Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Terminology Abuse - Parameters vs Arguments

In my recent rant about the use of the term “injection” in software development to describe what is really just passing arguments, I slipped up. You can be sure that any blog post that attempts to complain about the (mis)use of terminology is almost certainly going to suffer from it itself, and that post was no exception. Fortunately there are people out there who are all too willing to point this out, and as someone who strives hard to try and use the right words for the right concepts I’m more than happy to be re-educated.

Parameters != Arguments

In my blog post I suggested that the term “injection” was synonymous with passing parameters or arguments and did the usual thing of citing the Wikipedia page on the subject. I had (skim) read that page and had deduced from reading the following sentence that the two terms were interchangeable:-

“These two terms parameter and argument are sometimes loosely used interchangeably...”

This, as @aral kindly pointed out to me is not actually the case. What the Wikipedia page should probably have said (for those of us lazy readers) is this:-

“These two terms parameter and argument are often incorrectly used interchangeably...”

This would (hopefully) have caused me to read it properly [*] and discover that they are two different sides of the same coin. The two terms describe the same concept, but from two different viewpoints - the caller and the callee. The caller passes values to a function described by the term “arguments”, whereas the calling function receives those same values described by the term “parameters”.

My follow-up tweet which attempted to consolidate this simplification into just 140 characters got favourited by @aral and so I take that as a thumbs up that I’ve now finally understood the difference.


[*] The funny thing about reading a page like this when you have a pre-conceived notion of what (you think) it says is that you completely ignore what it is really telling you. Once I understood there really was a difference and went back and read the Wikipedia page again I couldn’t fail to notice that the difference is there, plain as day, all throughout the page! I even went back and checked the page history in case it had been edited recently to make it clearer, sadly for me it’s always been that clear.

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