Refactoring the Eclipse Framework API into Features

Jul 12, 2007 | George Fairbanks

As you doubtless know, gentle reader, I did my thesis research on
software frameworks. Specifically, I found that client code
interacted with frameworks quite consistenly, and I developed a
technique, called design fragments,
to specify patterns of client-framework interaction. Client code is
still scattered around many classes, but the design fragments make the
connections between these classes apparent.

An open hypothesis was that it was possible to refactor the frameworks
to avoid the scattering of code in client classes. If such
refactoring were possible, client code dealing with a particular
feature, say adding a menu item, would be located in a single place.
Client code would be easier to read and might not need design
fragments. So if a client wanted to create a user interface with a
tree view and a menu, the code might look something like this:

public class SampleView extends GView {
  public SampleView() {
      .useFeature( new TreeViewFeature() )
      .useFeature( new LocalToolbarMenuFeature() )

Now that I’m done with my PhD, I have some time to a) breathe and b)
work on side projects. This posting is an interim report on the
framework API refactoring I’ve accomplished.

Design Choices

  • Subclassing (MyTreeViewFeature) vs composition — relate to type system checking

Feature Interactions

The feature
interaction problem
is well known inside of telephone systems. In
that domain, you may have call waiting and 3-way-calling features on
your telephone, and they interact with each other because they both
use the same scarce resources: the telephone input and output. For
example, if you are talking to a friend and press the hook once, it
will alllow you to start a 3-way-call. However, if someone calls
during another call, that same hook press will transfer you over to
another call. I had experience with this problem when I worked at Nortel,
helping to design a clean-sheet implementation of their call
processing software.

  • Found feature interaction problem here
  • Reused solution from Nortel of cascading state machines.
  • Examples from this domain, dependencies between features



  • No show-stoppers yet
  • Initial refactoring into features
  • Opportunity to make framework state machine more evident
  • Opportunity to use static analysis to check feature composition
  • Opportunity to use static analysis to check invariants across the state machine
  • Framework API collapsed into one interface


  • On-going development of a nested event state machine


  • Feature interaction has surfaced
  • Strong typing in Java eliminates some (seemingly elegant) design options
  • Framework API collapsed into one interface


George Fairbanks is a software developer, designer, and architect living in New York city

+1-303-834-7760 (Recruiters: Please do not call)
Twitter: @GHFairbanks