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Invariant Avoidance Principle

Variants and Alternative Names


Principle Statement

Avoid Invariants and Preconditions.




  • If the language supports that, use references which cannot be null
    • In C++ use references instead of pointers (see example 3: C++ references)
    • In Java use primitive types instead of their object wrappers (int instead of Integer but not int instead of Customer)
  • Use value objects instead of primitive types (see example 2: string preconditions)
  • Avoid duplication of information. If the same information is stored in different places (maybe in different formats), the values may get out of sync (see also DRY). This also applies to caching.


Keep in mind that preconditions and invariants are absolutely necessary for every software. So this principle is constantly violated. Introducing preconditions and invariants is often also done deliberately in order to simplify the code (see KISS). So the purpose of this principle is mainly to point out that there are drawbacks. By no means invariants are problematic themselves or should be entirely avoided. They just also have disadvantages.

See also section contrary principles.


This principle is newly introduced here.


Relations to Other Principles


  • Murphy's Law (ML): ML states that an invariant will eventually be broken. So IAP is the application of ML to invariants.


Contrary Principles

  • Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS): Adding an invariant typically makes the code easier, as it can be assumed that the invariant holds. In fact that is often the very purpose if introducing invariants: Either they make the design easier or they are inevitable. Otherwise they should be avoided.

Complementary Principles

  • Information Hiding/Encapsulation (IH/E): When an invariant cannot be avoided, it should at least be encapsulated.
  • Liskov Substitution Principle (LSP): Invariants can also be broken by subtypes. LSP tells that invariants may only be strengthened by subtypes, so they are not broken. FIXME
  • Fail Fast (FF): Breaking an invariant is a defect. And in such a case the software should fail fast.
  • Don't Repeat Yourself (DRY): Duplication of information, like having the same data in different representations or like caching values, creates invariants. So an invariant sometimes is a hidden DRY violation.

Principle Collections

OOD Principle Language
General Principles Modularization Principles


Example 1: Index Preconditions

public void prettyPrintItem(List<Item> items, int index)

This method has the following preconditions:

  • items may not be null
  • index must be greater or equal 0
  • index must be lesser than items.size()

Compare the following solution:

public void prettyPrintItem(Item item)

This is better as it just has one precondition: item may not be null

Example 2: String Preconditions

public void downloadFile(String url)

This method has the following preconditions:

  • url may not be null
  • url must contain a valid URL (which is even a quite complicated precondition)

Compare the following method:

public void downloadFile(URL url)

This is better since there is only one precondition: url may not be null

Example 3: C++ References

Sompare the following two methods:

void prettyPrint(SomeClass * obj)
void prettyPrint(SomeClass& obj)

In the second version obj cannot be NULL as it is a reference and not a pointer. So there is one precondition less.

Example 4: DRY

A class for complex numbers should either store the real and the imaginary part or absolute value and argument but not both. The values which are not stored can be computed in the getter method.

Description Status

Further Reading

principles/invariant_avoidance_principle.txt · Last modified: 2021-09-02 20:09 by