Entity Framework, The Five Years Plan, And Building Software on Future Features

time to read 4 min | 721 words

When Entity Framework came out, there was a lot of excitement, and a lot of people picked it up. I was fairly confused about that, because I didn’t really understand why. One of the major reason that people kept saying is that “it might have problems now, but we are doing this to get an early start for what comes down the road”.

Indeed, at the time, Microsoft has some really interesting plans for Entity Framework and EDM:

Long-term we are working to build EDM awareness into a variety of other Microsoft products so that if you have an Entity Data Model, you should be able to automatically create REST-oriented web services over that model (ADO.Net Data Services aka Astoria), write reports against that model (Reporting Services), synchronize data between a server and an offline client store where the data is moved atomically as entities even if those entities draw from multiple database tables on the server, create workflows from entity-aware building blocks, etc. etc.

I emphasized some parts of that, because I think it is really interesting to look back at those statements in hindsight. We are about 3 years after the fact, and we can see that most of those promised projects actually came about. None of them actually uses the EDM, however. At the time, however, there was a lot of talks and plans about That One Model and how you would define it once and use it across all Microsoft products. I even recall one DotNetRocks show how SQL Server is probably going to move from the relational model to the EDM Model, as part of a company wide effort to go to a Model Based architecture, etc.

This is important specifically because of the ending statement of the blog post.

So the differentiator is not that the EF supports more flexible mapping than nHibernate or something like that, it's that the EF is not just an ORM--it's the first step in a much larger vision of an entity-aware data platform.

What actually happened is the landscape of database tooling in 2011 is drastically different than it was in 2008. The needs ,requirements and usage scenarios are changing with respect to the Cloud, No SQL, Sharding and more. One of the oft repeated phrases about Entity Framework at the time is that it is not an OR/M, it is so much more than that. Go and read the recent posts on the EF Design blog. You will see a lot of stuff about Entity Framework as an OR/M. You’ll see none at all about the “much larger vision of an entity aware data platform”.

That isn’t actually surprising, many of us in the community called out the impracticalities of such a vision at the time.

The point of this post isn’t to pick on Entity Framework, (in hindsight, a lot of the furor about Entity Framework seems overblown, actually) but it is to talk about something that is quite important.

It is very easy to talk about what you are going to do in the future, there is no actual commitment there, you can plan however you like, but the further in time you go, the least likely those plans are going to happen. Not because whoever made those plans lied, but simply because circumstances change. And when that happen plans are either going to change or become irrelevant.

The other aspect of this to that is that you should very rarely try to base your own decisions on what someone else is saying that they are planning to do that far down the road. Especially if it means that you are going to take a currently inferior product just so you would be familiar with it when it becomes great (part 23.13.B, section 12A in the Grand Plan). You should base your decisions on the current and upcoming stuff, not stuff that is so far in the future, the entire industry is going to change twice before the due date.

Sure, you probably want to keep an eye on what is going on and what the future plans are, but it isn’t really a good idea to base your decisions on that. I mean, if you were listening to the 2008 PDC, you would have bet the farm on Oslo…