Endo vs Exo

Yesterday I was starting to get nervous about the path I'd started to go down with the generic groups app for Pinax. I was basically building a single centralized app through which different types of groups would be managed via configuration. I had a good chat with Eric Florenzano about it and we agreed that it just felt wrong but I couldn't think of an alternative.

Then this morning I had a brainwave—a shift in approach that I described on the mailing list as an "exo" approach rather than the previous "endo" approach. Instead of having a single, centralized "groups" app that's highly configurable and lets you plug different pieces in, I realised a better approach would be to simply provide the building blocks for site developers to create their own group apps bottom-up.

The advantage of the "exo" approach is that it makes group customization more like normal Django development. It's more flexible if you want to do some things differently.

After thinking about it some more, it occurred to me that the endo vs exo distinction is quite important when crafting extensible software. It's not that exo approach is always better. It's just different.

The endo approach is that of a framework whereas the exo approach is that of a library. Even a single system like Django may have some aspects that are endo and others that are exo.

An endo approach says to a developer: "we'll provide you the core with slots you can plug your pieces into". An exo approach says to a developer: "we'll provide pieces you can plug together yourself".

In Pinax, django-notifications takes a more endo approach (you register your notification types with the notification subsystem) whereas django-mailer takes an exo approach (it's just there when you want to send mail).

If you need to "register" an entity, an endo approach is probably being used.

If you put your B in the configuration of A then A is endo. Whereas if your B just calls A to do something then A is exo.

Seems a useful distinction. What do people think?

The original post was in the categories: software_craftsmanship pinax but I'm still in the process of migrating categories over.

The original post had 4 comments I'm in the process of migrating over.