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Will be loosely based on the code katas by Dave Thomas

Code Kata One - Supermarket Pricing

This kata arose from some discussions we’ve been having at the DFW Practioners meetings. The problem domain is something seemingly simple: pricing goods at supermarkets.

Some things in supermarkets have simple prices: this can of beans costs $0.65. Other things have more complex prices. For example:

    three for a dollar (so what’s the price if I buy 4, or 5?)
    $1.99/pound (so what does 4 ounces cost?)
    buy two, get one free (so does the third item have a price?)

This kata involves no coding. The exercise is to experiment with various models for representing money and prices that are flexible enough to deal with these (and other) pricing schemes, and at the same time are generally usable (at the checkout, for stock management, order entry, and so on). Spend time considering issues such as:

    does fractional money exist?
    when (if ever) does rounding take place?
    how do you keep an audit trail of pricing decisions (and do you need to)?
    are costs and prices the same class of thing?
    if a shelf of 100 cans is priced using "buy two, get one free", how do you value the stock?

This is an ideal shower-time kata, but be careful. Some of the problems are more subtle than they first appear. I suggest that it might take a couple of weeks worth of showers to exhaust the main alternatives.

The goal of this kata is to practice a looser style of experimental modelling. Look for as many different ways of handling the issues as possible. Consider the various tradeoffs of each. What techniques use best for exploring these models? For recording them? How can you validate a model is reasonable?
What’s a Code Kata?

As a group, software developers don’t practice enough. Most of our learning takes place on the job, which means that most of our mistakes get made there as well. Other creative professions practice: artists carry a sketchpad, musicians play technical pieces, poets constantly rewrite works. In karate, where the aim is to learn to spar or fight, most of a student’s time is spent learning and refining basic moves. The more formal of these exercises are called kata.

To help developers get the same benefits from practicing, we’re putting together a series of code kata: simple, artificial exercises which let us experiment and learn without the pressure of a production environment. Our suggestions for doing the kata are:

    find a place and time where you won’t be interrupted
    focus on the essential elements of the kata
    remember to look for feedback for every major decision
    if it helps, keep a journal of your progress
    have discussion groups with other developers, but try to have completed the kata first

There are no right or wrong answers in these kata: the benefit comes from the process, not from the result.

Kata Nine: Back to the CheckOut

Back to the supermarket. This week, we’ll implement the code for a checkout system that handles pricing schemes such as "apples cost 50 cents, three apples cost $1.30."

Way back in KataOne we thought about how to model the various options for supermarket pricing. We looked at things such as "three for a dollar," "$1.99 per pound," and "buy two, get one free."

This week, let’s implement the code for a supermarket checkout that calculates the total price of a number of items. In a normal supermarket, things are identified using Stock Keeping Units, or SKUs. In our store, we’ll use individual letters of the alphabet (A, B, C, and so on). Our goods are priced individually. In addition, some items are multipriced: buy n of them, and they’ll cost you y cents. For example, item ‘A’ might cost 50 cents individually, but this week we have a special offer: buy three ‘A’s and they’ll cost you $1.30. In fact this week’s prices are:

  Item   Unit      Special
         Price     Price
    A     50       3 for 130
    B     30       2 for 45
    C     20
    D     15

Our checkout accepts items in any order, so that if we scan a B, an A, and another B, we’ll recognize the two B’s and price them at 45 (for a total price so far of 95). Because the pricing changes frequently, we need to be able to pass in a set of pricing rules each time we start handling a checkout transaction.

The interface to the checkout should look like:

   co =
       :    :
   price =

Here’s a set of unit tests for a Ruby implementation. The helper method price lets you specify a sequence of items using a string, calling the checkout’s scan method on each item in turn before finally returning the total price.

  class TestPrice < Test::Unit::TestCase

    def price(goods)
      co =
      goods.split(//).each { |item| co.scan(item) }

    def test_totals
      assert_equal(  0, price(""))
      assert_equal( 50, price("A"))
      assert_equal( 80, price("AB"))
      assert_equal(115, price("CDBA"))

      assert_equal(100, price("AA"))
      assert_equal(130, price("AAA"))
      assert_equal(180, price("AAAA"))
      assert_equal(230, price("AAAAA"))
      assert_equal(260, price("AAAAAA"))

      assert_equal(160, price("AAAB"))
      assert_equal(175, price("AAABB"))
      assert_equal(190, price("AAABBD"))
      assert_equal(190, price("DABABA"))

    def test_incremental
      co =
      assert_equal(  0,
      co.scan("A");  assert_equal( 50,
      co.scan("B");  assert_equal( 80,
      co.scan("A");  assert_equal(130,
      co.scan("A");  assert_equal(160,
      co.scan("B");  assert_equal(175,

There are lots of ways of implementing this kind of algorithm; if you have time, experiment with several.
Objectives of the Kata

To some extent, this is just a fun little problem. But underneath the covers, it’s a stealth exercise in decoupling. The challenge description doesn’t mention the format of the pricing rules. How can these be specified in such a way that the checkout doesn’t know about particular items and their pricing strategies? How can we make the design flexible enough so that we can add new styles of pricing rule in the future?

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