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Composed Method Pattern explained

Composed Method Pattern is the most useful and practical pattern I use. At the same time it’s not known by many developers. It’s the foundation of maintainable code.

Almost every code review I do contains the sentence “Refactor this to Composed Method”. The Composed Method Pattern is easy and fast to do, with immediate benefits.

Purpose of Composed Method

You cannot immediately understand method’s logic.

In corporate word it’s a standard. There is plenty of low quality code that have to be maintained, extended, etc. But how to change anything, when the business logic is a total mess? Sounds familiar? Here enters the Composed Method and the pattern can be summarized in one sentence: Composed Method refactoring literally turns shit into honey.

How to introduce

Apply Extract Method refactoring on logically coherent blocks of code until all are in separate methods, where names of the methods tell what they do (not how).

Single Level Of Abstraction (SLA Principle)

All steps of processing in a method should be on the same level of abstraction. In other words, they should not expose their details, but move the details to separate methods that give them intent-revealing names. The parts of a method should tell what is being done, not how.

Composed Method in Java

In the below example we take a scores as a String, numbers of scores in the String, and how many of them should be taken into account.

Bofore Composed Method

private int sumBest(String data, int size, int howMany) {
    Scanner scanner = new Scanner(data);
    int[] scores = new int[size];
    for (int i = 0; i < size; ++i) {
        scores[i] = scanner.nextInt();
    int sum = 0;
    for (int i = scores.length-howMany; i < scores.length; ++i) {
        sum += scores[i];
    return sum;

Even though the code is simple, it’s not immediately obvious how it works. You have to dig into details to pick out steps of processing it does and remember them for further code analysis – just recall a real business code with much longer methods.

The above method can be called like this:

int sum = sumBestBefore("1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10", 10, 3);
System.out.println("Sum of best 3: " + sum);
// prints: Sum of best 3: 27

Refactored to Composed Method

Here we’ve got the same code, but refactored to Composed Method making each step explicit, thus the whole code is much more readable.

private int sumBest(String data, int size, int howMany) {
    int[] scores = loadScores(data, size);
    return sumLast(scores, howMany);

private int[] loadScores(String data, int size) {
    Scanner scanner = new Scanner(data);
    int[] numbers = new int[size];
    for (int i = 0; i < size; ++i) {
        numbers[i] = scanner.nextInt();
    return numbers;

private int sumLast(int[] scores, int howMany) {
    int sum = 0;
    for (int i = scores.length-howMany; i < scores.length; ++i) {
        sum += scores[i];
    return sum;

Now it’s clearly visible that whole processing consists of three steps:

  1. Loading scores from given data string.
  2. Sorting the scores.
  3. Summing the last (biggest) scores.

The sumBest() method does whole processing at the single level of abstraction – loads scores, sorts them, and sums. It operates on scores. How it loads them? Who cares!? At this level it’s not important. If someone want’s to know, can always go to the loadScores() method. The same with other steps – is it important, for understanding sumBest what kind of sorting is used? Of course not! It’s just a details here, so we hid it.

Also, note how small and easy to understand the methods are. Details of each step can be understand in no time!

Composed Method in functional languages

Although the Composed Method Pattern is known from Object-Oriented Programming, it is equally well applicable in Functional Programming. Here we can name it Composed Function. :-)

Before Composed Function

The following Clojure version does the same thing as the Java code above. Again, to understand what it does you have to dig into unimportant details:

(defn sum-best
  [data size how-many]
  (let [scanner (Scanner. data)]
    (->> (for [i (range 0 size)] (.nextInt scanner))
         (sort (java.util.Collections/reverseOrder))
         (take how-many)
         (apply +))))

Refactored to Composed Function

The same Clojure login, but with readable, explicit processing steps – Composed Function:

(defn load-scores [data size]
  (let [scanner (Scanner. data)]
    (for [i (range 0 size)] (.nextInt scanner))))

(defn sort-desc [scores]
  (sort (java.util.Collections/reverseOrder) scores))

(defn sum-first [how-many scores]
  (apply + (take how-many scores)))

(defn sum-best
  [data size how-many]
  (->> (load-scores data size)
       (sum-first how-many)))

Properties of code refactored to Composed Method


  1. Makes the code immediately understandable Extracted methods have names that immediately tell what they do (intent revealing names), without having to analyze ton of code.
  2. Helps to find duplicated code.
  3. Helps to identify responsibilities.
  4. Makes unit testing easy.


  1. Creates more small methods. From my experience it is not a problem, because duplicated code is unified and methods with other responsibilities are moved to their own or correct classes.
  2. May make the debugging more difficult, because the logic is spread in different methods. There is more methods and classes, however they are smaller, easier to understand, and reason about.


For some reason, when I learn some cool software development practice and trace its roots, it always ends in the same way: Kent Beck did that in Smalltalk. ;-)

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