RE: Optional attributes

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From: Jrn Guy S (
Date: Wed 19 May 2004 - 08:53:58 BST

Dear Shane,

I agree with Laurence that using NULL to signify indicision, absence, optionality, lack of initialisation or what have you is a bad concept. It seems this discussion is reliving the age old "what is that NULL in my database"-argument. Effectively, I believe that assigning a NULL value is a short-hand for unfinished design. This becomes evident in the "specializations" that value develops during such discussions: MyUndecidedNULL, MyIinformationIsLackingNull, MyICanFillItInMySelfNULL, MyThisIsNotReadyYetNULL etc. pp. I see the point of leaving some non-essential issues open while exploring the essential features in modeling. But that looseness should IMO not be turned into a virtue in itself. One ends up with a non-boolean logic which is incompatible with standard math and makes transfers hard and awkward. It is like dropping the whole logic/inference/reaoning library from our palette of available components just because we cannot come to a decision on a type structure or the meaning of some model element. So we invent our own. I see this as bad reuse. What was OO about, again? So I think, keeping NULL out of models (and OCL-constraints) as soon as we leave the sketching phase would be my prefered way of dealing with the situation. Sorry about this rave, but I have seen a great many NULLs passed, returned and stored, and quite a few of them caused problems.

Kind regards,

Jrn Guy S

Dipl.-Inform. Jrn Guy S            | CIS - Sekr. EN7
phone / fax : +49(30) 314-23553/21601 | TU Berlin, Fak IV
phone (secretary) : +49(30) 314-23555 | Einsteinufer 17        | D-10587 BERLIN / GERMANY

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Laurence Tratt
Sent:	Tuesday, May 18, 2004 11:09 PM
Subject:	Re: Optional attributes

On Tue, May 18, 2004 at 10:00:45PM +0200, Shane Sendall wrote:

Dear Shane,

> Certainly from a language definition point of view. 'null' as meaning the
> absence of a value is the most elegant, because IMO this is the real
> reason/meaning for 'null'.

One must be careful not to confuse the standard English meaning of a word
with the concept it represents in a given context. I have some sympathy for
the Python approach where they called the keyword None which gets rid of the
"ooo, null means there must be nothing there" problem.

My take on this is that it doesn't make sense to expose directly to the user
the concept of the absence of a value. In a pure OO system, if you have NULL
as a special object (or some means of uniquely identifying it), you can
achieve all that you can if NULL is implied by the absence of a value.

However, if NULL is present merely by its absence then what happens in e.g.
a statement like "print(NULL)" (or whatever)? Answer: the print function now
has to explicitly know about NULL, because it can't call a "toStr()" method
when there is no object present! Basically if you make NULL be the absence
of a value, you start having to encode knowledge of NULL into places that
could otherwise have remained blissfully ignorant of it. It's a very non
object orientated decision which can end up merrily biting people on the
arse in perpetuity.



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