Part 3: The Liskov Substitution Principle

Notes / Software Architecture / Principles of OOD / Part 3: The Liskov Substitution Principle

Page 1

The primary mechanisms behind the Open-Closed principle are abstraction and polymorphism. In statically typed languages like C++, one of the key mechanisms that supports abstraction and polymorphism is inheritance. It is by using inheritance that we can create derived classes that conform to the abstract polymorphic interfaces defined by pure virtual functions in abstract base classes.

Page 2

The Liskov Substitution Principle


The importance of this principle becomes obvious when you consider the consequences of violating it. If there is a function which does not conform to the LSP, then that function uses a pointer or reference to a base class, but must know about all the derivatives of that base class. Such a function violates the Open-Closed principle because it must be modified whenever a new derivative of the base class is created.

Page 6

Validity is not Intrinsic

This leads us to a very important conclusion. A model, viewed in isolation, can not be meaningfully validated. The validity of a model can only be expressed in terms of its clients. For example, when we examined the final version of the Square and Rectangle classes in isolation, we found that they were self consistent and valid. Yet when we looked at them from the viewpoint of a programmer who made reasonable assumptions about the base class, the model broke down.
Thus, when considering whether a particular design is appropriate or not, one must not simply view the solution in isolation. One must view it in terms of the reasonable assumptions that will be made by the users of that design.

What Went Wrong? (W3)

So what happened? Why did the apparently reasonable model of the Square and Rectangle go bad. After all, isn’t a Square a Rectangle? Doesn’t the ISA relationship hold?

No! A square might be a rectangle, but a Square object is definitely not a Rectangle object. Why? Because the behavior of a Square object is not consistent with the behavior of a Rectangle object. Behaviorally, a Square is not a Rectangle! And it is behavior that software is really all about.
The LSP makes clear that in OOD the ISA relationship pertains to behavior. Not intrinsic private behavior, but extrinsic public behavior; behavior that clients depend upon. For example, the author of function g above depended on the fact that Rectangles behave such that their height and width vary independently of one another. That independence of the two variables is an extrinsic public behavior that other programmers are likely to depend upon.

In order for the LSP to hold, and with it the Open-Closed principle, all derivatives must conform to the behavior that clients expect of the base classes that they use.

Design by Contract

There is a strong relationship between the LSP and the concept of Design by Contract as expounded by Bertrand Meyer. Using this scheme, methods of classes declare preconditions and postconditions. The preconditions must be true in order for the method to execute. Upon completion, the method guarantees that the postcondition will be true.

Page 7

Now the rule for the preconditions and postconditions for derivatives, as stated by Meyer, is:
…when redefining a routine [in a derivative], you may only replace its precondition by a weaker one, and its postcondition by a stronger one.
In other words, when using an object through its base class interface, the user knows only the preconditions and postconditions of the base class. Thus, derived objects must not expect such users to obey preconditions that are stronger then those required by the base class. That is, they must accept anything that the base class could accept. Also, derived classes must conform to all the postconditions of the base. That is, their behaviors and outputs must not violate any of the constraints established for the base class. Users of the base class must not be confused by the output of the derived class.

Page 10

That is the problem with conventions, they have to be continually re-sold to each engineer. If the engineer does not agree, then the convention will be violated. And one violation ruins the whole structure.

Page 11


The Open-Closed principle is at the heart of many of the claims made for OOD. It is when this principle is in effect that applications are more maintainable, reusable and robust. The Liskov Substitution Principle (A.K.A Design by Contract) is an important feature of all programs that conform to the Open-Closed principle. It is only when derived types are completely substitutable for their base types that functions which use those base types can be reused with impunity, and the derived types can be changed with impunity.