a little madness

A man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope and be free -Nikos Kazantzakis

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Archive for December, 2007

Phrases You Should Never See in an FAQ

Today’s phrase of choice is “you don’t need”, with the word of the day being “never”. Consider this entry in the Hibernate FAQ:

The hibernate.hbm2ddl.auto=update setting doesn’t create indexes

SchemaUpdate is activated by this configuration setting. SchemaUpdate is not really very powerful and comes without any warranties. For example, it does not create any indexes automatically. Furthermore, SchemaUpdate is only useful in development, per definition (a production schema is never updated automatically). You don’t need indexes in development.

What’s the problem with this? The FAQ answer is saying (in a round about way) that you should not ask this question, as you don’t need an answer. Telling your users what they need is a good way to alienate them. If this question is common enough to warrant an entry in the FAQ in the first place, aren’t your users telling you that they do need this functionality? This doesn’t mean you have to jump to implement it – just don’t patronise your users by telling them you understand their needs better than they do.

Personally, I was looking at this entry because we use Hibernate for persistence in Pulse. In Pulse, there is a built-in upgrade framework that updates the schema automatically for you when you install a new version. So much for the assertion above that “a production schema is never updated automatically”. While recently adding an upgrade that required new indices, I also certainly did “need indexes in development” because I want my development environment to match production as closely as possible (not to mention the fact that they saved hours in testing time against large data sets).

The most interesting underlying thing is that the existence of this (and similar) FAQs seems to be indicating to the Hibernate team that the simple SchemaUpdate code could actually be the beginnings of an extremely useful tool. Too few applications have decent upgrade capabilities: our users are often pleasantly surprised by what we have been able to build with considerable help from SchemaUpdate to simplify their upgrades. Maybe the Hibernate team are underestimating the potential of their own tool?