Articles written by Parakh Singhal

Object oriented Thinking

The title and subject of this blog post is a tribute to the pioneering course that I am attending at Coursera: An Introduction to Mathematical Thinking. The course is basically a transition course helping students coming from a high school mathematics background transition to university mathematics. So far I have attended two lectures and I must say the course is what I needed when I was still in school and planning my career. Such transition courses, the motive of which is not teaching the hardcore pure subject, or even the applied form of the subject, are the need of the hour, be it any field of science or academia for that matter. These not only help the prospective candidates prime up to what lies ahead, but also helps them evaluate if they are genuinely interested in the subject matter. The reason accurately put up by Prof. Keith Devlin is “For all the time schools devote to the teaching on mathematics, very little (is any) is spent trying to convey just what the subject is about. Instead, the focus is on learning and applying various procedures to solve math problems. That’s a bit like explaining soccer by saying it is executing a series of maneuvers to get the ball into the goal. Both accurately describe various key features, but they miss the “what” and the “why” of the big picture.”

The same reasoning can be extending to computer programming using the Object Oriented paradigm. Of all the learning, students and developers starting in the field of computer programming using modern object oriented languages do, almost all of it is comprised of learning the semantics of the language, and hardly, if any related to thinking in terms of objects. They then wonder about the various constructs available to them in a programming language, and how to use them but are unable to get a clear answer. The situation worsens by the fact that they are supposed to learn about the various supporting frameworks like .NET Framework for doing general programming, Windows Communication Framework (WCF) for creating services, Windows Presentation Framework (WPF) for making presentation layer, ASP.NET etc. apart from the technologies like SQL for data access etc. On top of that developers are always under the constant pressure to develop and deliver the applications in the shortest time possible, leading to a diluted learning experience all along the way. Some of the effects of this diluted experience are:

1. Having a theoretical understanding of advanced constructs offered by an object oriented language like C# or Java, but not a practical understanding as to where they can be used.

2. Trouble understanding the source code of well-constructed, well documented software.

3. The developer ends up creating code, that is hard to maintain.

When these developers come on to more responsible positions, they are not able to effectively lead and mentor the incumbent developers under them.

I believe that technical writers should also take upon the responsibility of including a short section on object oriented thinking before touching upon the technical semantics of object oriented language.

Majority of the developers get their first experience of computer programming in an object oriented language while they are in school. Due to questionable quality of teacher(s) available, they end up learning to use the language in a procedural manner, thus not learning the true nature of the object oriented paradigm. Recently, I was having a discussion with a colleague about a domain model and the kinds of design patterns that we could use to structure things, and he made a thought provoking remark, about how things differ in the Java and .NET world. He made the remark that a Java developer thinks in terms of objects, because of the way Java is taught and maturity of the developers in the Java world, while in .NET arena most of the developers think in terms of screens and the resulting code that can then support those screens. Most of the .NET developers transitioned from the VB6 (a non-object oriented language) and continued software development in more or less the same way in object oriented languages supported by the .NET Framework. Microsoft worked to make the transition easier by emphasizing on VB.NET (an easier language for someone coming from VB6 background) and developing technologies like ASP.NET Web forms which were event based and could be used without a strong understanding of object oriented concepts. Please bear in mind that I am not saying that Web forms are bad, it is just that they are easily misused (I myself am a Web forms developer). It is only recently that Microsoft has started releasing documentation centering around practices which emphasize organized object oriented development, rather than the traditional selling point of Rapid Application Development. Still I feel there is a dearth of simple examples in MSDN that educates the developers on how to develop applications in an object oriented manner. Still a lot of documentation only tangentially touches upon the foundational object oriented concepts. A lot of examples assume a very simple domain model work with the assumption of having a very direct correlation between the data and the object model, resulting in usage of Entity Framework in virtually every example. This further makes the learning from examples a bit harder than it ought to be.

Anyways, I hope for the best and believe that all .NET developers (me included) will learn about the basics of object oriented paradigm in the manner intended. I myself learnt about the languages and frameworks first and later on learnt about the true nature of Object Oriented paradigm and how to use the constructs of an object oriented language (C# in my case) effectively. I list some resources below that have helped me to learn about the object oriented paradigm and how to use the language constructs effectively.

1. Series on how to build layered web applications using Microsoft ASP.NET 2.0 by Imaar Spaanjars

2. Series on how to build n-layered web applications using Microsoft ASP.NET 3.5 by Imaar Spaanjars

3. Beginning C# 2008 Objects: From Concept to Code

4. The Object-Oriented Thought Process

In my next post I hope to touch upon a practical example of object oriented programming using Visual C# and using .NET Framework.

N Tier vs. N Layer


When software development started out, the software made was relatively simple and the industry was still climbing the learning curve. Even with procedural languages, layering of source code was done so as to allow a logical separation of responsibilities and concerns. This got to the next level with the introduction of object oriented languages and the entities forming the problem domain in the source code acquired a layer of their own. As the complexity of softwares developed increased aka the functionality offered by the softwares in general increased, so increased the number of layers. With consolidation of IT assets, came the next wave of computing in the form of client – server computing with softwares living life at a single place - server rather than living individually on client computers. As the number of consumers increased, measures were taken to tackle the workload and here is where the concept of layers was taken further to introduce the concept of tiers. The tiers were simply layers bound together in one physical unit, primarily made from the perspective of scaling (installing on more than one machine). The unit of layers could depend upon other such units to provide the required functionality and have some kind of communication ability depending upon the environment and usage scenario.

So after formal background information as to why layers and tiers exist, we can now focus on what exactly is the core difference between the two. An accepted difference exists as follows:

Difference between Layer and Tier

Layers emphasize logical grouping of related functionality while tiers signify the physical separation of such logical groups. An easy way to visualize this is by imagining that all your code resides in a single project and is running on a single server in a single process, while in case of a tiered approach the tiers are located on a single machine and being handled by different processes and communicating among themselves via some mechanism to achieve the desired outcome.

A typical software project consists of 3 layers – Presentation, Business Logic Layer (BLL) and Data Access Layer (DAL).

Layer vs Tier












It is when there are more than 3 layers, that your project can be termed as an N-Layer project. Similarly when your project contains more than 3 tiers, it is accepted to term it is an N-Tier project.

Different cases can exist when we talk about tiers:

1. Single machine, single process: the simplest case, tiers can exist on a single machine and can be handled by a single process.

Single Machine Single Process N Tier

















2. Single machine, n processes: A scenario where each tier is being handled by a dedicated process.

Single Machine N Processes N Tier



















3. True N Tier: Where each tier is hosted on a separate machine and is being handled by a dedicated process.

N Machines N Processes N Tier





















So one might wonder why we would convert a layered project to a tiered one. Mainly three reasons come to my mind:

1. Performance: Separating out the layers into tiers can give performance benefits as it gives us an opportunity to harness the processing power of more than one computer.

Example: One server can be made responsible to process traffic related to business logic, one to handle the data access, while if the UI load cannot be handled on one server, it can be made to be served via two servers. Thus we only increase the hardware where it is needed, giving us a flexible and performance centric solution.

2. Scalability: Scalability means the ability to handle increased workload. That in IT world means the ability of software to handle increased workload via expansion into additional hardware. Translated, it means that tiers can be moved to additional hardware according to the needs and made to handle the additional growth.


a) If users of an application experience a slowdown, it might be an issue of the Data Access Tier requiring more horsepower. Thus we can expand only that tier with the help of additional hardware.

b) If an application experiences peak load only during certain times of the day, then it is a prime candidate for being made in a tiered fashion. Say, in the morning time the application needs to be served by a set of two servers on a per tier basis, but by noon the load decreases to an extent that it can be handled by only one set of servers on a per tier basis.

3. Fault Tolerance: Critical applications are served by redundant servers i.e. more than one server serving the same version of an application. This is done so that in case when one of the servers goes down, the other server can take over and continue to serve the application. This can be extended to tiers, when more than one server serves the same version of a tier, thus providing fault tolerance. In most of the cases these servers are load balanced using some kind of a load balancing scheme.

Now that we have learnt about the benefits of tiers, let’s learn to apply this pragmatically. Whenever we work with tiers, we have to deal with inter physical boundary communication in order to make tiers work with each other. Physical boundary is defined by either a process within which the tier is running when all the tiers are available on the same machine or by a network boundary when they are available on different machines and have to communicate across network in order to work together. This inter boundary communication introduces a lot of overhead not only in terms of communication latency, but also programming complexity. Thus an application should only be tiered when it meets a certain level of requirements – load conditions, performance requirements, fault tolerance and of course budget.

So all in all, play with tiers but only after doing a through cost-benefit analysis of the application and considering the life span of the application.