Eating your own Dog Food

Published: Tue 01 March 2016

tags: retro

Also known as dog fooding. It's an odd term, with roots dating back to 70's adverts and the even more bizarre. In software development the idea is simple. Use the software you produce to make it better. This can be taken to the extreme with examples such as Notepad++ being built with Notepad++, or the Github team using Github internally. These examples mean the product is as good as it can be from real life use.

API's

Dog fooding works great for APIs. When the boundary of a system is an API building a fake test UI is a wise move. This integration acts as if you were the user. If you can solve the basic uses cases that your integrators need you can be confident the API is fit for purpose. Integration highlights problems and areas for improvement. Building a test UI is a very easy step to carry out which is also useful for demonstrating and documenting the API to others.

The danger of not eating your own dog food when producing APIs is detachment from what your users will be trying to do, versus what you implement. In many cases this means that while your API may be fully compliant with the latest standards, framework and technology, it is not actually fit for purpose. Naturally this will incur overhead when the users raise issues that need resolving, often late in the day.

Libraries

It is often tempting to extract a library for a common task. As always try to fight this urge until at least the third time. As well as this try to use the library yourself before releasing. If you can use this library in at least three places you very well may have a successful piece of software. If the answer to this question is no, the library may not be as useful as you think.

Libraries that have not been built using dog fooding are often clunky, unintuitive and frustrating to use. Every developer could name numerous examples that would fit this criteria, but the opposite is also true. The use of dog fooding tends to force libraries into the later.