Deceiving Your Readers

Deceiving Your Readers

APIs are user interfaces for programmers. I came across a function recently that had a couple of user interface issues that serves as a great example of this principle.

The function is internal to an HTTP client class, taking care of the common logic independent of the HTTP method, and the signature looked something like this:

def _send(method, content_type):
    ...

This looks pretty straight-forward to programmers used to HTTP, but the parameters are deceiving.

First of all, content_type is not actually a full content-type, but rather only the content subtype. In other words, it takes whatever you give it and prepends 'application/', so rather than passing in a content-type like 'application/json', you'd just pass in 'json'. That's not a huge deal, but a programmer's user experience would be that much smoother if the parameter name were content_subtype.

The other parameter, method, you might expect to be a string indicating the HTTP method for the request. That would be wrong. It is actually a function object from the Python requests library, such as requests.get or requests.post, that will be used to actually send the request off. Maybe method_function would be a better name.

Sure, sometimes you need a little context to understand that your first thought of what something is isn't correct, and that the design choice is actually reasonable, but little details can prevent bugs, like slightly more precise parameter names.

As an example, the function above had a line like this in the middle of it, written by one of the developers who was reasonably familiar with the project:

if method == 'GET' or method == 'POST':
    ...