Module Coupling

Module coupling concerns the interdependence between software Modules: how much do a group of modules rely on each other?

Coupling is certainly not a bad thing on its own; it's necessary to develop a sufficiently complex system. However, some types of coupling are preferred over others.

Similar to Module Cohesion, the ISO/IEEE Systems and Software Engineering Vocabulary recognises six key types of module coupling.

Having names for these different coupling types is quite useful for identifying problem points in a code base and strategies for refactoring.

Content Coupling

Content Coupling is when a module is contained within another module.

Diagram to represent Content Coupling

Consider an Image module that contains various image type loading implementations: JpegImage, PngImage, GifImage, etc.

Given an image, a user doesn't need to know which submodule to call for their specific image type; they request to load an image, and the main module calls the required submodules.

image = Image.load("cat.jpg")

Content Coupling is universally considered a good idea and property of Khorikov's Well-Designed API.

Data Coupling

Data Coupling, also known as input-output coupling, is a type of coupling in which output from one software module is input to another.

Diagram to represent Data Coupling

For example, a data module that prepares data before running a transformation.

import data
import transform

my_data = data.prepare_data()
output = transform.transform_data(my_data)

Data coupling is also considered a good thing.

Common-Environment Coupling

Common-environment coupling is when multiple modules share the same global data.

Diagram to represent Common-Environment Coupling

Common environment refers to global variables, singleton state objects, system environment variables, etc.

It is not necessarily a bad thing. However, using a mutable global state can lead to hard-to-find bugs.

Sometimes, a better idea is to use sub-environments: global states within specific classes or modules, name-spaced environment variables, etc.

If you must use a global environment, ideally, it would be immutable.

Control Coupling

Control Coupling is when a module communicates information, perhaps via flags, to another to influence its execution.

Diagram to represent Control Coupling

For example, if Module A passes flags to Module B to change the mathematical operations that Module B performs.

Control coupling is mostly considered bad; in the example above, Module B is hard to test and verify since it's dependent on control information from Module A, which can lead to complex and hard-to-reason designs.

Data coupling is preferred over control coupling.

Hybrid Coupling

Hybrid Coupling occurs when different subsets of the range of values of a data item are used for separate and unrelated purposes.

Diagram to represent Hybrid Coupling

It is a rare type of coupling but sometimes the only option, especially in limited memory environments (microcontrollers). You should avoid it unless you know what you're doing.

Pathological Coupling

Pathological Coupling occurs when one module is used to change the behaviour of another module.

Diagram to represent Pathological Coupling

I'm thinking of ideas like monkey patching or modifying private variables.

It's mostly a bad thing. Usually, it occurs when a module is repurposed to support functionality it wasn't originally intended for, and it often calls for a refactor.