The Pragmatic Craftsman :: Simplicity from complexity : by Stanley Kubasek ::

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Encapsulation vs Abstraction May 4th, 2006

Encapsulation vs Abstraction

I must admit. I am still having hard time seeing a real difference. I am still having hard time defining them both.One thing I am sure: both are fundamental principles of object oriented programming. I am going to try to learn them here and explain the differences. Just so I know for future.

“Abstraction and encapsulation are not synomous,” says P.J. Plauger in Programming on Purpose.

Encapsulation is information hiding. I think that’s the best way to define it and remember it. “Information hiding allows for implementation of a feature to change without affecting other parts that are depending on it.”

P.J. Plauger has a great analogy and definition of information hiding.”Information hiding is not the same as secrecy. The idea is not to prevent outsiders from knowing what you are doing inside a module. Rather, it is to encourage them not to depend on that knowledge. That leads to a kind of secondary coupling which is more pernicious than obvios dependency because it is less visible. You should encapsulate information to keep it private, not secret. (What you do in the bathroom is no secret, but it is private.)”

“Stuff all of the code that is likely to change in a module [class] and hide its innards.” That not only defines information hiding, but it is also a fundamental principle developing: when to create a new class, when to refactor.

Abstraction. Look at it as “what” the method or a module does not “how” it does it. I just found a great definition of abstraction: “The notion abstraction is to distill a complicated system down to its most fundamental parts and describe these parts in a simple, precise language.”

Let’s compare Java and C++. We have a good example of abstraction. In C++, you have to deal with pointers and references a lot. You have to deal a lot of garbage collection. In essence, you have to work on a low level. (C and C++ in turn abstracted a lot of even lower level machine code.) In Java, those things are abstracted away. You just assume they exist. In essence, abstraction means that you are working on a higher level. You don’t care how pointers work in Java, you just assume that they work. You don’t have to concentrate on the lower level stuff, you work on higher level.

I think abstraction is extremely important. By working more abstractly we can solve more and more difficult problems because we don’t have to concentrate on the lower level details. As Steve McConnel puts it, we are working closer to the business domain.

So to summarize, I think I got it now. Encapsulation is information hiding. Abstraction means working on a higher level, not worrying about the internal details. They go hand in hand. The bottom line, even if you still don’t know the differences, utilize information hiding; make your programs more abstract by creating classes with responsibility and then talk about the feature by the name of the class, but what it does, not by how it is doing it (that’s abstraction, I think).

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