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To Link or Embed? That is the question.

August 29, 2007

Via Chris Lanier, there is nice rant from Jason Dunn about problems various Microsoft products have in dealing with album art embedded in music files.

I note for those that are interested that I have used Tag & Rename to successfully embed album art in WMA files for years. It has some nice features for grabbing copies of album covers from Amazon and the like. There may be better solutions, but this one has worked for me.

The broader question that this made me think about is when to use embedding and when to use pointers to external data. Not just for music, but for applications, databases, web pages and the like. I’ll bet there are even analogues to this question in other fields like manufacturing too.

Embedding isn’t always the right answer. To return to music for a moment, if you value having artist information, you would not necessarily want to have to update 100s of files each time you made a edit to the bio of a favorite artist. (Sure it could be done automatically, but it seems just as inelegant as some beefs with non-embedded album art.)

Another good example of the tradeoffs involved in embedding involves the DLLs that have led to DLL hell (Note that my choosing to link to this article is an example of choosing a pointer rather than embedding the relevant information here!). Having external, shared DLLs for applications allows common updates to shared function libraries, on the other hand it also creates potential problems as the updates may break some applications. Those problems probably wouldn’t occur if each application had its own individual libraries for which the developer was responsible for updating. But that would be more work for the developer.

I am curious as to whether there is any more analytical and less anecdotal work that has been done on when to link and when to embed.

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