Exploring Delegation in Kotlin

I'm a huge fan of interfaces in Java and also of composition over inheritance. Inheritance is some magic wiring with tight coupling that creates lots of friction when evolving a code base. I've written about interfaces before several times, for example here or here. Looking at Kotlin I wanted to see what I can do with interfaces and composition.

Take this example:

interface HasName {
  fun getName():String
}

class Person(): HasName {
   override fun getName():String = "Stephan"
}

fun main(args: Array<String>) {
  val p = Person()
  // Prints 'Stephan'
  println(p.getName())
}

Why would one introduce a HasName interface in this case? It reduces dependencies and coupling. This makes reasoning about code easier and speeds up compilation, especially incremental compilation.

How would we use the HasName interface? A function that checks for a good name could look like this:

fun goodName(p:Person):Boolean {
  return p.getName() == "Stephan"
}

Now the function depends on the whole of person, not just the name part. The function can not operate on a lot of things, just persons. What about other things with Name, like Dogs? Rewritting the code to

fun goodName(n:HasName):Boolean {
   return n.getName() == "Stephan"
}

makes the function more reusable.

Inside our Person class we have the code for the HasName functionality. It woud be nicer to be able to reuse the functionality from somewhere else.

In Kotlin we can delegate Interfaces to objects:

interface HasName {
  fun getName():String
}

class NameMixin(val n:String): HasName {
  override fun getName() = n
}

class Person(n:NameMixin): HasName by n {
}

fun main(args: Array<String>) {
    val p = Person(NameMixin("Stephan"))
    // Prints 'Stephan'
    println(p.getName())
}

This looks a little unnatural to me, as the user of the Person class needs to know about the NameMixin. See if we can do better

class Person(n:String): HasName by NameMixin(n) {
}

fun main(args: Array<String>) {
  val p = Person("Stephan")
  // Prints 'Stephan'
  println(p.getName())
}

looks cleaner as the consumer of Person does not know about NameMixin.

Kotlin can also use data classes (Thanks to Christian Helmbold for pointing this out).

interface HasName {
    val name: String
}

data class NameMixin(override val name: String) : HasName

class Person(named : HasName) : HasName by named

If we want to have more control, we can use a Factory inside Person.

class Person(n:String): HasName by Person.name(n) {
  companion object Name {
    fun name(n:String) = NameMixin(n)
  }
}

The name of the companion object, in this case Name, is optional but helps to structure the factory methods.

The mixin can be accessed with this:

class Person(n:String): HasName by Person.name(n) {
  ...
  fun isStephan():Boolean {
    // Access name property
    return this.getName() == "Stephan"
  }
}

Using a companion object with a factory method is better, because it gives us more control in the creation of the Mixin. But the control is not optimal. I wish we had something like

 // Not working Kotlin code!
 class Person(n:String): HasName {
    val name delegates from HasName
 }

where I have access to name and more control over it. It would also be nice to have a way to access other Mixins from a Mixin. But overall, some nice functionality in Kotlin.