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Yehonathan Sharvit
Yehonathan Sharvit

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3 data-related programming paradigms that every developer should know

Data-oriented programming is not a new concept. It is a paradigm that is applied by developers from different programming languages like Java, JavaScript and Python in order to reduce the complexity of the systems they build.

The purpose of my book Data-oriented programming is to unveil the principles underlying this paradigm and to illustrate their benefits in the context of a software system.

The present article describes the distinction between Data-oriented programming and two other programming paradigms whose name contain the term data: Data-oriented design and Data-driven programming.

Each paradigm has a its own objective and pursues it by focusing on a different aspect of data.


There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things. (Phil Karlton)

Data-oriented design

Data-oriented design is a program optimization approach motivated by efficient usage of the CPU cache, used mostly in video game development.

The approach is to focus on the data layout, separating and sorting fields according to when they are needed, and to think about transformations of data.

In this context, what's important is how the data resides in memory.

The objective of this paradigm is to improve the performance of the system.

Data-driven programming

Data-driven programming is the idea that you create domain specific languages (DSLs) which are made out of descriptive data. It is a branch of declarative programming.

In this context, what's important is to describe the behaviour of a program in terms of data.

The objective of this paradigm is to increase code clarity and to reduce the risk of bugs related to mistakes in the implementation of the expected behaviour of the program.

Data-oriented programming

Data-oriented programming is a paradigm that treats data of the system as a first-class citizen. Data is represented by generic immutable data structures (like maps and vectors) that are manipulated by general purpose functions (like map, filter, select, group, sort ...).

In this context, what's important is the representation of data by the program.

The objective of this paradigm is to reduce the complexity of the system.


Before we conclude, I'd like to mention that there is a draft Wikipedia article about Data-Oriented programming. You are welcome to contribute to the article.

We saw that the three data-related paradigms have different objectives and each of them pursues its objective by focusing on a different aspect of data inside a program.

Paradigm Objective Data
Data-oriented design Increase performance Data layout
Data-driven programming Increase clarity Behaviour described by data
Data-oriented programming Reduce complexity Data representation

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