The need for modules
A good module system should help with addressing some fundamental needs of software engineering:
- Having a way to split the codebase into multiple files. This helps with keeping the code more organized, making it easier to understand but also helps with developing and testing various pieces of functionality independently from each other.
- Allowing code reuse across different projects. A module can, in fact, implement a generic feature that can be useful for different projects. Organizing such functionality within a module can make it easier to bring it into the different projects that may want to use it.
- Encapsulation (or information hiding). It is generally a good idea to hide implementation complexity and only expose simple interfaces with clear responsibilities. Most module systems allow to selectively keep the private part of the code hidden, while exposing a public interface, such as functions, classes, or objects that are meant to be used by the consumers of the module.
- Managing dependencies. A good module system should make it easy for module developers to build on top of existing modules, including third-party ones. A module system should also make it easy for module users to import the chain of dependencies that are necessary for a given module to run (transient dependencies).
It is important to clarify the distinction between a module and a module system. We can define a module as the actual unit of software, while a module system is the syntax and the tooling that allows us to define modules and to use them within our projects.