A few months ago, Sean had some tasks around building a front-end for some dashboards. Someone on the team picked a UI library for managing their widgets. It had lovely features like handling flexible grid layouts, collapsing/expanding components, making components full screen and even drag-and-drop widget rearrangement.

It was great, until one day it wasn't. As more and more people started using the front end, they kept getting more and more reports about broken dashboards, misrendering, duplicated widgets, and all sorts of other difficult to explain bugs. These were bugs which Sean and the other developers had a hard time replicating, and even on the rare occassions that they did replicate it, they couldn't do it twice in a row.

Stumped, Sean took a peek at the code. Each on-screen widget was assigned a unique ID. Except at those times when the screen broke- the IDs weren't unique. So clearly, something went wrong with the ID generation, which seemed unlikely. All the IDs were random-junk, like 7902699be4, so there shouldn't be a collision, right?

generateID() { return sha256(Math.floor(Math.random() * 100)). substring(1, 10); }

Good idea: feeding random values into a hash function to generate unique IDs. Bad idea: constraining your range of random values to integers between 0 and 99.

SHA256 will take inputs like 0, and output nice long, complex strings like "5feceb66ffc86f38d952786c6d696c79c2dbc239dd4e91b46729d73a27fb57e9". And a mildly different input will generate a wildly different output. This would be good for IDs, if you had a reasonable expectation that the values you're seeding are themselves unique. For this use case, Math.random() is probably good enough. Even after trimming to the first ten characters of the hash, I only hit two collisions for every million IDs in some quick tests. But Math.floor(Math.random() * 100) is going to give you a collision a lot more frequently. Even if you have a small number of widgets on the screen, a collision is probable. Just rare enough to be hard to replicate, but common enough to be a serious problem.

Sean did not share what they did with this library. Based on my experience, it was probably "nothing, we've already adopted it" and someone ginned up an ugly hack that patches the library at runtime to replace the method. Despite the library being open source, nobody in the organization wants to maintain a fork, and legal needs to get involved if you want to contribute back upstream, so just runtime patch the object to replace the method with one that works.

At least, that's a thing I've had to do in the past. No, I'm not bitter.

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