
   FindTextCommandVisitor v = new FindTextCommandVisitor();
   v.TextToFind = txt;
   for (int cmdNdx = CommandList.Length-1; cmdNdx >= 0; cmdNdx--)
   {
      CommandList[cmdNdx].Accept(v);
      if (v.TextFound)
         return CommandList[cmdNdx];  // return the first item matching
   }
}

In real code I would create a base class for the enumerator and then subclass it to handle the different enumeration scenarios, while passing in the concrete Visitor subclass to completely decouple them. Hopefully you can see the power of keeping the enumeration seperate.

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